Exploring the British Museum

Eighth Class Blog Post:

We ventured to the British Museum, which is a mad house because there are so many people, artifacts, and exhibits everywhere that it can be positively overwhelming.  We split up into two groups, which we often have to do because of our large number (24 students and 2 professors).  I was part of the second group, so I got to explore the museum first and then take part of the archives tour.

On our own, we visited the Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Asia sections.  I was excited to see famous pieces that I ever only read about in textbooks, so I was in awe looking at the Rosetta Stone and the Lamassu, as well as an amazing Burmese Buddha and awesome Ganesh.  I did a minor in art history, so I definitely have to go back to the British Museum to explore.

When it was time for our tour, we went downstairs to the Central Archive, which holds the administrative records for the British Museum.  Each department has a dedicated archives and there are nine departments in total, so I can only imagine the vastness of the archives as a whole.

The archivist who led our tour was obviously passionate about her work.  She explained some of the particular struggles she faces as someone whose paper-based work often takes a backseat in an object-central institution.  She will embark on a process of cataloguing the materials in the archive, so that they are accessible.  It is particularly interesting that the items are not already catalogued because the British Museum is such a large and important institution, which surely must use the archives for research into provenance and general history.

I can see the reasons why museums put more value in objects than the written word because the art or archaeological objects are its showcase.  The archives and the information they hold can be secondary, but they hold vital information about the museum’s history that might be otherwise unknown.

We got to see a few cool pieces in the archives.  One of which was an incendiary bomb that hit the British Museum during World War II when it was used as a shelter.  Though the museum was used as a shelter, they did not close down their facilities, so they had some issues with storage and making sure that their pieces were safe from looters and such bombs as these.

Incendiary Bomb from WWII

Incendiary Bomb from WWII

Another cool object that we saw was Bram Stoker’s signature in a reader’s card application for the library that was in the British Museum.  This type of item in the archives can be important for contextual biographical history.  I can only imagine that the British Museums has many more types of treasures held uncatalogued in the archives.

Bram Stoker's Signature

Bram Stoker’s Signature

I noticed a recurring theme on this trip – that of the LIS professional constantly making sure that they and their work are visible to their employers.  The LIS world often seems like a bubble where only people in the field hold any sense of value of the field, but in a larger or different context, say in a law library or a large national museum, an LIS professional might be somewhat underappreciated because their job may not appear to be immediate or central to the organization.  This is definitely something to ponder when the job hunt commences!