The main reason I added the World Museum to my list of placement choices was due to the fact that on our school trip there in first semester I was very impressed with the way they displayed the World Cultures Gallery, plus through previous volunteering I had already had some experience of documentation. Despite this, it wasn’t my first choice and I was therefore slightly apprehensive about starting the 20 days.
However, all apprehensions were ultimately swept aside. My main role was to help document the African collection as part of the project to eventually transfer all the museum records onto the Mimsy XG collections database. Working every Wednesday in the museum store with the curator of the African collection, I helped to systematically go through the metal and ceramic objects, measuring and photographing each one that wasn’t already online. On Thursdays I then worked in the Ethnology office in the World Museum to create records for the objects we had recorded the previous days. This formed the majority of my placement and from this I gained valuable skills such as learning how to use Mimsy and the image database, how best to take photographs of objects and the general level of concentration and accuracy that are vital to documentation. Despite the apprehensions about the placement in general being gone they were quickly replaced when having to handle and measure large ceramics from the 1900s that did not stand up un-aided!
When creating the records for the objects I mainly focussed on the objects given to the museum by two of the major donors to the collection: Olive Macleod who donated 416 ethnography items in 1924 and Jack Leggett who provided 200 ceramics among other items in 1982 and 1983. I particularly enjoyed this, as to add information to the records it was necessary to look through the original stockbooks and acquisition lists and collate the information found. Quite often there were discrepancies and I would have to use various sources of information to do some problem solving. There were also various other tasks that the curator had to do which I was involved in, such as measuring and photographing a large piece of mounted barkcloth for a possible loan (a job that warranted a well-earned cup of tea as it ended up being ginormous!), researching information on African bracelets for a visiting researcher and packing up some objects the other placement students needed for their online exhibition.
I feel I have gained a valuable experience in terms of the highly transferable skills I have learned, such as using Mimsy, and also the general pieces of information I picked up along the way about West and Central Africa. I am also lucky to have had the experience of the inner-workings of a national museums service and having a fairly important role within that, even attending a museum-wide curatorial staff meeting. I feel very pleased to have helped make a very small dent in digitally documenting the 11,414 African objects, despite the fact there are still around 7,000 to go!! It is quite special to know that I have created records for objects on Mimsy that will be there for as long as the database is – even if I occasionally entered the wrong accession number and had to get it changed by the museum chiefs of Mimsy! Accuracy certainly is key! Overall I ended up enjoying my placement much more than I had anticipated and I have a lot to take away from it both professionally and personally. However, I won’t miss the Arctic temperatures of the store or the train through in the morning very much!