July 1996 Issue 20
The Michael Snow Laboratory
The name of the laboratory may be unfamiliar to you. It is dedicated to the memory of Michael Snow (1932-1990) in appreciation of his selfless support which enabled the Museum to start the reconstruction of the Research and Conservation of Art centre.
The new laboratories for the Science Group have enabled, for the first time since the Conservation Department was formed in the 1960s, all the scientists to work in the same geographical area. In the past we have been separated and spread across the South Kensington site of the Museum on up to five sites, separated by stairs and corridors. Bringing us all together gives a valuable opportunity to learn a lot more from each other and the total will be more than the sum of the individuals.
Based on the ground floor (level one) of the refurbished building, we share a corridor with the Museum's Photographers, Sculpture Conservation and Textile Conservation and so we feel very much involved. The accommodation is large, with separate areas for our desk-based work away from the bench based work; a division of tasks that, until now, could not be achieved.
Enough of the building - let's turn our attention to the staff. Having come from separate laboratory spaces to one large space requires a change in many of the work practices that individuals develop over the years. Breaking down these established work practices is painful for all concerned, after all we do not willingly volunteer for change - it is usually thrust upon us. This again causes individual frustrations as systems must be adapted to encompass the new set-up. A period of around three months has been necessary to 'bed-in' and develop some of the new patterns of work required. There will be an estimated period of a further three or so months before everything - both the building and the new work practices - are functioning to an acceptable standard.
So, we have the internal computer network that allows us to rapidly spread our reports to the people who need them and also maintain our own internal information management systems. Beyond the confines of the Museum we do have an obligation to a much wider audience and it is our intention to fully utilise the Internet to allow access to at least some of our files. This is most likely to take the form of access to the V&A's home page and then into copies of the abstracts of our reports.
I have attempted to give a brief overview of the moves with indications of the gains involved. The path of these changes is not always smooth but always interesting.