September 11, 2005

Scottish museum to open archives to public

Posted at 8:53 pm in British Museum

Scotland’s National Museum is opening its archives to allow the public a greater level of access to them than ever before. This is a very positive move, which puts this institution many steps ahead of the British Museum. If a museum is publicly funded (as most in Britain are) then surely all of their collection should be visible to the public?

Scotland on Sunday

Museum to open Aladdin’s cave of treasures to the public in £4.6m project

THE National Museum of Scotland is preparing to permanently throw open its doors to let the public discover its unseen collection.

Regarded by historians and scholars as one of the finest in the world, the collection is presently housed in a series of warehouses on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It contains more than three million objects and specimens from across the globe which, because of a lack of space, cannot be displayed in the museum.

These range from a Formula One car which belonged to Jackie Stewart, to a collection of more than 2,000 tribal spears, the national camera collection, and a shell collection from Lord Byron’s expedition on HMS Blond.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the National Museum of Scotland, says that following a £4.6m two-year upgrade, the public will be able to visit the collection five days a week.

Rintoul said: “Presently only 10,000 items can be displayed in our museums. While there are more than three million items in our storage facilities in Granton, unfortunately people can’t visit them at the moment. We want to open up this Aladdin’s cave to the public.”

In the next few months preliminary work will start on a new £2m state-of-the-art building at Granton which will double up as a visitor centre and research laboratory. The building, which will be completed by 2007, will also house a library and one of the most important conservation facilities in the world.

Rintoul said: “The aim is for the site to become the cultural hub of the whole Granton renaissance project. There is a lot of capital going into the area and in the next five years a whole new raft of shops, offices and retail space will be built. We believe there will need to be a cultural heart to it.”

Visitors can see items ranging from a 14th-century bronze Buddha from Sri Lanka, to 1.2 million insects and a book by Quian Long, the 18th-century Emperor of China, on the Imperial Court.

Scotland On Sunday art critic Iain Gale described it as a welcome move that could have wider influence.

He said: “There are so many museums in this country that have vast, vast riches stored away that nobody can even see. In theory they say they are open and members of the public can go and make an appointment, but it is quite daunting, and really unless your a scholar nobody bothers.

“What tends to happen when these collections are opened up is that little gems are discovered that before nobody had been aware of.”

Professor Anthony Snodgrass, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at Cambridge University welcomed the “revolutionary” move and called on the British Museum to follow suit. Snodgrass said: “The Royal Museum of Scotland is way ahead of the British Museum in offering access to the stored material. This is a very good move, I am not surprised that there are a lot of items in Granton because a lot of museums have large collections.

“It is very regrettable that we have large numbers of historical items in store, but it is the fate of many museums worldwide that they do not have the resources to build the extra space.”

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