Book trolley laden with D H Lawrence printed materials

November 24, 2021, by Kathryn Steenson

From Reader to Volunteer: an exciting, satisfying, and inspiring experience

This is a guest post written by former UoN MA English Literature student, and now University of Birmingham PhD student, Buxi Duan.

Hi, my name is Buxi Duan. Since this June, I’ve been working as a volunteer at UoN’s Manuscripts and Special Collections, cataloguing thirteen boxes of materials related to (one of) the most famous Nottingham writer, D. H. Lawrence.

Earlier this year, Nottingham Local Studies Library transferred these materials related to Lawrence – ranging from photocopies of journal articles to BBC scripts – to MSC. Yes indeed, MSC holds a wide range of materials related to Lawrence, most of which are unavailable in any other British libraries! (Do check their online catalogue here) With an ambition to make their D. H. Lawrence gems accessible to a wider audience, MSC is leading a two-year AHRC funded project ‘Unlocking the D. H. Lawrence collection’. These materials from Nottingham local studies library will become a great addition to MSC’s Lawrence universe.

Book trolley laden with D H Lawrence printed materials

Trolley of D H Lawrence printed material waiting to come to Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Book trolley laden with books and some box files stacked on the floor next to it

Trolley of D H Lawrence printed material from Angel Row Local Studies Library









So, what’s my job as a cataloguing volunteer? As the job title suggests, my primary responsibility is to catalogue these materials on the trolley☝️. What I need to do is to list every item in a spreadsheet, briefly describe its content, and check whether MSC has already held a copy. Sounds a bit boring? Not to me, AT ALL! As a Lawrence enthusiast, it feels like a treasure hunt to bring new additions into the whole Lawrence collection. I’m currently doing a PhD on Lawrence’s polemical essays. So, after three years’ of visits, I’m pretty familiar with MSC’s existing Lawrence collection. Not exaggerating but I can literally remember some reference numbers. (Sometimes I don’t even remember my postcode!) So, one can just imagine how excited I was when I received an email saying that I could have the privilege to explore this unknown treasure island! On my first day here, there was a routine induction and while my supervisor, Sarah, brought me to MSC’s storage and showed me these materials, I think I understood Gollum. I was silently screaming: MY PRECIOUS!

Photo of a row of rolling library stacks taken from above.

D H Lawrence archive on the rolling stacks, as seen from above

Photo of shelves filled with labelled acid-free book boxes

Manuscripts of some of D H Lawrence’s short stories in the archive Store









Photo taken at floor level between two bays of rolling shelves filled with acid free archive boxes

D H Lawrence archive seen from below

Photo of static shelves in the Store

More archive boxes in the Store!











Cataloguing these archives was an invaluable experience. Not only did I develop an efficient (well, I think) working pattern sorting archives, which I immediately adapted into my own research, but I realised that there are plenty of opportunities to introduce Lawrence beyond academia. The Lawrence materials at MSC I often request and read are manuscripts and scholarly editions. But this opportunity brought me into a new world of other possible activities beyond academia, such as the exhibition ‘Young Lorenzo’ held at Nottingham Castle in the 1970s and radio scripts discussing Lawrence’s masterpieces. Inspired by these materials, I’m developing an interactive online project, ‘Mapping D. H. Lawrence’, to pinpoint Lawrence’s footsteps around the world on historical and modern maps. To me, it is this experience that encouraged me to take part in public engagement activities and to think creatively about how to present my research to non-specialist audiences.

Young man standing looking at some volumes laid out on book cushions and foam supports in the archive Store

Buxi and Lawrence in the Store

If you’re interested in archival studies or plan to pursue a career in this field, volunteering at MSC is definitely a smart choice. A quiet reading room where you can keep concentrated, patient supervisor and helpful colleagues from whom you can learn a lot: MSC is SUPER! Just a little reminder: it might take a long time before a confirmed position as it’s highly competitive! (I waited a year!) But believe me, it’s worth the wait.

If you want to know more, just DM me on Twitter @buxi_duan. Always happy to share!?

If this has inspired you, click here to find out more about the D. H. Lawrence collections. You can email us to make an appointment to visit the Reading Room or ask about volunteering here. Or, follow us @mssUniNott on Twitter, Instagram and our newsletter for more about our collections and placements more generally.

Posted in Guest blogs