Discovering physical objects: Meeting researchers' needs

Added by Sarah on 30 August 2008

This report investigates how researchers discover and gain access to physical objects and artefacts using four varied subject disciplines as examples of the process.

Many museums face increasing difficulties in providing the levels of support for research and scholarship that some of them did in the past. But the report shows that there is great scope for developing collaboration between museums, galleries and the research community, which would bring benefits to both.

The report finds that researchers want access to online finding aids to enable them to plan their visits to museums and collections, so that they can both see and handle the objects, and that contact with curatorial staff is of critical importance. The evidence gathered shows that most researchers are unaware of the online catalogues that currently exist or are being developed and feel that that there is a lack of consistency and transparency in the arrangements that museums make for researchers direct access to objects. However, their most important wish is that online access to museum databases to be provided as quickly as possible, even if the records are imperfect or incomplete.

Next steps 

Following the publication of the report, RIN convened an expert panel representing key stakeholders in the museum community to review the report and suggest ways in which its findings could be taken forward. A brief note of the meeting can be found below. Suggested outputs included:

  1. The creation of a template for a Researchers’ Charter which would help to manage expectations both of researchers and of museum staff and which could be adapted for use by museums large or small and regardless of their focus. An example is on the Wiltshire Heritage website.
  2. Provision of support for smaller museums by enabling data from a range of catalogues to be harvested into one database which could be accessed from an even wider range of websites 
  3. Museum Designation Scheme should include support for research more directly, and potentially incentivising museums by giving grants to link them with research more directly 
  4. Dialogue with researchers and museum staff in a series of broad subject based meetings to discuss how museums can support researchers? needs: one option being to use the Subject Specialist Networks and the Learned Societies 
  5. Linkages between museums and libraries / library collections. 

The RIN will investigate further with the participants as to how these recommendations can be taken forward. If you are interested in this work, please get in touch with us.

Hard copies of the report and a flyer are available, email

© Research Information Network 2005–2009