University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Preventative Conservation and Collections Care Internship

I have recently returned to the conservation field after a career break. I originally studied conservation and restoration at the University of Lincoln, before working for private conservation companies and with public collections around London, between 2000 and 2008. The skills I acquired during this time focused on the conservation of decorative objects.

On returning to work with heritage and museums in 2010, I embarked on a different direction in my career, aiming to develop skills with greater collection-wide applications rather than one-object-at-a-the time treatment. First, I took on a role as a project conservator at Whitby Museum, North Yorkshire. In collaboration with a paper conservator based at the North Allerton Archives, I was involved in supervising a group of volunteers in the basic cleaning and repair of 18th and 19th century merchant navy shipping documents.  The project considered not only treatment and stabilization of the whole collection, but its long-term care, storage and access. Secondly, in autumn 2011 I returned to academia at the University of York, studying MA in Cultural Heritage Management, focusing my studies on heritage values and volunteer participation in collection care projects.

Currently the University of Cambridge Museums is my host institution for an Institute of Conservation internship in Preventative Conservation and Collections Care.  This is a 12-month position running until May 2014. The Institute of Conservation (Icon) is the leading body for the conservation of cultural heritage in the UK and collaborates with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of a ‘Skills for the Future’ programme of paid work-based training. There are many such training programmes running at any one time. You can read more about host institutions and their related internships online.

After six months in post, I have become familiar with the running and procedures of the University of Cambridge Museums group and have had contact with most of the eight museums. My role consists of many different tasks revolving around routine procedures, as well as long and short-term projects across the eight University Cambridge Museums. The goal is to help the museums improve systems and practices that prevent the deterioration of collections and provide care, thereby allowing for greater access and appreciation by researchers and the public. My duties so far have included

  • Day-to-day monitoring and managing of environments and environment data collection systems
  • Preparing condition reports for loans, a proposal and budget for a storage project and documentation for housekeeping procedures
  • Integrated pest management, a set of broad-based approaches that integrates a range of practices for minimising the number of museum pests and the damage they can do to the collections
  • Condition checking of collections/objects

Utilising gallery space to examine and pack Bark cloths for going out on loan at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

  • Issues of object handling, transport and storage

From this, to this. Giving the specimens of the Museum of Zoology the care and attention they deserve

No way that all came out of one drawer! Issues of boxes within boxes and fitting a whole baby rhino back in its drawer

An average morning at The Polar Museum. How many Conservators does it take to dress a Polar Explorer? Four Apparently!

As you can see, my experiences so far have varied from the ordinary, everyday task to the slightly bizarre. Who knows what the next few months hold for me!

Rebekah Parkinson, Preventative Conservation and Collections Care Internship, University of Cambridge Museums

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