I’m Jasmin and I am currently a 2nd-year student at the University of Birmingham, studying Ancient History & Archaeology and History (yes, a mouthful!). I undertook this placement as part of my module on Professional Skills, as a practical way to understand employability in the heritage sector. My placement as a Cataloguing and Research Assistant at Birmingham Museum Collection Centre was a great eye-opener to the life behind the museum displays.
What is Cataloguing? What did I do?
Before undertaking this placement, I was unsure what cataloguing in museums actually meant. Moreover, I did not understand the significance of this role either. Cataloguing refers to recording information and description of objects to increase the accessibility of stored and mysterious collections. In regard to the Collection Centre, this is a vital way of keeping and maintaining records of the majority of Birmingham Museums Trust’s collections.
My placement specifically focused upon objects from the textiles industry in the science and industry collection. This ranged from belt buckles to sewing machines and every individual object carried its own past. This led me to the research phase of my placement.
I researched the sewing machines in the collections as they were easier to research due to the wide use of sewing machines throughout and after the Industrial Revolution as they were invented in the late 18th century 1. They became a staple item in the domestic make-up of a household. One of the many interesting sewing machines accommodated by the collection was a toy singer machine. It was originally aimed at children as a toy, especially for girls as the original lid of the box outlined “A singer for the girls. Teaches them to make clothes for their dolls.” 2 However, made out of cast iron and a small model in comparison to its competitors, it was commonly used by women as a practical domestic item 3 . This machine was acquired into the collection by a donation from a Birmingham resident, which I found out with background information of the sewing machine.
What I have learned from this placement?
From this placement I have understood the importance of collection management of any size. This includes organising and managing cataloguing, which featured in the Birmingham Museums 10-year strategy and highlights the significance of improving digital access of collections with a digital record of collections. Therefore, it plays a huge part in supporting museum displays and exhibitions. In this light, with this placement I have been able to gain an insight into the behind the scenes of museums and employability in the heritage sector.
1 ‘A brief history of the Sewing Machine
,’ ISMACS International (Accessed 02/12/19).
2 ‘Singer Model 20 sewing machine ,’ The Brighton Toy and Model Index (2018) (Accessed 02/12/19).
3 ‘Singer Miniature Toy Chain Stich Sewing Machines ,’ Singer Sewing Machine Info (2019) (Accessed 02/12/19).