Curation success for Littlehampton Museum

Museum Documentation project - picture of an old newspaper

In 2019, led by Museum Curator Charlotte Burford, an ambitious project to complete a full inventory of the museum’s collection began. For many years the Museum’s collections were documented using old fashioned index cards. Deciding it was time to make the leap into the digital world and to create a fulsome digital database, the task was monumental.

“The majority of the items we needed to catalogue were kept in store and are rarely seen by the public, so going through the process of cataloguing has been a little bit like treasure hunting,” said Charlotte, “but in March we celebrated cataloguing our 30,000th item and with that the project came to a close.”

Agreeing that cataloguing during the past year has had its challenges, Charlotte told Progress how cataloguing is usually done with the objects in front of you.

“But when COVID- 19 hit, the museum’s team had to work from home for the first time. Luckily we had prepared ourselves for lockdown by scanning documents and photographs from the collection and we started to experiment with cataloguing these items at home. At first it felt strange, and it was slow not having direct access to our systems, but in time we were able to fine tune the process and now we have a number of volunteers cataloguing our photograph collection from the comfort of their own homes. The pandemic forced us to try something new and, thanks to the work done by volunteers, we finished the project on time and met our targets.” 

Reflecting on some of her favourite items, Charlotte said:

“One of the exciting parts of the project has been really getting to know the history of Littlehampton. I was new to Littlehampton in 2019 and through the project I’ve become familiar with names, places, faces and events in time that I might otherwise have never known about. My favourite thing to catalogue was newspapers. I love seeing old headlines and reading 1950’s articles about summers on the beach and the pictures are fantastic. One day I was cataloguing a collection of newspapers from the 1960s and I came across a photograph of an RAF Helicopter from Tangmere rescuing someone from the sea around Littlehampton. My grandfather had been a winchman for the RAF search and rescue and was based at Tangmere at that time so there is every possibility that the Winchman in the photograph is my grandfather. It was a wonderful personal connection and my family believes that it is him, although we will never know for sure. It was like finding treasure, a little jewel of my family history buried in an archive.”  

As for future projects, Charlotte says that there is still much to do.

“Having made excellent progress in cataloguing the collection we are now aiming to get the project online, so it is accessible to all. This would enable members of the community to search the collection from home and even create their own mini exhibitions on our website. We could also create virtual objects for schools to use. To fund this work we will be making grant applications to external funders, but in the meantime we will be adding items to the collections page on our website and using more of the stored collections in exhibitions and displays.”  

Explore the Museum's online collections on their website.