Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Volunteering at MoDiP

I joined MoDiP back in September as part of a three-month volunteer role. I wanted to get some hands-on experience in a museum, working with the Collections team.

Since the big move to the New Museum Space, an important job has been to perform location audits to ensure that we know where the objects are. And so, I have been carrying out location audits on the Worshipful Company of Horner’s collection, and the museum’s own collection. This has given me the opportunity to really get to know the collection and learn more about the different materials, production methods, and the variety and number of different objects which are made from plastic. This has caused a few throwback moments to my childhood, such as jelly shoes! There have also been some interesting finds in the 80s and 90s clothing range, with some pretty spectacular knitted jumper designs! 

Knitted jumper from the MoDiP collection.

Knitted jumper from the MoDiP collection.

This exercise has also provided the opportunity to do condition checks on the objects, giving me some insight into the preventive conservation work which goes on behind the scenes. I was surprised to discover the level of degradation that occurs with plastics. I have seen the breaking down of plastic first-hand now, with delamination in horn, and the sugar effect that occurs with cellulose nitrate. The problem with plastics is that degradation of plastics materials may have been triggered before the objects came into the care of the museum, but the results don’t manifest for years! We cannot be sure what chemicals and materials have been used in the manufacturing process, and so they can be relatively unpredictable. These objects are then placed in the hospital cupboard to isolate them from the other objects. This is due to the possibility of them off-gassing and thereby affected the rest of the collection. Here too, their deterioration can be monitored. 

Condition checking objects from the collection of the Worshipful Company of Horners.

All of this has proven the importance of accurate documentation. The museum’s collection contains over 14,000 objects, and so without proper documentation there would be utter chaos. I have been learning the correct procedures for documentation and how to use MODES, a common database used by a lot of museums. Because we have been moving objects into the new museum- including shopping bags, newspapers, and LPs - this has meant that I have had to update over 1000 files on the database. This has taken a long time, but has given me a sense of achievement as I have now completed this task! This move has proven interesting as we came across masks used in the 1999 film Entrapment starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones! Going through the LPs also provided some entertainment as a game of ‘Guess that Song’ ensued with Katherine and Pam.

I have also been given the opportunity to attend the team’s weekly meetings, which has allowed me to listen in and learn about the work and effort which goes into the museum and their exhibitions. Currently, the discussion has been around the new permanent exhibition ‘About Plastics’, which goes up in the New Year. There has been a lot of brain storming about what is going to appear in the display and what the areas of focus are going to be in the story of Plastics. I have even been able to suggest a few ideas, with some being taken on board, and so I have been helping Katherine with research and acquiring objects for the collection. 

About Plastics. An exhibition coming to MoDiP soon.

As the only volunteer currently, I have been able to help Katherine, giving ideas for a volunteer information pack for potential new volunteers. I would highly recommend volunteering for MoDiP. It is such a rewarding experience, working and learning from the team - Susan, Pam, Louise, Katherine, and Sarah - who have been so welcoming and have been teaching me so much!

Kerry Mitchell (MoDiP volunteer)

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