My name is Robert Reis, and I am a postgraduate student working on a MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. As part of my masters, I spent time at the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archive (GMP Museum) on a work placement. When we were assigned to start a work placement, there were a number of different museums and cultural groups looking for students to come work for them. The GMP Museum was looking to offer a placement to several students working on cataloging and collections management. I choses to apply there because museums collections and how people learn from them is one of the things I am most interested in, so the museum seemed like it would be a perfect fit.
The GMP Museum was created in 1981 as a force museum for the police service that serves the Greater Manchester area. The museum is located in a Victorian police station on Newton Street in the north quarter of town. It has a very small staff of two full time employees and a cadre of very enthusiastic volunteers, nearly all of whom are retired police officers. The museum consists of several galleries that show the history of the police, the Victorian era jail cells, police charge office, and magistrate’s courts. The volunteers don uniforms from different eras of police history and bring the building and its past alive as they escort visitors through the museum. The plan had been to work on cataloging, but due to some issues with the computer system it had to be pushed back. Instead, I worked with organizing the collections and working on handling boxes to send out from the museum to schools.
With my own past experience working as a Park Ranger in the United States, a job that included public education as well as many law enforcement and emergency service activities, I found that I had many shared experiences with the volunteers, and I quickly bonded with them telling stories over tea and biscuits in the break room. The atmosphere at the museum made it a wonderful place to work; everyone truly enjoys being there and no matter how busy it gets there always seems to be time for a funny story.
What I learned most about my time at the GMP Museum is that there is no such thing as a slow day in a small museum. There is always too much to do and not enough time or personnel to do it. On days that the museum is open to the public everyone is needed to work with the kids and families enjoying the museum, which makes for a fast moving and exhausting day. On days when the museum is closed there are always private tours, researchers, occasional film crews, and trades people coming and going. This is on top of the collections, cataloging, and day to day operations that take place in the museum. There is never enough time to get it all done, but it gave me a wonderful opportunity to work in a small, but very dynamic museum environment, and I learned a lot about the complexities of efficiently running a small museum, engaging the visitors, and working with and volunteers. These experiences and lessons will greatly help me as I move forward in my studies and made the placement a joy to be at and a wonderful experience for both learning and personal growth.