Our Collections and Engagement Manager, Jacob O’Sullivan, reflects on his first year working at Museums Galleries Scotland.
The 5th of July is Tynwald Day; the Isle of Man’s national day (and a fantastic international example of ICH). This year it was doubly significant to me though, as it marked my one-year anniversary of working for MGS. I find it hard to believe that over a year has passed since I was fumbling around buying smart shirts, trying to learn the names of my new colleagues, and working out what the etiquette was with the communal milk.
Seeing things from ‘the other side of the fence’
With a year’s experience under my belt, I’ve been reflecting on what it’s like working for the National Development Body. Having previously worked in museums, it has felt a bit like looking through the other end of a telescope. Before coming to MGS, I was Curator of Large Objects at the Highland Folk Museum (HFM) in Inverness-shire. In that role, I worked with a collection of mainly rural and domestic objects from throughout the Highlands. Objects ranged from fishing net-repair needles and peat spades, to relocated vernacular buildings including a school, church and joiner’s workshop. Indeed, having previously been at Cregneash and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the collections I had worked with erred towards the rural, the social, and the ‘folky’.
In the past year, I have worked in support of all kinds of collections, from those cared for by emerging community groups, to world famous football clubs. Not only that, but the work has taken me to Ullapool and London, and many places in between. It’s been a real benefit to have previously worked with rather specific, if idiosyncratic, collections (especially regarding collections management). This experience helped me to appreciate the variety, quality, and diversity of collections within Scotland’s museums and galleries. It has also, hopefully, helped me to understand some of the practical challenges and opportunities associated with them.
One of the major pieces of work I was involved with at the HFM was a (successful!) application to have the entire collection Recognised as a Nationally Significant Collection. It’s a fantastic bit of continuity to now find myself organising the Recognised Collection holders’ meetings! These biannual meetings are a chance for people working with Recognised Collections to share experiences, good practice, and inspiring ideas.
The perks of the job!
Part of my job involves assessing Accreditation returns, and I have been lucky enough to visit several fascinating museums for verification visits. These have included Heriot Watt, Ullapool Museum, the University of Stirling’s Art Collection, Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, and the Museum of The Royal Regiment of Scotland. A big thanks to all these museums for being so welcoming, and for showing me your wonderful collections. I feel so lucky to be able to experience the staggering variety of these museums; and the visits are only one aspect of my work.
Developing new skills
In June this year, MGS partnered with National Museums Scotland to organise a Sharing Collections Symposium. It was a really positive day, and the sessions were full of good practice examples of how to loan, borrow, and share collections. It was great to learn things which will practically inform how I work in the future. I was even able to chair a session on Community Curation, which can be seen here. The symposium is to be followed up by a Touring Exhibitions training bundle.
I have also created and adapted web content for our new(ish) website. I’ve learned new skills and information from others, and then been able to share this knowledge widely throughout the sector. Other parts of the year have included working with Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, the Museums Association, and sitting on the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel (SAFAP). This panel advises on which museums should be allocated the objects claimed by the Treasure Trove Unit. These objects have been found (by chance, metal-detecting, or archaeological excavation), and are deemed to be of cultural significance. They are often humbling things to be involved with. The potential stories behind them are remarkable, and you’d be forgiven for seeing shades of the ghost stories of M R James, of which happily I am a big fan!
In short then, it has been a great year. It’s been a real pleasure to work with so many different museums, organisations, and collections. Thank you to those I’ve spoken with along the way, and I look forward to meeting more of you soon!