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Cataloguing in the time of Covid

Lauren Devereux

One of the first blog posts on our new and improved website is written by our Collections Documentation Officer, Lauren. In this post she has chosen to outline to you how the museum team has had to adapt to working with social distancing in mind.
Blue bowl

Working from Home

As you are aware the entire UK population was asked to go into “lockdown” on 23rd March 2020, which meant no more working in the office for a large percentage of the workforce. For 10 weeks the museum team were amongst those home-workers, which meant the vast majority of our work had to be done remotely. Many friends and family assumed we would be without work during this period and were surprised to know that we had tasks to work on, below I’ll outline a few of the projects we undertook from home:

Virtual exhibitions

Our Archives and Exhibitions Officer, Lucy, was working on digitising our current physical exhibitions at the time, so that they could still be viewed even whilst the museum was closed.

Another virtual exhibition Lucy worked on was the “Littlehampton at War” exhibition which was launched as part of the museum’s work for the  75th anniversary of VE day.

When Lucy wasn’t using her superpowers to create these beautiful exhibitions, she also designed lots of creative arts and crafts activities for our younger visitors which are permanently available on our website in their relevant categories.

Visit the Digital Museum

Museum website

In between managing the museum team, providing copious amounts of encouragement and writing talks, articles and slideshows for VE day publicity, our curator – Charlotte – has been working hard at the coalface on our brand new website. The new website features spotlights on various collection items, details about exhibitions, our new “virtual museum” content, as well as the usual blogs, information and contact forms. We’re very excited it has finally launched!

Social media

Being a small team social media was never a huge focus of our work, but we felt that as the museum was no longer open to the public, using our social media channels to engage with those who weren’t able to visit was extremely important. We made it a priority to try and find interesting and engaging items from the collection as well as our experience working in the museum and share them with the public. From what we can gather, you really have enjoyed this, and we will definitely keep it up!


During the work from home period, my job of documenting our collection was significantly harder to translate to an online or remote setting, as naturally I need access to the collection to document it! Fortunately, I had enough warning before lockdown to start scanning our handwritten accession registers so that I could access them remotely if we were asked to work from home, and so I spent a large chunk of my time typing these up so that we have a searchable database we can match our physical objects to. It was incredibly time consuming and is still a work in progress, so watch this space as we may be offering it out as remote volunteering is rolled out in the coming weeks!

Covid secure working

Whilst we have had plenty of things to keep us busy over the last 10 weeks we knew it was only a matter of time before we would want to be back in the office with our collections, and as of 3rd June 2020 we made our socially distanced return!  At the time of writing the museum team has been able to return to work in separate offices within the building, armed with oodles of hand sanitiser, disinfecting spray, and enough tea to sink a small ship. Don’t worry, we are all sticking to the rules and looking forward to having some team meetings out in the sunshine if the weather permits!

You may have seen the adverts around on Facebook or in the newspaper already, but if not,  Lucy is busying herself with press releases and collating entries for our Open Exhibition. We have asked everyone to produce a piece of art to represent their experience during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as thinking about content for the ‘virtual museum’ part of our website.

Learn more about entering this year's OPEN.

Charlotte is working on innovative ways to enable our volunteers to help out such as cataloguing from home, or typing up accession registers. There are a number of unique challenges it will present but we are sure that if anyone can figure it out, she can!   We also share the jobs of environmental monitoring, Charlotte is the pest specialist and I keep an eye on the temperature and humidity regulation within the museum and its stores, which are very important conservation tasks that have been slightly awkward to monitor during lockdown.


A graph showing the environmental monitoring for one of the museum galleries
An example of the Environmental Monitoring data from a museum gallery

Naturally, our spell out of the office has put our progress with documentation behind slightly, so for the foreseeable future we will be focusing primarily on cataloguing and it will be ‘all hands on deck’ whilst the museum is closed to the public. I thought I’d show you how I’m currently working on cataloguing our archaeology stores as the last part of this blog.


I start my day by wheeling my trolley down the corridor to the basement, and leave it at the top of the stairs. Using gloves I open the basement door and prop it so that it stays open. I then remove my gloves. Having checked on my progress chart, which areas of the store require cataloguing and which have already been checked off, I head down to the basement and grab some boxes. The boxes have archaeology in them so they are more-often-than-not quite hefty! They’ll have stones, broken ceramic, soil samples and all sorts of other treasures within them, so sometimes it takes multiple trips up and down the stairs to get them – at least it’s good cardio! During this time, no one else can leave their office in case we come into contact with one another. We keep in touch using a team messaging app so that we know what each other is up to and keep one another informed.

Once I have a suitable amount of archaeology loaded onto the trolley (a full week’s worth of work), I use gloves to shut the basement back up, and throw them away. I wheel the trolley back down the corridor to the office I am temporarily working in, and offload the boxes onto a row of tables I have lined up for photography. I wheel the trolley over to my desk and park it.

I line the boxes up in an order that reflects their locations on the shelves they sit on, and switch on my lightbox and set up the camera on its tripod, ready for photography. Using nitrile gloves I will open a box, remove its contents, and photograph each object separately.

A picture of a room set up for cataloguing
The cataloguing set up

Once the whole box has been photographed and repacked, I shut down the light box, shut down the camera and take the box and the camera to my desk. The box sits on the trolley with the lid removed and I download the camera images to my PC. I systematically go through the box and add each item to MODES (our cataloguing software) noting important information such as:

  • the type of object
  • how many items does it contain
  • where it was found
  • who donated it
  • its condition
  • its location within the stores
  • whether or not it has been marked with its accession number

Some of this information is found in the accession registers I have been typing up remotely, and this is where having it as a searchable database comes in very handy! Once all this information has been recorded, I upload the photograph of the object to its record so we can easily recognise it, and the record is complete.

Completed Modes Record
A completed Modes record

I mark each item I have successfully catalogued with a yellow sticker, and once the whole box has been catalogued I mark the outside of the box with a green sticker so we can see visually which boxes have been digitised. The box is then moved down to the lower shelf of the trolley, ready for returning to the basement,  and I move onto the next box in my assembly line ready for photography.

As you can see, we all have lots of things to keep us busy, and we hope to be able to see you all again one day soon.