Judith's on-the-road diary - September 2013 

West Coast

In July I was on the West Coast for a week. Greymouth museums are involved in discussions about options for future development following on from Expert Knowledge Exchanges in the region. Earthquake damage has encouraged thinking outside the square about possibilities there.

I met with ServiceIQ staff and ServiceIQ National Certificate in Museum Practice trainees at HokitikaMuseum and carried out some observations of workplace practice for certificate assessment. At the WestlandIndustrialHeritagePark we covered numbering, accessioning, and cataloguing and the use of their new collection management system which has been partially funded by a Helping Hands Grant from National Services Te Paerangi. Other groups had requested an appointment to get advice about a variety of museum questions including exhibitions, storage, and funding. These included groups at Shantytown responsible for collections of Masonic Lodge memorabilia, minerals, and vintage cars, as well as for general collections across the village. 

Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre (CCCRC)

Last week I set up a temporary office at the CCCRC at the Air Force Museum, Wigram. There are now more than 20 groups and collections involved at the centre. Several groups wanted to talk about their needs, cataloguing, funding, training, exchange opportunities, and to ask for other information.

This was a good chance to spend time with Moya Sherriff who started work at the beginning of July as full time National Services Te Paerangi intern for a year. Moya is providing liaison, dedicated support, and advice to groups. She also offers the chance to access collections on Saturdays, which really suits some voluntary groups. Fourteen people were there one recent Saturday. Moya can be contacted at recovery@airforcemuseum.co.nz and you can read her blog on NZMuseums.co.nz.

Also at the CCCRC, Kaiapoi Museum staff are making progress on photographing collections for identification and preparing for moving to their new museum – part of a library/gallery joint facility due to open in Kaiapoi in December 2014. Lyttelton Museum staff have completed checking condition of their whole collection and a Lyttelton Museum volunteer conservator has been making use of the CCCRC lab area, including treating mould-infected items that were isolated from the rest of the collections during triage.

Other groups recently moved into the centre with assistance from Moya and Air Force Museum staff, including St John, Canterbury Rugby Football Union and the RSA.

Image: Sasha Stollman, Lizzie Meek, and Lynn Campbell with Moya Sherriff in the main CCCRC collections area

Image: Moya Sherriff at the far end of the storage area

With support from Moya, staff, National Services Te Paerangi and other sector volunteers, museums will be cataloguing and packaging collections over the CCCRC’s dedicated three years. The building can then be put to the use it was originally designed for.

After three years, what are the long term and future opportunities?

There may be options at the Air Force Museum for longer term collection storage, but it’s time to start considering the wider possibilities, as some museums may not be able to rebuild or may have to downscale their buildings and exhibitions. This is partly as a result of the changes to building standards that are putting additional pressure on the heritage sector. Across New Zealand, rebuilding projects are often not making a commitment to future proofing and storage needs.

At the Museums Aotearoa Forum hosted by Canterbury Museum on Thursday 15 August, central themes quickly emerged from discussion groups. The need for more networking, training, and collaboration was often mentioned. Reports from the meetings will be available from Museums Aotearoa.

For many museums, working together collaboratively in a shared collection space such as the CCCRC is a new experience. While aspects of this are challenging, it is also allowing exploration of new ways of working. This raises the question, ‘why don’t museums work this way?’ The environmental and financial sustainability benefits are significant, as are opportunities for sharing training, skills and knowledge, and overcoming the isolation that some community museums operate in. Each museum could house its collections in a secure contained module within a facility and with controlled access. A variety of environmental conditions could be incorporated, including specialist parameters where needed.

Across the South Island, museums are talking about the possibility of regional storage facilities and looking for affordable, safe solutions to inadequate and overcrowded storage. This is a problem for nearly every museum.

Museums could be at the centre of ‘collective intelligence’ opportunities using digital technology to create remote access to collections, along with developing stronger networks and new models of decision-making in more horizontal and collaborative ways. Regional, shared, climate-controlled and secure collection storage is a concept that needs discussion and exploration. Any comments on this are welcome.

Continuing earthquakes this week are a reminder that we need to have our disaster and emergency response plans and networks in place, and to have identified alternative buildings for housing collections. It looks as if FlaxbourneMuseum in Ward may have some minor damage but other museums in the area are alright at this time.

If your museum needs advice or assistance in any emergency please contact National Services Te Paerangi.