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!


The Great University of Reading Museums and Special Collections #12off

The Great University of Reading Museums and Special Collections #12off: It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it, but the idea for a MERL #12daysofChristmas series of tweets emerged in one of our weekly social media meetings before Christmas, and our colleagues at the Ure Museum and the Special Collections jumped at the chance to challenge us to a #12off!

Although it started as a bit of light relief in the run up to the holidays (the University is closed over Christmas and the New Year, so our 12 days were actually our 12 last working days) there’s nothing like pitting collections against each other to stir staff into digging deep and coming up with some amazing images and fascinating objects. In fact, the exercise turned out to be a great excuse to browse the online catalogues, image banks, Flickr photostreams and Pinterest boards looking for interesting pictures and selecting them based on the happy chance of their numerical suitability rather than any other thematic consideration! (But I probably shouldn’t admit to the great joy of matching the number with an appropriate theme, as in the case of our Day 9…!

9 turkeys chilling P_FW_PH2_T27_14

9 turkeys chilling P_FW_PH2_T27_14

The result was three fantastically random but fascinating collections of images, ranging from the Special Collections’ ‘4 winged monkeys’ to the Ure Museum’s ‘7 lyre strings’ strumming’…

7 lyre strings











These sets of images have ended up showcasing the incredible diversity of the collections and activities in (just three of) the University’s Museums and Collections; maybe next year we’ll have to persuade colleagues in the Cole Museum, Herbarium, Typography and Art collections to join in! In the meantime, check out the #12off collections from MERL on Pinterest, on the Special Collections blog round-up, and on the Ure Museum’s twitter feed or on our joint Tumblr  and let us know which would be your ‘star collection’!