Before I began to work in museums I could never have envisaged the labyrinthine storage rooms full of objects. Shelf after shelf of taxidermy birds, pharmaceutical bandages, fine art and everything else you can possible imagine. Not to mention row after row of furniture, ploughs, boats and other large objects!
In Great Yarmouth we have a few thousand objects that visitors can see every day but there are approximately 40,000 objects in the collection in addition to a huge maritime archive.
Making all of our collections accessible, even those in storage, is a huge priority for the museum. That is why I have spent much of the last six months at Great Yarmouth working on a rationalisation project. Rationalisation can be defined as ‘Improving public benefit by refining collections in line with the museum’s statement of purpose”. I see it as the process of assessing and developing a collection to improve accessibility, documentation and collections care. At Great Yarmouth I have been working with approximately 15,000 objects to better document and move them by the end of the year.
On my first trip to the museum stores I was amazed at the breadth of objects housed there. The movement of these was a daunting task at the outset of the 8 months but we have made real progress.
The Learning Trainee Sam and I went to a recruitment fair at a local 6th form college and we now have a team of six very dedicated young volunteers. They have been trained in object handling, packing and cataloguing. Every week we systematically go through more boxes discovering more of our hidden collections.
These Secrets from the Stores have even inspired a youth engagement project. Tricia our Youth Engagement Officer brought the Maritime Effect group to visit last week. These ten young people each choose an object which inspired them and will be developing their own creative response. Armed with a photograph of their object and a cardboard box they are tasked with coming up with a piece of art, music, drama, anything they want to create!
Meanwhile our young collections management volunteers are also using the objects for inspiration and with my guidance they will be developing their own display for the museum.
At NMS we do strive to make our collections accessible to all but this isn’t always that simple. One of my most challenging and rewarding tasks this year has been to facilitate a visit to the museum for a deafblind gentleman. Jimmy came on his Summer holidays to Yarmouth with his communicator JJ and family. I developed a handling session and tour which told the story of Great Yarmouth and Time and Tide Museum through our collections.
Amongst the objects I choose to give Jimmy a sense of this history were a barnacle encrusted wine bottle from a shipwreck, a drill bit from the off shore industry and best of all a piece of smoked herring! JJ runs a charity enabling alternative access to the arts for the deafblind and you can learn more about this here.
For those who cannot travel to be at the Museum virtual access can be the next best thing. At the beginning of my traineeship I wrote object profiles for the Norfolk Museums Service’s collections website.
More recently I have worked with our Learning Officer John on his Stories From the Sea Project. This project is run with the National Maritime Museum Greenwich and is all about developing literacy skills in young people. John chose fifteen objects from the collection on the theme of Explorers and I provided him with the necessary information and organised a professional photographer to capture images. Next month these object images and profiles will be up on the website of RMG. This enables people from all over the world visiting the site of this national museum to learn more about museum collections in Great Yarmouth.
Working with the collections at Great Yarmouth and Cromer Museums is a real privilege and being able to make them accessible to the entire community is what really makes it all worthwhile!