This month those of us in the Cataloguing Forum were invited for a guided tour around the recently renovated Kelvin Hall – formerly an exhibition venue, Transport Museum, and sports arena – now a luxury arts and sports venue. Most notably, Kelvin Hall is now the new home of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery’s extraordinarily large and diverse collection, as well as the National Library of Scotland’s ‘Moving Image Archive’ which hosts over 100 years of Scottish history on film. For many of us, it was also a chance to see EMu – a piece of collections management software – ‘in action’ for the very first time.
Our guide – Victoria Woodcock, the Archive Cataloguer working with the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery as they transition to their new venue – first took us round the engagement, digitisation, and conservation spaces which will be central to the Hunterian and the University’s learning and teaching work at Kelvin Hall. Dedicated post-graduate study space and conference and seminar rooms ensure high standards of teaching can be maintained outwith lecture theatres, and rooms equipped with everything from interactive screens to digital microscopes allow greater access to collections for students and researchers.
Our tour then took us to The Moving Image Archive, a space which is challenging the perception of the ‘typical’ archive setting. While public engagement with a collection can be a challenge for many archives, The Moving Image Archive have used their new location to ‘show off’ their material in a way which promotes interaction and discussion between visitors, and encourages tentative researchers with how accessible their material is. The accessibility of the space and the technology available within the archive also means that members of the public are encouraged to bring their own film in, in order to perhaps unearth unseen footage. This creates an active collecting policy where, if content is seen as appropriate for the collection, they will work with the owner to accession the film to the archive. The user friendly setting also has the potential to create a space for public consultation – using memories and stories to gather more information and context for items within the collection – allowing users to take ownership of their past, enhance the details of catalogues, and play an active role in the archive’s collections policy.
The next stage on our tour took us to the storage area for the Hunterian’s enormously diverse collection. While only zoology artefacts have been transferred to the new store as of yet, they will soon be joined by collections which include oil paintings and furniture, artefacts from a variety of world cultures, and fossils, rocks and minerals dating from the Mesozoic Era. This led to a discussion about the challenges and benefits of moving collections of this size – previously the collections have been stored in a variety of locations – and in having to physically move every single one of their 1.5 million objects, this has allowed for conservation checks to be made, catalogue entries to be updated, and, in some cases, collections to be appraised. Electronic shelving units ensure that correct humidity and temperature levels are in place for these objects, and an attempt to box up every item and bar code every box, shelf, and shelving unit shows the enormity and the care with which this process is taking place. Of course, some ‘outsized’ items will remain unboxed…
We concluded our tour with a discussion of EMu – a collection management system currently used by the Hunterian, and being adopted by the University’s Archive and Special Collections in the coming year. This is an invaluable tool, which will bring the collections from the Library, Archives, Museum and Art Gallery together under one piece of software. Victoria talked us through some of the specifics of working with the software, including showing us how information about an object can be enhanced with descriptions, conservation requirements, production statistics, as well as a feature for holding digital information about an object – for example, images of the object itself, or scanned information (such as newspaper cuttings and correspondence relating to the item). The software also allows for a person to be associated with an object – for example a search for William Hunter would bring up material from his Library (housed at Special Collection), records of his time at University (from the Archives), paintings of him (in the Art Gallery), and his coin and medal collection (held by the Museum).
While Kelvin Hall has physically brought the Hunterian’s collection together in one location, EMu aims to bring the University’s varied collections together in a digital location. This has the benefit of allowing both researchers and those working within the collections to see the full extent of items relating to a person or subject, how they fit together, and increase the context of an object’s place in the historical narrative. With the intention behind both moves being increasingly accessible and interconnected collections, undoubtedly both will continue to promote opportunities for researchers both now, and in the future.
Categories: Archives and Special Collections