My research seeks to develop a better understanding of the value of providing physical access to museums’ reserve collections for the general public. This may be in the form of open days, guided tours, or in the creation of visible storage. I am particularly interested in visitors’ responses to the store environment itself; how this type of experience differs from a typical museum visit, and the ways in which stores may function differently from ‘curated’ spaces.
Open storage has become a topical issue in today’s challenging economic climate, as museums face mounting pressure from funders to make more effective use of their reserve collections. Some 90% or more of museum-owned objects in the UK are not currently on display. Do museums then, have a responsibility to open their stores to the public – to reveal the iceberg beneath the surface? What, if anything, can store visits offer above and beyond a visit to the main museum? Is open storage worth investing in? And further, how should museums open their stores; which approaches work best?
The study will draw upon data collected from three sources: a review of audience evaluation conducted by a small number of UK-based organisations offering visitable storage (including the LAARC who run a regular programme of guided tours); direct observation of stores access events; and the perspectives of museum professionals involved in devising and implementing public access. The LAARC constitutes a particularly useful case study due to the specialist nature of the collections, and its significance as a site of international archaeological research. I am indebted to staff and volunteers at the centre for their invaluable assistance and support.