Volunteer training

Volunteer training
Detailing the volunteer guides' extensive research and preparation for Mapping Our World
30 October 2013

On 7 November our highly anticipated exhibition will be opening to the public - Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia. Training our Volunteer Guides to conduct 30 minute tours of the exhibition has been, in itself, a journey of discovery. With years of experience between them and over 30 different NLA exhibitions under their collective belts (not to mention the six iterations of Treasures Gallery), our Volunteer Guides are a ‘tour de force’.

Volunteers researching in the National Library’s Main Reading Room

Volunteers researching in the National Library’s Main Reading Room.

Forty existing NLA volunteers indicated their interest in being involved in the exhibition.  Twenty-one eager to guide, others happy to help with general front-of-house activities including welcoming visitors and answering general inquires. From the time we knew structured tours would be taking place, our Guides swung into research mode, searching through books and online resources, utilising all available library spaces.

Volunteer training manuals

A selection of Guide training folders for just some of those exhibitions held over the last 15 years.

image of Roger Dobb

Roger in the Map Reading Room

Dr. Martin Woods, our Curator of Maps, also provided a recommended reading list, top of which is the breathtaking and scholarly exhibition catalogue, now also available for purchase online through the NLA Bookshop.

The exhibition catalogue

The exhibition catalogue

This will be the second international exhibition which NLA volunteers have had the opportunity to guide. Seven volunteers have taken on the role of researchers, each nominating an area of interest from the five main sections of the exhibition: Ancient conceptions of the world; Medieval religious mapping; Age of Discovery; The Dutch Golden Age; Europe and the South Pacific.  The team collate what they have learned and the ‘Guide’s Guide’ begins to take shape by piecing together building blocks for the big picture narrative.

Research team

Volunteers at the National Library of Australia

Prior to the exhibition opening, each Guide is provided with a comprehensive training folder consisting of:

  • a complete list of items, including thumbnail images and the collections they belong to (eg. On loan from …, NLA Map collection etc.)
  • the exhibition floor plan indicating the location of each of the items
  • copies of wall texts and captions as they appear in the gallery.
The training manual

The training day, and the training manual.

Volunteers attended the all staff Mapping Our World presentation held in the National Library’s theatre.  This formed the first session of a full day of training for Guides. In addition to the Curators providing an overview of the exhibition material, Cathy Pilgrim (Executive and Public Programs Division) acknowledged the exhibition’s generous sponsors, while Kathryn Favelle (Community Outreach Branch) outlined strategies put into place to manage the expected 100,000 visitors during the exhibition and associated events.

Curator of Maps Martin Woods

Curator of Maps Martin Woods

Afterwards, in a smaller forum with Volunteers, NLA Curators Nat Williams, Martin Woods and Susannah Helman reviewed the layout of the Gallery and shared more of their specialist knowledge on each of the major items on display, placing them in context with history.

Curator Nat Williams

James and Bettison Curator Nat Williams

Guest speaker Katie Russell from the National Gallery of Australia presented her paper ‘Guiding for visitor meaning-making’, which highlighted the importance of learning through conversation with visitors, to help construct a richer personal understanding of the collection and its effect on their lives and communities. Deb Hill (Library Registrar) touched on the logistics of organising domestic and international shipments, along with travel plans for the curators and couriers who will accompany the exquisite items.  Due to its size (over 2m square in its protective case), extra thought and consideration has been given to the amazing, hand-drawn, Fra Mauro Map of the World, on loan from Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice. Stay tuned next week for a blogpost all about this map! Over 100 spectacular items will be on display, organised as a progression through time from the 11th century to Matthew Flinders general chart of Terra Australis.  Each map is not only a beautiful work of art in its own right, but also tells us about our changing perceptions of the earth and the heavens. Atlases (including this rare star atlas), globes, rare books, navigating instruments and other ‘objects of discovery’ will also be included in the exhibition. The exhibition is open daily at 10am from 7 November 2013 to 10 March 2014. Take a 10.30am guided tour with our friendly and informative volunteers. You’ll be amazed what they know! Tickets are free but bookings are essential.

“They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something.” ― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals