Lapworth Museum of Geology – factoring in public access to stores as part of a major redevelopment

By Adrian Murphy

Following a £3m redevelopment the Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham opened its doors last month with a newly refurbished museum and collection stores, which included new open store facilities

The Lapworth Museum of Geology was redeveloped to create a more visitor focused attraction that would also continue as an academic while still supporting the academic community in terms of teaching and research.

Working with storage experts Bruynzeel, the resulting storage facility provides improved collection care and one of the two storage rooms also provides public access to the facility for organised guided tours. This will provide a ‘behind the scenes’ experience while maintaining appropriate standards of collection care and security.

The University held a tender amongst a select list of suppliers who are able to supply and install an appropriate storage system for the Lapworth Museum. The shelving, and associated storage furniture, had to be of museum standard and replace current inefficient static racking and cupboards.

The collections to be stored include predominantly, but not exclusively:-

  • rocks, fossils and minerals
  • historic cabinets containing complete collections
  • scientific instruments
  • zoological material
  • some display cases
  • museum storage materials (e.g. stocks of boxes, trays, tissues)

The two storage rooms on the ground level, adjacent to one another and with interconnecting doors. One of the stores now provides public access via guided tours with Museum staff. The Lapworth requires certain sections of the storage solution in this room to also incorporate visible storage for public viewing, for example, glazed open shelf units and also, drawer units with glazed tops.

“Bruynzeel visited the client on several occasions during and after the tender process to refine the best solution and layouts to each room,” says Paul Brooks Project Sales Manager. “We optimised the available space using Compactus® mobile shelving combined with drawers for smaller items and Longspan racks for larger collection pieces, along with existing historic cabinets that were to be retained and housed within the new systems.”

Bruynzeel worked on ‘accessible’ collection storage at the Museum Aan de Stroom, Belgium

In addition, a large collection of plywood trays were accommodated on special runners designed so the trays could be safely extracted without complete removal. For the section required for public tours, Bruynzeel provided lockable sliding glass doors to the face of the racks together with glass topped lockable drawers. This enables the museum to display parts of the collection yet keep it secure.

“Our team spent a great deal of time designing the optimum solution to fit the various sizes and types of the collection,” says Brooks. “This proved challenging given the fixed ‘envelope’ of the two rooms available. By using the spaces smartly we achieved this to the client’s satisfaction utilising 12 different module sizes.

Bruynzeel has European experience of the need to incorporate ‘accessible’ collection storage for Museum stores projects such as the Museum Aan de Stroom, Belgium. As part of the new building, archivists decided that the museum storage areas should feature visible storage, and approached Bruynzeel to install an appropriate system.

This visible storage maximises public access to museum collections that would otherwise be hidden from public view. To create a visible storage archive for the Museum aan de Stroom, Bruynzeel installed a two-tier Double Decker mobile shelving system to make optimum use of the available space and define the restricted-access areas, reserved for staff. The collection is visible from the public space, but is protected from damage by wire and glass screens. The Bruynzeel double decker system allows the collection to remain safe and secure, while adding to the visitor experience.

“While this was a solution for one museum discipline, the Geology collection at Lapworth included an array of different boxes, trays and cabinets etc,” says Brooks. “The main difference to a more eclectic collection was the weight. The storage systems have been designed with high loading features such as shelf reinforcing bars and extra floor rails.”

Now the museum has glass sliding doors enabling virtually unfettered viewing of the collection and bespoke sizing of shelving modules with all its collections in two dedicated adjacent rooms, instead of scattered around the museum. The new systems provide versatility and adjustability and a co-ordinated range of fittings as well as expansion capacity for the future. “The ‘white smoke’ finish combined with blue decor panels provides a light and attractive look to each storage collection room. Utilising Compactus® mobile enhances the ability to keep collections dust-free, especially where the sliding doors are fitted.”