Volunteer: Tim Jones

Role: Digital Librarian

Partner Organisation: University of the South Pacific, Cook Islands Campus

What was your role in the Cook Islands?

I spent eight months working as a digital librarian and archivist at the University of the South Pacific (USP) Cook Islands Campus. I was engaged on a twelve-month assignment through Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA). Delays to my travel due to COVID-19 reduced the term of my assignment from twelve months to eight. USP in the Cook Islands offer a wide range of tertiary courses but they also hold important archival collections, and the goal of this assignment was to improve the organisation of and access to one of these collections: the papers of Ron Crocombe.

How did you assist your partner organisation in achieving their goals?

A decent amount of basic listing and sorting of materials into containers of various kinds had already been done when I arrived. However, it seemed to me that what was needed was a single, uniform, expandable arrangement and description system – a database, in other words – that could be used to list and, equally important, present, the Crocombe papers. The system I selected to achieve this was the web version of Omeka, which offered a range of advantages. For the Crocombe papers, the most efficient way of adding records was to create datasets in a spreadsheet, making it possible to exploit Excel’s conventional tools for numbering, sorting, and organising data.

I also organised a forum so that people involved in collecting Cook Islands material could come together and share their plans and ideas. This was a great success in sharing knowledge and skills. It inspired overseas speakers to reflect on the Cook Islands material in their collections and it inspired local archivists and librarians to aim high in the work they do. The energy and the flow of ideas was palpable. The benefit here was not just to USP staff but to the whole community.

Wins you’ve had while being on assignment.

A small win was that the USP Cook Islands Campus has made a computer available to anyone, whether affiliated with the USP or not, access to the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PMB) records online. This outcome was thought about and delivered during the forum and showed the degree of cooperation and mutual understanding that existed between the various participants. Connections between the Cook Islands and Hawai‘i were also strengthened. The Center for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawai‘i Mānoa and Te Puna Vai Marama at the USP clearly have interests in common. Links are strong between the Cook Islands and Australasia, so it seemed fitting to develop others. Connections between and within the various parties working on the maintenance of Cook Islands heritage within the country itself were strengthened, and I hope that these continue to develop. Volunteer Service Abroad has appointed Jennie Hood to continue this work. As with so much archival work, I collected a baton and passed it on. The long game continues.

Any final words?

I would especially like to thank Dr Debi Futter-Puati, director of the University of the South Pacific Cook Islands Campus. Debi and her small team do amazing work, and I thank every one of them for helping make my time in the Cook Islands so enjoyable. Thanks also to all the people at Volunteer Service Abroad who made this possible, especially the Cook Islands Programme Manager - Tina Mackie and her team. To all the participants at the forum, meitaki, meitaki, meitaki. None of this would have been possible without your enthusiasm and support.