Behind the Scenes at Museum Collections

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During my time volunteering at the Science Museum in London, I had the opportunity to visit their National Collections Centre. They store objects and archives that are not currently on display in museum exhibitions but may be in the future. This visit opened my eyes to what contributes to running museums and all the things we don’t see as visitors. So many things go on in the background, contributing to amazing displays that we explore with fascination and learn from.

What happens at a collection centre?

Some of the things I learnt from my visit include how much care goes into conserving objects that are acquired. Factors such as humidity, temperature and even pest control need to be taken into account whilst doing this. The buildings that house these objects are therefore designed primarily for their care and not for people. Which is why you may need a coat before visiting as the temperature often needs to be low for certain objects to be properly cared for! Museum collections can also include archives of books from early researchers in their field. Archivists look after these with similar care to the larger objects. For science museums these could be early books on anatomy, alchemy or the history of science. They can include illustrations from early scientific exploration and expeditions. One of the archives contained beautiful illustrations of birds from Napoleon’s scientific expedition to Egypt in the 1700s. Overall, it was fascinating to learn about how much needs to be considered in the curation and conservation of museum objects. It also makes you realise how much you can learn from the history of one object, and why museums can therefore be so powerful in engaging the public with science. Putting these objects into collections and exhibitions can tell an impactful story of scientific and technological development throughout history. For more information on the National Collections Centre, visit this page.

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