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.