Objects too big to carry

Deborah Walton, Regional Conservation Officer, University of Cambridge Museums

Twenty one years ago the Museums and Galleries Commission (now defunct) published a series of documents about caring for Museum collections.  The fourth in this series Larger and Working Objects, looked at “anything too big to carry.…principally industrial and agricultural objects, excluding buildings.” Even in the context of museumsland, twenty years is a long time so the question of updating these guidelines arises.  To this end, the Association of British Transport & Engineering Museums (ABTEM) commissioned Rob Shorland-Ball to run a scoping exercise examining need and interest in the sector.  I recently attended the second of two Discussion Meetings on this topic at the recently redeveloped Museum of Steam and Water near Kew Bridge.

It was a very useful and interesting meeting, with participants ranging from local museums to nationals with a variety of staff and volunteer roles present.  SHARE Museums East was impressively well represented with four SHARE Heritage Engineering Network members present, and I think we all felt we had good opportunity to contribute to the lively discussion.  The conversation was wide ranging and stimulating; training in lost/dying skills, changes in mine lifting equipment regulations, recording of working practices were all touched on, even getting to the difficult topic of ‘what exactly qualifies as a larger or working object’ and the even more complicated, ‘are we including objects with built in obsolescence such as the Ford Mondeo and the computer in these guidelines’.  Under the heading of funding it was very pleasing to be able to explain the mechanisms and achievements of the SHARE programme and the idea of funding and contributions not having to be solely in cash form.

Consultation continues throughout June and anyone with an interest in large, working or static objects, either in a museum setting or a private owner, is invited to contact Rob Shorland-Ball to share any thoughts and suggestions they have on this matter.

The main questions are below, but any other related comments are also very welcome from all contributors.

  1. Feasibility and rationale for up-dating – do we need it?
  2. Format: hardcopy, e-publications (or both)
  3. Sources of funding for the necessary work
  4. Title and contents – Standards or Guidelines? What do we include?
  5. Will it be possible to share information on good practice / useful contacts / specialist expertise and or suppliers?
  6. Audience – who is this for? Should it try to embrace both museums and heritage centres / private and volunteer institutions / individual owners?

You can e-mail Rob directly at robsb@wfmyork.demon.co.uk.

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