Knowledge Exchange at the British Museum

Last week I had the privilege of spending a week at The British Museum as part of a programme called Knowledge Exchange. It was an awe inspiring and wonderful week. As an archaeologist I couldn’t help but be excited to get a behind the scenes glimpse of one of the most famous museums in the world. But as a public archaeologist I was interested to see how they engage the world and reflect on life at my own museum. Here is what I learned. . .

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I am very lucky. I get to do an interesting job, full of interesting projects and through the course of that work I get share that with other people. Through the work I do with schools, young people and other groups I am able to make a positive difference to how people see themselves and the world around them. But sometimes, work is work: it’s busy and stressful and there are problems to sort out. being at The British Museum helped to remind me that I am very lucky to work in museums and that it is a privilege. At The British Museum they are working really hard to ensure that a diverse population can share in that privilege through programmes like the Learning Museum and Taking Part. And for me, it was a lovely reminder of how much fun I do have amongst it all.

A museum is a museum

The British Museum is a global brand, it’s a leader in the world of museums and heritage and certainly I learned masses last week. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still challenges and lessons to learn: budgets are tight, resources have to be prioritised, audience needs are broadly similar no matter what the size of the organisation. It was liberating to discuss these challenges and the range of solutions and to brainstorm around the issues. I felt solidarity within my profession.

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Learning is a continuous process

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Helping other people learn is what I do, but I’ve been doing that for a long time. I’ve done lots of studying, taken lots of exams and I’ve been on lots of courses. Of course I still have lots to learn and sometimes it’s appropriate to go on a course and take an exam, but also  watching others,  shadowing and experiencing something different is a really powerful way to learn. On Friday last week I observed a programme called Taking Part, which is a youth volunteering programme, similar to how we run Takeover Day. During this day I learned from experienced volunteers, curators and from the young people involved.

 

Jack of all trades

Poole Museum is a successful regional museum, we’re expecting around 200 000 visitors this year, which is pretty significant. However, this is obviously a drop in the ocean compared to the 6 million people who visit The British Museum annually. And so, naturally we operate with a much much much smaller team. That means that we cover lots of different roles and activities within our work. It has made me realise how broad my job is and how much I like doing lots of different things.

Share and share alike

I’ve always been committed to using the power of museums and heritage for good. In my humble opinion it is not just enough safeguard collections for posterity. No, we safeguard collections for people, because in curating collections of objects we are curating and shaping our collective identity; we are writing the book for how we treat each other, what’s important and asking questions about how the powerful treat the powerless. I got an insight into how one of the oldest and most well known institutions are tackling issues around diversity and social justice. In developing the Knowledge Exchange they sought to share some of their power with me, but this was a process of exchange, so I was not just a dutiful beneficiary, but an active participant. I’m not sure I completely felt like an equal, but I am on the journey. Hopefully I can remember this experience to drive me on to keep on sharing our knowledge and collections with our communities.

 

Are you interested in what I’ve written? Would you like to find out more about how you can learn from what we do here? Would you like to work with us as a volunteer, set up some shadowing or work experience, or just have a chat about how we could work together? If so drop me a line t.cole@poole.gov.uk

 

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