7 Top Tips for Accessing Museum Collections for PhD Students

During the course of my PhD I have been very lucky to study artefacts from more than 15 different museum collections and undertake research loans from a number of those. In this post I thought I would share a few things I have found useful when going about contacting and working with museums.

Contact Museums Well In Advance

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are research loans and collection access requests. You can’t go in there all guns blazing demanding the world and his wife. These things take time!

Some museums may be able to accommodate you at short notice but most will require you to contact them at least a couple of months in advance. At larger national museums, loans and research access may need to be approved by multiple committees and individuals and may require you to contact them 6-12 months in advance.

Be Patient & Understanding

Many smaller museums employ part-time staff or are run entirely by volunteers who don’t work full time, so it may take longer to receive replies to emails etc. Even in larger institutions, curators may go on leave or there may be job vacancies covered by members of staff, in addition to other duties they may have. Be patient and kind!

Justify Your Research & Explain Your Methods

Produce a research design and a non-technical summary of your methods (this needs to detail your methods but avoid technical jargon where possible).

If you have these already prepared it also makes filling out any loan request forms (where you’re often asked for this information) very quick, straight forward and generally speeds up the process.

Develop A Good Working Relationship

Developing a good working relationship with a museum or curator can be really invaluable during your research.

Some museums wanted me to come in an look at the objects I wanted to loan ‘in house’ before loaning them out. This is a great chance to meet curators face to face and gives you an opportunity to explain your research and methods, as well as have a good look at the material you want to study!

Be Prepared They May Say No!

Sometimes your request just can’t be accommodated or logistical issues may mean your request can’t be accommodated in the needed timescale. This can be frustrating but be understanding, you may be able to arrange access at a later date.

If you can chat to curators about any research access or loan requests before you start completing official request paperwork they will be able to give you a good idea if the request is likely to be accepted or denied.

Share Your Results (& Publish)!

This one is really important!

Museums and their staff are really keen to learn more about their collections so its essential we share our results with them.  Always try to send an email to summarise the results of your analysis as soon as reasonably possible.  This can then be followed up by a short report (if necessary) on your analysis and findings. I would always try to get reports to the museums c.1-2 months after returning the objects or completing my analysis .

Also try to send the museum digital copies of any publications resulting from your research (obviously this takes time), as this helps them demonstrate the impact and importance of their collections.  On the other hand, if you don’t share or publish your results, museums are unlikely to let you undertake loans in the future. If a museum’s interaction with you is positive they will also be more likely to support other students and researchers wishing to access their collections in the future.

Give Something Back

Museums may ask you (or you might be able to offer) to give a talk on your research, write a short article for their newsletter or local archaeology journal. These are great ways to support museums and to give something back to these awesome institutions!

Durrington Walls Dig 2016: Refitting

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The 2016 excavations at Durrington Walls uncovered a series of knapping scatters which provided the opportunity to attempt to refit the excavated flakes.  This was done to determine if the scatters were in situ and to understand the reduction strategies (production methods) employed by people in the late Neolithic. Continue reading “Durrington Walls Dig 2016: Refitting”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 19

Students recording excavated sections of the ring ditch terminals (Image: Author)

Yesterday we finished our final day of digging at Knowlton and it is safe to say we have had a serious case of last day syndrome.  Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 19”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Days 15 & 16

Excavating part of a ring ditch in our newly opened trench (Image: Author)

Over the past two days we have extended our existing trench over an unusual C-shaped feature and opened up a new trench over part of a ring ditch. Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Days 15 & 16”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Days 11 & 12

(Image: Author)
The western terminal of the northern ditch with its puzzling chalk boss at the base (Image: Author)

The past couple of days have been a tale of two terminals from the northern ditch of the long barrow. Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Days 11 & 12”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 10

View of the trench from the spoil heap. The two flanking ditches of the long mound are clearly visible (Image: Author)

Today the main focus on the site has been on part of a C-shaped, curvilinear feature, measuring 10m in length, which showed up on a geophysical survey of the site. Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 10”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 8

(Image: Author)
Starting to excavate a slot across the centre of the northern ditch (Image: Author)

Today we began to fully excavate half sectioned features and excavate a slot through the northern flanking ditch of the long mound. Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 8”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 5

(Image: Author)
View from the eastern end of the trench looking across the site (Image: Author)

As we draw nearer to the end of our first week it is clear we have made some significant progress on site.   Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 5”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 3

Starting to section features (Image: Author)

Today we began to excavate some of the many cut features which have appeared on the site over the past few days. Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Day 3”

Knowlton Dig 2016: Site Background

Today excavations at Knowlton begin so I thought it would be useful to provide some background to the project and what it aims to achieve.  This post summarises parts of the site’s project design (Green et al. 2016) which is currently unpublished.  Continue reading “Knowlton Dig 2016: Site Background”