Category Archives: Training

“How does a multi-venue exhibition really work and what are the partnership benefits?”

“How does a multi-venue exhibition really work and what are the partnership benefits?”

This training day at Segedunum Museum focused around the three previous successful ‘dispersed exhibitions’ ran by TWAM in partnership with other smaller institutions and the National Portrait Gallery to bring national collections to the region.

Dispersed exhibitions place one image or exhibit from a set in each venue, encouraging the visitor to seek out further items at the other partnering venues with unified panels and publicity and central management of the exhibition as a whole. Each venue could then choose whether simply to display the one panel or whether to add further materials around the topic.

The most recent example was WallFace, in Autumn 2014. Despite a £10k marketing budget, I have to say that I did not personally see any publicity for WallFace although I may not have been in their target audience. I have never had a great enthusiasm for Roman history; I prefer the more recent past.

I was surprised how easily they had overcome some large hurdles which I would have assumed were insurmountable for small institutions relating to national loans. Many environmental problems had been solved by the TWAM conservation team creating individual Perspex cases to contain the images which also removed the necessity for constant invigilation. They did admit that the paperwork is still hefty but they had offered smaller institutions help to deal with the documentation. The process was also simplified by TWAM receiving and condition checking the entire group of loans which also substantially reduced the courier costs.

The goals of the exhibition were also interesting; WallFace did not aim to particularly increase visitor numbers but to add value to the existing visitor experience and to encourage some people to visit one or two extra venues. The understanding from the beginning was that very very few people would visit all ten portraits in the exhibition; I found this odd as I would feel I hadn’t really succeeded in seeing the exhibition without seeing all ten. This may be the completist collector in me…. The real goal behind the exhibition was to trial partnership working and improve relationships and connections between the different Hadrian’s Wall sites. They are then using the experience of WallFace to do a much larger project in 2017 which will aim to increase and develop the audience attending the sites.

WallFace also allowed them to develop events and education around the exhibition. The learning and participation work was done by Conchie & Co who asked schools what they needed most. The answer was Key Stage 3 resources so Conchie then linked the exhibition into the KS3 Art curriculum and was lucky enough to find a school who had decided to base their year around Hadrian’s Wall! Part of the end result has been a single unified website for educational resources around the wall including not only such practicalities as where to park your coach, but also a “homework help” section specifically designed to help the pupils with the independent research required in KS3. Conchie summed up by saying it was crucial to find a way to meet the needs of the school, then grow their needs to also meet your objectives.

Bill Griffiths (Head of Programmes, TWAM) ended on the key messages that dispersed exhibitions are a real, reproducible model for the future for the museums sector but the key to successful working in this way was understanding that it was about co-ordination not control, and equality of all partners. He believes WallFace shows what can be achieved with the true spirit of collaboration!


The day was well worth attending, even if simply to give myself some time to think about exhibitions and how the Institute can tackle this in the future. I felt the event was sadly under-attended with only about 20 people in the room, at least 9 of whom were speakers. I will be interested to see how the concept of dispersible exhibitions is developed in the future; and should one relevant to the Institute come up, I would certainly investigate the possibilities. The only remaining difficulty for a small institution I believe would be security and insurance which was touched upon but not fully developed. I would be interested to know the actual cost (in both money and time) to one of the small institutions involved in a previous dispersed exhibition before I would be willing to sign up!


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Sustainable Collections Care 16/10/13

Environmental impact is a big watchword these days, but I will admit I hadn’t thought of it in relation to collections care.  All this dehumidifying and lighting and heating that we have to do to make collections accessible and safe has an environmental impact.  It also has a financial impact too thanks to the rising energy costs.

This (free) training day at Bede’s World was provided by the Conservation Advisory Network and covered:

  • Sustainability at the Bowes Museum (Jon Old)
  • Saving money and the environment, solar panels and LED lighting in a Grade I listed building (Dennis Jones, Durham Heritage Centre)
  • PAS guidelines and how they can be effectively used to reduce energy usage (Dawn Bradshaw, TWAM)
  • Museum and Gallery lighting with LED technology (Dave Warburton, Concord)
  • The National Trust’s approach to Environmental Sustainability and Collections Care (John Wynn Griffiths)
  • Biomass Heating (Edward Milbank, Pennine Biomass)
  • Going for Gold – how to become a gold rated ‘green’ museum (Helen Marrit, Killhope)

LED lighting was a big topic and kept coming up through most presentations.  Our lighting is largely big fluorescent tubes (which we hate and would love to replace) and a few (energy saving) ordinary bulbs.  In the long term, yes, I would love LED lighting and movement sensors.  In the mean time, we are trying to train staff and volunteers to switch off lights and we’re experimenting with turning less lights on in the main library.  I used to just switch them all on regardless every morning, now I do half and see if the day is bright enough to manage without.  Like many environmental measures, it requires a bit of thought and a little bit more time.

“Green Teams” were also mentioned a few times which is the idea of having a group of staff who are really committed to being environmentally friendly.  Killhope try and recruit new members of staff straight into the Green Team so they have ecological working practices taught from the start of their career at the museum.  At the Institute, it is largely me and Simon, but he has definitely brought greener practice with him.  We now recycle (although this entails taking your washed out yoghurt pots home again as the City Council doesn’t provide business recycling bins) and we also are more aware of switching off machines and screens completely.

It was heartening to hear that the new specifications for environmental conditions are more relaxed.  The new PAS 198:2012 has made guidelines more achievable thanks to doing a lot of work into whether broadening the parameters would damage collections.  There is also a switch to considering items separately rather than as collections.  There’s new emphasis on thinking about what the building can achieve on its own – do you need the machines year round?  I found this an interesting thought.  I automatically run dehumidifiers 24/7, 365 days (or as near as I can get it) but do I actually need to?  With seasonal variations, probably not.  I should pay more attention to the meters and the RH levels before I switch them on.  I know that our stores will never get too dry (lower limit still 30%) so I tend to run them “just in case” when I could save energy, and the environment, without them.

We all smiled when Dawn mentioned the safe working limit for employees was 16 degrees.  I think it’s a given part of the job that we all end up working in cold environments.  Many of us have old (therefore cold) buildings plus a deliberate aim to keep stores cold (7-14 deg in winter) so we all end up cold too!  Several galleries suggested 18 degrees as their aim for the public spaces (given that visitors will probably be wearing coats and moving around).  Later in the winter, perhaps I will do a post specifically on tips to keep warm!  We were certainly sharing ideas on our table!

Biomass heating wasn’t such a hot topic for me, it did look like a great option if you’re currently on oil or electric heating, but if you can get mainline gas, that’s still cheaper.  I did love their solution of installing web-cams into fuel stores so they can check how much you have left without you having to go and look!  Really using the advantages of technology to make life easier.

Finally, Helen from Killhope gave lots of examples of how they have become a greener museum.  One I hadn’t considered was purchasing sustainable office and housekeeping supplies.  I don’t think much thought is currently going into that here, and perhaps we could shift to some more environmentally friendly options.  There’s LUSH soap in the staff kitchen already – there’s a start!

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23Things : The 23rd Thing at last!

The final Thing at last!  I tried to complete this last year, and never made it, so thank goodness I’ve managed to put some time aside this year.
In general, I love how reflective the 23Things have been.  Like Chartership, they make you think about your own working practises and styles and how you might make adjustments.

And the 23rd Thing fits exactly with what I feel I needed right now – a new PDP.  It’s been a while since I had a written one.  There’s always been something vague in my head, but not necessarily on paper.  I want to include a personal PDP as well as a career PDP into it this time, as it’s for me, rather than CILIP, which includes things like “practise the concertina twice a week and share a tune at folk club” as well as “learn more about RDA”.  They all take up the same “spare” time so I can’t expect to do everything – personal and professional are going to have to balance and share for this to work.

I won’t share the whole thing here, particularly all the personal PDP, but a key element is keeping blogging, keeping tweeting and also getting more involved in advocacy.

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CPD 23: Thing 22 – Volunteering

Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience

Volunteering can be, and should be, a wonderful thing which benefits both sides – the organisation and the individual.  I currently manage 154 volunteers.  Yes, really.  They’re not all active right now, some are seasonal (in the summer they do the gardening) and others were short term placements.  But altogether we had 12,000 hours of volunteer time donated last year.  Generally there’s about twelve volunteers in per day, but it varies depending on projects.  Some also do work from home, although this can be tricky to set up.

Most of them have a single project/task that they’re working on such as proofreading an OCR’d volume or scanning in Tracts or typing out members lists.  Others have progressed to something more technical like trying to find the duplicate maps and take them off the database.  A few have reached almost managerial roles in training other volunteers and checking which Tracts have been scanned and which are to be done.  Others require me to have done some work before they can do some work (i.e. if I don’t get some cataloguing done then the labelling volunteer and the shelving volunteer are redundant).  And a few of them like to do different things every week.  They are more work for me obviously because you have to train them in more things, and remember what they did last week.

Sometimes it does make my head spin.  Just remembering everyone’s name is quite a challenge, never mind remembering what they do and don’t like doing and what they weren’t terribly good at doing…

I don’t have any issues here with replacing professional staff with my volunteers.  There has never been any other paid staff here.  There is barely enough money to pay me and their expenses,never mind another member of staff.  And the fact we’re a registered charity sort of helps as well in my mind for some reason.  Also, the majority of the jobs they are doing are additional.  I’m not saying I would never do them as a professional, but the chances of me finding time to do them are slim to none.  They are all bonuses and although they can help the basic functions of answering an enquiry and cataloguing, they’re not actually dealing with the public, or, crucially, any of their personal data.  I think even many public libraries have had “heritage” volunteers for some time and I would say our roles are very similar.

I deeply wish I also had time to be a volunteer as well as manage them.  I had just arranged to volunteer at Seven Stories when I got this job, and I blithely said “Oh, well, once I settle in, I can still come and volunteer a morning a week on flexitime!”  Suffice to say, it never happened.  And six years on, I still feel guilty about it!  But I only just have enough energy to come to work, go home, go to choir and do a couple of evening classes a week.  I just don’t have anything else left in the tank at the moment.  Maybe one day.  Or maybe it will have to wait until retirement!

I do volunteer for things on a more occasional basis.  To help at one off events for NE CILIP.  To host events here at the Institute too.  And I go and busk as part of my choir for charity every year as well.  Once you include rehearsal and travel time, that’s actually quite a lot of volunteering hours per year.

One thing I would never volunteer to do is work for free in a public library which had been handed over to volunteers.  It’s just undermining everything we, and CILIP, stands for.  Besides which, I very much doubt the whole system would last long.

Volunteers are great as long as you don’t have to rely on them turning up!  Their work has to be additional to the basic services of the building opening and functioning because, quite often, volunteers get a better offer for the day and don’t turn up.  Or they’re ill.  Or their children are ill.  Or it’s snowing.  Or the bus didn’t turn up, so they went home.  Understandably, they don’t (all – I am generalising here) make the same amount of effort to turn up as paid staff do!. There isn’t any penalty to them after all, if they don’t and the other options of finding paid childcare, say, or getting a taxi aren’t affordable because, fundamentally, they’re not getting paid…

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CPD23: Thing 21 Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

Thing 21: Promoting yourself in job applications and at interview

As someone who’s been in the same job for six years but only has a contract till Christmas, this is a very useful Thing.
Interests – Personal
Children’s Fiction (old and new)
Crime fiction
Folk music
Clog dancing (yes, really…)
National Trust/English Heritage properties

Interests – Work related
Rare books
Project management
So obviously my dream job would be managing a project to catalogue a collection of books which included children’s fiction and crime fiction….  Or a folk music library.  Whilst that might happen, I think I would be waiting a long time for it to come along.  Particularly with a location limitation of “north east England, preferably Newcastle”.
I’ve found that I can craft my existing job to fit what I love instead of trying to find a new specifically cataloguing focused job.  Instead I  have promoted the importance of cataloguing to my trustees and implemented a new system.  As part of this, they have agreed that I need to spend the majority of my time correcting the existing catalogue records and pulling them up to MARC standards.  Sadly I also have to find time to manage the volunteers and the digitization projects but at least now I can officially justify how I spend the majority of my time.
My CV database is very much a paper file, but I am good about updating it with the training I go on and events that I attend.  Blogging has been a huge help with that – if nothing else, I have the blog entry to remind me of what I learnt from each event.
Interviews on the other hand, I hate with a passion.  I still partly believe that I got my existing job because I turned up at the interview despite a severe kidney infection and a canula for IV antibiotics still in my arm.  The hospital let me out for 3 hours for the interview then I had to go straight back in.  I sweet talked the consultant into it…  (When I got the job, I did take the staff at the hospital a very large box of biscuits.  I felt they deserved it)  I think the staff here decided that I really, really wanted the job!
I have an additional decision to make with interviews as well.  Do I disclose as a disabled person?  With the right adaptations, and on the right medications,  most days I no longer “feel” disabled but I accept that if I tried to do the job without those I would feel extremely disabled to the point of not being able to walk at all, or do a very good job as I would be in far too much pain to think clearly.  Perhaps I’m lucky that (most days) I have an invisible disability, (MCTD) but it also means I have to make that choice at some point in the jobseeking process.  I didn’t tell my existing employers until I was some months into the job, and just quietly created my adaptations for myself, using equipment I had bought at university thanks to Disabled Students Allowance.

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CPD23 – Thing 20: The Library Routes Project

Librarianship was a fairly obvious career path for me.  I was organising my mother’s magazines by the colour of the cigarette advert on the back cover even before I could read.  (I should imagine this was very annoying for my poor mother who had to remember whether it was Marlboro or Silk Cut who had promoted the magazine with the pattern in she was looking for….)

I didn’t do much with school libraries (I was always too busy singing in choirs at lunchtime) but I was a regular visitor both there and at the public libraries.  Even the silly careers choice software thought I should be either a. librarian, b. archivist or c. curator.  So I went and did my obligatory work experience in an specialist academic library (a teacher’s friend was the libararian there…) and that went so well I got a month’s paid work out of it.  I also learnt about CILIP for the first time, and the different routes to Chartership.  Knowing about the end goal at the beginning was immensely helpful.  But it did mean being mature enough at fifteen to plan your career to twenty-five or so.

I think that work experience was hugely important to me.  It helped me decide that yes, this is the career for me.  I like organising things in order to help people find them.  That works.  I’m happy with ICT.  I can cope with awkward customers.  I even like the dull shelving.  Great.  Because of that experience, I am always happy to take work experience students in my workplace to give them that opportunity and “pass it forward” as they say.

Decided on a degree in English Lit and Lang (Newcastle) followed by an MA in Library and Information Management (Northumbria) then the plan changed slightly when I got my job immediately after finishing the taught modules.  Did dissertation part time over the next year and graduated a year late.  Immediately started Chartership (before I lost momentum) and got that a year and a bit later in April 2009.

I’m still in the same job six years later (I do love being my own boss) but I know it is also not the field I expected to end up working in.  I don’t have a particular love of mining or railways.  I quite like history.  That helps.  But I know very little about engineering which limits how well I can answer some enquiries.  My solution is to know lots of people who do know about engineering, and ask them for help with the technical stuff.

My own personal love is children’s fiction.  Not necessarily the children – I wouldn’t be a public librarian if you paid me (which these days is unlikely…) but the books themselves.  So I am very lucky that the National Centre for Childrens Books is here in Newcastle and I keep a good eye on their vacancies page and keep myself up to date thanks to the public lectures ran as part of their work.  I would love to have time to volunteer there but that’s Thing 22 so I’ll save that one!

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CPD23 – Thing 19: Catch up week on integrating ‘things’

Whew, thank goodness for a catch up “week” for those of us racing to catch the 30th November deadline!

Of all the tools in CPD23, the one which has really become part of my working life (apart from blogging itself) is definitely Twitter.  I use it a lot as a solo librarian to stay in touch with other cataloguers and special collections people and to keep up with what’s happening and ask them difficult questions!  Particularly since I have got a Smartphone, I find it so easy to stay in touch with it.

I need to set up more effective RSS feeds so that I keep up with all the many and wonderful blogs I have discovered.  I was using the functionality in Outlook on my work email but as I currently have almost 400 unread messages, I have to say that I don’t think that’s really working for me.  Some other feeds I have sent direct to my Yahoo (personal) email which is more successful.  I tend to read those in with my ordinary email and then delete or file as appropriate but if I had many more coming in, it would overwhelm the emails and urgent personal messages might get lost.  I did try Google Reader before I moved to a Smartphone and that didn’t work for me either.  Will try again now I can use that to read on the bus.  Saying that, I’m not sure anyone ever manages to keep up with all the blogs that they would like to, so perhaps I am being over-optimistic there.  There are only so many hours in the day!


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