From the start, the huge amount of knowledge contained in the Audrey Richards’ donation boxes was obvious. As a new volunteer at the Centre of African Studies Library, I felt impressed (and a little bit nervous) when I first saw these papers, results of long years of research, and many different collaborations. In other words, it was a truly honorary pleasure to get to touch what I had in front of me and to discover Audrey Richards’ centres of interests.
The papers had to be listed and, if it was tricky at the beginning, I have to say I had the time of my life with these five boxes (Patrick Swayze was sadly elsewhere). Little by little, I felt I started to discover Dr. Audrey Richards, not only as the scientist we know within her books and research, but the person too : a person, with her very own interests and passions who kept for years papers and books which were sent to her. Going over her donation boxes made me feel special in a particular way, it was a chance to get to know someone who did so much in her life without even talking to her. It was like a big puzzle, and I wanted to gradually add its pieces. So yes, I was twitchy when I first started to open these boxes ; I was twitchy because I didn’t want to make any mistakes ; I was twitchy because eh, I was (and still am) a newbie so it was likely I would do something wrong. It took me some time, it took me some books, it took me some papers, to really understand what was going on and what I had in my hands. I was not meant to be an archives factory ; I was meant to see, to touch, to read and – most important – to enjoy that.
The first box I needed to catalogue was called MS RICH 2 (MS RICH 1 was fortuitously found soon after that). This box, along with the previous one, was an anthology of everything that didn’t really fit in the other boxes. From a chapter about Marriage in Northern Rhodesia to an article around Witchcraft and Sorcery, I think I had little stars in my eyes by the end of the day. What was brilliant was the diversity contained in one simple cardboard box; some papers were with annotations, some not, some were written in English, some were written in French… Two other boxes, South Africa and East Africa, were more structured in their composition as they were consolidated around specific parts of Africa. But fear not, they were as diversified as the first ones, touching a lot of different subjects (political, social, cultural). Another box, the last one, was called General ; although there were not any specific locations, all the articles and papers found inside were about customs and social systems.
Then, I had to write a short biography about Dr. Audrey Richards and had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ray Abrahams who knew her personally. I had the opportunity to go through his own boxes of donated materials and my very first “impressed-feeling” came back quickly. Meeting such a great Anthropological figure gave me goosebumps (and my cheeks were certainly blushing a bit).
Being a Volunteer at the Centre for African Studies Library is honestly the best professional experience I’ve ever had. It has given me the feeling of being part of something bigger, to help students and researchers by providing them with more resources. Volunteering has given me more focus in my career path, and I think that everybody should have at least a taste of this great experience.
Ophélia Labardacq is a volunteer at the African Studies Library, she will start an internship at the Schlumberger Institute in August, alongside starting her Masters in Library & Information Management at Sheffield.