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

Victoria creating a comic in Seven Stories' Comics exhibition. Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, photography by Richard Kenworthy

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!

Author: Rachel Pattinson

The Vital North Partnership is a strategic partnership between Seven Stories and Newcastle University, supported by Arts Council England. The partners share the goal of achieving excellence in the field of children's literature. I provide project management, development, co-ordination and communication functions to facilitate the Partnership's work.

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