The class took another road trip, this time to Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum. I was really excited for this visit, my ultimate goal career wise is to be an archivist for a museum and as our group was being led by an actual museum archivist I had lots of questions that I wanted to ask about the job! While the materials we were shown were amazing and I was very interested in the policies and innovations and collections that the museum housed I was rather disappointing with the information I was able to gather from our presenters, they seemed genuinely confused about most of the questions I asked and were not able to fully answer most of them.
At the National Maritime Museum they use the universal decimal system in their library to catalog materials. The library within the museum is primarily used by academic researchers and family historians. The archive has only 10% backlog which is absolutely incredible. Most archives that I have experienced have at least a 50% backlog due to lack of funding. However our guides gave the indication that there were really no significant funding troubles for this particular institution due to very careful planning in fact items are only purchased for the collection if all of the funds are available.
Materials are arranged within the archive by type, for example all of the books are in one section, folios in another and so on and so forth. Materials are then further separated by subject for example central government, local government, personal papers and so on and so forth. Conservation is a huge issue at the museum as there are many rare and delicate items in the collection in particular the collection of maps. Therefore items are carefully scrutinized by a committee before an acquisition can occur at the museum. An interesting fact about the museum is that their archive house a large collection on pirates and a large collection of items related to the Titanic and its sinking.
One very important question which I believe was answered beautifully for me was; what is an important skill for someone looking to work in the archival field? I was told that a huge strength was to be able to look at items laterally, meaning that it is not simply enough to understand why a particular artifact is important. The archivist must understand what was important about the significance of events happening at the time the artifact was created or used, the archivist must understand what is important about the person who actually created or used the artifice and even understand the importance of the materials used to create the artifact. This answer opened my eyes to exactly how broad an archivists understanding must be if the materials in the collection they are responsible for.
For more information about the National Maritime Museum click here