Wearing rose-tinted glasses in the archive

My name is Shengyan Wang, a Chinese student I major in Art Gallery and Museum Studies (MA) at the University of Manchester. When I looked at the list of institutes available for cultural practice (ICP) placement options, I was attracted by The World of Li Yuan chia: a museological conundrum programme offered by the John Rylands library (JRL). Because I am familiar with Chinese art and I have always been interested in exploring how western cultural institutions communicate Chinese culture. I believed that the John Rylands library would give me an opportunity to learn some new knowledge.

The main tasks I undertook included doing research on Li yuan-chia’s works of art and his life experience and translating letters sent from Li yuan-chia’s relatives. During the process of my practice, I realized that the library, museum and archive should be responsible for protecting the personal data by complying with the Data Protection Act 1998, a British law aiming to protect individual data. Because their collections may contain the personal data or sensitive personal data, and they must ensure whether there is the sensitive personal data contained in the collection before they use the collection. My translation work helps the john Rylands library to identify the sensitive personal data in these letters and also allow the library making the collection accessible in an ethical way.

I also found that the reading room is the best space for the public to access the collection. JRL offers the ‘closed-access’ service for readers. It means the audiences need to make a reservation to see the collection they want to use in advance and then the librarian will take the collection out of the warehouse and bring it to the reading room for audience. In the reading room, the audience is allowed to handle the collection and it enrichs their experience and lets them learn more from the collection. Meanwhile, I also learnt some new collection management system like EAD and EMU, which will benefit my future career.

Inspired by this intern experience, I plan to achieve two goals in the future. First of all, I want to make Li yuan-chia’s collection accessible for Chinese people, I found that there is less information related to Li yuan-chia in the Chinese version of Google. That is so sad! I think that his art and life experience is very valuable for Chinese people, in particular, some art lovers. Secondly, I want to introduce the concept of personal data protection to Chinese museums, I cannot find any policies created by Chinese museums related to personal data protection. Failing to protect personal date, museums will be troubled by ethical issues to some degree. Consequently, it is necessary for Chinese museums to attach importance to personal data protection. It will promote the development of Chinese museums in an ethical way.