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In my last post I talked a bit about the background to the new Wessex Gallery and how this fits into The Master Plan to reposition Salisbury Museum as a ‘Discovery Museum’ – allowing visitors of all learning levels, from primary school to post-graduate, a chance to explore the collections and engage with the story of Salisbury. The archaeology collections are very much at the heart of the museum and through those collections Salisbury Museum is able to tell a story of international significance.

Plans to update the museum have not been limited to the physical transformation of the galleries. The collections are also due to become publically accessible online. This will greatly increase access to the collections – making them viewable to people unable to visit the museum, and facilitate new research.

Museum staff and volunteers are working hard to check that all the information about the artefacts on the database is present and accurate. As you can image this is no small feat! There are over 111,000 entries listed on the collections database – and one entry may refer to a box of several hundred artefacts! The digitised databases represent just a fraction of the museum’s collections, which is in its millions. Artefacts are always being added to the database (and to the collections), so there is lots of hard work to do in the future.

Iron Age Coins

Iron Age Coins from the Archaeology Collection

Wiltshire Brown Ware Puzzle Jug from the Glass and Ceramics collection

Wiltshire Brown Ware Puzzle Jug from the Glass and Ceramics Collection

North Porch of Salisbury Cathedral by J M W Turner in Art Collection

North Porch of Salisbury Cathedral by J M W Turner from the Art Collection

In order to better understand the collections database and the work that volunteers have been doing I have been speaking to the Documentation Officer Stefanie Vincent, who is overseeing the project.

Documentation Officer Stefanie Vincent during the demolition of the old archaeology galleries

Documentation Officer Stefanie Vincent during the demolition of the old archaeology galleries

Salisbury Museum uses a collections management database (MODES), which allows us to record a wide range of detail about our objects.  Along with information about the origin of an object we can also record details including its location, research it has been used in and any conservation work carried out on it.  At the moment MODES is only used in-house, however we are enhancing the information in preparation for allowing online access to the database.  This access will allow the public to browse our collection and identify objects of interest, before they visit the museum and allow people who do not have the opportunity to visit the chance to see our objects.  The service will also be of use to researchers wishing to locate relevant objects for their research.

We are focusing first on [the archaeological] objects which will appear in the new gallery; this will allow visitors to get a taste of what will be on display prior to their visit and give us a chance to photograph and collect data on the objects before they go into their [new] cases.  In the future we will photograph and update the entries of objects which we do not have space to display, allowing the public access to items which cannot normally be seen.

In order to place our collection online the museum is updating to a new version of the MODES software and a small team of staff and volunteers have been working on the transfer of data.  Once we have upgraded to our new programme this team will be enlarged by [further] volunteers [who will help] us to update our entries.” – Stefanie Vincent, Documentation Officer.

I have also been talking to David Chilton, who has been a collections volunteer at Salisbury Museum for about six years. Due to his working knowledge of MODES, he has been assisting Stef with the transfer to the new version (MODES Complete). David has also been coordinating four other volunteers working with the museum’s image collection. He and his fellow volunteers have been working hard to incorporate a paper catalogue of images into the MODES database – so far they have recorded some 20,000 items. While David’s work relates to the whole of the museum’s collection, he did highlight how the Images project compliments the redevelopment of the archaeology galleries:

There are thousands of images relating to the archaeology of South Wiltshire in the Archaeology Archive and several hundred photographs relating to General Pitt-Rivers. Making these available through a MODES database will provide the Museum with an opportunity to increase the availability of information to the general public.” – David Chilton, Collections Volunteer.

He also told me what he has enjoyed most about the Images project:

My primary enjoyment has been to see the image archive transform from a scattered collection of objects, recorded on paper, into a centralised, purpose built archive with information in an easily accessible database. Through this work I have had pleasure enabling others to join in and gain their own experience and satisfaction in helping to make this important element of the Museum’s collection move towards being made available to the public.” – David Chilton, Collections Volunteer.

Having collections that will be accessible online is a major step to broadening access and reaching wider audiences. It could also lead to more institutions loaning artefacts from Salisbury Museum in the future, further raising the profile of the museum and ensuring its collections are used for enjoyment and education by even more people.