A Week with Bristol Museums Digital Team

Rachel spent last week at Bristol Museums with their digital team – this post was originally published on their labs blog

Hello! My name’s Rachel and I’m a Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future graduate trainee. I am usually based in Worcester as part of the Worcestershire’s Treasures project, with my traineeship focused on audience development and events. As part of the traineeship I’m able to do a week’s secondary placement at another museum or heritage venue, and this week I joined the Bristol Museums digital team to get an insight into what they do, and generally learn some new stuff. I got in touch with Zak and Fay as I knew I wanted to spend my week elsewhere learning more about museums and digital. I had seen both of them speak at conferences – Zak at the Museums Association’s annual conference in Cardiff, and Fay at Culture 24’s Digital Change: Seizing The Opportunity Online in Birmingham – and thought Bristol seemed like the place to be for museums and digital!


I’ve been involved with some really interesting and useful things since the start of the week. On Monday I did some content management on the development site in preparation for user testing later on in the week. On Tuesday I sat in on a meeting with fffunction, and then joined the museum’s new digital marketing intern, Olivia, in creating some content for social media. As the Shaun the Sheep trail started this week, we had fun coming up with some awful sheep-related puns – keep an eye out for these on @bristolmuseum!

On Wednesday I visited The Georgian House Museum and The Red Lodge Museum, conducted some visitor surveys down at M Shed, and then yesterday I sat in on some user testing sessions with teachers, for the new learning pages of the website. They were given a number of scenarios to work through and it was really fascinating to see how users interact with the site and the different ways people navigate through it.

Some of the other useful things I’ve been introduced to this week are the organisation’s Audience Development Strategic Plan and their social media guidelines, and how data collected from users is collated and reported.  I also sat in on a meeting with some of the team involved with the upcoming exhibition death: the human experience to discuss the digital engagement to go alongside the physical exhibition and programme. This is just one example of the collaborative nature of the digital offer, and it came across to me that it is viewed as an integrative part of the exhibition, as opposed to just an add-on, which is really positive.

It’s also been great seeing how a different museum works. The museum I work at is quite different, in terms of size, staffing, collection and audience, and so coming to a large local authority museums service with seven physical sites has been a valuable experience in itself.

Overall I have had a brilliant week, I think it’s been a good overview of the team’s work, with lots of variety and things to get involved with. I have felt really welcome and included, and everyone at the museum has been so friendly. Thanks so much to the team for hosting me this week, and especially to Fay for letting me follow her round for most of it. My traineeship comes to an end shortly, so hopefully you’ll see me on a digital team soon!

The last assignment

All of us trainees have been working on the final assignment for our Leadership & Management (Heritage) Postgraduate Certificate This time we had to write a 4000 word report about a project in our work place – and we just handed it in so fingers crossed.


Sarah teaching a volunteer

My project involved working with volunteers to transcribe the Worcester Absent Voter list for 1918. The absent voter list, can show which voters were away because of the war, where they came from, and where they were, with a description of their service details. The volunteers have been adding addresses to what is already a useful resource for researchers of family, local and WW1 history

This project has been a great opportunity to work with volunteers, to get to know them individually, and to learn about how to supervise them on the task. During the project I learned about the council’s policies on recruiting volunteers, I took staff training at the University of Worcester on training people and read lots of books and articles about how to motivate volunteers. I was really pleased they kept coming back, and they did a great job of the transcribing. We even learnt some things about the people in the lists as we went along.

Absent Voters

Absent Voters book for 1918

The task is going to take a while to complete for the whole of Worcestershire, but eventually will be available for everyone to use, both on the shelf and on the website as a searchable electronic copy. In the meantime, lots of electoral registers are available on the local studies collection shelves on level 2, and the Worcestershire electoral registers for 1918 and 1919 are available from the original archives during opening hours.

Sarah Ganderton

Efficient Minute Taking

The University of Worcester provides great staff development opportunities for its employees; including mindfulness, time management and software skills, to name just a few. I thought I would make use of this opportunity during my time at the Research Collections and was recommended to attend a course on Minute Taking and Servicing Meetings. Initially I was apprehensive as I thought that spending a day learning how to take effective notes was a little excessive. However, I was wrong and I actually learned quite a lot from this session which will benefit both my traineeship and hopefully my future career.OTTtitle

The programme was provided by the enthusiastic Jill Bowman from On Target Training who took us through the full protocol of how to service a meeting alongside the Chairperson. In previous experience, I have frantically written notes verbatim until my hand hurt and my energy had gone. This was because I was unaware of the level of detail required and wanted to make sure I did not miss anything important. This is a very ineffective and inefficient method of writing minutes as you recite information which does not need to be recorded and lose focus of the main points of discussion. Jill suggested that minutes needed to contain the following components:

  • Background – why was this item brought to the agenda?
  • Discussion – what are the views surrounding it?
  • Decision – what conclusions have been made?
  • Action – what has to be done? By who? And when?

The decision and action points could be interchangeable but one of them is required for each agenda item. This is all you need to ensure that your minutes are informative and relevant whist capturing areas for concern and objectives for the future. Focus on what the key issues are and make sure these are fully represented in your minutes. The best minutes come from a good rapport with the Chair as they can summarise and go over points to ensure that everyone understands and that you have recorded the discussion correctly.

The day increased my confidence in minute taking and pushed me to try new techniques to enhance my efficiency both in and after meetings. I am very grateful for the opportunity and would recommend the course to anyone who, like me, felt they did not need specific training on the subject.

I will leave you with some top tips from Jill:

  • If you are new to minute taking, do your research on the attendees and try to understand the topic of the meeting.
  • Sit by the Chair – you can quickly ask questions and clarify any notes with little disturbance to the meeting.
  • Once the meeting is finished find a quiet place to immediately read over your notes – clarify your words and make sense of your text whilst it is still fresh.
  • Try to compile a rough draft of your minutes (for your eyes only) within 24 hours of the meeting to ensure that you retain as much information as possible.
  • Make sure what you present is a true representation of events at the meeting as they will need to be agreed by the attendees / Chair.

Thank you,

Danielle Joyce

Moving On Up

Last month Lily and I attended the Museums Association’s conference for early career professionals, Moving On Up. This year held in Leicester, the event “aims to help people increase their confidence, meet new contacts and find out about innovative and creative ways of getting ahead rather than just relying on traditional career paths.”

The entire day felt very positive and inspiring, and I particularly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Kathryn Perera and Hilary Jennings, which focused on aligning your values and goals with who you are as a person, wellness and fulfilment. Both speeches could have applied to virtually any sector, and were a reminder of things to consider beyond a role’s tasks and practical aspects such as salary or commute time when job hunting.

Charlotte Holmes from the MA then led a session on professional development and goal setting, asking us to reflect on where we were seven years ago, where we see ourselves in seven years’ time, and one step we would take within the next year to be closer to the future vision. The session made me wonder what will happen within the next seven years, as the past seven for me have seen a lot of growth and change – in 2008, I was in my first year of sixth form.

There were also sessions on interviewing and a Q&A with three museum directors (Maggie Appleton, Tony Butler and Iain Watson) who spoke about how they got to where they are now. One of the things that really stood out to me from the Q&A was not to underestimate the value of experience from outside of the sector. I think it is easy when pursuing a career in heritage to think that heritage experience will always be the most important thing on your CV, but many of us have worked in other industries and have gained useful experience there. An example Iain Watkins gave in relation to this is that everyone he has hired into the retail arm of Tyne and Wear Museums has come from a retail background.

I found the day really useful as as we are now well over the halfway point of the traineeship, I will soon need to begin to think about my next steps. The message of not being afraid of a meandering career path and the value of transferable skills was a pertinent one to hear when I will be soon be re-entering into such a competitive and relatively unstable heritage job market; I’m well aware that I will most likely need to be flexible about both sector and role when it comes to my next position!

You can read the MA’s round-up of the day here and a blog based on Kathryn Perera’s keynote speech here.

Rachel Murphy

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.


Leadership and Management (Heritage)

As our first term of our course has come to an end I thought I would share a little bit about what we have learned so far. As part of our placements we have been attending a postgraduate course in Leadership and Management (Heritage) in order to equip ourselves with the business capabilities to run a heritage site. This introduced many of us to a new side of museums whereby our involvement went deeper than just an interest in history or education and we began to look at the museum site as a business in its own right.

Our first module was entitled ‘Professional Development Profiling’ and was taught by Dr. Anita Pickerden. This module aimed to enhance our leadership and management skills as well as our understanding of the external factors facing heritage managers. We have been using reflective techniques to understand our shortfalls and improve our chances of future success as a leader in museums, libraries and archives.

The reflection cycle:  The aim of reflection is to develop an action cycle where reflection leads to improvement and / or insight.

The reflection cycle:
The aim of reflection is to develop an action cycle where reflection leads to improvement and / or insight.

Over the past four sessions we have been doing Action Learning Sets. In these a candidate will raise an issue and the group will help them reach action points and a deadline to help rectify the situation. The difference here is that group members are encouraged to asked insightful questions to help the candidate think for themselves rather than impose an opinion upon them. These sets are not just a learning experience for the individual but for the group as a whole as we can each reflect on the subject in hand to learn.

Our last session centralised on the theme of project management. This was to prepare us for our work based project module. Since our days at school we were all told the importance of planning in order to ensure a smooth running project, however Anita discussed the importance of pre-planning to make sure the project is viable both time-wise and financially. This included thinking of potential risks such as the possible; no one turning up, to the extreme; shelving collapses followed by a flood. This module coincides with the work undertaken at our placements and provided support for work based concerns and how to approach these in a professional manner. We were encouraged to keep a learning journal which records our reflection process so that we can monitor our own professional development. This technique has been invaluable in seeing how far we have progressed already and areas we may wish to improve on in the future.

Example diagram for Situational Leadership styles

Example diagram for Situational Leadership styles

I must admit that walking in to this course I was a little wary as I had not come from a business background and was not aware of certain theories or practices. However, this module has increased my confidence in my own workplace by providing me with techniques as to how to manage your time and how to get tasks done. This has also taught me about how to negotiate within the workplace and the different management styles that are suited to particular environments. Anita has been a great coach who has guided us all through our introduction to this postgraduate course and helped us with our panic over assignments.

We are hoping the next module will be equally as engaging and help us to continue with our personal career development.

Thanks for reading.

Danielle Joyce

“Welcome to Dudley Archives”

Dudley Leaflets

Dudley Archives leaflets

Sarah at Dudley Archives

Dudley Archives

No, I didn’t get lost on the way to work. I had a day out at Dudley to see their new Archives and Local History Service.

Dudley Archives sent me some leaflets for another project I am working on, so more on that in a later post. The people and the place looked so inviting from the leaflet that I decided to visit.

It was lovely to see how a different archive is run and to meet the team. Rob Bennett the archivist met me and gave me a tour around the building, showing me the lovely new building. We saw the strong rooms and he pointed out the lift with teething problems as we took the stairs. The meeting rooms are beautifully decorated with local archive photographs, and the large room that holds the cooling system for the strong room is completely space aged. Rob even made time to explain to me the theory of cataloguing archive collections, which was really useful.

Sarah at Dudley Archives

Sarah at Dudley Archives

Sarah in Dudley Archives

Sarah hard at work at Dudley Archives

The building is shared with the home libraries team and the meeting rooms are used by local council departments, so there is a busy atmosphere to the place. The day I visited, there was a job centre plus meeting upstairs, and the Friends of the archives trained people to use the computers. Meanwhile, staff were putting together a World War One exhibition and preparing hand-outs for the next day’s visit of 100 school children. Yet Jane, Sophie, Luke and Phil still had time to welcome new users to the service – and to welcome me. Under their supervision I helped with locating and putting away boxes of archives for customers, and repackaging council archives.

I learnt lots while I was in Dudley, and I took away some new ideas and an appreciation of how different archives operate. I especially liked the friendly atmosphere and the welcoming feel of the building: it really was as welcoming as it looked from the leaflets.

I you are interested in archives from Dudley you can search their collections online or pop along and visit.

Sarah Ganderton