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By Will Dave on

Revealing the collection in 2019

In the midst of our ambitious project to study, digitise and re-home more than 300,000 objects, we look back on the team’s achievements in 2019.

We started 2019 by celebrating the work of the Hazards and Inventory teams at Blythe House, who had located, hazard checked, updated records for and barcoded 100,000 objects as part of our ambitious project to reveal more of the collection than ever before.

The team celebrating studying 100,000 objects from the collection

In late February construction company Kier broke ground at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire, beginning construction of a vast new collection management facility (known as Building ONE) which will become home to most of the collection.

By early May the steel structure of Building ONE began to take shape, with guests including the then Arts Minister and media visiting to see our progress.

It’s amazing how quickly you can go from a muddy field to huge new building.

We also refurbished office spaces, part of ongoing site improvements and preparations for the start of public tours, school and research visits to the new collection management facility in 2023.

Detailed discussions about the internal layout of the facility and planning for how the National Collections Centre will operate once the facility opens also began, bringing people together from across the Science Museum Group to consider these complex issues.

The team have also started the huge task of studying and preparing some of the 20,000 larger objects already at the National Collections Centre which will move into the new facility.

The team at work studying larger objects at the National Collections Centre.

At Blythe House, our fifty-strong team worked incredibly hard in 2019. We began the monumental task of packing all 300,000 objects and preparing them to move to their new home in Wiltshire.

By the end of the year the team had packed 35,614 objects (in over 4,000 containers), almost 120,000 objects had been photographed (new images are published online  monthly) and 200,000 objects had been recorded and checked for hazards.

Seventy-five people kindly donated their time to volunteer at Blythe House, with six more people volunteering at the National Collections Centre this year.

Collectively they gave 4,631 hours of their time, working closely with the collection and assisting our photography and packing teams.

Digitisation volunteers working with the collection at Blythe House

In 2019 we continued to increase and improve our knowledge of the collection, unearthing notebooks belonging to James Watt and objects related to chemist Frances Micklethwait.

In a real team effort, we also improved the records of 2,528 almost identical looking valves. “Valvehalla” as it became known was just one of over 1,500 times that the Collection Information team helped to better understand and document the collection.

Throughout the year we’ve highlighted the behind the scenes work of the team through a blog series, on social media and in our behind the scenes newsletter (sign up for the newsletter here).

We also ran an Object Lottery with the Inventory Team, enabling our Twitter followers to spontaneously engage with 60 objects from the collection.

An iridescent green glass bottle, European, 17th and 18th centuries. One of over 120,000 object photographs taken by the team.

In 2019 we launched the first of our annual themes, which explored chemistry as the world celebrated 150 years of the Periodic Table of the Elements.

As part of this, the team updated object records, created 360 degree object views and produced engaging online stories, photographs (such as the one below) and videos.

We now have more than 80,000 photographs of the collection online (double where we were at the start of the year).

Portable chemistry set for Technological & Natural Sciences Teaching Materials: “Light & Heating”, by Vetter, Hamburg, c. 1880

These images have been seen over 325,000 times through Museum in a Tab, the Google Chrome Extension we published earlier this year. It’s even helped a colleague at the Science and Industry Museum uncover a mystery object.

Support from Google Arts & Culture helped digitise a further 11,000 coins and paper artworks at Blythe House, with some of these images featuring in new online stories.

Looking ahead, we will finish construction of Building ONE in 2020 ready to start moving objects into the new facility later in the year. At Blythe House, our Inventory team are on track to have studied all 300,000+ objects by the end of 2020, with photography and packing of the collection continuing at speed.

This year we will focus on sharing stories online about the hidden technologies in our homes and the world around us, from making tea and home cooking to lighting and concrete.

We’ll continue to create interesting online stories, blog posts and short films, and develop new ways to explore the collection as it becomes ever more digitised.

We’ll also release a podcast for the first time – so watch this space.