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#MuseumDocumentation

24 Jan 2018

I’m Rory, Collections Information Officer for Colchester Museums and renowned shadow dweller. I rarely smile in pictures either. This is a rare shot!

I love museums and I love the stories they are able to tell through objects – that’s why I wanted to work in them. Though once I began, I realised that it was being in stores, working with collections and managing the information around them that I loved the most.

If it relates to objects, their history, their location or their condition, then I’m probably involved to some degree. You heard from my Ipswich counterpart, Izzy on her role as a Collections Information Officer last year and the sorts of projects we might work on.

My job lends itself quite naturally to staying “back of house” as it were. I emerge occasionally however…

Rory in the lab

A big part of my job is built around our Collections Management System, Modes. This is a database in which we can record all the information about our objects and I am one of the people responsible for managing it.

Data

The object database is an essential tool for a museum and its collections, as the information recorded supports everything, from event and exhibition planning through to responding to public enquiries. What is recorded here is essential to most of our jobs. Many will think it’s quite a dry subject, but I am a big fan of living that #MuseumDocumentation lifestyle – the accurate documenting of objects, consistently recording information… I love it! Just check out my mug as proof….

 

Documenting its collections is the most fundamental job of a museum; a museum can be judged on the quality of its records. It is an absolutely vital, if unglamorous, task and must be tackled regularly and efficiently.

#MuseumDocumentation
The local museum

‘The Local Museum’ may not be every museum professional’s go to book, but upon discovering it while undertaking an office tidy last year, I read the above passage. I pumped my fist in excitement, thrusting the pages into colleagues’ faces and declaring that this book “gets it”.

This kind of documentation work is so essential, as it is what provides context to our collections. It’s how we describe the objects and the narrative we place them in, which is how people can then discover and explore them.

I think what I find fascinating about documentation is that it is kind of invisible. While visiting a museum and experiencing the stories they are telling, you might not ever need to think about how the information is captured, or about the amount of work that might go into agreeing the name you call an object. Is it a plate, a dish or a vessel? 

Is this important? For the likes of me it is incredibly important as this will inform search results in the database, so consistency and agreed terms are key.

Not to be too hyperbolic but, to my mind, documentation is the beating (but mostly invisible) heart of the museum and I love that.

 

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