Royal Voluntary Service (RVS)

The RVS archive is supported by a professional archivist working four days a week. Further support is provided by 8 volunteers (giving c. 1,300 hours per year)

The Royal Voluntary Service helps older people through the power of volunteering. They have 35,000 volunteers helping older people stay active, independent and able to continue to contribute to society Originally known as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions, Royal Voluntary Service was founded in 1938 to support local communities in times of need.

How did your archive project begin?

As part of a long term development project of our archive and heritage collections Royal Voluntary Service has been looking into ways of making its material more accessible to everyone, both inside and outside the charity.  The unpublished nature of much of the material within the archive means that sharing what is mostly a twentieth century collection can be difficult, especially with the restrictions of both Data Protection and Copyright.  Our aim was to identify the material which offered both the best overview of the history and work of the charity through time and was mostly free of these restrictions.  In the end this was the WVS Bulletin/Magazine, which covered 35 years of our history from 1939-1974 and was previously published, relieving us of some of the restrictions.

What was the aim of the project?

Image from the digitised archive of the WVS bulletin, courtesy of the RVS archive
Image from the digitised archive of the WVS bulletin, courtesy of the RVS archive

We wanted to be able to make the Bulletin/magazine available to everyone, and the only way to do that these days is to make it available on the internet.  This involved scanning and using OCR software to make 8,444 pages searchable and text readable, converting them into pdf documents and loading them onto our online catalogue.  Early on we decided that we wanted to make the content available for free.

How did you develop your project (and fund it)?

The project was developed and run wholly within the archive department, using pretty much only existing resources.  (we spent £100 on the OCR software).  One of the biggest challenges of the project was identifying and pursuing permissions from over 700 individual and institutional copyright holders for articles in the Bulletin/Magazine.  This is where the volunteers came into their own, reading through all 419 issues and listing potential copyright holders.

Who was involved in the project?

The project was mainly run by the archivist, as the technical and IT skills required precluded many of the volunteers helping.  However as above the volunteers made a huge difference in finding and tracing copyright holders.

What did you preserve and how?

The Royal voluntary Service Archive is one of the largest charity archives in the UK which is still owned and cared for in-house by its creating organisation.

No active preservation was part of this project, in fact the compromises we had to make to copy the bound volumes of the bulletin (on a flatbed scanner) probably caused some damage to the bindings.  However there will be long term benefits as we no longer need to consult the originals (of which there is only one copy in existence of some issues) and handling damage over time will be reduced.  This we believe offsets the small amount of binding damage which occurred during the process.

One significant compromise we had to make was the redaction of all third party imagery from the Bulletins.  This decision was made to make the project practical, the time it would have taken us to trace and gain permission for the use of those images would have been beyond the means we had at our disposal. Not to mention the almost certain requests for fees for the reproduction which we could not have afforded within our budget (of zero).

How have people used the archive or the resources created from it?

The Bulletin Magazine only went online on 10th December 2015 so we have yet to see the benefits, but it will give word searchable access to over 2.5. million words about the history of the RVS and will hopefully be the first step in opening up our collection further in the future.

How can people access the archive?

The WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine is available via our online catalogue.

Royal Voluntary Service also offer a free remote enquiry service to all, details of which you can find here.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced while doing the project?

The biggest challenges in the project have been just getting it done.  It has taken us 3.5 years and almost 2,000 hours to complete, and was completed mostly in ‘odd hours’ here and there between other day to day work. Another challenging part has been tracking down and communicating with copyright owners, who are spread all over the world.

Do you have any further plans for the project?

This project is over, but there is always another one on the horizon!

RVS are currently running a new project which they crowdfunded to digitise the wartime diaries of WRVS volunteers. Find out more about the Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women project and follow the RVS Heritage Bulletin Blog.

Contact RVS about their archives.

About Charlotte Clements