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Welcoming new stores for the University’s museum collections

There have been many highly significant improvements over the last number of years to the display and accessibility of the University’s collections. The Gateway Galleries, our temporary gallery space opened in 2005, and MUSA opened in 2008 providing a fully dedicated museum building where the story of the history of the University can be told comprehensively.

Unfortunately the conditions where the collections have been stored have not been so satisfactory, though it is a key strategic aim of the Museum Collections Unit to ensure that the collections are cared for to the highest standards possible. A strategic plan was created to ensure that our collections would be cared for in central storage areas, with public accessibility being of utmost importance.

In 2009, plans were developed to convert the previous Crawford Arts Centre gallery space (which is adjacent to the Collections Unit office, on North Street in central St Andrews) into an openly accessible collections store. Match funding for this project was provided by the Recognition Fund, administered by Museums Galleries Scotland and the store contains the University’s three Recognised Collections of National Significance – the Heritage Collections, the Historic Scientific Instruments Collection and the Chemistry Collection. The store – which is named the MUSA Collections Centre – aims to provide secure and environmentally suitable conditions within which to store the collections, while also being accessible to the public, researchers and students.

The objects are displayed on open shelving, with picture racking for the artworks and lockable glass fronted storage cabinets for particularly vulnerable objects. Members of the public can book an appointment to carry out research in the Centre, or a space on a tour. We are also developing a range of family events, to help people engage with these collections. The Centre is a unique space for learning and discovery. It is unlike a traditional museum, as there is less interpretation to help people learn about objects, but many more objects to view up close and the opportunity, due to small tour group sizes, to learn much more about our stored Recognised Collections. Museums Galleries Scotland provided further funding through the Recognition Fund in 2010 to allow us to employ a Project Officer (Stores), and she is currently developing on-going collections management systems and piloting events and access sessions in the store.

Also in 2009, the University agreed to provide extra storage conditions for the reminder of our collections, in a newly built joint Library/Museum Collections store. This is an off-site facility, and contains objects that require less public accessibility. Within the store building, the staff have access to a work room to carry out collections management tasks such as cleaning objects, and an office space. This store area is much larger, and we are currently systematically moving collections into this store space from various University departments and store areas.

Both of these developments have meant that the strategic management and stewardship of the stored collections has been significantly improved. Eventually all of the collections held by the University will be centrally stored, with increased access for the public and the Curatorial staff to carry out important research and documentation.