December 4th Brown bag - Nick Poole 'The Collections Trust'

We're starting to get a bit more happening around the department these days. The conference last month rather did us all in, but back to our regularly scheduled programme now!

We had another great Brown bag today with Nick Poole from Collections Trust coming up to talk about 'The Collections Trust'. I've been trying to get Nick up to talk to the PhDs for, quite literally, years so it's fantastic that it finally happened. Below is the usual BB write-up for those that follow this blog and the PhDs unable to attend.

This session was a breath of fresh air, informal and to the point and didn't mince a single word! We need more this in the museum sector, for certain. Nick wanted us to know that he believes we need to have a conversation about what we are doing in museums, and be clear what works and what doesn't in order to move forward.

We all introduced ourselves and it was really nice with the turn out; some very varied research and plenty about current issues in the sector. Nick also introduced himself, as he has his own varied background, with linguistics and business and also as a trained portrait painter! It seems that varied and diverse backgrounds such as this are very common in the sector.

Nick started with a short introduction to the Collections Trust, for those of in the audience who weren't aware.

So what is CT?

Collections Trust is a professional organisation, currently based in the Natural History Museum in London, that works with around 23,000 museums around the world (mostly in Europe). They deal with professional issues confronting the museum sector. Nick wanted us to understand that their current focus is very much on making a 'permanent culture shift in museums', so that the focus is not on short-term projects but embedding change from standards in the institution all the way up and throughout the organisation. As Nick said, 'great museums in the future…are well managed, well run.' This is what we want the sector to be.

CT also publishes a professional standard guide, called SPECTRUM for museums. However, Nick pointed out that it is a rather singular view of how you capture and collect knowledge in the institution. The also have several publications on insurance, pest control, risk and environmental control, to name a few other issues.

Nick then moved on to ask a question, as the focus of today was all about questioning things we've taken for granted. 'What does a great museum meant to you?'

Good question. He explained that museum professionals fall into four categories, outlined below:

Objects                               |                               Experiences
Facts                                   |                               Stories

Each person fits into one category, though most will say 'object' if the whole thing is about to go up in flames! However, Nick pointed out that these four categories should not un-reconsilable, but they can go together. Having all of these is what makes museums different from, for example, schools.

It is through collections management that museums to these, by bringing all four categories together.

But what is a 'collection' Nick asks, going back to basics. It is physical, but also partly administrative information, collections-based knowledge, narratives around the objects, digital assets belonging to the objects and physical surrogates (3D printing, something new!) These days we are moving beyond the question of what the collection is - it's all of these. Collections have changed drastically in recent decades, but we have to adapt.

It is through SPECTRUM that CT keeps track of these changes. They have a 13 year plan about what comes next. What a concept! Nick says that, how we did it needs to connect with why we do it, i.e. museum policies and missions need to go hand in hand and work together, not be separate. Collections are dynamic, they need to grow and change (accessioning is fine, but only if you deaccession too!!)

So how do we bring about change in museums? Through people, systems, procedures and information. Over ten years, collections management in museums has become huge and important. CT gives this network a voice while indicating key performance indicators for museums to measure their impact and how they are changing and adapting.

Nick also pointed out that we get sidetracked and bogged down a lot these days. Since the recession hit in 2008, our focus has been on funding. Or, really, lack of funding. This needs to change or we'll never take a step ahead and start to think about the future. Instead of complaining about how much money we don't have, we need to change, to adapt and to move on. We're chocking on money and politics and not making changes for the future of culture. What Nick points out is that it's not a money crisis we're having, it's a crisis of confidence in ourselves and our institutions.

Nick's talk ended here, but we went on to have a lively discussion on all manner of issues. Some are below:

-SPECTRUM is open source, so anyone can change the standards in it and make use of it, commons of professional practice, and goes into a wiki for all to see and use.
-ICOM is not the global movement for change that it should be - at least not in the UK. In other countries without a Museum Association, ICOM does amazing work, but here the two are sort of in tension with each other.
-One should remember that we should hand culture onto the future generation, in a better condition than we found it (not worse!)
-'agents of change' as collections managers - reach out to other functions in the museum and show how they can support them in order to power other things you want the museum to do
           -Collections managers need to be experts on their collections, not just managers
           -in training collections managers they need to have various competencies: ethical or value driven, managerial, professional practice, subject expertise, and soft skills (not least, communication)
-Giasemi asked the question, well where is the digital in that? The answer: Digital is everywhere! It's in all of this.
-we sometimes forget the definition of digital, instead we use it to mean technology, formats, and user behaviours, which are all very different - so when people ask 'where do I put digital?' you need it everywhere, you need to plan to put it in every part of the institution.

A reminder that OpenCulture Conference is next June and will be about reaching out to people from all areas to ask 'what happens when museum stuff happens in other (non-museum) places?' Culture is everywhere, collections are everywhere.

Powerful stuff and hopefully it will spawn some discussion.



MuseumWriter said…
I should also point out that this should inspire some debate! Come on, someone disagree or agree or state an opinion! The Attic has been very quiet lately (except for spam comments).

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