In July 2014, two volunteers were recruited for an exciting summer project at Birmingham Museums Trust. The aim of the project was two-fold: to reorganise the hard-copy documentation system of Birmingham’s Science & Industry loans collection, and to begin the process of improving the digital documentation of the science & industry permanent collection (via the museum’s digital collections database).
Helen Scadeng and Matt Sharman, both with backgrounds in research, volunteered their time to carry out the project. After only two short summer months, Helen and Matt not only fulfilled the aims of the project but they exceeded the project milestones with speedy gusto and enthusiasm!
Based at Thinktank Science Museum and each working one day a week, Matt and Helen completed the reorganisation of the hard-copy documentation system ahead of schedule. Despite working on separate days, together they were able to successfully refile the hardcopy entries of over 100 loan objects – a huge achievement when working as a ‘remote’ team!
Ahead of schedule, they were then able to start improving the digital records of the permanent science & industry collection. Collating information and images of 70 objects, this is the single largest project to improve the digital records of the science & industry collections in over a decade. But Helen and Matt didn’t stop there, they delved into further research of the objects, and found out some weird and wonderful facts in the process! For example, Helen uncovered a ‘six-degrees-of-separation’ between a bust of the renowned inventor William Murdock and the famous landscape artist David Cox. The Murdock bust was gifted to the museum by prominent Birmingham businessman George Everitt (the Director of a Smethwick engineering firm). George Everitt’s cousin was the artist Allen Edward Everitt, who was schooled by David Cox!
In September, we were incredibly pleased to hear that Matt had been offered a full-time position in a local authority Archives Service, but were very sad to see him go! At the same time, despite the completion of the summer documentation project, Helen decided to single-handedly extend the life of the project and to expand its scope to a greater level of research on specific collection areas – and this was all despite the fact that Helen was also just about to complete and submit her postgraduate thesis!!
A HUGE thank you to both Matt and Helen for their enthusiasm, their skills and their sheer hard work over the summer. And since September, a MASSIVE thank you to Helen for continuing to research the collection and for uncovering some fascinating histories. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with Helen on some exciting curatorial projects planned for the coming months!
Science & Industry Curator
Hi, I’m Lucy Blakeman and I’m the Documentation Manager at BMAG. I started my museum career at the Barber Institute of Fine Art, working with the Education Manager. To gain more Curatorial experience I also volunteered at BMAG in the Art Department with Tessa Sidey and then in the History Department with Phil Watson. Having gained experience in several different areas of museum work, it became apparent that I was leaning more towards documentation and after 2.5 years volunteering I took my first paid role as a Documentation Officer at BMAG and haven’t looked back!
My experience as a volunteer has helped me see the value in volunteering from a personal perspective as well as from an institutional perspective. I now take on volunteers of my own as I feel it’s essential to my work in at BMAG, as well as providing keen up-and-coming-museum-professionals with the experience they need to get museum jobs.
I have 2 long-term volunteers that work on Documentation projects with me – Misaho, who has also written a blog about volunteering today, is one of them and has been coming to BMAG for 3 years now. Her work is of an exceptional standard and she is dedicated and professional, which is exactly what we need. Without Misaho I wouldn’t be on target with our collections audit, we wouldn’t have solved many of the documentation anomalies that have occurred over the years, and her expertise in Ancient History is a real bonus in solving these.
I also work with four of the Friends as part of their 80th Birthday celebrations this year. They have been inputting funding data and accurate credit line info for all the objects that the Friends have helped us acquire over the last 80 years. Working closely with the Friends has been a lovely experience – several of them have been a part of BMAG for much longer than me, and although I may have taught them a few new skills, they have also taught me a great deal.
Documentation is one of the most important aspects of collections work and without the help and hard work of volunteers we wouldn’t have the level of documentation that we currently do. I can’t thank volunteers enough for the work that they do.
Thank you very much all you fabulous volunteers!
My name is Misaho and I have been volunteering for the Documentation Office of BMAG for 3 years now. I was always interested in history, arts and culture, and wanted to work in the museum sector.
I applied for postgraduate Museum Studies course in distance learning from the University of Leicester because I wanted to gain the practical experience of a real working environment at the same time. The great thing about being a volunteer while studying was that it helped me greatly to understand academic theories as practical ones. Also I was able to ask questions and get lots of advice and tips from my supervisors and the staff to do my assignments!
Currently, I am helping the Museum’s on-going auditing project at the Museum Collections Centre. I check the existing objects with the database records and update any changes. I take responsibility for resolving numbering issues that arise and also make new entries to the database by researching the objects.
I have also been able to gain experience from other departments such as the Conservation Department and the Events Team. This has made me understand the various types of jobs available in museums. The Museum also gives me opportunities to attend training courses and these have been very useful.
I’m now looking for a job as a documentation officer. It is difficult time to be looking for a museum job but I hope that I succeed, and until then I will continue to develop my skill and experience professionally as a volunteer.