How do Museum objects get acquired? What happens to an object after you send it to us? Tracey Hebron, Barnsley Museums Collections Clerk, explains how items are accessioned into our Museum Collection.
The Acquisitions Process
Barnsley Museums have a vast collection spanning across five sites including The Cooper Gallery, Experience Barnsley Museum and Cannon Hall Museum as well as a large collection of archives at Barnsley Archives and Discovery Centre. The collections tell the story of Barnsley Borough and its people, from first settlement through industrial transformation to the present day. The vast majority of items in our care are donated to the museum as gifts. We are always looking for objects and archives to the fill gaps and enhance our collections. Therefore, we will always consider donations offered, to see how they could potentially be utilised at our venues.
Here at Barnsley Museums, donated objects are recorded, preserved and cared for to the highest standards, due to limited storage space we have to be selective about what we can now accept into our keeping. When someone approaches the museum to donate an item we first need to find out as much as possible about the object, so we ask the donors to provide as much information as possible. Information such as:
- Does it represent Barnsley in some way?
- Do you know who made it?
- Do you know its history?
- Are there any personal stories associated with it?
- Can you provide images?
- Can you describe its physical condition?
- Can you provide an approximate size?
Once this information is collected, items are put to the Acquisitions Panel who will assess the offer. The Acquisitions Panel is made up of several people from across the Barnsley Museum Service and meets monthly. The panel follow the Museum Associations Code of Ethics when considering all new items and all decisions made at the meeting are recorded.
Before Covid 19 these meetings would take place around a table however, to continue the process during lockdown these meetings are now done digitally on Microsoft Teams.
Things discussed include:
- Do we have one already or something similar?
- What condition is it in?
- How does it fit with the rest of the collection?
- What story does it tell?
- What future would it have for display or research?
- Can we safely store it? (and the room to store it)
Items accepted at the panel can go into the museum or into archives. Objects can be used in a variety of ways such as in a physical display, virtual display in online collections, academic research and as reference material. In addition, it may be the case that the material does not fit into our accessioned collections but may be useful for another reason and could be added to the handling collection. The handling collection can be used in learning sessions, events and taken into schools and out into the community. Sometimes items offered to us have no Barnsley connection in that case we try our best to find, and connect the donor with, a more appropriate museum.
An example of an item discussed at the last acquisitions panel is a 1960s Smith Corona Typewriter in a teal colour with black keys. It is still in working order and in its original case. This was purchased by the donor, Janet Watson in September 1966 in Barnsley. Janet used the typewriter when doing night classes at Barnsley College when training to be a shorthand typist. Janet went on to work in the Town Clerks department at the Town Hall and continued to use the typewriter to increase her speeds in shorthand. We also have the potential to get an oral history interview with Janet which could help us tell the story of women in the 60s combining work and studies. Overall the panel agreed this item would allow us to show the development of the machines and explore their role in society by someone who used it in Barnsley. Once everyone agreed that the item would be a wonderful addition to our collection, the item was moved into our museum stores ready for the next step in the process.
How to get in touch with us
Have you got objects and stories you’d like to share with us? We advise against turning up at our venues with your items. In the first instance please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org providing background information about the object(s) you wish to donate and if possible photographs of them.
What happens after an item has been accepted? Find out in our next blog!