Samantha Stubbington reports on her experience of volunteering at the British Library for the MLC-hosted French Books on India project
‘I was interested in taking part in some volunteering and found the opportunity at the British Library with the French Books on India project online late last year. It seemed like a good fit as it would be a chance for me to use my language skills as well as provide me with the experience of working in hidden parts of the British Library which I would otherwise not be able to see. The project co-ordinator at Liverpool, Dr Ian Magedera, answered my questions on what I could expect in terms of time commitment and provided welcome reassurance that the skills-set outlined in my CV would be of help in advancing the project. He also sent me a letter of letter of recommendation, so that I could get my Reader’s Pass on my first day at Euston Road.
During my first visit to the library on 17 January 2017, I met with a fellow volunteer, Andrew, who has worked on the project for about four months and was tremendously helpful in sharing his knowledge and showing me the different parts of the building – the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room and the Asian and African Collections (the former India Office Library) – where we would conduct our research. The British Library complex at St Pancras is like a maze but I’m slowly learning to find my way around. The place has a tremendous energy and, despite its size, feels very welcoming. Working in the ‘Reading Rooms’ you genuinely feel like you are part of a community.
On 24 January, on my second visit, I began to review a catalogue of early printed French-language books for content on India. I don’t have to wear white gloves when retrieving and handling the books as they can catch on fragile pages, tearing them, but sometimes I have to take bound volumes to a dedicated area, away from cameras and bright lights.
I’m really enjoying my new experience of volunteering on a university-level research project and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in having new experiences, meeting new people and making a difference.’
French Books on India is an open access digital discovery tool with book data on French and Indian language books from 1531 to 2016 and ebooks before 1939 via Gallica and Google Books. It also has bilingual annotations written by an international team of thirty-one experts.
“There is something truly magical about being handed a book, sometimes only the size of a pocket diary, delicately held together by a piece of ancient thread and pausing to consider its history before recording its relevance to the project.”