My Trainee Journey – A reflection of (almost) a year in museums

Hello again

The end is nigh for my, and my remaining colleagues’ traineeship. It is rather scary, as it only feels like last month we had our induction week.

I have been on leaps and bound these last 11 months. I’ve achieved things I never thought I would, and learned every step of the way. From documenting African collections and Munnings’ sketchbooks, to project management around Autism accessibility, and not to mention all those fun work trips and conferences like Moving on Up and Transformers.

What I am keen to write about is my perception of museums in general, before and at the end of my traineeship. Everyone who works in museums, always says “you will never visit/look at a museum/exhibit in the same way again!” and this is certainly true. For example, when visiting my brother in Glasgow, I went on a trip to the Riverside Museum and I actually enjoyed it more than the art museums I used to always see and love.

I could write a whole thesis on this, but I’ll stick to my main points. The reason I particularly enjoyed the Riverside is because I now have a better understanding of museums, rather than JUST the collections, as I did before the traineeship.

Museums are more than simply physical buildings of historic objects, as I have learned through The Training Museum and from everyone of my colleagues at Ipswich, regardless of their role or position.

They are the centre of a community. The objects and history are the core of a museum, this I have no doubt, but they do not define it. Rather they are a strong case for having a presence in the community.

Without going off on one, I want to conclude by saying: next time you are visiting a museum and you see a Tudor Cap dating 1504, or a master class painting from the 20 century, remember that there is so much more going on around those objects, and museums are, and always will be, striving to change lives.

Phew! A bit of an article, but I hope you get my drift.

Until next time

Mark

[I dedicate to this post to every colleague in the last 12 months who has made this traineeship a success.]

 

The Keys to the Museum

Hello, Michael here again.

It’s been quite a task this past year getting to know the innumerable keys for the different museum buildings. Large ones, small ones, even tiny ones! Old keys, as well as new keys. Silver, gold and bronze keys. One has a bit of red tape, another has a B written on it. One has a triangular head, another looks like a helmet. No one knows what this other key is for.

The keyholes also pose a bit of a challenge. Some are difficult to manoeuvre, they need to be waggled or tugged in a certain way before the mechanism will respond. You need to get to know them. Others turn anti-clockwise. Some keyholes are very hard to get at and involve crouching or stretching to reach them. There are doors that push open, doors that pull out, screens that slide across or shutters that lift. Large historic locks with big black keys are my personal favourite. It is very satisfying to unlock the main door to Christchurch Mansion.

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Roman keys from Castle Hill Villa, Ipswich

The process of getting to know all the keys has gone hand in hand with understanding the job. It is a happy experience now to open up in the mornings. I know what key unlocks each door and the whole process glides along like a pleasing ritual that must be performed every day.

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There are dangers however. The jangle of a large set of keys is very uplifting, but it’s also something to be wary of. Walking through the museum at closing time and jingling your keys can lead to an over-inflated sense of self-importance. ‘It’s time to go home!’ they tell the last few visitors in an officious manner as we roll towards 5pm. This feeling is quickly pricked when you realise you still haven’t quite got the hang of all the alarms and security settings (luckily the Duty Officer has) and that there is always plenty more to learn in this job.

Michael

Autism Access Project

Hi everyone

Today I am going to write about something slightly different than what I have blogged about in the past. Today I am going to give you a glimpse of the Autism Access Project, a subject close to my heart.

This blog directly leads from the last one I wrote about Transformers, which is an on-going development programme based on diversity. Transformers has been highly informative for this project. I briefly talked about Early Bird Hour last time, which I will mention as we go on.

The Autism Accessibility Project is an initiative I am leading on in Ipswich Museum. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and thus have years of life experience in the area. When the opportunity came to lead on this project, I almost jumped at the chance!  

So what is Autism? It would take too long to explain fully, but basically it is a neurological condition that affects the way an individual communicates, interacts and makes sense of the world. Here are some listed traits: 

  • Difficulties with communication and interaction, which often results in confusion around relationships.
  • Repetitive behaviours that might appear strange, but give comfort and keeps a balance of certainty in their life.
  • Sensory sensitivity. Over or under sensitive to touch, sound, taste.
  • Being a “spectrum” condition means that autistic traits affect people in different ways. Some traits may not even apply to some autistic people.
  • People with Autism are by no means stupid. They generally have focus, which makes them very clever and thus good employees.   

The world can be a challenging and confusing place for autistic people, and thus they may behave in a way that others would struggle to understand. Therefore, training is key in this project, in order to raise awareness of what concerns there might be for autistic visitors, but also to highlight the positives and challenges.

I was ready and able to personally deliver the training. It went down a great success with my colleagues and I am incredibly proud to have given them an insight about what it means to be autistic and how best to support visitors with special needs. I liked it so much that I doing it again in a couple of weeks (eek!).

Alongside helpful access information on the website, we at Ipswich Museums are piloting the Early Bird Hour before normal opening times. 9 – 10am on the first Friday of every month (August being the next one) we are trialling an early opening just for people with special needs.

Early Bird hour 1

My intention for introducing this was to give a quieter and stress free space to explore the museum. In public places, you are often faced with bustling crowds and loud noises. This is often overwhelming for autistic people with sensory issues. It was something that I intensely struggled with as a child, and I thought that introducing the Early Bird Hour would help us be more inclusive for people with special needs.

Hopefully that has given you a good insight into the work we are doing at Ipswich. If you would like to know more about Autism, I would suggest visiting the National Autistic Society website.

If you are interested in the Early Bird Hour and Autism access at Ipswich Museum, please look at the Making a Visit page on our website and scroll down to Early Bird Hour. 

Thanks for tuning in!

Mark

Oh Happy Study Day!

Hello, Michael here again.

A day at the British Museum! What more could a Trainee want? Especially as the visit took us behind the scenes and introduced us to the mounting and storage methods used by the Collections Team for their vast trove of works on paper.

I have always been fascinated by drawing, painting and print-making. When I saw the British Museum had organised a Skills Sharing Day devoted to the care and presentation of these works, I was quick to book a place. I’m not usually a morning person, but on this occasion, I was very happy to be on the 6.18am train to London. I even arrived early in the fierce London heat, full of eager anticipation… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning was spent studying the different materials and methods used to mount and display works on paper. We learnt about conservation mount boards, their different types and weights and how The British Museum uses a French-made brand. We learnt about hinging and backboards, as well as melinex sheets to protect fragile surfaces. We also got to make two hinges from delicate Japanese paper, a V-hinge and a T-hinge, which hold and support the paper within the mount.

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Box of Italian Renaissance drawings.

I have always been able to spot a British Museum mount for two reasons. The first is their elegant rounded corners and we were given a demonstration of their simple and effective corner cutter. The second is the distinctive stamped name and details that appear below the window aperture. Again, we were given an explanation of the manual typographic stamper, which requires a good eye, a steady hand and a brave heart to use. Following the practical work, we toured the hi-tech mounting room, containing huge computerised mount cutters, as well as traditional manual devices.

After lunch, we moved to The Prints and Drawings Study Room, an historic interior with a special atmosphere. Here we were shown several methods of storage used by the museum including conservation boxes, portfolios and folders. I was impressed by the way they had used a difficult Victorian space to accommodate a vast number of priceless works. Boxes marked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Constable filled the old storage-shelved cupboards. Prints by Rembrandt, a drawing by Degas and the original print blocks engraved by Durer were all brought out for us to see. I knew I was in Heaven when I sat down to look through an original, hand-coloured copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

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The day was full of fascinating insights into the way The British Museum operates and it was all delivered in a practical and helpful tone. It felt like one group of museum professionals helping others with sensible, down-to-earth advice, which is exactly what the day had been designed to be.

I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

Michael.

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Do not adjust your blog

Hello! Tim once again with the key(board) to the blog!

It feels like so much has been going on lately that our feet have hardly touched the ground – what with conferences, training, external placements (more on that soon!), events, networking, flying to Scotland for another conference… you get the idea!

Throughout all of this though, there was something that I promised myself I would not forget to blog about: the wittily titled “Improv Your Museum” training at Essex Records Office in Chelmsford. So, albeit three weeks after I attended it, here we go…

I really have my fellow Trainee, Esme to thank for this. She and I were talking one day about how difficult performing an improvised stand-up set would be. The next thing I knew, she had emailed me a link to this training! ‘Improv Your Museum’ is a workshop run by two members of the comedy group Do Not Adjust Your Stage. It consisted of a series of exercises normally used by the group as warm-ups prior to going on stage, or at their regular sessions. With the help of Matt Stevens and Tim Grewcock, we were shown how these games, which utilised improvisation and quick thinking, could be used to improve our museum practice.

The training was organised by the Heritage Education Group, who were kind enough to let me sit in on their meeting before the workshop. I really appreciated this, as I learnt a lot about what was happening in the various museums in the area and met many interesting people.

I won’t bore you with specific details of every exercise, but suffice to say that they all revolved around certain rules/ideas. Two of the most important were “do not deny the other person” and “make the other person look as good as possible”. This can be applied to talking to visitors on the galleries. If they say something you know to be totally inaccurate, do not brutally shut them down and make them feel stupid in front of others. Instead, think on your feet and politely accept their suggestion/viewpoint, whilst tactfully explaining the correct facts.

Other games focused more on simply being aware of other people and anticipating actions/reactions, which is especially important in Visitor Services. Judging the mood/reactions of a visitor can mean the difference between enriching their visit and boring them or making them feel uncomfortable.

One of my favourite exercises illustrated the use of these skills well. The “gift giving game” (as I will call it) involved pairing up, with one person continually presenting imaginary gifts to their partner. The recipient must then accept the gift and say why/how it will be useful to them. After a time the roles are then reversed. As well as being fun, this was good practice for not denying others, thinking on your feet, improvising in potentially unusual circumstances (the gift could be anything!) and building confidence.

Overall, I found the workshop not only fun but also really useful. It made me think differently about interaction with others and gave me new ways to consider approaching situations. The representatives of Do Not Adjust Your Stage said that they love going round different museums and delivering this training, so if you get the chance I would highly recommend it.

Next time on Tim’s posts: West Stow Anglo Saxon Village

See you then!

 

The end is nigh! Bye bye bye.

Aloha, Em here!

So this is a weird post to be writing and I’m filled with many emotions! It is my last as a Training Museum Trainee with Colchester + Ipswich Museums!

Over the past 12 months I’ve been involved in a ridiculous amount of exciting activities, from delivering sessions to Supplementary Schools to presenting at the Transforming People Conference at Colchester Castle, re-interpreting the Ipswich Museum Victorian Gallery to co-curating an exhibition for the Battle of the Somme, documenting Tudor objects and carrying out remedial conservation on Ipswich’s natural history collections, including Wool-I-Am the Mammoth!

I have learnt so much about museum essentials from our training programme e.g. how to design an accessible exhibition, the ways that pests can be controlled, what’s involved in Accreditation, how to research and document objects and very importantly how to handle objects correctly – LIFT FROM THE CARCASS!

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Along with the other first cohort of Trainees, I’ve also been lucky enough to go on some great trips to other museums, attend conferences, support fun events, oh and win awards!

Thank you to everyone at CIMS for making this such a fun, exciting and challenging adventure, filled with so many skills and experiences that I can take with me into my next realm of work. (Although you won’t get rid of us that easily – the Ipswich Trainees are staying on as Visitors Service staff, so you might get to see us for a few more months!)

Bye bye bye, Em 🙂

Keep calm and avoid disaster

Hey, new Trainee Esme here!

So this week I had fun attacking the Castle with fire, floods, utility failure, gas leaks, vandalism, infestation and weather (only in my illustration of course!). I missed out terrorism and theft, but you get the idea. Each week, we as Trainees learn about a different area or specialism, and recently this included Emergency Planning. I thought I would share the world of ‘worst case scenarios’ for Colchester Castle and it’s collections with you.

After being introduced to the different threats that might lead to an emergency, we looked at case studies of recent and memorable disasters. These included the infamous fire at Hampton Court Palace, the Cutty Sark and the more recent destruction at Clandon Park.

An exercise put us in the midst of a fictional, full on disaster…

emergency-planning-excercise-4

This was my attempt at working out what to do, when everything was falling down around us. It was quite tricky to decide on a course of action, as some of these steps at a first glance could happen simultaneously.

We then walked through what might actually need to happen and which steps should be prioritised…

emergency-planning-excercise-2

Fetching the emergency kit sounded to me like quite an urgent job … but as we learned, it is important to have everything in place so that you can use an emergency kit effectively.

In the last exercise we were again thrown back into another, more leaky fictional disaster…

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This time, the steps felt a little clearer to put into place and led to quite a bit of discussion. We talked about how to create barriers for channelling water away from collections when utility failure occurs. Water always travels downhill, so a leak could be re-directed away from objects at risk and channelled down a staircase for instance.

Having experienced these fictional threats and emergencies, I feel that I have a much better understanding of how to keep calm and avoid real disasters using careful planning and maintenance.

Until next time

Esme