I am an Irish museum archaeologist, currently working in the historic centre of Waterford city, known locally as The Viking Triangle due to its heritage relating to the founding of the city by the Vikings in the tenth century. I work within a complex of three city museums, known collectively as Waterford Museum of Treasures ( www.waterfordtreasures.com ). The collections of the three museums range widely in chronology, beginning with Viking artefacts from the founding of the city, through the Anglo-Norman, ecclesiastical and English monarchical influences of the medieval period, the Georgian period, and extending right up to the modern social history of the city in the late twentieth century.
As is common in most museums today, I wear many hats in my current role, which can range in tasks and content from day to day – including artefact documentation, marketing, customer services, curatorial assistance and museum education.
Documentation, one of my main responsibilities, refers to the organisation of information relating to all objects within a museum collection. When an object enters the museum collection, its details are recorded – e.g. object type, origins, dimensions and features – and it is assigned a unique museum registration number for future identification. The object is then stored in an appropriate location, and its details, registration number and current location are added to the museum database. If the object is taken out of storage, placed on exhibition, or loaned to another museum, the database record for the object is kept updated in order to monitor and track its location. A database of this nature also allows curators and researchers to search museum databases for specific object types, and to record secure curatorial and conservator information regarding a specific object. Considering that museums possess collections of thousands of objects, it would be impossible to maintain the required level of information, control and identification of their collections without the use of the documentation process.
In my documentation responsibilities, I deal with a wide and varying range of artefacts and chronologies on a daily basis, and today I am documenting a local donation of three large vintage leather suitcases into our collection. Our museum’s collection policy allows for the collection of contemporary and historical objects in order to preserve these items into the future, and the museum is extremely lucky to continually benefit from ongoing donations by Waterford citizens with a sense of civic pride for their museums.
I am currently compiling new education packs and activities for use by primary schools visiting our museums during their school terms, and that has formed the bulk of my day’s work. This will be a work pack which we will provide to visiting schools, which will provide them with worksheets and activities related to the museum exhibitions to carry out during their visit.
Due to school budget constraints relating to participation in off-site activities, it is imperative that our museum can offer a valuable, curriculum-based learning experience in order to validate the educational worth of the school visit. It is therefore vital that the questions and tasks in the education packs relate directly to necessities within the outlined curriculum targets for particular age-groups and subjects. My work trawling the primary school curriculum guidelines over the past month has given me a new-found respect for the work of school teachers! The museum provides a unique learning environment, and I hope that our work packs will reflect and enhance this advantage, and help achieve the absolute highest potential of the school visit experience. Children are a wonderful audience for archaeology, and my work in education is a great opportunity to try and pass on my enthusiasm and passion for the subject to the next generation.
I spend the morning going through our Medieval Museum in order to test the suitability of my current worksheet questions and tasks with the practical aspects of our exhibitions – such as eye levels of display cases, gallery orientation for activity trails and case lighting levels for clear observation. This involved the task of me lowering myself to a child-friendly level in front of the exhibit cases, and, understandably, I receive a number of confused looks from visitors, who quietly wonder why I am kneeling in front of the display cases!
Also to be done today is a number of administrative tasks relating to our upcoming renewal application for the Museum Standards Programme of Ireland (MSPI). This is a standards programme which aims to improve all aspects of museum practice and levels of collections care and management. Our museums currently hold full accreditation to the programme since 2009, which we will maintain by renewal application later this year. The programme is important as it helps the museum to maintain management focus and paramount collections care, and is a display of our museum’s commitment to best professional practice and management.
The day is over before I know it, and although I still have a lot of work left to do in the near future, I feel as though I’m making positive progress with it all….fingers crossed!!