I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I first browsed the list of placement opportunities for the Art Gallery and Museum Studies course, but I knew that I wanted to broaden my horizons. Not having any previous experience of working with a museum collection, the placement entitled collections documentation at World Museum, Liverpool seemed like a chance to do just that.

World Museum is one of eight venues that comprises National Museums Liverpool, a national museum service that catered for over three million visitors last year alone, making it seem like the ideal environment for gaining some experience of working within a large organization. The service is currently in the process of transferring documentation for its collection to Mimsy XG, a collections management system, and my role on the placement was to assist the curator of the African collection by creating and developing object records for a collection of African ceramics.

EWhittall blog post
Packing masks to be transported to World Museum

This entailed two main tasks, the first of which was to capture data to include in the new object records by measuring and photographing them in the organization’s stores. The second was to assist with adding the newly captured measurements and photographs to Mimsy XG.

Although, prior to the placement, I had been a little apprehensive about being trusted to handle the objects, I found the object handling training and continual guidance to be really helpful and it wasn’t long before I’d overcome my trepidation. The experience of working with Mimsy XG was also incredibly valuable and, although I contributed to only a small number of records on the system in comparison to the size of the African collection, which contains around 11,000 objects, it’s quite rewarding to know that my contributions are now part of the organization’s permanent database.

Despite having a main focus for the placement, my time at National Museums Liverpool was incredibly varied – alongside days spent documenting ceramics on the collections management system, I was also able to assist with a number of other tasks that helped me to see how documentation contributes towards the daily running of museums. These ranged from helping to install masks in a display case at World Museum’s Weston Discovery Centre, to unpacking boxes of musical instruments that hadn’t seen the light of day (or, at least, the artificial lighting of the museum store) for almost two decades.

Overall, my time at National Museums Liverpool was enjoyable as well as informative. I handled and documented a number of interesting objects and even got to take a tour of the Roman sculpture collection. There were also plenty of opportunities to take advice from people working in the roles I aspire to and I’m thankful to everybody I met for sharing their time and guidance.