Thursday, December 22, 2011

Frequent flyers

If it could collect air miles, then some of the material inthe Wellcome Library would have a pretty impressive stash of them by now. In 2011, Library material travelled a totalof 10,168 miles on its way to and from various different loans to museumsaround the world.
Countries lent to include The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland,Germany (on quite a few occasions), France, the Czech Republic and Canada, aswell as numerous loans within London and the UK. All of these exhibitions have been temporary,lasting on average around 6 months, and the number of items lent has variedbetween 1 and 12. Click on the map belowfor more details:

It’s not just the collections that are well travelled – we send acourier for most of our loans, and Library staff have notched up an impressive 19,928miles this year in round trips carrying out this important role.
So what exactly is involved in lending the Library’scollections? It all starts with aninitial request from the borrowing institution, giving details of theexhibition and what they would like to borrow. Our Conservation department then assess the item(s) to ascertain if theyare robust enough for loan, and what, if any, work needs doing to them in orderto make them safe for travel and display. After final approval from the Library’s Senior Management Team, therethen follows lengthy discussion between the Library’s Exhibition Liaison andthe borrower regarding display and security conditions, any costs involved,transport etc.
Couriering has already been mentioned, and this is the area oflending that many find most interesting. It can seem quite glamorous , and it’s true that it certainly beats aday in the office, but it can also be very tiring with early starts and manyhours of travelling. Professional arthandlers are always used to transport loans,and their preferred method of transport within Europe is usually by truck. Therefore, if accompanying a loan to adestination in Europe, the courier will travel in the truck, spending manyhours, sometimes even days, on the road. If travelling by air, it is necessary to arrive at the airport hours inadvance of the flight in order to witness the crate containing the loan beingloaded up. This involves going behindthe scenes to the cargo shed at the airport, donning a high-vis jacket andhaving your wits about you in order to avoid the many forklift trucks andlorries that work in these areas.
Once the courier reaches their destination with the loan safely intow, they must witness it being unloaded and securely stored into the borrowinginstitution’s premises, and then they will usually return the following day toinstall the item(s). Installationinvolves witnessing the loan being unpacked, condition checking it to ensure ithasn’t been damaged en route, and then supervising its placing in the displaycase or hanging on the wall. Dependingon the number of items being lent, and how complicated they are to install,this process can take anything from an hour to a couple of days. Then it’s back to the UK, with a de-brief onthe trip when the courier returns to work. The whole process then takes place again, but in reverse, when it istime for the loan to be returned.
With requests already received from various museums in the USA,Spain and UK, 2012 looks set to be another busy year for the loan of Wellcome Library material.

Author: Rowan De Saulles

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