In The Archive: Cataloguing the Collection

With the Museum’s redevelopment complete, our Collections Team is now focusing its attention on banishing the documentation backlog in our archive and stores. Each of the items in our care has its own unique record, created and updated as we learn more about its provenance, condition or Regimental connections. Our dedicated team of Collections Volunteers support this vital work, including student Erin who tells us more about her Museum work experience placement here.

Hi, I’m Erin, a fourth-year archaeology student at the University of Glasgow. As part of my practical work experience over the summer, I chose to volunteer as an archival assistant with The Argylls’ Museum.

I chose to volunteer here because I wanted to obtain experience within a professional museum environment, gaining hands-on training of how we store and record collections. My placement lasted for two weeks, and I was involved in a project designed to improve the organisation and records of several of the museum’s collections, following the redevelopment of the museum and archival space.

During my time at the museum, I worked with the collections of maps, paintings, photographs, historical plans of the Castle and prints. My role was to identify, catalogue and store these items within the archive.

The first aspect of this involved me organising each group of items into smaller cohesive groupings. In some cases, this was done by geographic region, for example with the maps, which were split up by German maps, Eastern European Maps, Italian maps, Indian maps etc. For other collections, these groups were distinguished by date, such as with the photographs and historical plans of the Castle.

Creating these groupings meant that materials could be stored in a way that makes it easier for them to be located later, for example, based on research interests. Additionally, by storing the maps by geographical area or by date, this meant that relationships could be drawn between the different objects.

Many of the objects, specifically the maps because of their age, were extremely fragile. Thus, I had to identify objects which needed support to ensure they would be stable enough to be stored. I used plastic sleeves on many of the items to ensure that they would not degrade from handling or from being kept in storage.

From here, a cohesive list had to be made so that we knew which box each of the items were being stored in, and where in the archives that box could be located.

Each object within the archive has something known as an accession number, which acts as that object’s unique identifier. This was the first time that detailed records of these items were being taken and so it was important that we listed the number attributed to the object, as well as its characteristics, to allow for easy identification at a later date. This process involved creating a database for the collections I was working with, to list all the known information about each object. This included listing when the object was made, if anybody was tied to its creation or use, where it came from and if the object related to an important historical event. This data was recorded in the form of a table, created for each of the boxes within the archive.

However, to make this information fully accessible, the data had to be inputted into the collections management system, MODES. This allows the museum to create a digital record of the objects held in its archival collections. I thus inputted the information about each object which I had collected, to create a detailed record of each object within this online database. In future, the item can be quickly identified and located using this system.

By the end of the two-week placement, I was able to organise each of the collections into logical groupings, and to upload the information related to the items stored within these collections to MODES. This facilitated me to add more identifying information to many of the existing records. It also ensured that the database was fully reflective of what is held in the archive.

My placement at The Argylls’ Museum was extremely beneficial in giving me an insight into the training and skills necessary for the organisation and detailed recording of an archive collection. It also gave me experience of how we deal with different types of materials and records within an archive setting.

I would like to give many thanks to the museum for allowing me to undertake this work experience, and for supporting my work each step of the way.

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum offers work experience placements for school leavers, college and university students, and those looking to get into work in the museum sector. If you’d like to get involved, please email You can also find our current projects and opportunities on our Volunteer page.