Red Sticker Day

Cataloguing items in the archives means they can be accessed by customers. This involves lots of different tasks and I had the opportunity to help: checking through a collection of log books from the Worcestershire fire brigade to see whether they could be used by the public. As a member of staff I was cleared to work with such confidential and sensitive information, so I was able to read samples of the books. Then under the guidance of the archivists I had to put stickers on the archives to avoid other people doing the same. The stickering bit was fun – yes I am just a big kid at heart.

DSCN0827

Sarah updating the inventory

I was able to read through the log books, learning about the bathing routine of the firemen. I could also see patterns of chip pan fires in the winter and grass fires in the summer. I read only a sample of the collection, but after a few years’ worth of log books I noticed a change in the format. Additional data started to be included. Now the names, addresses and phone number of callers, home owners and details of casualties were recorded. The data protection act states that data has to be protected where it can identify a person, so where all these facts were included the books had to be closed to the public. Sadly I will be the last person to read these records for some time – now that they have been closed for 84 years, (or 100 years where children were mentioned).

Boxes in the archives - complete with new red stickers

Boxes in the archives – complete with new red stickers

But, where I had to close the records I was able to play with the stickers. I have left a rash of red stickers in my wake – across the boxes on the shelves in the strong rooms, on the books inside the boxes, and even on the inventory. In this way, everyone can clearly see where I the boxes contain sensitive information, and are to be avoided.

Firemen's log books

Firemen’s log books

So now when customers and staff are searching within BA11011, boxes 1 to 14 and 91 and part of boxes 15 and 92 can still be viewed. But the rest can’t be viewed, in some instances, until 2085, which means my work will be recognised long after my placement has finished.

Sarah Ganderton

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What is eating your collection?

We have turned into fledgling botanists-cum-poachers tracking down and hunting wild beasts – and museum pests are our prey.

insect 1We had no idea there were so many different kinds, all with their personal favourite hiding places, and diets. Some like the dark corners, under cases, where they munch on the carpet. Some venture into boxes and cases for a tasty morsel of skin, fur or textile. Others with a sharper tooth spend their lifetime wriggling through wood. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and can nibble at most things you might find in a museum or archive, if you don’t keep tabs on them.

insect from english heritage poster 2Luckily at the Archives there are very few live pests to worry about. A shiny new building with climate controlled strong rooms and carefully followed procedures mean only the most agile spider or fly can make it inside. But the conservator does deal with the evidence of insect attacks, after freezing everything to remove lodgers. Those books and documents scratched and gnawed by silverfish or left with delicate holes by the tiny Common Booklouse can be carefully put back together in such skilful hands, but it was interesting to learn more about the culprits.

At the Worcestershire Museums though the insect detecting now begins. The collection contains many stuffed animals, insect collections, textiles, carpets and wooden artefacts. These provide a veritable feast for biscuit beetles, furniture beetles, vodka beetles, and clothes moths, and require constant surveillance and control.

insect from english heritage posterThe National Brewery Centre in Burton-on-Trent provided the perfect setting for this training course with Jayne Thompson-Webb with great (if repulsive) actual examples and a chance to look around the museum itself to assess any possible pest control issues. This was also an opportunity to network with professionals and volunteers from other midland museums and historic houses, including Coventry Transport Museum, Middleport Pottery and Wightwick Manor. If you are tempted to learn more about museum tests, you can follow this link to the English Heritage pest poster.

Sarah

A musical interlude

I have a love-hate relationship with Regina Spektor’s 2012 song All the Rowboats. On the one hand, it is a cool song about museums and art galleries; on the other, it deals with a concept that cuts close to the bone for museum professionals. The song title refers to The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer that hangs the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the lyrics describe artefacts as imprisoned in museums:

First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences
It’s their own fault for being timeless
There’s a price you pay and a consequence
All the galleries, the museums
Here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs

And, one of the most galling images:

But the most special are the most lonely
God, I pity the violins
In glass coffins they keep coughing
They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing, how to sing

A recent event at at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum made me think of this song and pointed out that while Spektor can write a great tune, she has little idea of inventiveness and care of museum professionals. Thanks to the efforts of Senior Curator Philippa Tinsley, Marketing and Events Manager, Helen Large, and cellist Julia Palmer-Price, on 20th February, the incredible trench art oil can cello in Museums Worcestershire’s collection broke a silence that may have lasted for just under 100 years.

The beautifully and inventively crafted cello was created during the war by Reginald Quelch who served as a sapper with the Royal Engineers. He lived in Pershore and died at the age of 94 and his cello was subsequently donated to the museum. Last Friday, visitors to World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People and members of the press had the privilege of hearing an evocative rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary on this poignant instrument.

To continue to preserve this singular artefact it will certainly be some time before it is played again, but this event is a fabulous example of how as museum professionals we can balance care and calculated risk to both preserve objects and allow them life.

You can still see the cello on display at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery in World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People until march 14th.

Emalee Beddoes

Stanhope Forbes’ England Part 2

In my previous work in publishing, creating content for marketing and press was a day to day task for me, but there I had the benefit of an existing international specialist-interest audience.  When beginning work on press for Stanhope Forbes’ England, I was conscious that exhibition press is a very different species: it must appeal to both those who spend every weekend gallery-hopping and those who rarely visit, as well was both Forbes newbies and enthusiasts.

Stanhope Forbes' England advert

Stanhope Forbes’ England advert

My previous post, Stanhope Forbes’ England Part 1, gave some of the draft press material I had written to send to our talented PR team: Museums Worcestershire’s Marketing & Events Manager, Helen Large, and freelance PR consultant Helen Annetts. I met with the two Helens last week to discuss the draft and our plans for marketing. I was extremely pleased to find that they were happy with what I’d provided and used the text in various different ways throughout the press materials. Helen Annets also shared all sorts of useful advice about writing for the press, some of the key points that stood out for me were:

  • Begin by writing down bullet points of the key things that you wish to highlight – much like planning keywords before writing a blog post.
  • Including quotes from someone like the curator, a well-known subject specialist or even a member of the community involved in the project can add interest to a media pack.
  • Make key pieces of information easily accessible –the press are extremely busy people!

Working with ‘team Helen’ has highlighted the importance of dedicated marketing professionals in the heritage industry. While curators or front of house staff might be able to tweet, blog and make calls to the local press; the media savvy, contacts, and experience of PR and marketing teams are an essential step in insuring the success of exhibitions.

A Smithsonian Institution report on audience building highlights that “Museum marketing is unique because museums have a mission to educate the public as well as build audience and revenue.”[1] As heritage professionals we have the privilege of working with objects and stories that are entirely fascinating and do much of the work for us. The key duty of museum marketing, therefore, is not simply to stimulate revenue, but as a service that makes these objects and their stores accessible to as many people as possible.

[1] Smithsonian Institution, Audience Building: Marketing in Museums, October 2001 <http://tinyurl.com/l3aytca>  p. 1

 

Emalee Beddoes

 

How do I print from the microfilm?

This is one of the big questions we get asked at the Explore the Past desk. But it is difficult to answer without leaving the desk. So one of my first projects here was to create a guide to help people print or save from microfilm.

One thing we discussed in our PG Cert sessions and which has come in handy for our first assignment is to learn from experiences by reflecting on them and finding better ways to do them for the next time. So, while it is lovely to complete this project completed and means I can get on with the next thing, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on what I have learnt during this task.

Sarah Ganderton with Reader Printer Guide

Sarah Ganderton with Reader Printer Guide

This task brought together lots of the skills we are learning throughout our placements. I used project management skills we have discussed in our PG Cert sessions, although the project involved more stages than I expected, so it would have been easier if I had planned it better from the beginning. I used the exciting writing we learned about with Kate Measures in a training session. I even used volunteer management skills I am yet to officially learn but which Sue Pope advised us about. I learnt some new skills in the use of Microsoft word too, from Lisa my supervisor.

But learning isn’t all done through training, some is just learned by having a go a things. So I learned a little about managing other people, negotiating with them for their skills and assistance. I asked the opinion of current users of the microfilm reader printer about what was needed in this guide. I had assistance from trainees Danielle and Emalee, and Roger (one of the WAAS volunteers) to test out the guide and Alex (my boyfriend) kindly proof read it. And Lisa, my supervisor, helped me to reformat the guide to help make it more user friendly.

Part of our role in the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service is to make the archives accessible to the public and hopefully this guide will help to do just that, as well as providing a great vehicle for me to learn new skills.

Sarah Ganderton

MAG the Resilient

At the beginning of October, Etta, Rachel and I attended the Museum Association annual conference in Cardiff. Among many of the key themes was one word that I’m sure you’ve all heard much of lately: Resilience. The October issue of Museums Journal contained an interesting conversation between Emmie Kell of Cornwall Museums’ Partnership and Nêst Thomas of Gwynedd County Council discussing this term. Kell points out that one definition is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, while in Welsh, it translates into ystwythder – flexible.

From just a few months at MAG, I can confirm that flexibility is something that we have in spades! I’ve begun to understand the changes in physical and management structures, collections policy and approaches that Worcester Museum and Art Gallery has seen since the 1830s. I’ve also been present while big changes have been taking place recently.

Worcester City Library 1963

Worcester City Library 1963

After the library was moved to The Hive in 2012, the city council, who own the building and are the main funders for the museum, kindly allowed us to use the temporarily empty space on the ground floor for exhibitions and activities. This arrangement was never permanent and, at the decision of the city councillors, these rooms, along with areas of the basement, are now being returned to the council and converted into offices. It seems to me that the museum will certainly miss the extra space and, like any building work, it will cause some disruption. But in the spirit of “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, the deadline to vacate the space has been treated as a motivation to reassess, re-organize and streamline. While the reduction in square meters is spurring creative thought about how our gallery spaces and stores can be best utilized.

It has been great to see how incredibly positive the MAG team have been in this time of change: highlighting that it will strengthen our relationship with the council, provide customers for our café and shop, as well as offering an in-house audience for lunch-time talks and weekday events – all of which sounds very appealing!

It is likely that we will all be seeing many more service merges and partnerships in the museums sector and public service more generally. Worcester has been very forward thinking in this respect: The Hive, for example, seamlessly combines a university and council library, council customer services and an archives and archaeology service, not to mention a café. Having seen these successes, I’m very much looking forward to getting to know our new neighbours.

Emalee Beddoes

“Curiouser and Curiouser”

The trainees had a wonderful day in London last week, visiting a range a museums and archives. At the Imperial War Museum, and the Wellcome Library, we met and talked to professionals. Both venues have recently refurbished and installed an area that invites curious visitors to get closer to the collections, and coming from my placement at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I was interested to see how both venues are attracting new audiences to research.

At the Imperial War Museum Tim Free the Visitor Engagement Officer kindly showed us around. He explained the new layout of the displays, with the idea of a ‘cluster’ of objections linked together by a story which really appeals to visitors. The new layout has ‘post-it’ style labels don’t reveal a lot about the artefacts, but in the Explore History area the most interested visitors can learn more.

Explore History

Visitors are invited to Explore History at the Imperial War Museum

During the time I chatted to the assistant in Explore History, several people popped in to utilise the touch-screens for information on the museum displays. But visitors can go further. The area is full of books that give more in-depth information about artefacts, while oral histories can be searched and listened to on the computers. And yet there is more. The assistant told me about the number of people who are inspired by their visit to the museum to research their family and local history. Via a collection of leaflets and the next door research room visitors can access original documents. This is a brilliant way to connect with visitors who are inquisitive enough to get started with research.

Wellcome Reading Room

Wellcome Library Reading Room: for the incurably curious

And the story at the Wellcome Library is a similar one. There I was met by Ross Macfarlane who showed me around the ever growing library of medical- and health-related books and artworks. The library was wonderfully spacious and quiet, with industrious students working away in each corner. But my favourite part of the library was the brand new Reading Room. Here, visitors to the Wellcome Collection are encouraged to be curious. Exhibits such as phrenology heads, and medical implements are displayed with very limited labels alongside connected books, copies of documents, images, and even medical equipment, to encourage visitors to search for themselves, to learn more about the objects. For a while we chatted about the area and the ideas behind it, while watching visitors look around and interact with the displays, before I could no longer resist and had to get my own hands on the books and artefacts.

It is such a brilliant idea to have an area in between museum exhibits and research collections. The new areas provide a link between museums and archives, breaking down the invisible barriers between visitors and documents.  Judging by the number of visitors enjoying the two London sites we visited, access to documents is popular with the incurably curious.

Sarah Ganderton