No half measures

Charlotte Hall, curator at the Peace Museum in Bradford, describes the benefits of being part of the Collections Trust’s Collection Cohort programme. As they say, a problem shared…

Collection backlogs are a sector-wide problem and the Peace Museum is no exception to that. Although the museum only has a small backlog of unidentified objects, tackling that backlog has always been on the collections to-do list, but it has never taken top priority as something else urgent always seems to crop up.

However, after completing a five-year-long audit of our identified collection, we finally shifted our focus to the unidentified backlog. It was a struggle to know where to start, though, so when Collections Trust and Museum Development Yorkshire advertised their Collection Cohort programme it was perfect timing. Making our Accreditation return was also on the horizon, so it was especially important for us to start managing our backlog.

The Banish the Backlog programme, which consisted of three peer support sessions and one site visit from Collection Trust’s Sarah Brown (Sarah has written more about the programme here) and Alan Bentley of Museum Development Yorkshire, has been very useful in guiding our approach to the backlog, but most of all it has given us the gentle push we needed to just get on with it!

Posters from the Peace Museum in Bradford

The sessions were tailored to what the participants were working on, including backlog basics and documentation manuals, but they were also great for networking with different museums in our local area. In particular, they have reminded us that we are not the only museum which is wrestling with this problem, and it has really helped to get hints and tips from colleagues at other museums.

The Peace Museum now has a much-improved documentation procedures manual that will guide future team members in consistent collections management and we have broken the backlog down into three stages. The first stage is developing an inventory record for all objects that includes the basic inventory information covered by Spectrum 5. The second stage is checking all documentation records against the objects themselves to identify any discrepancies. The third and final stage is using this inventory information to influence either accessioning or the disposal of the objects.

Right now, we have completed stage one and all objects have a temporary number, basic inventory information and, importantly, we know where they all are. We have now moved on to the discrepancy-checking stage, which should result in objects being matched up with any original documentation the museum holds and should also help re-affirm the current owner of each object. The target schedule is to have this stage completed by the end of 2020.

If you’re working on a backlog and the opportunity arises I would heartily recommend joining a Collection Cohort. It doesn’t add to your workload, but enables you to really focus on dealing with the issue in hand. The cohort helps you break the overall task down into manageable actions and enables you to see the backlog as positive and achievable, with the end result that you will be able to banish that backlog.

Image: A collection of peace posters forms part of the Peace Museum’s soon-to-be-banished backlog.