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Documentation and Collections Management at King John’s House

Museum Name

King John's House & Heritage Centre

Museum Contact

Anne James, General Manager

Title of Project

Documentation and Collections Management


December 2013 - February 2014

What were the Project aims?

To improve standards of collections management and documentation.

What was the impact of the project?

The museum is applying for museum accreditation and this process has raised awareness at the museum of the need to significantly improve its systems for documentation and collections management. After taking part in a Museum Development Programme-organised ‘Documentation Basics’ study visit to the Hampshire County Museums Service headquarters, the team had a stronger understanding of the requirements to establish a collections management system, create a documentation manual, and to get its team of volunteers trained to do the work.

The museum recognised that: ‘outside experienced guidance is essential if we are to reach the standard that we wish for and the museum deserves.’ So they applied for a Hampshire Solent Museum Development Training Bursary to fund a series of four practical half-day sessions with consultant Stephen Lowy of Inspiring Collections, covering: Creating a documentation procedures manual; Museum cataloguing; Marking and labelling museum objects; and Retrospective documentation. The funding included materials for the training session to get the museum started in applying its new practice.

The project has enabled the management committee to agree a structure for a documentation manual for the museum which can be used to support volunteers undertaking documentation work. During the half day practical sessions, a group of local volunteers and staff learned how to mark and label objects in a suitable and safe manner complying with the documentation manual standards; how to undertake basic documentation for complying with the documentation manual standards and also how to create inventory lists plus reconciling these with existing documentation records and identifying gaps in the museum’s records.

Reflecting on the project 18 months on, Management Committee chair Barbara Burridge says: 'This training bursary has really moved forward our work with collections and advanced our work towards museum accreditation. We now have fuller knowledge of collections with computer search facilities in the pipe-line. It helped to increase enthusiasm and maintain support of volunteers.'

What went well and what didn’t go well?

The project took a while to get off the ground because the museum’s first application for a Training Bursary was not accepted. The original plan for the training was an intensive one-day session, and the Museum Development Officer suggested that a project spread over a number of shorter sessions, giving the museum the opportunity to apply learning between sessions, would be a better model to embed new practice. In particular that the management committee should work with the consultant first on the development of the museum’s approach, prior to the wider volunteer group being trained. Through dialogue between the museum, the consultant and the MDO a revised approach was developed, leading to a successful application and significant progress towards implementing a systematic approach to documentation.

Top Tips

  • Use the Accreditation standard as a tool to identify development priorities.
  • Think about the relevant target group for each stage of the project and plan the sequence of activities accordingly.

What are your plans for the future?

The museum will now be working to record its collections to comply with museum Accreditation standards.

Overall Cost of Project

£1,000.00 exc VAT (£900.00 exc VAT for consultancy, £100.00 exc VAT for materials) funded by the Hampshire Solent Museum Development Training Bursary scheme.