Vlog blog: How many curators..?

So how many curators does it take to run the University of Reading Museums and Collections? Well, surprisingly few actually, as our new vlog channel sets out to demonstrate! Tramping round rural Berkshire, delving into the MERL basket collection, and serenading the Special collections librarian: since the launch of our new video blogging channel last term, director/anchor Rob Davies has already revealed a surprising variety of roles carried out by staff and volunteers across our museums and collections.

How many curators…? Behind the Scenes at the University of Reading Museums and Collections provides a platform for informal and sometimes quirky films giving an insight into our collections and the work carried out by staff at the University of Reading’s Museums and Collections. Each video focusses on a different aspect of the work UMASCS does; talking to members of staff and volunteers, discussing various collections, projects and roles.

The past two years have seen the rise of the video blog as witnessed by anyone who regularly uses Youtube. It is not just celebrities or those with a narcissistic streak who are using ‘vlogging’ to promote, discuss and interrogate subjects of interest to them! We were inspired by channels such as The Brain Scoop at the Field Museum, VLOG Brothers 2.0 and the Horniman Museum Channel, which offer viewers fascinating insights so successfully.

hobby horse avatar flip‘How many curators…?’ is part of Museum of English Rural Life’s social media strategy, ‘Shut but not shutting up,’ which aims to keep visitors and audiences up to date and involved during the closure period. As the museum itself is closed, we thought it would be a good time to have a look behind the scenes at MERL, but also to draw attention to some of the University’s other amazing collections.

When setting up ‘How many curators…?’ we considered our audiences and decided that we would be most likely to reach students and young people through vlogging. Feedback from our Museum Studies students suggests that when they start the course they are only really aware of ‘curatorship’ roles in Museums. The title of the blog and the range of contributors plays on this stereotype and engages students with other potential career paths in the heritage sector. The aim is to explode the myth that the only jobs in museums are for curators.

One of the key advantages of our Museum Studies course is that students have the opportunity to get behind the scenes in real, operating museums and collections. The vlog series introduces current and potential students to the kinds of people they will be working with, and provides greater insights into the work going on in the museums.

We hope that the vlog channel will develop and continue long after MERL reopens, creating an archival record of activities which students can draw upon when looking for real world case studies, which in years to come will help to contextualise current developments in the University collections.

Our director and presenter is Rob Davies, our Volunteer Coordinator, and former radio presenter and amateur dramatics enthusiast! He has already had some really interesting conversations with colleagues and volunteers on an amazing variety of subjects including: baskets, the Swing riots, mummified cats and Hooke’s 1665 Micrographia, providing a unique view of some of our most fascinating and least well-known collections.

Rebecca filming

So what’s coming in 2015 for ‘How many curators…?’ Rob will be talking to the Our Country Lives team about the MERL redevelopment, our Assistant Curator will be speaking about the history of MERL and looking at some fascinating objects, the Museum Studies Director is going to discuss the course.

There are also lots of plans for the future, including interviews with Academic researchers and PhD students on the Collections-based research programme about their work with collections and contributions from Museums Studies students, volunteers and interns.

Students from Museum Studies and other programmes will eventually be involved in the production of videos and will receive specialist training in scripting, using technical equipment and direction and editing via a project being undertaken by Prof Amy Smith, Department of Classics, Curator of the Ure Museum.

If there’s something you’d like us to cover, let us know!


MERL Village Fete: MERL Toddlers take the biscuit!

This is the first of a series of posts from the Village Fete team on the run-up to this year’s event, by Alison Hilton, MERL Marketing Officer.

Preparations for the 2014 MERL Village Fete are well underway and it’s exciting to be able to start sharing some of the new features of the event, which will focus on food this year!

Last Friday, the Village Fete team hijacked the regular Friday Toddler Time session to launch the ‘MERL Biscuit Bake-off’ which will be judged at the Fete on May 31st.  One of Reading’s famous 3Bs, biscuits are part of the town’s – and MERL’s – heritage. Our beautiful Victorian building is the former family home of the Palmer family of Huntley & Palmer’s, and we hold their archive in the University’s Special Collections. Introducing a ‘Biscuit Bake-off’ competition to the Fete seems the perfect way to encourage the people of Reading to get baking biscuits!

 MERL toddlers take the biscuit group

Regular Toddler Time attendees were invited to bring in their favourite homemade biscuits to be tasted by long-term MERL supporter and descendant of the Palmer family, Andrew Palmer and his wife Davina. Despite the chaos as families arrived armed with plates of biscuits, Andrew and Davina had a great time trying out everyone’s delicious offerings!

Andrew Palmer & Leo

Andrew Palmer trying Anzac biscuits baked by Leo

Everyone was also very interested to try the biscuits baked by Deiniol Pritchard, a Food Science student at the University. These were inspired by a recipe for ‘University Rusks’ from the records of ‘Huntley & Palmers’.


Deiniol with his biscuits, the Huntley & Palmer recipe for University Rusks and an image from the archive of Tea Rusks.

After a photo session (look out for pictures in the local press!) and the usual sing-along on the carpet, the toddlers enjoyed the rest of the session decorating biscuits in the Studio, where they were joined not only by the Palmers, but also by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, who happened to be at the Museum for a meeting, and called in to investigate the commotion!

VC & toddler 1

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, joined in the biscuit-decorating activity

Everyone is welcome to enter the ‘Biscuit Bake-off’ at the Fete. There will be ‘traditional’ and ‘freestyle’ categories, and several age groups – from Under 5s to adults! Just bring your favourite homemade biscuits to the event on the day. You can find details of how to enter on our website.

In the meantime, we’re going to be posting a different biscuit recipe on the blog each week, so watch this space for inspiration and start practising!




Weekly What’s On: 13th to 20th January ’14

magic carpetToddler time
Friday 17th January, 10-11am,
£2 per child, drop-in
Suitable for families with children aged 2-4
Come along to the Museum with your little ones and enjoy rhymes, songs and craft activities. 




Collecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ recent post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.



Peril-and-Adventure-William-St-Clair-collection-768x1024Book jackets in the University of Reading Special Collections
Staircase hall, MERL
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times
This display celebrates the wide variety of beautiful book jackets within our collections, through a selection of our most colourful favourites!  Read more on the Special Collections blog




And a little more notice for the first in our new seminar series on intangible heritage, Untouchable England…


Somerset 2013MERL Seminar: Somerset Morris: West Country Friendly Society stave dancers
Tuesday 21st January, 1pm
Using antique Friendly Society stave heads, Somerset Morris has performed stave dancing across England and further afield for over 30 years. Hear about the team’s passion for this traditional and localised dance form.

Followed by a ‘pop-up’ display of MERL’s Friendly Society pole heads (staves) in the mezzanine store.