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A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham.

Do you know how hard it is not to lick your finger when trying to turn pages of flimsy pieces of paper? I recently spent a day at Glamorgan Archives, using their specialist photography equipment to photograph Mary’s PhD thesis – all 607 pages of it – and the only easy way to turn its wafer-thin pages was to lick my finger, much to the horror of the Archives’ staff. ‘Sorry. I know I shouldn’t,’ said I to the woman who told me off. ‘It’s not the material I’m concerned about,’ said she. ‘You could catch all kinds of germs!’

That was not something I had particularly considered but the possibility was brought home to us in the office this week when we started indexing a box of Mary’s files, which had until recently lain forgotten in someone’s garage and has now been gifted to the project. The garage had obviously had some small furry visitors over the years and one of the boxes still contained the remains of a mouse’s nest. There were droppings, the ends of Mary’s notes had been nibbled and – the irony was not lost on us – files were strewn with shredded plastic from a bag of cat food. The contents of a packet of sterile gloves were also not as sterile as they might once have been.

It doesn’t take much googling to realise what nasty diseases we humans can catch from mice urine and faeces, so now, miraculously, I find I am completely cured of my desire to lick my fingers!

For the full story about the Mary Gillham Archive Project, check out our website, and follow our progress on Facebook and on Twitter.

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