The Guildford Dragon has reported that the Friends of Guildford Museum have “made a generous gift to it of a computerised system for keeping records of all the around 100,000 objects in the collection.”
Collections manager Sarah Fairhurst said they had already started getting the entire collection onto the CMS but “it will take decades to complete. So far, around 20,000 objects had been logged, some electronically from the previous spreadsheets held by the museum but also manually”.
Sarah, who specialises in social history, is a museum professional who has worked with various collections including the Museum of London, National Army Museum, Garden Museum and the Jewish Museum.
She said Guildford Museum held some “very impressive items including the unique textile and needlework collection, especially the embroidery and smocking. We get a lot of enquiries about the collection for research purposes”.
Having an easily accessible data at their fingertips will help to deal with enquiries but also when the Guildford Museum wanted to loan from another collection.
Sarah added: “The previous records were on a variety of systems and some things were difficult to find. The CMS is a huge step forward for us. Most museums are working through backlogs and we are no different.”
Ideally, the CMS would be available to the public to view with details and images of all of the museum’s valuable and historically important items. But that would cost and, with the museum being owned by the borough council, money continues to be a problem.
Sarah was enthusiastic about the support from the Friends of the Museum, saying: “We will be arranging a video games exhibition this summer to showcase the importance of that global business to the town. The Friends have paid for design work which has given the material such a sparkle. We don’t have in-house designers so it has been so helpful.”
Nick Bale said plans for the museum had been put on hold with all the uncertainty over the museum’s future and with the failed bid for a £10 million lottery grant for a cafe with access into the Castle Grounds. As a result: “The CMS was the first thing we have purchased for the museum for over 10 years but the museum is looking to attract more people and we will support them.”
Guildford Museum has purchased a new cataloguing system thanks for a very generous donation of £17,750 from the Friends of Guildford Museum. However, according to the Dragon article, it will not be accessible to the public, will not contain pictures of the collections and will take decades to complete. Only 10% of the collections are on display so the 90% in store will be totally inaccessible. Other than help the Council fulfil its duty to maintain the collections it owns this system will not benefit the town unless it feeds into other initiatives.
I would therefore like the museum to consider the following suggestions. In 2012 a previous collections officer, Mary Alexander, commissioned professional photographs of 1000 objects from the collection as a representative sample. Some of these were featured in the Dragon article. Why doesn’t the museum get these items properly catalogued first and get them online? I raised this in 2015 and over the next few years about 100 of these photos found their way onto the council website with the help of volunteers. Unfortunately they are no longer on the Museum website although the Borough paintings are (see them here). Putting all 1000 photographs online in a simple form would help the museum raise its profile.
In 2018, through an initiative started by volunteers, 20 professionally made videos of items in the collections were made. These have never been released by the Council. The Council should sort this out and get them online as well.
Finally, although the Dragon article says only 20,000 objects are in the catalogue there is, I believe, a digital inventory of the entire collection. (See this article by the previous collections officer, Catriona Wilson – see Inventorying the Guildford Borough Council heritage collections). I was given a print out of the Gertrude Jekyll collections a few years ago. This inventory could be put on line. At very least why not develop a detailed summary of the collections online by building on the statements in the Museum’s Collections Management Policy?
Guildford Museum is lucky to have the support of its Friends, set up in 1995. This current donation of £17,750 is the latest in a long line of gifts ranging from a Lewis Carroll designed stamp case to a Norman coin minted in the town. They helped restore a Dennis lawnmower and fitted out the displays in the Undercroft. Their most significant donation was for the Victorian schoolroom which has provided a unique educational experience for countless children since 2001. Guildford does indeed have some wonderful collections and the ,museum needs to make sure they are accessible for the public to enjoy.
Gavin Morgan 17th April 2017