4 May 2012

MEG goes to Glasgow Museums Resource Centre

MEG, being full of adventurous anthropologist-types, has a history of arranging study tours for members.  Glasgow Museums Resource Centre may not have been the most exotic ever arranged (Samarkand gets that award) but it was a fascinating day for one whose museum is just thinking about an out-store.

Glasgow has obviously put a lot into this purpose-built centre.  It holds all the collections not on display in the museums across the city, plus the conservation studios, the ‘Open Museum’ loan boxes, and staff offices, with a large research room and learning / play areas.  It seems to be the ideal building for stores: new-build, no water pipes running around the ceiling, or sewage pipes come to that, no awkward corners to clean, high security, and built to high environmental standards for both controlling the environment for the collections and for doing it in a green way.

The collections are stored in ‘pods’, large open stores fitted out to suit the collection stored there – so picture racking in the Art store, with plenty of space to pull out the racks ( I think they were electric, so no effort required) or shelving in the World Cultures pod to take the odd shapes and sizes.  What I noticed was the space: objects were spread out on the shelves of the rack, rather than crammed up to fit everything into too small a space.

The Centre is open six days a week, with public tours available each day as well as school visits.  The pods are organised with that in mind: in World Cultures, many small objects were out in cupboards with mesh doors, protecting the objects from touch or theft but not putting a glass screen between visitors and object.  Sharp pointy objects were tied up to the wall, with a fence to stop anyone getting too close. 

Not everything is on open display.  At one end, with a mezzanine floor above, was an area of roller racking, where the collections were stored at much higher density than the public tour area of the store.  But what is out, from canoes to modern New Guinea sculpture to spears, is more than enough to satisfy the casual visitor on a store tour.  The small objects on open display are chosen for what they show about a culture.  Large objects are out by virtue of their size rather than any specific cultural interest.

Anyone can ask to look at individual objects, whether an academic researcher or an interested layperson.  A large research room gives space to lay objects out.  The ‘Code of Practice for using Glasgow Museums Research Materials’ does warn users that whilst in principle all objects are available for public viewing and study, some objects may be culturally sensitive and therefore restricted.

Thank you to all the staff who organised the day and took us around.  As a curator whose store is full, with no gallery and a temporary out-store, I felt envious of the space and facilities that Glasgow enjoys. I’m sure there are disadvantages as well as advantages, but even so …  Maybe one day I can have the same or better!

sue giles
Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

1 comment:

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