Emily Nelson, Learning and Access Officer, Leeds Museums and Galleries has written this guide on ‘Creating Covid-19 secure Loan Boxes’, following on from a training session that Museums Galleries Scotland ran in August 2021 in partnership with GEM UK.
Setting up a loans scheme
At Leeds, our object loans boxes are only available to member schools. While this limits the number of schools able to access the service, it ensures that our schools, and children within them, are having a high-quality experience with their boxes, and that this is something that is having real impact across our schools. More importantly perhaps to us as a Museum Service, it enables us to manage the risk to our collections – after all, the objects in our boxes are both real and accessioned. Our members sign up as a whole school, rather than as individual teachers, and the terms and conditions that they sign are comprehensive and have been checked by Leeds City Council’s legal department. This is not to say that there are major financial or disciplinary consequences to the loss or damage of an object, as any major fines or demands for compensation would simply make the scheme inaccessible to schools. However, it does mean that schools agree to a set of clear rules.
The first step in setting up a loans scheme is the paperwork. As well as documents which provide details of each level of membership, and the terms and conditions and joining forms, we include a wallet of paperwork in each loans box. This includes:
- General object handling instructions
- Object specific information, including photo, condition check, additional information, and object specific handling information (e.g., don’t open the lid of this tin).
- Damage/Loss form
- Copy of the terms and conditions (so that everyone using the box can read them)
- Plastic Ziplock bag (for the pieces of any breakages)
- Evaluation form
Before any member can borrow a box of artefacts, they must have a 1-hour initial training session. This covers the details of the scheme, including safely storing and handling the objects, the paperwork that accompanies the objects, and what to do if something goes wrong. It also gives us the opportunity to empower our teachers, including suggestions of how to use objects in the classroom and best-practice examples of object and enquiry-based learning. We talk about how to manage risks and emphasise the most important thing of all: “make sure that all of the objects are back in the box before anyone leaves the classroom”. Wherever possible, this training is delivered to all staff in a staff meeting, so that everyone feels involved and shares in the responsibility. If not, it is required that one teacher must do this training and pass it on to the staff before they can borrow any objects.
Making the Loans Boxes
When it comes to making the loans boxes, it’s important to think about several things.
How are they being transported? Leeds Museums and Galleries require schools to collect and drop off their boxes, so the boxes themselves must be easily lifted, carried, and fit into a car. Schools often book multiple boxes for the same half term. Are they manageable, can two be carried at once? The size of the box also has implications for the size of the objects that can be loaned.
How are the objects being protected? The boxes need to ensure that the objects within them are not able to move around or become damaged in transit and are protected if the box is bumped or banged. We purchased flight cases, which are often used to transport music equipment or other tech. These come with, or can be purchased with, a fitted foam insert which is gridded so that individual sections can be removed, cut down, and reinserted. Objects are wrapped in acid free tissue so that they do not have direct contact with the foam.
How do we choose the objects? Our boxes are all themed to fit topics that we know schools are teaching. Some of these come from what we know is on the National Curriculum (or Curriculum for Excellence), but some of these have also come from conversations with local teachers. Although we produced a list of boxes at the launch of the loans scheme, we don’t make any until a school has requested it. We initially asked schools for their choices at least 6 weeks in advance, to accommodate this. Objects are chosen in collaboration with our Learning Officers, Curators and Conservators. We ask questions like:
How can we choose objects which represent different aspects/themes within this?
How can we help schools to make cross curricular links?
Can we represent different collection areas?
We also ask practical questions:
How robust is this object? Can this be handled without gloves?
Does this need to be sealed into a plastic sleeve/box?
If anything happened to this object, what impact would that have on our collection?
What about different audiences?
Although our Membership Scheme is for schools only, our community team also loan out boxes of objects which can be borrowed by community groups. The main difference here is which objects are selected, based on which objects might have more resonance with adults or older people. The processes are essentially the same though. Having over 50 school loans boxes also has its uses in our wider museum programmes. Any boxes which are not booked by schools are available to be used by museum staff in group sessions, training, or other events. The risk assessment here is that the boxes are signed in and out in the same way that they are when schools collect and return them, and that in these situations the box is always accompanied by a member of museum staff.
What about Covid-19?
Despite the pandemic, we have continued to loan our object boxes out to member schools in a Covid secure way. Additional Covid-19 guidelines have been included in the paperwork which can be found in the boxes, and a discussion of these is also now included in the annual initial training. Our Covid secure strategy can be summarised as follows:
- Boxes are quarantined for at least 72 hours (after being checked) when returned to the museum, and if they need any re-packaging, they are quarantined for another 72 hours before being sent to a school
- Schools are encouraged to quarantine boxes for 72 hours between being used by different classes
- Hands must be washed before handling
- Clear guidance around use of sanitiser (it must be dry before children touch artefacts)
- Schools are provided with a class-pack of cotton gloves which may be used. These are not necessary, as hand washing and sanitiser are adequate, but schools may choose to use them and wash them. Schools are warned during initial training that cotton gloves can lead to an increased risk of objects being dropped and take precautions accordingly.
Should we create additional resources for a loan box?
Over the pandemic, we made a series of short videos using objects from the loan boxes, and links to these are included in the relevant boxes. For some of these, there are also additional resources sheets linking the videos to activities and other resources. Although most of our most popular boxes have these, this is still a work in progress. We also support teachers through workshops (paid for) and short Zoom conversations with their classes about the artefacts (free). Teachers are encouraged to get in touch with us if they have any questions, and we’re happy to support them with their planning, signpost them to resources, or feed into their wider topic and curriculum work.
Does the price stop schools in deprived areas from joining?
We recently worked out that around 70% of our members for the 21-22 academic year are within the most deprived areas of Leeds, with almost 30% of these potentially drawing children from neighbourhoods within the 1% most deprived nationally according to the most recent Index of Multiple Deprivation. Working closely with our member schools it has become clear to us that it is often the schools with higher levels of pupil deprivation that value having objects in the classroom, and support to get the children out of the classroom and give them different cultural experiences, the most.
A good starting point, if you’re thinking about setting up your own loans scheme, is to have a look at a few different examples. We’re proud of our membership and loans scheme in Leeds, but we know it might not work for everyone. Here are a few others to have a look at:
mini museums - Grantown Museum
Museum in a Box | Birmingham Museums
Loans Boxes | Maidstone Museum
Further resources to help you with your loan boxes can be found at:
Object Handling Guide
If you have any further enquiry about Loan boxes or interested in attending our future knowledge exchange events, please contact Loretta Mordi, Learning and Engagement Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org