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By Rebecca Raven on

What’s in a curator’s bag?

We asked Assistant Curator Rebecca Raven to tell us about the tools she uses when working in the stores.

As a curator, I spend a lot of time exploring our stores to research and uncover the hidden stories about objects in the Science Museum Group Collection – helping solve some mysteries on the way.

We are working on a huge project to open up the collection more than ever before, which includes publishing thousands of new images online, researching the collection (and a few mystery objects) and building a new home for the collection that will open to the public from 2023.

I work at Blythe House in west London, where we currently store 320,000 objects from the collection, including everything from amputation saws to toilet roll!

Rebecca with her bum bag in the stores at Blythe House.

As I move around the stores a lot – those 320,000 items are stored in 90 rooms over 5 floors – I’m going to walk you through my most used and essential items.

  1. A pen

Vital in any job, my pen is most often used for scribbling down notes and numbers in my trusty notebook (see next item). There is no point bringing in any fancy pens from home; I lose at least one a week and always have to pinch spare ones from my fellow curators.

  1. A Notebook

Used to jot down anything from an object number (we use the year followed by a number, e.g. 2019-8 to record each item in the collection) that needs looking up, to ideas for blog posts, to a note saying ‘just nipped to the loo’ in case any of my colleagues think I have been sucked into a black hole.

Must contain indecipherable handwriting.

Curator’s notebook and pen.
  1. Object labels

It is a big part of our job to make sure that every single item in Blythe House has its individual and correct object number attached. These are written on object labels and it is handy to keep a few spares with you in case you come across a pesky object without one.

  1. Nitrile gloves

We have some hazardous objects in our collection, so it is important that we always wear gloves when handling items. There are quite a few substances, such as suspicious looking powders and oils, that can be harmful if they come in to contact with your skin.

Certain objects can damage us, but we do not want to damage any objects either.

Metal is a prime example of this. The oils in our fingers can quickly corrode metal and leave permanent fingerprints embedded in historic items.

  1. A tape measure

A crucial part of cataloguing items in our collection includes taking measurements and recording this information in our database. You can see these measurements for many of our objects online too.

  1. Water

It can be very thirsty work climbing the four flights of stairs in Blythe House, but we can’t bring water into the stores to protect the objects. We leave our reusable bottles at the entrance to the store so we can pop out for a quick drink.

You can tell if a room is occupied or not by the water bottles outside.
  1. Cotton Tape

Cotton tape is used to attach object labels to items in our collection that have odd and unusual shapes. We tie the tape around the item and then attach the label to the tape. It is also handy at helping us improve our gift-wrapping skills in time for Christmas.

  1. Sharpie pen/fine liner

While I have already mentioned the importance of always having a pen on you, fine liners are used instead when writing object labels; we need to try and be neat and clear so other curators in the future can read our writing (see notebook for an example of handwriting that isn’t allowed on object labels).

A curators pencil case with pens, object labels, cotton tape and scissors.
  1. Key

The most useful item in the kit if you don’t want to get locked in over the weekend.

  1. Phone

One of the absolute most important items to carry around with you in Blythe is a phone. The building was completed in 1903, and some doors and locks can be very unreliable. None of us want to get stuck (or even lost) in the maze that is Blythe House on a Friday evening and have to wait until Monday morning for someone to find us.

  1. Snacks?

Unfortunately not – we can’t eat in or near the stores because we do not want to encourage pests that might damage the objects! We have designated mess rooms downstairs for eating and to have a cup of tea.

I hope this has been a helpful insight into some of the tools that help to make our job a little bit easier!