Volunteer Appreciation Month: Clark County Historical Society

by Natalie Fritz, Archivist & Outreach Director, Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center.


April is volunteer appreciation month, a great time to acknowledge those who give their time, talent, and energy to support our missions and day to day operations.

Depending on what kind of organization you are from, you may interact with, utilize and depend upon, and find your volunteers differently. I want to share a bit about my own experience with volunteers as the Archivist and Outreach Director for the Clark County Historical Society in Springfield, Ohio.

A color photograph of a stone and brick building. There are trees and light posts surrounding the building. Blue sky with white clouds are behind the building.

The Clark County Historical Society is housed in the Heritage Center.

First a bit of background on our organization. We are a county museum, founded in 1897. Since 2001 our home has been the Heritage Center, built as Springfield’s City Hall and Marketplace in 1890. The Heritage Center has a museum on the first and second floor, of the original building and we added an annex for more exhibits, the Expo Hall, in 2003. We have collections storage throughout the building, but primarily on the second floor, and our research library and archives are on the third floor on the east end of the very long, very narrow building. There are other tenants in the building, including Clark County Veterans Services, United Way, ODOT, and Un Mundo Café. We are grateful to have support from our community for a levy, which mainly helps with major upkeep and capital projects in our 130+ year old building.

A color photograph of a red brick building with green grass in front.

1820s Crabill Homestead.

We also have a nearby offsite storage facility with more objects and archival material and we manage the 1820s Crabill Homestead, normally open monthly April-October, just not this year, while we focus on large projects at the house.

We are fortunate to have paid wonderful staff members, eight full-time staff and two part-time. We do a lot of juggling and wear a lot of hats, like most places, but we really couldn’t do anywhere close to all that we do without the support of amazing volunteers! We have about 60 regular volunteers, mostly retirees, that work in the library and archives, in collections, in the museum at the front desk and as docents, for tours and events, and for special projects.

Two women sitting behind a table. Both are smiling and have papers on the table in front of them.

Springfield Wizarding Weekend, 2023

In addition, we have short term volunteers, like students completing service requirements from Wittenberg University and other local schools and capstone project students. There are also people we seek out through community contacts and resources like RSVP (managed through our local United Senior Services) for one-time events, like our annual wizarding themed event, which merges magic with local history. On average, our volunteers give over 3,500 hours per year.

Although I interact and work with most of our volunteers, wherever they may be, my main connection is with our archival volunteers, who work on a wide variety of different projects. We try to play to their strengths and interests as much as we can.

A man sitting behind a table. He is writing on a notepad with an archival box and folders on the table in front of him.

Volunteer Jim.

For instance, Jim, who has been with us for over a decade now, is not comfortable with computer work, but, as a lifelong Clark Countian, he has worked helping us identify local photos, slides, and more that have come in with new donations. He creates handwritten indexes and other volunteers follow behind to type his work.

A photograph of an old handwritten ledger. The handwriting is in cursive and overlapping making it difficult to read.

Diary that was written over top of an old ledger.

The art of reading handwriting seems to be falling away, but we know we have several volunteers who can decipher nearly anything who love to work on transcription projects. Kathleen tackled a particularly difficult project, transcribing a 19teens diary that was written OVER TOP of an old ledger with writing going across the page as usual, across two pages, sometimes down the page, and often between entries on the ledger.

A woman sitting behind a table working on a laptop computer. She is smiling at the camera.

Volunteer Kathleen.

There’s something to be said for making do with what’s available to you, but there’s also something to be said for rockstars like Kathleen who not only deciphered the diary text, but who also managed to transcribe the nearly hidden farm ledger entries beneath!

A woman sitting at a computer desk with an open box of archival materials on the desk. She turned away from the computer to face the camera.

Volunteer Barbara.

Other volunteers work on processing incoming donations, reorganize older collections, do entry in Past Perfect and help clean up metadata. Barbara is our only volunteer dedicated to scanning and she’s been coming in 2-3 times per week for more than 12 years, slowly but surely making her way through our photo collections. This week we’re fortunate to have one of those one-time volunteers, a local businessman whose company encourages their employees to volunteer a few times a year. He spent the day scanning photos from our local mall, which closed in 2022. We had previously indexed the photos, but without extra help, had made no plans to scan them any time soon. Paul inquired about the collection and offered to spend a day scanning to help make it more accessible.

If we could, we’d love to be able to take on dozens of volunteers, but, like everyone we’re bound by the limits of time and space. As the staff person supervising archives volunteers, I simply don’t have the time to max out our days with volunteers and we don’t have the space for each of them to work! So, we do the best we can and often rearrange and rethink things to see how we can tackle projects and bring in more help. We always appreciate all those willing to give their time to help preserve our community’s local history and make it more accessible to all!

Last Updated on May 7, 2024 by Emily Gainer