In my experience museum staff really like having researchers coming in to use their collections. It’s one of the many reasons that museums hold material – for others to come and use them. It may be easy for those working with collections on a daily basis to forget what it can be like for an outsider and how much of a different environment a museum store may be.
During my PhD research I was lucky enough to visit many different institutions and had a warm welcome at each one. Since writing my guide for researchers, however,I thought it might be useful to write a small guide for museums. So here are a few small things that museum staff can to do make a researchers really easy and straight forward.
- Remember that a researcher may have no previous experience of working in museum collections. This is particularly true of early career and student researchers. A newbie to the museum world may not know what to expect or understand the workings of a museum. So if you think they are asking unreasonable or obvious questions, they are likely to be inexperienced and just need some guidance.
- Regarding researchers accessing the museum stores:
- State early on if the majority of the collection is located in an off-site store that in not permanently staffed, which may effect the researchers access times and costs.
- Provide museum store access times and whether there are any prescribed lunch breaks that the researcher must adhere to. This will help researchers assess how much time may required with a collection.
- Provide clear instructions on how to get to the collection via car and public transport – particularly if this is an offsite store. (I appreciate this may be only allowed once an access date has been agreed due to security reasons).
- State if there is a restriction on the number of boxes that can be examined by a researcher in any one day.
- State early on if there are any charges that will be incurred by the researcher, and if possible provide a reason for this charge (e.g. to cover staffing costs).
- State the museum’s policy regarding publications produced by the researcher and state the importance for this. Many researchers may not understand why a museum wants their publications, express the importance of contributing knowledge about the collection.
- State if there are specific restrictions regarding workspace
- e.g. if there is no power supply nearby
- Remind the researcher to report any mistakes or particular observations made whilst using the material so this may be added to your database.
I also suggest including a ‘researcher’s access guide’ that is specific to your museum, which can be provided with any policy documents or forms that the researcher is required to complete. Providing such a guide would allow researchers to efficiently and effectively carry out their work within your collection. Hopefully, this would make your life easier as museum worker and that of the visiting researcher.
I hope this small guide is helpful. My aim in creating this was to help build collaborative and productive relationships between museums and researchers.
Any further comments – from either museums or researchers – are warmly welcomed!