Posted by: Claire Gulliver

The Research Collection at RAMM grew out of our collections review.

RAMM’s collections are documented in hundreds of thousands of database records. We broke the entire collection down into ‘review groups’ and produced a snapshot assessment of each, using sampling and taking into account provenance, significance and usage. The assessment was based not on what our curators told us, but on the reality that existed in the database records and immediately available collections information.

We scored each review group and put them all into a ‘league table’. Challenging questions followed: Were the collections at the bottom of the table of lower quality? Or did they just lack quality information that we could easily find? Often, it was simply that no-one had looked at them in depth. So we discussed why we were holding material that seemed cut off from experts and researchers.

Our stored Devon archaeology was near the bottom of the Antiquities ‘league table’. That’s why it became the focus for our pilot online resource. Perhaps more than any other collection it needed to be connected with researchers outside the museum who could help unlock its value.

Of course, this isn’t a RAMM-specific issue; it reflects a national crisis in archaeological archives – a crisis that has left archaeology stores across England bursting at the seams with so much material it’s almost impossible to curate it or provide access to it. Almost.

Instead of joining the chorus bemoaning the crisis, we wanted to do something about it. Rather than waiting for specialists to come to us, we wanted to actively promote these ‘hidden’ collections to key individuals in universities and the research sector. So we came up with The Research Collection at RAMM – a digital resource that, much as a university’s prospectus promotes its courses to prospective students, would promote our stored collections to academic researchers.

We wanted the resource to be digital so that it could be continually updated, and potentially scale-able – because if it worked for us, it could work for regional museums across England who face the same issues.

Above all, we wanted to find mechanism for connecting researchers to a potentially rich source of new knowledge and understanding, carefully looked after and waiting to be explored.

That’s the vision. Will it work? Time will tell.