Improving Access to the Industrial History Collection

A lot of the work done by the Curatorial team is behind-the-scenes, looking after and recording the museum collections. Today I want to tell you about a project we recently completed to improve the storage of our Industrial History Collection and give visitors better access to it.

A Hidden Gem

North Lanarkshire Council holds one of the most important museum collections relating to Scottish industry and since 2009 the collection has been Recognised as being of National Significance under the Scottish Government’s Recognition Scheme administered by Museums Galleries Scotland.

The Industrial History Store at Summerlee houses some of the biggest, rarest and downright strangest objects in the collection, such as a possibly-unique carpet-beating machine that’s more than six metres long:

No Room to Swing a Cat

Like most museums we have less storage than we would ideally like. Since Summerlee Museum reopened after a £10million refurbishment in 2008 we have been working to improve the collection and optimise storage space. This has included a programme of rationalisation which involved researching the collection and rationalising some areas. For example, we transferred some objects which had previously been on display to other museums and charitable organisations. Examples include the lower deck of a horse tram which we gave to Beamish Museum and a small collection of printing machinery that was given to a charitable trust.

We also built a covered outdoor display area for some of our more robust engineering exhibits, with funding from Museums Galleries Scotland’s Recognition Fund and money from the Friends of Summerlee Appeal Fund.

All of this was a great help and meant we could get most of what we wanted into the Industrial History Store at Summerlee, which is our main space for storing objects from the Industrial History Collection. We also took in the odd big donation such as this model rolling mill from Dalzell Steel Works in Motherwell:

The only trouble was that few objects were very accessible and there was little space for visitors to fit in for tours. Often I would end-up almost shouting so that those at the back could hear. One of our big ambitions is to open up the stores for more regular public tours but that needs space so that everyone is safe and able to see the key objects.

Time for a Project!

What the Industrial History Store lacks in floor area it makes up in height so we decided to build upwards and install a mezzanine floor. The money came from Museums Galleries Scotland’s Museum Development Fund.

The mezzanine would provide storage space for small objects at the back of the store, freeing-up the front for large objects that need a forklift or crane to move them. To that end, I decided relocate a run of mobile shelving from the front to the back of the store, tucking it under the mezzanine. SketchUp 3D modelling software helped me plan the space, with every large object measured and made into a SketchUp object. This way, I could test-out different layouts in advance without moving anything.

One of three alternative new layouts for pallet racking that were discussed before a final decision was made.

One of three alternative new layouts for pallet racking that were discussed before a final decision was made.

Before the contractors could come in to build the mezzanine floor, we had to re-locate two thirds of the large objects in the store, temporarily moving them to the Engineering Workshop next door and in a roped-off area of the Exhibition Hall.

With only a third of the store available to store objects during the construction phase it was important to plan which large objects would stay.

With only a third of the store available to store objects during the construction phase it was important to plan which large objects would stay.

Construction starts.

Construction starts.

The completed mezzanine before the shelving went in.

The completed mezzanine before the shelving went in.

This desk which was collected from the Sheepford Boiler Works in Coatbridge had been in storage for 30 years. It was re-purposed as a working space on the mezzanine.

This desk which was collected from the Sheepford Boiler Works in Coatbridge had been in storage for 30 years. We re-purposed it as a working space on the mezzanine.

After the mezzanine floor was complete, the next job was to remove thousands of objects from the mobile shelving on the ground floor, which was done by me, Jim the Documentation Assistant and Michael the Assistant Curator.

The museum Site Team, under the supervision of Alan, the Heritage Technician then dismantled the shelving and rebuilt it at the back of the store, underneath the mezzanine.

Moving the shelving was hard work but well worth it for the much more efficient use of space.

Dismantling the mobile shelving ready to move it to underneath the new mezzanine.

Dismantling the mobile shelving ready to move it to underneath the new mezzanine.

Moving the mobile shelving: each panel of the decking was numbered so that it went back in the right place.

Moving the mobile shelving: each panel of the decking was numbered so that it went back in the right place.

Rebuilding the mobile shelving in its new location.

Rebuilding the mobile shelving in its new location.

Getting there: the mobile shelving has been moved and replaced by pallet racking for large objects.

Getting there: the mobile shelving has been moved and replaced by pallet racking for large objects.

Once the ground floor was organised, we built new shelving on the mezzanine floor and organised the storage by theme. The floor includes objects relating to woodworking, food preparation, transport and retail, amongst others. There is also a dedicated space for preparing objects for exhibition. for packing materials and space for new donations.

All in all, we are delighted with the result. The first public tours took place during the 2019 Doors Open Days and we look forward to many more.

About the Author

Justin Parkes has been Industrial History Curator for CultureNL since 2008.

Justin Parkes has been Industrial History Curator for CultureNL since 2008.