Yesterday, Tom and Sarah and I travelled to Birmingham for the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference. This was the first conference that I have attended so I was unsure as to what to expect. However, I came out of it with some brilliant new ideas on how to promote my collections and more importantly how to forge partnerships and collaborate with other institutions and sites of cultural heritage. The Library of Birmingham was a fantastic setting for such an event as it promotes collaboration in itself, having both archives and a library accessible for all. Being open for only 14 months and already attracting just under 3 million visitors signifies what a great role the library has in the local community.
The main themes that I picked up on throughout the day were collaboration, diversity and inclusion. This was to show how archives, museums and academia can work together to formulate stories and common experiences to heighten the impact and interest in their collections. This selection of varied institutions from across the heritage and cultural sectors created a discussion on future improvement and possibilities for further collaboration. It was inspiring to see this already in action through some of the speakers such as Kirsty Pattrick, from the Mass Observation Archive, who has been working alongside Lewes Prison Library to provide a voice for inmates who would otherwise be silenced in the pages of history. This project acts as a springboard for further engagement with offenders and provided them with a cathartic release within their rigid daily schedules. Another example of inclusive projects was provided by Katie Giles, from Kingston University Special Collections, who showcased the various ways in which she worked with both school children and adults with special educational needs. Her emphasis was on creative outputs and how to tailor to and inspire different audiences. One bit of advice I took from her presentation was to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
I was lucky enough to meet the author of the Special Collections Handbook, Alison Cullingford, whose book has been of great use to me during this placement. As I am responsible for the social media output here at the Research collections, her talk on the use of blogs and twitter was really helpful. She explained how to take an object and create a story around it as this is a more engaging approach that people will be more likely to take an interest in. Audiences like a good story and if you find an object within your collection that people would not expect you to hold then show it off, do not be afraid to stick simply to what people are expecting to see. I am hoping to visit Bradford University Special Collections soon to learn as much as I can from Alison and bring it back to Worcester.
The main thing I took from this conference was the confidence and inspiration to see how the seven placements across Worcester can take this notion of collaboration to increase engagement in our collections. I’m hoping to share what I have learnt with the others who did not attend to see what steps we can take towards working together.