It’s exciting to meet new groups starting out on development of a new museum or heritage project. Groups that make contact with support agencies like National Services Te Paerangi (NSTP) early in their project can make best use of resources and advice, calling on funders, expertise and networks around the country to support their project, and avoid some of the pitfalls.
A good early step to guide your project is to think through what your mission and core goals are. Community consultation should also be a first step, and will help define what stakeholders and community would support. You may like to seek help with the consultation process through the NSTP Expert Knowledge Exchange programme.
I recently met with Millers Flat Bakehouse Trust, who have recently connected with National Services Te Paerangi. This group, led by Chair Betty Adams, started out in 1992, and has done a fabulous job with community consultation. The Trust has now fully restored the historic Bakehouse, returned it to working order and are now considering ideas to transform it into a sustainable heritage hub. They are not focusing on amassing a collection of objects, but want to use the building to store and share history and memories for the area.
Hokitika Museum at the Carnegie Building remains temporarily closed while earthquake strengthening is planned and staff are currently mainly based off site. I spent three days with staff on an Expert Knowledge Exchange in February. We started to carry out an initial audit of collection records and assessed collections that need to be appraised and catalogued. This project is part of a work plan which Te Papa is contributing to, that will eventually lead to redevelopment of the museum.
Hokitika Museum research centre collections staff Sue Asplin (front left) and Helen Cook (left rear) with NSTP Museum Development Adviser Judith Taylor (right). Photo courtesy of Jackie Gurden
South Otago Museum have finished a very extensive collection inventory project which was supported by an Expert Knowledge Exchange early in the process. Assistance through the exchange helped to set up a framework for a successful project.
Understanding and developing collection significance
One collection item can provide a spell of rejuvenation and inspiration for an organisation. Strath Taieri Historical Museum at Middlemarch recently organised an event to celebrate the return of an embroidered quilt that was made by the Middlemarch Women’s Institute for hospital use.
Sent to the Middle East in 1941, the quilt was returned to the museum after 75 years in many different hands across the world. Last year the museum invited families whose ancestors had their signatures embroidered on the quilt to come along to a remembrance occasion, effectively utilising all forms of media to profile the project.
The event was much more successful than they had even hoped for with many people travelling distances to attend and wonderful stories and remembrances being shared. From being a passive collection object, the quilt has become alive again and is treasured. It is now carefully displayed at the museum avoiding light and dust.
Dawn Coburn from Strath Taieri Historical Museum at Middlemarch with quilt. Photo by Judith Taylor (c) Te Papa
Building significance of items in this way by sharing, researching and enriching histories takes time but makes collection items live. A method for researching and assessing significance developed by the Collections Council of Australia, Significance 2.0, can be downloaded free.
Understanding and developing collection significance could also help build your case for assistance with funding for conservation and collection care.
Southland eHive cataloguing workshop
Vernon Systems Documentation and Training Consultant, Leisa Taylor, in partnership with NSTP, was hosted by Southland regional museums to run an introduction to eHive workshop in Gore late last year. The workshop was attend by 23 participants from most of Southland’s volunteer museums and representatives of Murihiku’s runanga.
“Southland’s heritage community is exploring the possibility of using eHive as our common cataloguing software and developing guidelines so we use it in a consistent way,” said Heritage South Trust committee members Jo Massey and David Luoni. “We also see the potential to use eHive’s Community feature to contribute records to a regional online community and to also create virtual exhibits. So the workshop was a valuable training opportunity in its own right but also provided an opportunity for us to share these possibilities.”
Museum trainees at the workshop had hands-on training on the system.
Trainees at eHive cataloguing workshop in Southland. Photo supplied
The eHive online cataloguing system is already being used by many small museums. Additional advantages of using an online system such as eHive for collection management are being able to optionally make collections accessible to a wide audience (such as through the NZ Museums website), and having affordable, safe, remote storage of data. This means that museums don’t have to have a system with a lot of data storage and don’t have to be concerned about backups.
Teviot Museum and Glenorchy Museums are two more recent museums making progress with documentation of collections into eHive and Cromwell Museum has been supporting some of the museums in their area who are starting out by sharing documentation.
Nelson Provincial Museum’s Tyree Studio Collection (1882-1947) of 123,000 images was recently recognized as significant to the identity of New Zealanders today and was listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World NZ Documentary Heritage register. The museum holds one of the largest collections of early New Zealand photographs and glass plate negatives and the Tyree Studio Collection is a part of this. The collection has been gradually digitised and rehoused over the last 10 years. Parts of the collection are shared online on the Nelson Museum website and through Digital NZ.
Hazards in collections and asbestos
The new Health and Safety legislation that came into effect in 2015 has a specific requirement around controlling the risks of exposure to asbestos, which needs to be implemented by April 2018. Different forms of asbestos can cause cancers if fibres in dust is inhaled or ingested.
While the primary concern is in construction materials, asbestos can be found in some unexpected places and objects, so identifying where it may be found in collections is required.
Te Papa collection managers and others in the sector are currently carrying out work to meet these regulations.
An initial strategy for management of asbestos may include raising awareness, having a suitably qualified person identify objects that contain asbestos, developing a policy for asbestos containing items, training staff about procedures for safe handling including checking the condition of items, sealing items by double bagging and taping them securely and not collecting further items that contain asbestos.
If articles are degrading and asbestos dust is suspected or evident seek expert advice.