There is a need to regularly review collections and infrastructure to ensure that the agreed purpose of the museums and collections can be supported sustainably within an institution or organisation.
UCL Museums & Collections have developed a model to assess their collections and how to care for and use them. The Collections Review covered all aspects of the physical care and intellectual value of the nearly 380 thousand objects in the collections within a single, all-encompassing review.
By considering both these elements it was possible to determine exactly how the collections are used in day-to-day teaching and research and simultaneously assessed strengths and weaknesses. This will enable collections to prioritise and highlight areas where work is needed, and enable UCL Museums & Collections to realise their full potential.
Establish Aims & Objectives Consultation: Aspects to Review Research and Construct Methodology Pilot Project Consultation: Appropriate method? Analyze and incorporate feedback Data Gathering Write reports Produce an executive summary Consultation: Style and use of reports Integrate findings into strategic plans Data calibration, formatting and analysis Collections Review Flow Chart
To provide a benchmark with which UCL Museums & Collections can work against
To ensure that UCL has the collections it requires in order to fulfill its short and long-term strategic objectives
To develop an overarching acquisition and disposal policy for UCL Museums & Collections, and review policies for individual museums and collections Identify all collections material held by UCL and the type and extent of the collections. How many objects do we hold? What are the highlights? Identify any other collections held at UCL not currently part of UCL Museums & Collections.
Identify the number and location of stores, on-site and off-site. What is the condition and security of stores? How much material is on display, how much in storage?
Identify current curatorial activity and standards, for example, collections management. What is the extent of any documentation backlogs? What condition are our collections in?
Analyse and identify general conclusions about current provision, for example, support for teaching & research, public access and engagement.
Began by undertaking research into museum standards and looking at case studies of museums that have attempted such a project before. We wanted;
an objective grading system so that comparisons can be made between different collections, and that improvements and priorities for improvements are easily highlighted.
a system that is comparatively easy to establish and maintain. Annual checks will only need to note any changes, not go through the whole assessment procedure again
outcomes to be presented as statistics accompanied by a summary of conclusions and recommendations. This will provide useful information about the collection as a whole, which can then be used to make decisions about priorities for collections management. For example, we can generate a list of collections ‘hot spots’ and focus our limited resources on areas of the collection that need immediate attention.
To fulfil a number of requirements, the Review needed to identify levels of collections care, storage security and management, teaching and research use, documentation and, access and ownership. Current standards where consulted to provide a basis for the review to work on. These included;
Standards for Collections Care series, originally published by the Museums & Galleries Commission (MGC), now the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). Written by experts in the conservation and care of different types of collection, there are eight standards in the series. Some of the standards have been updated and can be found on collectionslink.org.uk
Benchmarks in Collection Care, originally published by Re:source, is a self-assessment checklist to help you identify how well you are caring for your collections and give an indication of where and what improvements might be needed. The checklist can be found on collectionslink.org.uk
The Collections Trust (formerly MDA) which provides information on documentation and information management for museums. A registered charity, funded by a grant from the MLA to provide advice, support and guidance to museum professionals to help them achieve national standards in the management of their collections. Also responsible for maintaining SPECTRUM , the UK and international standard for Collections Management. SPECTRUM is embedded in the Accreditation Scheme as part of its minimum documentation requirement for UK museums.
The Museum Accreditation Scheme is the national minimum standard scheme for museums administrated by the MLA. Developed from the Registration Scheme , established in 1988, it sets out a clear benchmark for the delivery of museum services ensuring a minimum standard. The Scheme is administered in England by the MLA and by the Northern Ireland Museums Council, Scottish Museums Council and CyMAL in the Home Nations.
Many of the case studies and standards focus heavily on collections care but we wanted something that looked at the value and significance of the collections too. We wanted to know more about our collections.
A methodology was developed with consultation from external and internal workshops. This comprised of a rubric with which collections were to be reviewed and scored A to E in accordance with the standard grading where possible, for example, SPECTRUM for documentation.
The rubric was divided into two parts,1) looked at collections care and management, 2) looked at the value and significance of the collection
Wanted to reduce bias that may be seen in a yes/no questionnaire, or open answers.
Caring for and conserving a collection is one of the most important roles of a museum, archive or library. According to the Museums Association, good collections care ensures, 'that objects in a collection are stored, displayed and handled in a way that promotes preservation
Many museums now incorporate condition surveys as a normal part of their conservation planning. They help to inform both preventive and remedial conservation needs and are often used as part of preparing a bid for funding of collections care projects .
Condition - wanted to identify an overall assessment
Storage – closely related to condition, we wanted to look at what percentage of space is meeting appropriate standards for collection storage and display. Looked at both buildings space and the immediate housing of the objects.
Documentation – wanted an overall view of the documentation levels and to identify backlogs.
The material held at UCL has mostly been acquired through teaching and research. Being primarily a reference collection, there justification lies in their value and use as sources of knowledge. The value of collections may be usefully divided into five broad categories:
1. Teaching & Research value
2. Cultural value, especially the influence of collecting and collections on the development of society and on science , on specific individuals, and on local and national history; for example, some collections may have little scientific value, but could have significant associations with people and places, in the case of this review we focus on the relationship with UCL.
3. Financial value, where the activity of private collectors and the public in general has raised the perceived and actual value of Objects.
4. Educational value in lifelong learning where collections are used as a learning resource either to instruct, inform or inspire.
5. Entertainment value where the aesthetic beauty of some objects is appreciated by the viewer.
A pilot project was undertaken on the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy to test the methodology for a review of UCL Museums & Collections.
Each collection was divided into discrete subsets , Review Units , and then evaluated using the rubric. The scale of the Review Unit was an important consideration since it will determine the ability of the process to discriminate between levels on the rubric. For example, the smaller the unit the greater the resolution and the more meaningful the resulting data.
All the zoology sub-collections were looked at. But these sub-collections were in a sense, ‘virtual’ collections and physically assessing them as units was not possible. It was decided that the individual shelf, drawer, tank, slide drawer, display case would become our Review Unit.
For this reason it was decided that the survey be carried out store by store, cupboard by cupboard or drawer by drawer. It is quicker to break down a large store into many Review Units and results in sufficiently detailed data for assessment.
The Grant Museum A Review Unit can be a drawer, a shelf, or a single object
An important aspect that came out of the testing was the need for specialist knowledge of a collection (not necessarily always a subject specialist) and for observational issues such as condition and housing survey and input from the curator for documentation issues. For this reason the review was carried out by the dedicated staff with assistance and input from the curators. The audit and review process can not realistically be undertaken by volunteers.
For each Review category, the collections management survey was based on the lowest score of any object stored in that unit. Typically this lowered the unit score. Some curators initially found this to be a negative but the end result was that problem areas are accentuated rather than hidden.
If make time to do the exercise, a large amount of work can be done in a day
One of the major outcomes from the pilot was a compete count of every object in the collection, something never attained before! For example, we now have a figure of over 350 thousand specimens held at UCL.
Highlights the collections ‘hot spots’. Small problems can be worked on to create big improvements rather than taking on big projects which are often underestimated and can be never completed will be invaluable tool for collection management, strategic planning and fund raising.
Latest documentation projects were also graded in the Zoology Collection, many of which where graded highly. A positive outcome that showed the benefit of these funded projects and how it has improved those areas of the collection.