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Introducing the (not quite) new Assistant Archivist

Lorna Cahill
24 January 2013
Meet Kew's new Assistant Archivist, Lorna, and learn about the volunteering projects she manages and how she began her own career volunteering in Kew's Archives

Hello, I’m Lorna Cahill, the new Assistant Archivist here in the Archives department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I started last September but I’m happy to say the archives team has been so busy over the past few months that I have only now got the chance to introduce myself!

Lorna in the Archives

I have been a qualified archivist since June 2011 and have worked in a number of different archive services since I first became interested in archives over 4 years ago. I have also worked at the Natural History Museum, London where I catalogued correspondence to Walter Rothschild and his museum at Tring in Hertfordshire, which is now part of the NHM. RBG Kew and the NHM have a lot in common, so I’m working with similar collections – they both have a lot of Latin names written everywhere!

The Value of Volunteers

However, I am not quite brand new to Kew. My first experience of working in an archive was here at RBG Kew in 2008, when I began volunteering one day a week. Volunteering is very important to archive services, not only because volunteers can do incredibly valuable work, but also because for many people (including me) it is the best way to start their career in archives, decide if they’d like to continue, and then work towards qualification . It is apt that my current role here at Kew will now involve managing our volunteers - I can remember what makes a valuable and positive experience. Volunteers can be involved in many different aspects of archive work - and although it is important that a qualified archivist makes the important decisions about how archive material is catalogued and preserved - the tasks that volunteers can do frequently help active collections be accessed more quickly, easily and safely.

Peter Cowen, one of our current volunteers, has been creating a database of information within our Goods Inwards volumes, which record all plant and seed material that was sent to Kew Gardens and the Herbarium from 1793 to 1938. Many researchers are interested in the history of particular relationships between Kew and individuals and botanic gardens around the world. Peter’s work has made it much easier to find the relevant entries, without having to search through every page of every volume.

One of our Archives volunteers, Peter Cowen

Calling All Volunteers!

A new Archive volunteering project will kick off in the next few weeks, involving the preservation of early 20th century material. I will be looking for a group of volunteers who are interested in pursuing Archives as a career and need that first step in the process. Hopefully, they will experience the same thrill of first handling archive material that I felt four years ago! If you are interested in volunteering in the Archives, please contact me at

Volunteers are also important to RBG Kew as a whole, contributing to the science departments, horticulture and as guides to visitors to the Gardens. You can read about of some of the volunteers and their projects here. Anybody can make a difference here at Kew, and can gain as much from the experience as I have.

- Lorna -


30 January 2013
Thank you, Lesley, for your comment. It’s good to have further proof of the wonderful opportunities volunteering creates. It sounds like you’re working with great people and interesting collections – the two best things about Archives!
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28 January 2013
I really appreciate reading your story online. I am currently working on an archives project with the National Museum of Natural History in the United States. Shortly after finishing my degree in Library and Information Science, I volunteered with departments in Natural History and the Institution Archives. Through that work I came into contact with the project I've been working with for the last two years. Not only did I find a job I love, but I have been amazed at the volunteers I've met here. They complete a wonderous range of work and are really fascinating people I'm glad I've had the chance to meet.
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