Q&A: Museum Studies MA placements at Seven Stories

This year, Newcastle University Museums Studies MA students Amy and Anna undertook placements with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books. Hear about how they found their placement experience in this post…

Hi Anna and Amy! Please introduce yourselves.

Hello! I’m Anna and I live in Gateshead, although I am originally from Northumberland. I came to the Museum Studies MA course with the aim of beginning a career in the museums sector, alongside developing my practice as an illustrator.

Hi, I’m Amy and I’m originally from County Durham. I moved to Newcastle 5 years ago when I got my place at Newcastle University to do my Ancient History BA. I decided to do the MA with the intention of (hopefully) being able to get a job in museum learning after. And after all there’s no better place for history than in a museum!

Newcastle is home to many museums and attractions, including the Baltic art gallery and the Sage Gateshead. Image: Newcastle University, photography by Chris Bishop
Newcastle is home to many museums and attractions, including the Baltic art gallery and the Sage Gateshead. Image: Newcastle University, photography by Chris Bishop
Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?

Amy: I’m loving it! I couldn’t think of a city more suited to a Museum Studies course than Newcastle – there are so many museums and galleries on your doorstep you’re spoilt for choice. I love Newcastle and can’t imagine leaving!

Anna: I could not have asked for a better experience, in all honesty. The course at Newcastle has a great reputation and as I was keen to stay in the North East to help contribute towards the growing arts industry here, it was the perfect choice.

What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?

Anna: What didn’t attract me! Having specialised in creating illustrated books during my undergraduate degree, I have had an interest in the work that goes on at Seven Stories for a while. I previously had some of my illustration work displayed in the visitor centre, which I found very exciting.

Amy: I’m a long-time fan of Seven Stories. I actually came to the opening in 2005 and met Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt; I LOVED Jacqueline Wilson’s books so Nick Sharratt drawing me my own Tracey Beaker, on the cover of my tattered book, is one of my favourite childhood memories.

St. Wilfrid's Primary School visit Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, Image by Richard Kenworthy
St. Wilfrid’s Primary School visit Seven Stories’ Time to Get Up Exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, Image by Richard Kenworthy
So, what have you been up to on your placements?

Amy: I’ve been based with the Creative Learning and Engagement team and I’ve been able to learn a lot about Seven Stories offerings, both onsite and in schools.

I’ve shadowed EY, KS1 and KS2 workshops as well as spending a couple of days with Creative Associates learning about the Reader in Residence and Reading for Pleasure offerings.

I’ve also being analysing and interpreting data regarding the learning programmes and spotting any trends and patterns.  

Anna: I have been primarily based with the Seven Stories Collections team. My main job has been to catalogue the Fritz Wegner collection, which Seven Stories acquired in 2017.

I have had the opportunity to work in the visitor centre on the de-installation of the Comics exhibition, and on the install for the new Where Your Wings Were exhibition. The tasks I was involved with included removing and packing artworks and display items, assisting in the hanging of artworks, and sourcing some images used in the displays.

David Almond's notebooks, part of the Seven Stories Collection. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children's Books
David Almond’s notebooks, part of the Seven Stories Collection. Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books
How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?

Anna: I came to the MA course at Newcastle University with little practical experience of working in a museum environment. The placement has helped me put my theoretical knowledge from the MA course into practice. Working at Seven Stories has given me access to experts in the industry and enabled me to work directly with the collection.

Amy: I already have experience of delivering workshops and activities so doing my placement at Seven Stories meant that I could work with data, figures and reports to learn first-hand how data interpretation can be used to inform the future progression of a learning programme.

It’s something I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do and I’ve really enjoyed doing something different!

Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?

Amy: I’ve learned so much but my favourite part was learning about how much stories and reading can positively impact a child’s development and ultimately improve their academic performance and confidence.

Anna: I’ve learned that a huge amount of hard work, dedication and love goes into maintaining the collections! Before beginning my placement, I was of the belief that museum roles are well defined and separate from one another. I now know that multitasking and cross-discipline work is becoming a more common way of working.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Anna: I would like to thank all of the wonderful staff I have worked with. As an illustrator, it has been an absolute delight to work with original artworks, and it has really inspired me in my own practice.

Amy: I didn’t know it was possible but my time here has made me an even bigger Seven Stories fan!

Thanks Amy and Anna! It’s been a pleasure to work with you both and good luck with the rest of your MA studies!

Mastering museums at Seven Stories: Museum, Gallery and Heritage MA placements

Newcastle is home to some great museums – and Newcastle University’s Museum, Gallery and Heritage Studies degrees, which equip new professionals moving into the sector. This summer, two of Newcastle University’s Museum Studies MA students, Sam Dunning and Victoria Earnest, took up placements at Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books. I asked them what they got up to on their placements…

Hi Victoria and Sam! Please introduce yourselves.

Victoria: Hello! I’m from Texas and graduated from Texas State University with a BA in philosophy, and trained as a special education teacher before starting my MA here in Newcastle.

Samantha: I’m Samantha Dunning. I did my undergraduate in Anthropology from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. I always loved museums, both visiting and volunteering, so decided to get my MA Museums Studies and hopefully turn my love into a career.

Samantha created facsimiles of older comics for the 7S Newsagents for the Comics exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Paul Norris
Samantha created facsimiles of older comics for the 7S Newsagents for the Comics exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Paul Norris

Tell me about the Museums Studies MA course – how are you finding studying at Newcastle?

Samantha: I’m very happy with my decision to attend Newcastle University. The modules were stimulating, theoretical and practical. I’ve enjoyed living in Newcastle. There are plenty of museums and historical places to visit. It’s also one of the friendliest places I’ve been.

Victoria: It’s been absolutely exhilarating! The course has been very practically useful, and we’ve had some fascinating guest lecturers and opportunities for hands-on work. The museums in and around Newcastle are all top-notch and there’s always something new and exciting to go check out.

What attracted you to do a placement at Seven Stories?

Victoria: I actually heard about Seven Stories before I even moved over here; everyone who knows my love of fairytales and children’s books told me I would fall in love with Seven Stories, and they were completely right! Having the opportunity to do my placement working with children and books was perfect for me.

Samantha: I have done little archival work in the past and wanted the knowledge and experience. With the installation of a new exhibition coming, I saw the opportunity to do other museum work. I wanted to get as much out of my placement as possible. Seven Stories offered that. As a lover of books, I knew the collections and exhibitions here would be of great interest to me.

Victoria worked on Seven Stories’ SEND programmes, which include sensory backpacks for each exhibition. Photography by Victoria

So, what have you been up to on your placements?

Samantha: I have done a lot of different work in my 30 days. I helped with the framing for the Comics exhibition. I also created facsimiles of older, more delicate comics that the visitors could page through and read. I assisted in the de-installation of the Michael Morpurgo exhibition and the installation of the Comics exhibition. Finally, I worked on a new archive acquisition: researching, sorting, numbering, repackaging, etc.

Victoria: I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about a few different projects from the Learning team. I’ve looked at the Reader in Residence and Power of Reading programmes and the positive impact they have in schools, I’ve done some work on the Hooks Into Books programme, and I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on some school sessions delivered by the fabulous Storycatchers. Because of my interest in special education I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about the SEND programmes and resources Seven Stories offers and look at how Seven Stories prioritises accessibility.

How is your placement helping you to develop the skills you’ll need for a career in the museums sector?

Victoria: Being able to focus solely on the way museum learning is developed and delivered has been so useful; our MA course touches on a little of everything, which is wonderful, but having the opportunity to see how the particular area in which I want to make a career works in the real world has been fascinating – and, honestly, a lot of fun. I love museum learning but I definitely needed some practical know-how to back up the enthusiasm!

Samantha: I have definitely received some practical, hands-on experience in a museum and archive. I could use all of this in the future. I also witnessed many discussions and decision-making that I could look back to if I ever find myself in similar situations.

Samantha worked with the Seven Stories' Collections team. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Damian Wootten
Samantha worked with the Seven Stories’ Collections team. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Damian Wootten

What have you learned from your placement at Seven Stories?

Samantha: I have learned some conservation techniques, archival research and database entry, the process of exhibition installation, condition checking and much more.

Victoria: I’ve learned how much impact reading outside of schools has for children both in school and in life in general, and how that informs museum learning programmes. Seven Stories does amazing work immersing children in stories, and that makes an incredible difference in school performance in addition to just being a whole lot of fun for the children. Museum learning programmes have a unique opportunity to be as engaging and entertaining as they are practical and useful.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Victoria: Many, many thanks to everyone on the Learning and Participation team and the visitor’s centre staff for making my placement experience so fantastic! I’m so thrilled I had the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful work Seven Stories does.

Thanks for all your hard work Sam and Victoria, and good luck with the rest of your MA!

A Wombling Career Development Module at Seven Stories

Newcastle University’s Career Development Module enables stage two or final year students on selected degree programmes to complete a 20 credit module by undertaking a volunteering placement. This academic year, Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books have got involved in this module for the first time. Today I’m welcoming Charlie Shovlar to the Vital North Partnership blog to tell us all about her experience…

We like the Wombles because... Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children's Books
We like the Wombles because… Image: Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books

Hi Charlie! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m Charlie, a stage 3 Combined Honours student at Newcastle University; my subjects are Media, Communication and Cultural Studies and Philosophy.

What attracted you to do a Career Development Module with Seven Stories?

I’d previously been to the Visitor Centre in Ouseburn and loved it – the atmosphere, the exhibitions, everything. So when it came to choosing my placement, I was excited to see that Seven Stories was offering not one but three different options! Marketing, Environment, and Collections. I realised the Collections placement sounded best suited to me.

What are the benefits of doing a Career Development Module over a standard taught 20 credit module?

As I’m in my final year, this was my last chance to do a Career Development Module. I didn’t have any workplace experience, so throwing myself into a placement seemed like a good thing to do to help me gain important skills, especially as it would count for module credits at the same time.

So what have you been doing on your volunteering placement at Seven Stories?

During initial discussions about the placement with my supervisors, it came up that they had the Elisabeth Beresford collection, which was in need of sorting out! I have fond memories of The Wombles from when I was little, so I was very happy when they suggested my main task could be to organise the collection. I’ve come across some lovely illustrations, still images from the Wombling Free film, and countless adorable stories.

Great Uncle Bulgaria illustration, from The Wombles Annual 1980. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
Great Uncle Bulgaria illustration, from The Wombles Annual 1980. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

Towards the end of my placement I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Visitor Centre shadowing a Storycatcher and getting involved in a workshop with a school group, which was really fun. I also helped to review children’s books for the Hooks into Books scheme, which involves compiling packs of books that people across the Seven Stories team have read and reviewed, and sending them to primary schools.

What skills are you developing as part of your volunteering placement?

There has been opportunity to develop so many skills, new and existing. Aside from the Graduate Skills Framework that I need to keep track of for the module assessments, I noticed my work ethic improving a great deal – when I do work at home for other modules I get distracted all the time, but in the Seven Stories office the only distraction is the manuscripts I’m sorting through.

Also my planning and organisational skills have come on miles, as I have to make detailed notes each week so that I know where to begin next time. If I hadn’t written down where a particular few pieces of paper were, they could have been lost forever!

Still from The Wombles film. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
Still from The Wombles film. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

How will the Career Development Module impact on your future studies, research or career plans?

The module has required me to take a good look at my skills to consider what sort of career is best suited to my strengths. I’m never going to be amazing at communicating, but the work I’ve done at my placement has made me feel that I’m capable of more than I thought.

A personal skills audit that we did in one of the module seminars revealed that by far my main strength is personal enterprise – that means problem-spotting, coming up with creative solutions, and embracing new perspectives. Hopefully I can bring this to wherever I end up after I graduate.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Just that I’ve massively enjoyed my time at Seven Stories, thank you for the experience and I’m going to miss the team.

Go Wombles!

Thanks Charlie! If you’re interested in undertaking a Career Development Module in 2017/18, have a look at Seven Stories’ Collections and Exhibitions placements and apply now.

Newcastle University awards Michael Morpurgo honorary degree

Today, Newcastle University has made Michael Morpurgo an Honorary Doctor of Letters for his outstanding achievements as a children’s author and supporter of children’s rights, and recognising his strong connections to the North East.

Michael Morpurgo received the honour as part of the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics’ Congregation ceremonies, where our undergraduates and postgraduates also celebrated their degree success.

Michael is a true champion of children’s books. In an award-winning writing career that has spanned 40 years, he has published over 150 books for children, including War Horse, Private Peaceful and Kensuke’s Kingdom. He was the third Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005, a scheme he helped to establish. In 2006, his services to children’s literature were recognised when he was awarded an OBE. Michael and his wife, Clare Morpurgo, are also the founders of Farms for City Children, a charity which has now offered over 100,000 children the opportunity to experience a working farm in the countryside.

Michael Morpurgo with Seven Stories' A Lifetime in Stories exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
Michael Morpurgo with Seven Stories’ A Lifetime in Stories exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy

Alongside his writing and charity work, the honorary degree also celebrates Michael’s links to Newcastle. He is a Patron of Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, and donated his entire archive to Seven Stories in 2015. This collection formed the basis for a major exhibition, Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories, as well as a learning and engagement programme, and was supported by an InnovateUK Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Newcastle University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The exhibition was on display between July 2016 to July 2017 at Seven Stories and is now preparing for a national tour, beginning with the V&A Museum of Childhood, where it will run from 22nd July 2017 – 25th February 2018.

Michael Morpurgo, with items from his archive, at Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy
Michael Morpurgo, with items from his archive, at Seven Stories. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy

In her citation, acting University Librarian, Jill Taylor-Roe, said: “Michael Morpurgo, who we are honouring today, is one of the finest storytellers of our generation.”

Michael Morpurgo accepted the award by saying: “I am delighted to receive this degree from Newcastle University’s School of English. What a huge honour and from a city that is home to the wonderful Seven Stories, who look after my archive and for which my wife Clare and I are joint Patrons. It feels a bit like coming home.”

You can watch the whole degree ceremony online. Jill Taylor-Roe’s citation begins at 31:10 with Michael’s response running from 40:48 to 52:14.

Congratulations, Dr Morpurgo! And well done to all Newcastle University students graduating this summer.

Brian Alderson donates rare children’s book collection

Dr Brian Alderson, a long-standing supporter of Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, is donating his amazing children’s book collection jointly to both organisations. In this blog post, I reflect on meeting Brian, and my experience of his work and his collection.

Brian describes himself as ‘a student of children’s books’. But when I first met Brian, as he gave a Looking at Children’s Books talk on the ‘fairy tales’ of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, illustrated with books from his personal collection, it was clear to me that he is an authority on their work. Such a detailed understanding of the tales’ origins, their translation, their illustrators and publishers could only be acquired through a lifetime of researching them.

Dr. Brian Alderson gives a Looking at Children's Books talk at the Philip Robinson Library. Image: Newcastle University
Dr. Brian Alderson gives a Looking at Children’s Books talk at the Philip Robinson Library. Image: Newcastle University

In fact, I would go as far as calling Brian a true expert on children’s books. He seems to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of children’s literature, from its origins to the present day. Brian is an informed and thorough critic, an author and translator, a previous children’s books editor for The Times, and has done much to further the study of children’s books bibliography and history.

Yet Brian is always modest about his expertise. In 2016, when Newcastle University the importance of Brian’s work by awarding him an honorary doctorate, Brian accepted by saying, ‘I do not quite perceive, despite the kind words of the orator, why I ought to be here… I’m not sure that I’m deserving anything of this honour that is laid upon me.’ I guess that more than anyone, Brian is aware of how much there is still to know in the field of children’s literature studies…

Newcastle University awarded Dr Brian Alderson an honorary degree in 2016. Image: Newcastle University
Newcastle University awarded Dr Brian Alderson an honorary degree in 2016. Image: Newcastle University

Last year I was also lucky enough to visit Brian and explore his extraordinary children’s book collection, which goes far beyond editions of Grimm and Andersen (although it does include plenty of those)! From unique examples of early children’s books, to editions of classic children’s books that I’ve never come across, to original illustrations, it’s a real treasure.

So it is hugely exciting for Seven Stories and Newcastle University that Brian is donating his collection to our two institutions, and a milestone for the Vital North Partnership. We share the aim that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature – and for our collections, research, teaching and public engagement, Brian’s generous donation is truly excellent news.

The History of Goody Two Shoes; with the adventures of her brother Tommy. Embellish'd with elegant engravings. Glasgow: Published by J.Lumsden & Son, & sold by Stoddart & Craggs, Hull. Price Sixpence, no date [circa.1814].
This 1841 edition of The History of Goody Two Shoes from Dr Brian Alderson’s collection will feature in the Robinson Library’s summer exhibition, A Lilliputian Miscellany.
To mark the start of the transfer of the Alderson collection to Newcastle, the Philip Robinson Library will be hosting an exhibition curated by Brian himself, A Lilliputian Miscellany, which will be on display from June to August 2017. Copies of Brian’s exhibition catalogue, A Lilliputian Miscellany: Bio-bibliographical Notes on a Collection are available to buy via the Newcastle University Webstore. Brian will also be giving a Looking at Children’s Books talk, Every book has its own history: Reflections of a collector of children’s books on Wednesday 14th June, 5.30pm in Room 152, Philip Robinson Library. Both the exhibition and talk are free entry, and all are welcome.

Thank you, Brian!

Find out more about Brian and his work on the Brian Alderson website, or view the items from Brian’s collection that have already been catalogued on Newcastle University’s Library Search.