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Guildford Museum’s Friends Give New Collections Management System for 100,000 Objects

Published on: 16 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 22 Apr, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

The Friends of Guildford Museum have made a generous gift to it of a computerised system for keeping records of all the around 100,000 objects in the collection.

Friends of Guildford Museum’s Peta Malthouse and Nick Bale with collections manager Sarah Fairhurst with the new system for recording the 100,000 objects in the town’s collection.

Nick Bale, who is the chair of the Friends, said the Collections Management System (CMS) cost £17,750 and was essential for managing the wonderful objects in the collection.

He said: “The collection started in the mid 19th century so the CMS will not only keep a complete record of the items purchased, donated or deposited for safe keeping over such a long period, including the Gertrude Jekyll collection, but also any new items acquired.”

Gertrude Jekyll’s sketchbook 1843 – 1932) an artist, craftswoman, writer and gardener who spent much of her life in south-west Surrey. She used it as a child to record the nature she saw around her. This book contains many of her drawings of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and insects from April 29 to November 13, 1856 when she was only 12 to 13 years old.

Collections manager Sarah Fairhurst said they had already started getting the entire collection onto the CMS but “it will take decades to complete. So far, around 20,000 objects had been logged, some electronically from the previous spreadsheets held by the museum but also manually”.

Sarah, who specialises in social history, is a museum professional who has worked with various collections including the Museum of London, National Army Museum, Garden Museum and the Jewish Museum.

Mid-late 17th century embroidered box would have been made by a young girl as part of her education.

She said Guildford Museum held some “very impressive items including the unique textile and needlework collection, especially the embroidery and smocking. We get a lot of enquiries about the collection for research purposes”.

Having an easily accessible data at their fingertips will help to deal with enquiries but also when the Guildford Museum wanted to loan from another collection.

Sarah added: “The previous records were on a variety of systems and some things were difficult to find. The CMS is a huge step forward for us. Most museums are working through backlogs and we are no different.”

Only about 10% of the museum’s collection is on show at any one time. This small bone disc was used as a counter for board games in the Middle Ages (1300 to 1500) such as “Tables” (like modern day Backgammon). A builder found it when he was digging foundations for a building in Jeffries Passage, Guildford.

Ideally, the CMS would be available to the public to view with details and images of all of the museum’s valuable and historically important items. But that would cost and, with the museum being owned by the borough council, money continues to be a problem.

Sarah was enthusiastic about the support from the Friends of the Museum, saying: “We will be arranging a video games exhibition this summer to showcase the importance of that global business to the town. The Friends have paid for design work which has given the material such a sparkle. We don’t have in-house designers so it has been so helpful.”

This red and white patchwork quilt was made in the 1930s for charity.  People paid 6d to sew their initials onto the quilt and the finished bedspread was raffled.

Nick Bale said plans for the museum had been put on hold with all the uncertainty over the museum’s future and with the failed bid for a £10 million lottery grant for a cafe with access into the Castle Grounds. As a result: “The CMS was the first thing we have purchased for the museum for over 10 years but the museum is looking to attract more people and we will support them.”

Friends of Guildford Museum Carol Smithyes and Nick Bale cleaning medieval William the merchant. William usually can be found in the undercroft in the High Street with his Guildford Blue outfit with a rabbit fur collar. His authentic leather footwear was made by the former curator of the museum, Matthew Alexander.

If you would like to join the Friends of Guildford Museum, you can find details on their website here.

See Opinion: Guildford Museum, No Time For Faint Hearts and Letter: Council Should Call Time On Museum

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Responses to Guildford Museum’s Friends Give New Collections Management System for 100,000 Objects

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 17, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Council finance thrown away! Three days to write a simple database and under £1,000 for a computer, if needed.

    So where does the £17,000 come from?

    • Keith Reeves Reply

      April 19, 2022 at 8:22 am

      Perhaps the situation might be a little more complex, once the number of licences, training and ongoing technical support is considered.

      John Ruskin’s famous quote on automatically choosing low-cost as the best way to make a purchase decision also comes to my mind.
      Well done the Friends.

      • Jim Allen Reply

        April 19, 2022 at 10:18 pm

        Being a certified advanced Microsoft Office user, and having written the database for the UK caravan industry’s checklist and certification scheme, including some 3,000 questions from 115 standards and statutes, I beg to differ.

  2. Dave Hewitt Reply

    April 17, 2022 at 5:55 pm

    As mentioned in the article, the money has come from the Friends of the Museum, which is a charity set up to raise funds to support the museum – so it doesn’t actually come from taxpayers’ money as suggested in Mr Allen’s comment.

    Great to see such generous support being put in place, and used for such interesting collections.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      April 17, 2022 at 7:16 pm

      So wasting charity money is OK then!

  3. Name and address supplied Reply

    April 21, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Museum databases are extremely specialised and more complex than one might think. They can be built from scratch but that would cost more than the quoted amount above, otherwise you risk an inferior product that doesn’t do what you need it to do. They also absolutely could not be built in three days.

    As Mr Hewitt has said, this is not council-funded either.

    I am so glad to see this project come to fruition – it’s been needed for so long.

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