A series of posts from our volunteers …
Laura Gunstensen – Library Volunteer
The ‘Botanics’ have always been a very special place for me since I arrived, fresh from Art College, to live and work in Edinburgh in 1968. Later it was a beautiful, safe, dog-free haven where I could meet with friends who also had small children and the view of Edinburgh from the lawn of Inverleith House is my absolute favourite. Now I’m enjoying a different ‘view’ from inside the Library.
Books are also very much part of my life and I began volunteering in the Library in 2012/13 in response to a plea from EDFAS for Heritage Volunteers to join a book cleaning group at RBGE. Numbers had dropped significantly and as I had a background in publishing (as a book designer) I thought it would be an appropriate place to offer my time and meet new people. It also provided a complete contrast to my other interests and family responsibilities. Having also had the experience of running my children’s Primary School Library in Hong Kong I was keen to be part of a more tranquil less chaotic environment.
Initially I was part of the monthly rota involving lots of lovely, like-minded ladies engaged in the necessary but soul-destroying task of cleaning the bound periodicals housed in the basement! We encountered many fascinating (and not so fascinating but sometimes amusing) obscure periodicals which seemed to have been deposited there from all corners of the globe; we were amazed by the sheer numbers of them all! Latterly we’ve been archiving donated collections of botanical illustrations, many of which are quite beautiful and painstakingly drawn; now, sadly, suspended due to the current Covid19 situation.
In 2014 I also became involved on a weekly basis; initially identifying books from the private collections of John Hutton Balfour and his son, Isaac Bayley Balfour that were in the Library in order to assist a Ph.D student. This was widened to include books from the Library of Johannis Ball and the Cleghorn Collection.
Tackling the copious correspondence of Harold Fletcher followed and along with Jane Gardner we read and recorded his letters to and from people, some highly influential but others just members of the general public. It was fascinating to discover how the letters revealed his character; his erudite, hard-working and kindly disposition but especially his wry sense of humour which he sometimes employed to devastating effect! Obviously enormously respected (even loved) by his colleagues and friends alike I was struck by his generosity of spirit going out of his way on many occasions to help people however ordinary the request. I would love to have met him.
Since completing this help has been needed in ‘general housekeeping’ sorting and sifting through endless boxes of material formerly lodged in the Herbarium that are now surplus to requirements. In consequence I’ve become very familiar with the vast range of periodicals housed in the Library.
It’s enjoyable as well as enlightening to feel part of a team making a contribution, however small, to the essential work of the friendly Library staff in maintaining such an important resource……an oasis of calm indeed in our ‘once busy’ world.