Induction at the British Museum

My name is Tasha and I’m the Museum Futures 2019 trainee based at Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove.

From 11th – 13th February, all the trainees and supervisors from each museum participating in Museum Futures met up for the first time at the British Museum for an induction to the programme.

Photo by Benedict Johnson

Photo by Benedict Johnson

Day one was a great opportunity to meet everybody and to learn more about each museum services: York Museums Trust, Norfolk Museums Service, the British Museum, South West Heritage Trust, National Museums Liverpool, Royal Pavilion & Museums, Museum of East Anglian Life and the Garden Museum.  We each gave a five minute presentation on each of our organisations and this new network will help us to work together to better develop our own projects and ideas.

We all bonded through some interesting icebreakers, such as a game of human bingo and a 4am fire alarm at our hotel on the first night - nothing bonds a group of strangers like evacuating a hotel in their pyjamas!

Our first presentation was carried out by Naomi, the Centre Manager of the traineeship, and it was an introduction to OneFile, an eportfolio in which we will upload our evidence and document our progress throughout the course. This introduction included very useful information such as how to navigate OneFile, what can be used as evidence for our portfolio (e.g. learning logs, witness testimonies, observation), which units need to be completed, etc. I, personally, had so many questions and very little knowledge of OneFile prior to the induction but came away with a much clearer understanding of how it works.

Day two started with another fantastic icebreaker in which we each wrote down a skill we have on a piece of paper, drew them from a bowl and had to guess who it applies to. I’d day the award for the best skill goes to Naomi who said ‘coming up with good icebreakers’ - I have to agree!

Our first task of the day was to think about what makes a traineeship different to a regular job. In our three groups, we came up with these differentiations:

·         having on-the-job training which allows for room to learn

·         not being recruited for expertise, but an ambition to learn

·         a definite end date

·         earning a qualification (Level 3 diploma in Cultural Heritage)

·         completing a portfolio of work

I found this activity very useful as it allowed us to ask questions about the course that we’d never thought to ask, for example: are all traineeships for younger people? What makes a traineeship different from an apprenticeship? Do all traineeships have networks of other trainees?

Our next activity was learning about communication skills and what an important role communication will play in our course. We started with V.O.M.P:

1.       Voice

State the facts of the issue

2.       Own

Own your own feelings

3.       Mile

Walk a mile in their shoes

4.       Plan

Make a plan for the future

This guidance can be incredibly useful for our traineeship because so much of the success of the course depends on good communication with colleagues and can be an effective way to solve a difference of opinion and overcome conflicts. As well as V.O.M.P, we also discussed assertiveness vs passiveness in voicing an opinion and styles of feedback (i.e. praise, criticism, constructive criticism).

After the communication skills discussion we met Alex Lindley, one of the external Programme Evaluators of the traineeship, who gave us an introduction to the evaluation of the course including the aims of the course (to develop our skills of digital preservation, conservation and publishing), how the course will be evaluated (through evidence uploaded to OneFile), how our progress will be monitored (discussion groups, questionnaires, evaluation forms, etc) and rating our current museum skills, technical skills, soft skills and digital literacy from 1 to 5. This was useful because at the end of the course we will fill out the same self-evaluation and be able to compare our skills from the beginning of the traineeship to the end.

Sloan room

Most of the afternoon consisted of tours of the British Museum - first a look around on our own (I headed straight to the medieval section) and then a back of house tour. The back of house tour started in the ceramics, glass and metals conservation department where we learned about the different routes taken to become conservators (they mostly had Masters and Doctorate degrees) and how they use digital technology in their work. After getting lost on the way to the photo studio, we met John who introduced us to the photographers. He also showed us all the incredible camera and lighting equipment used to photograph the collections and gave us advice on how to take similar quality photos on a much smaller budget. This was especially useful as, for some of the trainees, photography will be included as part of the traineeship. Although I could have stayed in the photography studio all day, we had to move on to the next part of our tour: the storage of the Egypt collections. As the British Museum have such an incomparable collection of mummies and ancient Egyptian artefacts, it was fascinating to see the parts of the collection that the public don’t get to see, including an almost 4-metre-long mummified crocodile. We also learned a bit about how the temperature and humidity is controlled in the storage facilities to protect the objects. The next part of our tour took us to the Prints and Drawings Study Room where we learned about how fine art is stored and how the British Museum makes some of their archives available to researchers.

 Our final day began with an extremely interesting and thought-provoking talk on digital preservation from Glenn Cumiskey, the Digital Preservation Manager at the British Museum. I, personally, found this one of the most useful parts of the whole induction because despite working as a digital trainee for almost a month, I realised I didn’t even know how to define ‘digital’. This alone helped to gain a much clearer understanding of the traineeship. He mentioned how one of the biggest challenges in digital preservation is that the software and hardware currently used for storing digital assets may be obsolete in 10 years, as is the case now with floppy disks and VHS tapes. We’re in such early stages of digital data storage that we don’t know the implications yet and that is part of the reason for the traineeship: to find the best ways to digitally store important information in the museum sector.

Photo by Benedict Johnson

Photo by Benedict Johnson

We also met with previous trainees from other programmes who now work at the British Museum. This was extremely encouraging, with most museum staff having degrees, to hear stories of how people took alternative routes into the museum sector, especially traineeships.  

After lunch we discussed online presence and the Museum Futures website, including this blog in which all the trainees will be posting over the course of the year, followed by having group photos taken around the museum. 

This was my first time visiting the British Museum and one thing that struck me is the sheer size and scale of everything, like the fact that you could turn your head and suddenly you’re looking at the Rosetta Stone.  

Overall, the induction was a fantastic opportunity to finally meet the vast network of trainees, supervisors and evaluators involved in the traineeship and to gain valuable insight from professionals working with digital technology in the museum sector.