We studied how the collections are managed and saw this in practice at the Museums Collections Centre. Lucy Blakeman, the collections team leader, gave us a tour of the stores.
The warehouse is open to the public- a way of using the unseen collections in an innovative way- through open days. These are quite regular, happening the last Friday of every month. Because of this, even in the collections store there are still some interpretive text panels for the public to see, although it is not a formally curated space. The objects in the store are mixed for a sense of discovery, making the collections more exciting for the public. As opposed to having all items categorised which feels more like a shopping experience. The Museums Collection Centre also keep up a presence on social media, through Facebook and twitter. On here the public are able to gain a further insight into the goings on at the centre. We feel this is also quite an innovative idea- as collections centres are typically not available to the public in this way.
Seeing the size and scale of the store puts into perspective the importance of documentation/management of the collections. The collection is huge with around 800,000 objects. Birmingham Museums Trust handle this with the KE Emu system as an online database which records all information about the collections. This system abides to the museum standards of Spectrum, and goes beyond these towards the BMT Ideal standards which aims to record 30 different criteria for each object, ranging from object number and name to condition and material and narrative or themes.
The collections centre are aiming for a new store within the next 5 years as the conditions in the store aren’t ideal. Being in a warehouse environment, the store was not built to specific needs, therefore the shell of the building is not well insulated and is difficult to control temperature and humidity.
Beth and Gemma