Innovative visible storage for museum archive
“We are delighted with the improvements in collections care since the redevelopment.” Jon Clatworthy, Director, Lapworth Museum of Geology
The Lapworth Museum of Geology is a major geological museum run by the University of Birmingham. The institution, which dates back to 1880, is now located within a Grade II* listed building on campus in Edgbaston. Named for Charles Lapworth, an English geologist, the museum houses over 250,000 specimens as well as geological maps, equipment, models, photographs, zoological specimens and stone axes. Incorporated in the museum is the Lapworth Archive. Together, the collection and archive provide an invaluable teaching aid for the university’s geology students and researchers.  

In 2012 the Lapworth Museum was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund development award to plan for expansion and modernisation of its facilities. “The plan involved changing the Lapworth from a very academic university museum into a public access museum located on campus,” said director Jon Clatworthy, who managed the project. “A total redevelopment was required, opening up the collections and not just focussing on the front of house. We wanted to make the stores more accessible too.”

“Bruynzeel’s design team incorporated some of our old historic cabinets, allowing us to recycle existing components and making it simple to transfer from old to new. The cost-efficient design combined with high quality products has ensured the HLF and the university are equally delighted with the results.”

Jon Clatworthy, Lapworth Museum of Geology

Value for Money
With Birmingham-based Associated Architects on board to oversee the design process, Clatworthy and his team searched for a suitable partner to optimise the stores. Crucially, the museum required a storage company with experience of creating open repositories accessible by the public – and could produce solutions incorporating a display element, in order to meet the demands of the museum and its funders.

“As part of our research, we went to visit Bruynzeel’s fit-out at Dudley Archives and were very impressed. Being able to see something locally that was high quality helped our decision. I have to say Bruynzeel’s proposal was by far the best. It stood out against the competition,” said Clatworthy. “Price is of course a consideration, and with a Lottery funded project, you have to pick the best budget option. However, I would not advise going for the cheapest option. Bruynzeel offered the best value solution within our budget.”

Museum Stores at Saturation Point
The storage situation at the Lapworth had become critical, compounded by an influx of material in recent years. “The old stores had reached saturation point. Items were mounting up – objects were piling up, on top of one another, and there was a real danger of damage to the collection,” said Clatworthy. “The stores we had were very inefficient, with just static shelving. The only way we could house everything was by improving efficiency.”

Plan for Expansion
Bruynzeel’s design team had a challenge fitting all the collection into the store, especially given the semicircular shape of the building. Mobile shelving was chosen as the best option for efficient use of space. “I would advise any museum to ensure it has spare capacity. I’m surprised we were able to achieve this,” said Clatworthy. “We had such a volume of stuff – the two rooms appeared to be at full capacity. Bruynzeel carried out a thorough investigation and came up with a solution that improves access and gave us the extra expansion space we needed.”

Reuse, Recycle, Improve
The museum was keen to retain the best of the bespoke shelving from its old stores. Bruynzeel was able to fit the existing shelving in new mobile bases, thereby saving money and increasing capacity. “During the move, we simply lifted the cabinets out and slotted them into the new mobile system,” said Clatworthy. “Access has been improved immeasurably. For example we have a large fossil fish collection that was previously spread between six separate cabinets. These specimens have been consolidated in one long mobile run, which makes search and retrieval much more efficient. It’s simple for researchers to browse the collection and find what they need.”

Tailored Product Solutions
Existing wooden drawers were integrated into the mobile shelving using a range of tailored product solutions. A system was developed whereby trays would be self-supporting even when pulled out to their fullest extent. Insert strips allow the drawers to slide, stop damage to powder coated steel frames and ensure long-term durability. Bruynzeel provided retrofit reinforcing bars for heavy loading. The client can choose where these are fitted, so shelf loading for heavy objects can be upgraded as required.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Opening up the stores to visitors was a ‘must-have’ for the museum. This is where Bruynzeel’s solution really delivered when the museum reopened after refurbishment in 2016. Full-panel glass doors were added to the mobile cabinets and drawers were fitted with removable glass lids, so the museum is able to display a portion of its collection in situ without compromising security or preservation.

“We are delighted with the improvements in collections care since the redevelopment,” said Clatworthy.

“Access to the stores has increased considerably. For example, we were able to run a torchlit tour of the museum stores on Halloween for the general public. This would have been impossible in our old stores! The visitors loved it. It gives a sense of privilege going behind the scenes, but you can only do that if your stores are suitable, otherwise chaos reigns. We now have a store that efficient, fit for purpose and accessible by the general public and the academic community alike.”