Museums Sheffield

Increasing access to the archaeology collection
The timing for Museums Sheffield’s Monument Fellowship couldn’t have been better: a new archaeology curator was being appointed after the post being left unfilled for four years.

It was essential that the new curator was able to gain a good knowledge of the collection quickly. Their fellow was Pauline Beswick, who had previously been the principle keeper of human history at Sheffield City Museums, and had worked extensively with the archaeology collection.

Increasing access to the collection was at the heart of the Museums Sheffield’s Monument Fellowship and this was mainly achieved by increasing the knowledge, skills and confidence of the new curator of archaeology and the curatorial assistant who were now working with the collection.

Pauline worked closely with them, sharing her knowledge of the historical development and content of the collection and its strengths and weaknesses.

Like all the most successful fellowships, Museums Sheffield realised that using up the days they had getting Pauline to input data into database wasn’t time well spent, so the focus was on informal discussions and conversations about the collection, and creating a comprehensive history of the collection that could be used by staff now and in the future.

One of the real successes of this project was the amount of work that was done to raise the profile of the archaeology collection. During the project, three in-house training sessions were run for museum staff and a day-long masterclass was run for sector colleagues.

In addition to this they ran two sessions for elected councillors and council officers, ensuring that the value of the collection was highlighted at a time when cuts were ongoing.

The four year absence of an archaeology curator had created some bad feeling amongst the local archaeology community, but through Pauline’s local knowledge and network of contacts she was able to introduce the new curator to a number of regional colleagues so she could begin to develop a network of her own. This aspect of the project work was one that the curator valued highly.

For the museum one of the most positive outcomes was "strong support developing through the advocacy events, which created a greater understanding of the role and importance of archaeology within the city, specifically with councillors and council officers".

And for Pauline: "It was personally thrilling to once again see and handle familiar objects. I welcomed the opportunity to pass on knowledge about the collection and the sites they came from."

Working alongside the new curator meant Pauline also learnt a lot about the current best practice for managing archaeological archives.

Despite the fact that it was nearly 20 years since Pauline had worked with the archaeology collection, she still retained a huge amount of knowledge about it, and a lot of personal insights. She was able to use the fellowship to mentor two members of staff and help them to settle into and hopefully thrive in their new roles.

Helen Harman, the new curator, said: "I found the experience of working with Pauline invaluable; she holds a large amount of knowledge relating to the collections and to the archaeology of the area.

"Pauline has selflessly shared this information in an engaging way, not only with me, but with everyone who has been part of this programme."