written by Kate Arnold-Forster, Director of MERL and Head of the University Museums & Special Collections Service.
After months of thinking, training courses, persuading and planning, (and a good deal of procrastinating) we have finally taken the plunge and decided to launch ‘Our Country Lives – the new MERL blog’. Mainly through the efforts of Alison Hilton, our marketing officer, we have gradually built up a MERL presence on Twitter and Facebook alongside more traditional channels for communicating with our visitors and researchers. Much of this, of course, has focused on making the most of opportunities to let people know about our many and varied events, services and programmes, along with announcing news about new initiatives and projects. However, while this has helped put us on the map locally, regionally and even nationally, we now want to take the next step by using blogging was a way to provide a sharper focus on how we operate and think as a museum. We will aim to share more of the experiences that shape the day to day work of colleagues, volunteers and visitors, triumphs and setbacks even, but also provide an insight for those who follow us into what will be a period of change and transformation.
Towards the end of last year, as some of you will know, we heard that we had been successful in our round one application to HLF for ‘Our Country Lives’ project. This is an extraordinary opportunity and one that we aim to make the most of to redevelop the museum’s displays and facilities as part of a project that will refocus how we interpret our collections. Over the next 12 months we will be researching and deepening our plans for a scheme where we aim to place people and experiences of rural life at the heart of the museum’s mission.
As our physical collections rapidly recede from living memory we will aim to apply our learning from our first years at the museum’s new home, including addressing the need for better spaces for events and learning, deploying layered interpretation for a range of audiences, both current and potential new visitors, and creating an interpretation strategy that encompasses new material acquired as part of MERL’s Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures project. Key to this process will be the development of partnerships with rural and local communities to help us be more responsive and iterative in the way we display the collections to make sure they reflect better people’s understanding of the changes and developments that the museum’s important collections illuminate.
The purpose therefore of our blog will be to involve readers in this process as we develop our vision into a detailed plan – we hope, for example, that we will reach followers whose own lives relate to or are recorded in the museum’s collections. But equally we want share our reflections and experiences with those who are entirely new to MERL.
This seems a good time and place to begin this new venture although how this will evolve remains excitingly uncertain!