In the second and final installment of our interview with Collections Trainee Tyler Mills, we will be exploring the area of Collections Management, including looking at acquisition processes and exhibitions. Last time, we explored the world of Collections Care and Preventative Conservation, and that post can be found here. Tyler's role was funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures grant.
Tyler, can you tell us what Collections Management is?
Let’s start with a definition. Collections Management involves the ‘development, storage, and preservation’ of collections at museums, combining the hands-on nature of Collections Care with the more administrative processes of managing the collection…
Collections Management is the name of a group of processes, procedures and practices that allow museums to gather and store information, enabling people to access, use and learn from the collection in many ways. Following carefully set procedures, museums can safely and easily conduct practices such as acquiring new objects, borrowing objects from other institutions, and creating exhibitions for the public (you!) to enjoy.
What are these procedures?
Each Accredited Museum will have its own set of procedures drawn-up in line with the Collections Trust SPECTRUM Standard. This James Bond-sounding Standard is used in the UK to define all the necessary procedures that add up to good museum practice.
Let’s go through several of the most important procedures one by one, exploring what each involves:
Object Entry – recording when, how and why objects enter the museum
Acquisition and Accessioning – the formal process of adding an object to the museum’s permanent collection, with all the necessary record keeping involved
Location Control – a procedure to record where an object is kept, or to record when it moves
Inventory – the place where details of all objects in a collection can be found
Cataloging – the process of recording extended details about objects in a collection, including references to publications
Object Exit – recording when, how and why an object leaves the museum
Loans In – the process of borrowing objects from other institutions or individuals
Loans Out – the process of lending objects to other institutions
That is a lot to think about!
Yes, and there are many, many more procedures out there such as condition checking, valuations, insurance, emergency plans, damage and loss. We could talk about how some of these procedures work in practice here at Jane Austen’s House Museum, and how we incorporated them into our current exhibition Persuasion and War, if you like?
That would be great, do tell us more…
As part of our exhibition, we wanted to celebrate Jane’s calming influence on some who fought during the First and Second World Wars, and to pay respect to one of the ways soldiers coped with the stress and trauma of the conflicts. In an edition of The War Illustrated (no. 69, 22 December 1915), a British magazine produced during the First World War, there is an article titled ‘The Solace of Literature’ which considers how Jane’s novels helped soldiers to distract themselves from their immediate environment of the war. This magazine is now part of our collection and is on display in the exhibition.
How did the magazine come to be in our collection and on display?
First, we had to consider Object Entry – we purchased the magazine for display as it has value in the exhibition and it helps convey a story. Next, Acquisition and Accessioning – we numbered the magazine and formally recorded it in our Accessions Register. Then, Location Control – it is displayed in the Family Room, this is recorded on our collections database. Inventory – its details are kept in an object folder. Lastly, Cataloging – the story of the object, its purchase price, and many more details are all recorded onto our collections database.
It is not as straightforward as you might think, then!
Exactly, and this process is done for every object in our collection, but as in almost all museums, there are documentation backlogs.
What does a documentation backlog involve?
Sometimes, all the information that needs to be collected hasn’t been recorded properly or is waiting to be uploaded onto databases. Perhaps an object was not initially seen as significant enough to acquire but now is recognised as key to the collection. There is something rewarding in that journey of discovery, uncovering the mystery and the sharing of those stories with visitors, and I’ll never begrudge a backlog.
Thanks so much Tyler for telling us all about your experiences working as Collections Trainee at Jane Austen’s House Museum. What do you plan to do next?
My trainee ship has been an amazing, enriching experience and I am very pleased to say that I have now secured my next job as Museum Assistant at the SS Great Britain, in Bristol.
I could not be more grateful to have worked here with the brilliant and supportive staff and volunteers at Jane Austen’s House Museum, and to be part of the House’s great story. I’ve enjoyed every moment (even the cleaning!) and will take the skills and knowledge learned onwards in my own career. I will cherish those quiet mornings opening Jane’s window shutters, watching as the rooms light up with life and energy, with a welcoming warmth to all.