So long and thanks for all the cake

It seems somewhat odd writing about the end of my traineeship, as I’m still here at the desk where I’ve sat over the past 15 months, continuing work on the same projects I’ve been chipping away at during this time. I’ve become very fond of my little corner at MAG and I’m pleased to say that I’ll be staying for the next few months.

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Bridget Macdonald, Winter Cattle, image supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation, Worcester City Collection

During this time I will be working on three exciting new exhibitions, but at the moment I am mostly focused on This Green Earth: Bridget Macdonald and the landscape tradition of Claude Lorrain, Samuel Palmer and Peter Paul Rubens (Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum) 13th February — 25th June 2016) a loan-based exhibition with incredible artworks coming from Ashmolean Museum and Manchester Art Gallery. The show will explore the timeless yearning for elusive peace and tranquillity of rural life that underpins landscape art. I will also be making my first steps into curating medical and social history, working on A Happy Convalescence (Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury Castle, March 12th 2016 – late 2018), which will bring together years of research from historians involved in the Worcestershire World War 100 project to share the stories of the nurses and wounded soldiers at Hartlebury Castle during it’s time as a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital.

Last week, on Wednesday 21st October, we marked the end of the final Worcestershire’s Treasures Skills for the Future project at an event at Worcester Guildhall. It was a great opportunity to celebrate everything that the scheme has achieved over the last four years and share to what it has meant to each of us. But it was also quite a sad moment, saying goodbye to ‘The Treasures’ who are leaving for exciting jobs further afield and marking the end of a project that has given so much us and to Worcestershire’s heritage industry.

The final tranche of Worcestershire's treasures trainees wit Sue Beardsmore from Heritage

The final tranche of Worcestershire’s Treasures trainees with Sue Beardsmore from Heritage Lottery Fund

I have had the most fantastic time over the last 15 months, the amount I have learned, achieved and developed as a person has been incredible. I cannot overstate how grateful I am to Heritage Lottery Fund and the Worcestershire’s Treasures team for the opportunity. I am, most of all, hugely grateful to Philippa and everyone at Museums Worcestershire for their support, knowledge, kindness and professionalism.

Because of the Skills for the Future project and the support of the Museums Worcestershire team, I have progressed from an editor and aspiring museums professional to a qualified, experienced and confident curator. On top of the pleasure of working in heritage, I am also very happy to be able to continue supporting the brilliantly resilient and ambitious Museums Worcestershire and continue working at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, which has become like a second home to me.

Emalee Beddoes

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Coming to the End

We all knew from the start that the traineeships were fixed term contracts, but fifteen months seemed such a long time. That was now fourteen and a half months ago. The time has absolutely flown by – as it tends to do when one is having fun – and I sometimes wonder what I did with it all. The answer would be quite a lot!

With four exhibitions, a major collections decant, the setting up of a pop-up museum and the studying for a postgraduate certificate, this year has certainly been a busy one. Add to that the general day-to-day running of the library, the delivery of tours, answering enquiries and running a social media presence, and it soon becomes clear just how much I have achieved as part of this traineeship.

I have been able to learn new skills – in volunteer management, in palaeography, in digital image editing, cataloguing, preventative conservation and public speaking – while keeping my existing abilities in Latin and research skills nice and sharp.

Then there have been the discoveries I have made and the institutional knowledge about the collection that I have been able to add to – whether through finding (perhaps) the first evidence of Hops being grown in England or discovering that some of our books were once owned by important Elizabethan courtiers! It’s been great to share these findings with a wider audience through the library blog, and I’m currently training up some volunteers to keep it running after I’ve gone – do keep up with it here: https://worcestercathedrallibrary.wordpress.com/ !

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Deciphering obscure book provenances has proved to be very rewarding!

I’m due to start my new job as a Project Research Assistant at Guildford Museum in early November. I’m very excited to be starting my new role, and have no doubt that my traineeship will have prepared me very well for it. I will, however, thoroughly miss the library and its collection. That’s not even to mention the staff here and the volunteers! To everyone involved in the traineeship – I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what has been the most fascinating and illuminating period of my life so far!

Tom Hopkins

My Worcester Pop-Up Museum – Marketing and PR

As Sarah mentioned in her post below, last month saw us hosting our ‘pop-up’ museum in Reindeer Court in the city. My role in the team covered marketing and PR. It’s probably worth saying now that when we began this project I had no formal training in either area, so my methods may not have been conventional, but I am pleased with the outcomes, and like the rest of the traineeship, the project was a great learning experience!

To begin, I put together a marketing strategy which was separated into online/external/print/shop. One of the things I did, following our group training session with a freelance PR consultant, was to write a number of press releases, and we gained coverage in Worcester News, the Worcester Observer, and on BBC Herefordshire & Worcestershire radio – a huge thank you to the two Kens who were involved in the project and took time out of their day to come and speak to journalists. I was particularly pleased as Helen, who delivered our training session, said we should aim for two pieces of coverage, so that was surpassed (just!) As nothing like this project had been done before, it was quite difficult to make predictions for both the amount of coverage and number of visitors we could expect.

My Worcester Museum coverage, via Worcester News

My Worcester Museum coverage, via Worcester News

I think if I were to take on a similar role again, I would probably do some more research into marketing and PR methods to begin with, I would give myself a longer lead-in time, and I would hopefully have more time to work on creating and sourcing content for our online platforms. That being said, I know we were all really pleased with the visitor numbers we had (c.250 over three and a half days), and many of those visitors had come to us intentionally, rather than just coming in after walking by, which I think demonstrates that the marketing was effective. It almost goes without saying, though, that the project was a group effort and so our collective work was what made it success, so well done to my fellow trainees, we did it!

Rachel Murphy

Decanting the Past into the Future

As was mentioned in my previous blog about the Trainees’ swap shop hosted at the Cathedral, we are having some pretty serious work done to the library’s ceiling. In order to protect our lovely books from the manifold dangers implicit in building work of such a nature, it was necessary to move them out – wholesale – to another location.

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Books being wrapped.

My previous blog dealt with wrapping. Today I’d like to talk to you about packing. And shifting. Putting books into boxes has many advantages. It makes it easier to carry lots of them in one go. It also adds a sturdy layer of corrugated cardboard to further protect them.

First, the boxes were gently layered with bubble wrap, and the books, upon being deposited inside, were lovingly ensconced within a protective helping of biodegradable filler-puffs (christened ‘Wotsits’ by one of our volunteers, owing to their similarity with the popular maize-based, cheese-flavoured snack).

Boxes can, of course, sometimes be too heavy. We had to make sure that our boxes weighed no more than 15kg – roughly the weight of a small spaniel, or fifteen one kilogram bags of self-raising flour. But we had no scales, and a rare books library is no place for animals or food. So we launched an appeal for loans of bathroom scales, and received a really good response. At first, we would weigh ourselves. Then we would weigh ourselves holding a box. Using maths, it was possible to work out how much the box weighed. At length, though, we discovered that it was better to just weigh the books. Not least, this prevented any sensitive information about my own body weight from falling into enemy hands.

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The old technique of weighing boxes was soon superseded by a more efficient method.

We recorded information as we went. Each box was numbered, and the shelf-marks of the books were recorded as and when they were put into the boxes. This means that we can tell straightaway which box contains which books – a helpful way to keep track of them as they move between sites.

Books in boxes take up much more room than books on shelves. Unlike Tokyo, it’s just an inefficient use of space. This meant that it soon seemed like we had more boxes than we had room for – so we had to be really inventive. Every available bit of floor, shelf, cupboard or flat surface was used, while making sure we left passageways between the stacks of boxes, and keeping clear access to fire escapes and extinguishers. Safety first.

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Many boxes.

As soon as the last books were boxed, it was time to take them out. Simultaneously, the builders swooped in and started preparing for their end of things. Even though the books would be safe, our (far less portable) 17th Century shelving had to stay in place, and required protection.

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The specialist builders prime the shelves with protective sheeting.

As any of you who have visited the library will now, access is only available via a narrow spiral staircase. Moving all the boxes down there would be a task not even Hercules could manage. Fortunately, we had a lift installed, and had the help of the Cathedral’s service team move everything out.

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Hercules wasn’t required for this job, but Theseus was – in order to navigate around the labyrinth formed by the boxes.

It took us three and a half days to achieve in the end. Fortunately, the weekend came in the middle of that period – providing much needed rest and recuperation. In the end, we had something like 1500 boxes – getting on for 22,500 kg in weight – almost as much as a Soviet T-34 tank, although considerably less than a Tiger II.

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The library – almost empty.

The building work is due to finish in the Summer – and then we have to move everything back in.

Tom Hopkins

In the darkroom

Hidden away in the depths of the Hive, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has its own in-house digitisation service. The highly skilled staff who work there were able to teach me about some of the skills required to work in digitisation, as well as discussing some of the issues involved, while I helped them with their additional workload.

Specialising in the digitisation of documents, film, and slides, the digitisation service at the Hive are able to generate additional income by taking on work for other archives and archaeology services. But when rush orders are received, the skilled staff have to source volunteers, interns and trainees like myself to help out. So from December last year until January I was invited to help with such a project, digitising slides for another midland Historic Environment Record (HER), and to learn the skills required.

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Sarah working in the darkroom, examining a slide from the HER

I was taught about the software involved, shown the camera, and given a seat. John explained that in this task, dirt and movement are our enemy. I had to gently brush away dirt and dust from each slide before placing it on the stand, and using the tiny vacuum cleaner to clean the equipment before starting the next batch, keeping it all clean so there were no smidges. I had to ensure the carefully weighted stand didn’t wobble so that the photograph wouldn’t end up blurry, and to check the exposure level of each individual slide to ensure each one was photographed at its best. Then I had to tweak the settings using Photoshop and save it all correctly, keeping all 5000 slides in order, and popping them all back into their sleeves.

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Sarah using the teeny tiny vacuum cleaner

Having not used such photographic software before, I now feel much more confident to tweak and improve my own images through Photoshop, and I understand and appreciate a little more about everything the team have to consider every time they digitise a new image. There is a lot more involved than just scanning images, and it involves a lot of time and expertise. I learned about issues of information storage, in terms of storage space and possible obsolescence of technology as well as looking out for broken slides and even mouldy items that might need to go straight into the quarantine room.

These slides, were the height of technology in the seventies and eighties when they were first produced. Now we are digitising them to make them available and useful for the future, but how long will it be before this technology itself is replaced by a new idea?

Sarah Ganderton

Our First Swap Shop: Worcester Cathedral Library

As part of our traineeships, we’re each encouraged to host the other trainees at our placements, so that they might learn skills not necessarily on offer in their own ones. The library hosted the first of these last week, and all agreed that it was a fun and successful day!

As the library is closing due to repair work on its ceiling, all the books are having to be wrapped and packed for their safekeeping. Owing to the great age of most of our books, this means more than just shoving them into a box! First, the books need to be vacuum cleaned, before being wrapped in acid-free tissue paper. This helps to stop both dust and sunlight from getting to and damaging the books, as well as forming a protective layer between them and harmful, corrosive chemicals that may be present in non-archival grade card and plastics. Then the books are labelled so that we can keep track of their location. The boxes that they go in are lined with bubble wrap before being loaded, and any voids between the books and the sides of the box are filled with protective wadding.

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Demonstrating the correct use of the vacuum cleaner.

That may still seem rather simple. The whole point of the swap shop was to show that such an exercise (known as a ‘decant’ in museum parlance) is rarely, if indeed ever, that straightforward. Books come in all shapes, sizes and different levels of condition – what technique may work for one could well spell doom for another. I demonstrated a number of packing options for some of our more poorly books – including one lacking its front and back-boards, spine, and most of its stitching. Even in a library, you can’t bank on every object being of regular dimensions. I showed a number of techniques for dealing with some of the more difficultly shaped objects in our holdings – not just books – including an iron crucifix, shrapnel-scarred organ pipe, and some orchestral batons.

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Can Emalee and Rachel guess just what funnily shaped object is in the box?

Although I was leading the day, the process was always intended to be a two-way process. Those who had experience in working with collections before (which included most of us) were encouraged to share their insight. Etta showed a brilliant trick for easily lining boxes with tissue paper – which I wish I had learnt years ago – and Emalee had some very useful criticism on my wad-making technique.

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Etta demonstrates her short-cut to acid-free bliss.

Aside from the educational aspect of the day, having the other trainees working in the library for the day really helped with the ongoing decant project, and we got through a truly impressive amount of material amongst the seven of us.

Tom Hopkins

Words on a page

Trainee Nurse's Notebook

Trainee nurse’s notebook

In the process of sorting out the educational resources at the George Marshall Medical Museum I came across this notebook; it belonged to a nurse during her days at training college. It includes anatomical sketches, lecture notes, to-do lists and doodles. It’s the workings of her mind put down on paper as knowledge was acquired and experience gained.

It occurred to me that since finishing university in 2012 I have no longer kept any formal record of my day to day life; assuming Facebook does all the hard work for me. My rucksack is always full of scribbled to-do and shopping lists but other than the fact that I regularly forget to buy milk, they tell me very little. I had lost the discipline of writing to record and recording to learn.

This was the case up until I began my traineeship. All trainees keep a record of their learning as part of the role. As I’ve discovered, keeping a learning journal is an additional task to your week but the benefits are manifold. It will be a useful record for writing job applications when the time comes but it also serves as an important evaluation tool in underlining what training we’ve received and when we’ve put it to use.

Writing a learning journal has continued as a key aspect of the Professional Development Profile for the PG Cert. Danielle has previously written more on the module here. During the sessions, we were introduced to the process of reflective writing. This practice is not only about recording factual wheres and what fors. It is a process of capturing your thoughts and ideas throughout your experiences to help you identify your strengths, weakness and preferences in learning, to enable you to become a more mindful leader.

Foundling Museum, London

Foundling Museum, London

In November, Lily and I visited the Foundling Museum in London. We met with the Learning Coordinator who discussed their schools and family learning programme and gave us a guided tour of the galleries. It was an insightful and interesting day but it wasn’t until I returned to the office on Monday morning and began my learning journal that I could fully appreciate what a useful experience it had been. Through articulating exactly what ideas I had gathered I could recognise how I can actually put them to good use. Identifying what I had learnt in this way has had a recognisable impact on the educational workshop that I’m in the process of creating. Moreover, I will be able to reflect on my learning when writing my Professional Development Profile assignment.

So far, my traineeship has been so fast paced that it would be almost impossible to have recorded everything. I’m sure that much of what I’ve learnt may not even become apparent until long into my next role. However, the New Year will see the six month mark of the traineeships and with Christmas less than a week away, now seems like a very good time to take stock. I can definitely say that reflective writing and remembering to put words on a page will always be on my to-do list.

Thanks for reading,

Etta Griffiths