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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Want to get into museums? Volunteer. One volunteer's success story.

Guest Post by Cat Lumb

Secondary and Post-16 Co-ordinator (Humanities)

Manchester Museum

University of Manchester

When I first started volunteering at The Egypt Centre I was nineteen years old. It was the first year of my Egyptology and Anthropology degree and I’d just been reliably informed that jobs linked to the field of Egyptology were rare to come by, especially in the UK. Ten years have passed and in that time I’ve designed, developed and delivered two OCR ‘Introduction to Egyptology’ courses for Adult Education and found a position I adore with The Manchester Museum within the Learning and Engagement Team as their Secondary Humanities Co-ordinator. Without the valuable experience I gained from volunteering at The Egypt Centre I don’t think I would have had the confidence or the appropriate understanding in order to be successful in either job.
Volunteering for a smaller museum, like The Egypt Centre, provides an excellent foundation for anyone wanting to experience working in the cultural sector. While the operation as a whole may appear diminutive in comparison to the major workings of a larger institution like The British Museum, the service they provide is still very real for their visitors. The primary school children that attend The Egypt Centre to learn about mummification and the great Egyptian Empire will recall such an experience for a lifetime – they don’t care if The Egypt Centre has several galleries or if there is only one: what matters is the contact they have with those who represent the experience,  and for The Egypt Centre this is their volunteers.
During my interview for my position at The Manchester Museum my experience of volunteering at The Egypt Centre allowed me to talk about issues of conservation, the importance of public engagement and the rewards of giving a young mind the opportunity to learn within a museum environment. I had direct, practical experience to draw from and concrete examples of success to demonstrate my skills with. Yes, I could have gotten similar examples from any number of different volunteer programmes within much larger cultural institutions, but the joy of volunteering for The Egypt Centre was the distinct camaraderie between the few members of staff and the wealth and diversity of the volunteers there.
As a volunteer I felt I was an integral part of the fantastic work that was going on there – rather than just another face at another venue. There were multiple opportunities to get involved in a myriad of museum-related areas: from learning about responsible object-handling - the value of ‘real’ vs replica’ items - to understanding the type of experience and information individual visitors are looking for during their time within the galleries. I was able to apply the correct level of professional knowledge during my application and interview with The Manchester Museum that proved I understood the significance such experience had brought me.
All volunteer programmes are different. But I believe that the most valuable experiences can often be within those smaller, less well-known, intuitions that offer a service to their local community. In this way the experience of the volunteer is much broader, more personal and potentially a lot more rewarding than it might be in the corporate environment of a larger, business-focused environment where a volunteer is one of many.  I certainly wouldn’t change my three years experience as a volunteer for The Egypt Centre for anything: it gave me a significant insight and a keen understanding of the key relationship all museums depend on – the engagement between the objects and the visitor. Nowhere is this more evident than in those smaller, focused galleries of local museums such as The Egypt Centre.

Information on volunteering at the Egypt Centre

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Twinkle toes!

Just repacking some of our cartonnage (although due to lack of space it seems more like I'm just moving them around). But, wanted to share a couple of really pretty Graeco Roman cartonnage foot coverings. You might have to look hard (click on the photos to enlarge them) as the interest (well for me) is in the detail.

First of all EC35, above. I've taken pictures of top and bottom. They show the top and bottom of the sandaled feet. Noticed that the toes on the left have little toe coverings, just like the mummies would have done.

Now, EC491, below, see the little stars in the background of the right. Presumably this is to show the Duat, the otherworld of the Egyptian dead.

For more Graeco-Roman items in our collection you can do an online search on our database, or click here for selected items.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Dull but very necessary task: ACCREDITATION

Ok, just finished a job that I’m glad is out the way, for now. Accreditation interim returns just submitted. But now I have a list of jobs I have to do for our completed returns which are due for the full treatment next year. These include: writing and implementing a care and conservation plan and updating our disaster plan.

The accreditation stuff is not the most exciting part of my work (in my opinion) but I recognise that it is very necessary. Unfortunately, I can't spend all day tinkering around with interesting objects!

The Accreditation Scheme sets nationally agreed standards for UK museums. It is administered by Arts Council England. Achieving the award shows the Egypt Centre measures up, meeting the guidelines on how it is run, how it looks after its visitors and the service it provides its visitors. There are several sections we have to show we match up to: organisational health (is our governing body suitable, our workforce acceptable, do we have a forward plan, etc.); ownership of collections (this one is a bit weird for us as we don’t own most of our collections, more on this below); collections care and documentation; users and their experiences.

Most of the objects in the Egypt Centre are not actually owned by us but are on long term loan. Most are borrowed from the Wellcome Trustees but others are from Woking College, and the British Museum. Because they are on a long term loan we have a special agreement drawn up whereby we agree to care for the collections but the Wellcome Trust wont ask for them back.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Degree in Egyptology for Children!

A Degree In Egyptology, for Children!

This morning Wendy (assistant curator), Ros (museum assistant) and Ashleigh (volunteer manager) are off to the annual award ceremony for Children’s University and I am left holding the fort. Hopefully our volunteers will be getting lots of awards.

For many years now the Egypt Centre has been running a volunteer programme for children (started by Wendy Goodridge). In 2005 Wendy, and the then volunteer manager, Stuart Williams, came back from a meeting in England (as far as I remember) about a wonderful project called ‘Children’s University’. Children were accredited for voluntary work, not just in museums but also church groups, dance groups, in fact any out-of -chool activities. Could they do the same in the Egypt Centre? To be honest I was a bit worried about the workload, but they talked me round. After all, they said, many of the modules were already set up, we could offer a whole degree in Egyptology for kids.

Wendy contacted the Local Education Authority and told them about the wonderful plan. Children’s University Swansea was born. It is part of Children’s University Wales. Children’s University in Wales awards credits to children and young people from the age of 5 to 19 who attend activities outside normal school hours.  The awards are based on the amount of time young people spend on each activity and the activities can range from football to heritage work.

At the Egypt Centre we have devised a programme of modules that cover themes such as Egyptian history, architecture, customer care, health and safety, preventative conservation and material culture.  These are for our young volunteers. Wendy has also extended the project to cover our summer workshops and also our Saturday workshops for disadvantaged children.

Several years on we have lots of modules and lots of levels. The young people that we have taking part on the project come from the local community and many of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds, many have learning difficulties, but others come from ‘typical middleclass’ backgrounds (whatever that means) with families giving lots of support and help.

So I am expecting ‘the gang’ to come back from the award ceremony hoarse with cheering our youngsters!

If you want to know more about Children’s University Swansea, here is the link.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Online First

OK long time, no blog. That's because most of the news either seemed more suited to Facebook, or to our web pages (information on objects in the collection, etc.). However, this piece I decided would be best suited to a blog.

I am very happy as we have just managed to get all the Egypt Centre collection online onto Culture Grid using a database system called MODES Complete. The reason why that is exciting is that we are a small museum frustrated at the fact that not very many people seemed to know about our collection. This would seem to be a big step in solving the problem with little money.

For a long time now, putting our database online seemed the right way to go in order to publicise our collection. This is what we hoped for when we first started cataloguing using a computer database (MODES Plus) back in 1997. Our complete catalogue has been online on a searchable database for several years now, hosted by MODES. But still it seemed that publications came out which would have benefited from including some of our objects. Researchers found us by accident rather than design. To give one anonymous example, a researcher was absolutley delighted in coming across us accidently. She had been looking for a particular group of objects for years, and there they were in the Egypt Centre. Our collection had been online for years, but she hadn't looked for us and the objects weren't at the top of Google searches. Frustrating for us and her.

What to do?

If we could be part of a larger group, one which researchers would routinely use, the problem of us being overlooked might be solved. Ideally, if we could be part of a searchable database where objects could be linked back to their original collections, our objects might be noticed more. So hurray for Collections Trust's Culture Grid, which does exactly that. The problem would be then how to get our collection on Culture Grid. I'm not a computer geek and we couldn't afford to hire a computer geek.

Earlier this year, accidently (as a result of a conversation with Phil Purdy of Culture Grid on an ACCES matter) that MODES Complete can do it all for us. So, a bid to CyMAL (the branch of the Welsh Assembly dealing with Museums, Libraries and Archives) for a small grant was put in. In March we got MODES Complete. I still can't use it properly as I haven't been on the full training course! But, with help from Richard Langley at MODES and Phill Purdy from Culture Grid, success. It's all online. I am so pleased. In the end it turned out to be a really simple matter. Now just waiting from enquiries from people wanting to see our collections.

Thank you CyMAL, Collections Trust and MODES.

If you want to know more, including a look at the database, this is the link.