Registrar and Collections Manager at Leeds Museums and Galleries

A day in the Registrars Department at Leeds Museums and Galleries, the largest local authority-run museum service in England, is never dull for Jen Kaines. As Registrar and Collections Manager, Jen handles 1.3 million objects from the natural world and industrial history, to fine and decorative art. Those objects can be found throughout Leeds in nine historic sites, including country houses, industrial mills, medieval ruins, and an art gallery. It’s a diverse collection seen by over 1 million visitors each year.

With a mandate to both educate and entertain visitors, Jen employs best-in-class technologies to efficiently manage the objects in her care. Looking ahead, she sees the important role of collections management technologies and social media in helping to share more collections information with an ever-growing audience.

1. What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?

 The Registrars Department at Leeds Museums and Galleries consists of myself and a part-time assistant registrar. With 1.3 million objects housed in over nine sites, the biggest challenge is simply getting everything done. On the plus side, I’m never quite sure what I might end up dealing with on a daily basis.

2. How do you see the use of technology evolving at your institution?

 Technology, and more specifically social media, is having a significant impact on how we engage with our audiences and how we communicate information about the collections. I can see that increasing with more and more information needing to be shared as widely as possible.  3D scanning and printing is also having a big impact and I can see use of those technologies growing as well.

3. What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?

I’d say the change that has made the biggest impact has been integrating TMS with workflow procedures. We’re still in the early days of full implementation but, previously, we were running a paper-based system and then adding everything into TMS, which was not very efficient. We are still working on integrating TMS, but I can already see us being so much more efficient.

4. If you were given £100,000 to spend on management of your collection or department, how would you use it?

I would spend it on employing more staff. We have a huge backlog of work to get intellectual property rights permissions requested and then updated in TMS so that everyone knows what works they can use, especially in terms of social media.

5. Do you have a favourite book, event or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?

 I undertook the Institute of Art and Law’s Diploma in Intellectual Property and Collections last year, which has proven extremely useful, as IPR seems to be increasingly important in my day-to-day activities.

6. What is one of the most interesting projects or exhibitions organized by your institution and why?

As Leeds Museums and Galleries has nine sites, from ancient monuments to purpose-built museum storage facilities through industrial mills and country houses, there are always really interesting projects and exhibitions on the go. I think one of the most interesting projects must be the open accessible storage facility, Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, which opened in 2007 and goes from strength to strength in terms of visitor appeal and use. We are extremely lucky to have such a fantastic venue where we can better use and access the collections, with everything documented in TMS. 

7. If you were allowed to take home one item from your collection, what would it be and why?

Stoker Gill of HMS Exeter by Eric Kennington

© Leeds Museums and Galleries

That is a very hard question indeed; there are so many amazing, diverse objects in the collection from which to choose. However, one work I really like that is not well known is this portrait of Stoker Gill of HMS Exeter by Eric Kennington, given to Leeds by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. Kennington specialised in depicting ordinary people during the war who were doing extraordinary things.