Volunteering in an Open Access Store

Hi, I’m Ella – one of Amy’s volunteers. I have been volunteering at the Museum Collections Unit once a week since the beginning of June. As a postgraduate Heritage Management student I wanted to gain practical experience of museum work, putting some of the knowledge from my course into practice.

Volunteering at the MUSA Collections Unit has been particularly interesting. Not only has it provided me with experience of working with museum collections but it has also enabled me to observe the development of an Open Access Store, which is an important part of making collections more accessible. There has been a recent initiative to recognise the importance of under-used museum collections and improve engagement with these collections. As such the museum store at MUSA, which holds collections that are not currently on display, is being transformed into an Open Access Store with the aim of making its collections more available to the public.

Elisabeth and I have mainly been working on a project to surface clean the physics objects in the Historic Scientific Instruments Collection. As a Recognised Collection it is important that they meet minimum standards of collection care and ensure they are in a condition to be seen by the public. Over the past few weeks we have come across some interesting objects ranging from small glass lenses and prisms to wattmeters in wooden cases.

We have been making steady progress on this project but had not realised the scale of the task in hand! The process of cleaning some of the larger objects takes a long time, and involves carefully going over the surface area of the object with a groom stick. The benefits of our careful work have already been realised. The Open Access Store received its first visitors last week as part of the MUSA summer programme – many of the young people in the group found the scientific objects fascinating and selected them to look at in closer detail.

As part of our voluntary work we have also assisted with other tasks such as hanging paintings in the store and unwrapping objects to be displayed on the open shelving. Most recently Elisabeth and I were given the task of photographing one of MUSA’s new acquisitions, a Barbara Rae painting.

This proved not to be as straightforward as we imagined, taking us most of the morning to find a way of taking the photograph without capturing our reflection in the glass.

I look forward to seeing how the Project Officer develops the Open Access Store in the future and hearing about the public’s response to its collections.

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