In a few weeks I will finish a year-long placement with the digital team at Royal Pavilion & Museums.
During the first week of my traineeship in January I wrote a blog about the upcoming year and what I hoped to gain from my placement. Now, in my final month, I’m using this opportunity to reflect on this past year and the experiences I’ve gained.
This placement is part of the Museum Futures traineeship, a National Lottery Heritage Funded programme run by the British Museum with eight trainees aged 18-24 based in museums across the country:
- The British Museum
- The Garden Museum
- Museum of East Anglian Life
- National Museums Liverpool
- Norfolk Museums Service
- Royal Pavilion & Museums
- South West Heritage Trust
- York Museums Trust
In the blog I wrote during my first week, I wrote that I was “really looking forward to expanding my digital skills, gaining experience of working in the museum sector and learning how to use new digital technology.” This I have certainly done, having worked on various projects with the digital team and colleagues in other teams across the organisation.
You may notice in this first blog I started a sentence with “along with the digital team”, perhaps in the belief that a newbie trainee with no previous experience in the sector wouldn’t be considered part of a well-established team; but I was wrong. I’ve been treated as, not only a member of the digital team, but also an embedded member of staff at Royal Pavilion & Museums, despite only being here a year and not technically being an employee.
The first few weeks of my placement involved getting to know the organisation and meeting colleagues, as well as familiarising myself with the Digital Media Bank (our online database with images of objects from the collections). As part of this familiarisation, I added geographical location data to thousands of topographic prints in our collections. Although this function is still being tested, these prints can now be searched by location.
During my second week I attended a digital training session run by South East Museum Development (SEMD), where I got to meet other digital museum professionals in other local organisations, including Oxford University, Museum of English Rural Life and Hampshire Cultural Trust, followed by a second digital SEMD training day the next month.
I also started attending meetings to discuss the Gift app, an interactive app developed by local artists Blast Theory to send virtual gifts to friends using objects on display in Brighton Museum. The app didn’t launch until June so these prior meetings were to organise the logistics and to carry out the final testing of the app. This was a great introduction to working with external organisations to implement digital technology in museums, something which I have since had much more experience on.
In February I digitised the Pavilion Review, the old Royal Pavilion & Museums newsletter which ran from 1984 to 2008. Getting to make this fascinating archive of local history stories and behind-the-scenes insights available to the public gave me such a sense of accomplishment knowing that my work had resurfaced hundreds of interesting stories.
In mid-February all the trainees met for the first time. We had a three day induction at the British Museum where we had a back-of-house tour of the museum (including the Egyptian stores, prints and drawings collections and photography studio), had an introduction to the qualification we’ll be working towards (Level 3 Diploma in Cultural Heritage) and an introduction to digital preservation (protecting digital assets from becoming obsolete and creating backups of assets in multiple places). This was the first of nine training days in which the trainees meet up to organise and host training sessions at their museums based on what they’ve been working on.
The following training day was at Norfolk Museums Service in March, focusing on documentation, digitisation and collection management standards.
March was also the first time I got to see the Booth Museum where I was given a tour of the stores. This was my first experience of object handling; everything from a taxidermy African penguin to a tiger skull.
It was around this time that I got a mentor, an experienced museum professional in another organisation to support and guide me through the start of my career. I didn’t realise at the time just how much of an impact this mentorship would have on my understanding of the sector.
The next training day was in April when all the trainees came down to Brighton and the digital team hosted a training day about blogging, storytelling using collections and analysing audience reach. Although still very new to the concept at the time, I delivered training on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), the process of formatting online content in a particular way to increase search traffic to a website. This was my first attempt at public speaking, albeit only in front of a dozen colleagues and peers. I managed to stutter my way through, but luckily I’ve had more chances to practice my public speaking since.
A few days later we headed to National Museums Liverpool for training relating to digital access, digital engagement and more documentation training.
In May we had another training day, this time at South West Heritage Trust focusing on digital preservation and ethics, including tours of the Museum of Somerset and the Somerset Heritage Centre. Having only recently started digital preservation at Brighton, this was one of my first experiences of seeing digital preservation systems in use.
June started with another trip to the British Museum for a training day with the broadcast team learning about filming, developing career skills and pitching ideas.
I started to expand my experience in the sector later in the month when I became one of eight members of the Youth Panel for Kids in Museums. This has been a great opportunity to broaden my understanding of the sector while working to help shape upcoming projects and support other young people in museums while using the skills I’ve gained from my Museum Futures placement.
In July came one of my favourite projects: the Art UK Sculpture Project. Although the majority of the work was left to the photographer, curator, collections assistant, conservators and technicians, having the opportunity to shadow them on such a large scale project and improve my object handling and documentation skills was a great step in my training.
In late July we had a training day at the Museum of East Anglian Life learning about different types of volunteering in museums, with a focus on their digitisation project Shooting Stars. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the hottest day of the year than at a heritage farm in Suffolk with ice cream!
In August I began working on another one of my favourite projects: a web app to support accessibility for the Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts exhibition at Brighton Museum which includes a British Sign Language introduction video and audio clips for text panels.
Around the same time I also had the opportunity to help out at a youth event run by Remix the Museum for young people to use objects at the Booth Museum and Brighton Museum as inspiration for stop motion animations relating to extinction and the environment.
September started with another training day, this time at the Garden Museum in London. Here we received training on image copyright, online collections and creating learning materials. By this point we were more aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and training days could be focused around these weaknesses.
At the end of the month I went on a staff tour of the basements and tunnels below the Royal Pavilion. I’d heard about the tunnels below the Pavilion but to see them for myself was an amazing experience and one was of the highlights of the year. A few days later I had the opportunity to go into the Saloon bottle (the largest dome above the Pavilion), something I never imagined I’d have the chance to do!
I also started a really interesting project of accessioning and digitising archaeological maps from across Sussex with a hope to publish them on the website soon.
In October I attended my first museum conference, the Museums Association conference at the Brighton Centre. Having such a large conference so close to home, it would have been a missed opportunity not to go. This was a fantastic chance to meet and learn from other museum professionals who I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
The following week I headed up to York for the final Museum Futures training day centred around digital interactives and then to the British Library for the Museums+Tech conference on digital technology providing open access to museum collections.
November was the month of stepping outside of my comfort zone with two more public speaking opportunities. In the first week of November I spoke at the National Programmes conference at the British Museum and in the second week I spoke at an employability symposium run by Kids in Museums at the London Transport Museum, both times about my experience as a Museum Futures trainee and alternative routes into the sector.
Also in November the digital team started preparing new digital preservation processes to protect the organisation’s digital assets for future access, as well as testing an app called One Minute Experience in Brighton Museum, created by the University of Copenhagen which allows users to read bitesize interpretations of museum objects.
I may be coming to the end of the placement, but there’s a lot of work I still have left to do as I’m finishing my project of accessioning and digitising archaeological maps, and the digital team is working on digital preservation procedures.
This is just skimming the surface of the fantastic opportunities I’ve had over this past year, and I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to get this role. Next year nine trainees will be based in different museums across the country working on similar projects and getting the same valuable experience.
As much as I will miss working at Royal Pavilion & Museums, I’m excited to put my experience from the traineeship into practice as I continue my career in the sector, putting the skills I’ve learned and the qualification I’ve earned into use.
Tasha Brown, Museum Futures Trainee