Meet the Collection: Behind the Scenes

by Helen Young

Throughout the past year we have been popping up around the Royal Greenwich borough to give you a glimpse into the treasure trove of objects and documents that make up the Royal borough of Greenwich museum collections and archive.  Whilst you get to see the fabulous objects and documents when they arrive at our pop-up locations, did you ever wonder what happens to get them on display in the first place?  One of our Collections Managers, Dr Nadia Randle, gives us a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes:

So how do you choose which objects go out on display?

Our National Lottery funded “Meet the Collection” project has been about taking local objects out to our Royal Greenwich residents, so firstly we look at the location we are travelling to and search our catalogues for objects and documents that may come from, or be linked to, our next stop location. This is harder than it sounds because a lot of the objects and documents in our collection are not fully catalogued. This is the case for most museums and archives, but it does add an extra challenge to tracking things down.

Once we have a list of potential items for each location, we then need to check that it is safe for them to go out. Some objects can contain hazardous materials, making it unsafe to take them outside. Other objects and documents are very delicate, meaning we would need to take extra special care of them. We prepare for this by doing something called an Object Condition Report.

When filling in a condition report I look at what the object is made from, if it has any breaks or previous repairs and if there is anything about the object that could pose a risk to staff or visitors. For example, in the photograph above you can see a pharmaceutical bottle. Before we could send this out we had to be sure there were not cracks, breaks or even traces of medicine in the bottle.

We record all the information on the condition report and then risk assess the likelihood of it causing a danger to people who may be near it, or if the travelling around could cause excessive damage to the object. Luckily most of our objects are safe and in good condition!

How do you transport the objects?

We pack all the objects really carefully to make sure that they (and staff, volunteers and you!) are safe. We always wear gloves when handling our museum objects. This protects us from any nasties that could be on the object itself and also means we don’t leave the natural oils from our hands on the objects too.

We tuck the objects up into nests made of acid free tissue paper, keeping them from rolling around when being carried, or from banging into other objects in the box. Finally we fill in another form called an Exit Form – this allows us to track exactly what objects are going out into the borough, how long we expect them to be gone and, most importantly, when they have safely returned!

What have you enjoyed most about Meet the Collection So Far?

This project has been a fantastic opportunity to explore our collections and take out objects that would not normally have been on display. The collections are owned by the Royal borough of Greenwich, meaning they belong to Royal Greenwich residents and people and it has been amazing to take out so many objects to places where you wouldn’t normally expect to find a mini museum!  I’ve loved coming to talk to visitors at many of our stops in the borough, hearing their stories and the memories that our objects can evoke. It’s also been great to hear more about the type and range of objects that local people want to see! With a new museum in our future, we are very keen to know what objects and stories people want to see and hear.  As soon as we are all safely past this virus outbreak, I can’t wait to get out and meet you all again with some new and fascinating objects to share!

Nadia conducts a condition report on Sydney the platypus

Tags: local heritage, meet the collection, rght, royal greenwich heritage trust, museum collections and archive