Collective Conversations with Gillian Essam

Recently Retired Collection Information Manager at the National Gallery, London

After a professional career spanning 24 years, Gillian Essam, former Collection Information Manager at the National Gallery, is still adjusting to her new-found free time.

Prior to her arrival at the National Gallery in 2001, Gillian worked as a professional librarian, then went on to study art history at the post-graduate level at Reading University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. At the Courtauld, Gillian worked on the first computerized catalogue of the Witt Library, a large collection of fine art images, before becoming Documentation Officer at Tate from 1990 to 2001.

Over the years, Gillian has amassed a wealth of knowledge and insight. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Gillian about her work and her ideas for successful museum documentation.

1. What advice would you give someone just starting their career in this industry?

Try not to re-invent the wheel. When you meet a problem or develop an area of information, review all the available sources of help in the documentation sector and consult your peers. By using or adapting existing standards and solutions you will not only work efficiently, but you will also help to reassure your museum that it is spending resources wisely and going in a sensible direction. Save your creativity for uncharted areas!

Talking and listening to the people who will benefit from your documentation system is the most important thing you can do. Take time to understand what people really need. Be prepared to explain documentation over and over again from first principles to the newest ideas. Provide as much training for new staff and refresher courses for existing staff as you can,  and as much help and advice as possible.

2. What was the biggest challenge faced by you and your team when you were at Tate and the National Gallery?

In both museums my post was newly created to manage data quality. At Tate the big change came towards the end of my time there when we migrated our existing data to TMS. Before this, a very small team had achieved an enormous amount with an in-house collection database, putting in place some key collection management procedures, providing camera-ready copy for the concise catalogue, and serving up-to-date cataloguing and images to one of the earliest online collection catalogues. TMS opened up many more possibilities to us and the process of procuring and implementing such a large collection management system provided a very steep and valuable learning curve as well as requiring more documentation staff. By agreeing on requirements, specifying new features, and developing new procedures with a much wider group of staff than had ever been involved before, we were able to really focus our vision for the future.

3. How do you see the use of technology in museums evolving in the future?

Linked open data may offer us more efficient and exciting ways of integrating collection-related data held in different systems within and outside museums, and presenting it to staff and the public. Most large museums with access to IT resources have already proved the benefits of linking their various systems, but it would be good to find ways of developing and maintaining these links with less effort.

4. What one project or exhibition are you most proud of from your career and why?

One of my early projects at the National Gallery was to standardize and update core data about the collection in TMS. The Gallery had acquired TMS the year before I arrived, but although much effort had been made to enhance loan history and acquisition data, the core cataloguing was not yet trusted by the staff in their daily work. Therefore we updated the details of every painting in the collection to standards and sources agreed with the curators and established clear procedures to maintain them. Later we did the same with the shared names of people and organizations.

At the time this was a game-changing investment for the Gallery. It established TMS as the authorized source for this information in the Gallery, and staff confidence in the data enabled us to re-use it for many other purposes, notably to integrate it much more effectively with the staff intranet and the public website. It also laid the foundations for the huge improvements to our collection management procedures that are continuing to this day.

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

Collections Trust has been a constant source of help. It provides a wealth of advice via its website and publications, and its annual conference is an inspiring forum for documentation professionals. SPECTRUM, the UK Museum Collection Management Standard, is a great achievement and continues to improve.

I also found it very helpful and enjoyable to be part of a friendly community of TMS users via the TMSlistserv, the TMS UK and Northern Ireland User Group and Gallery Systems’ own annual conference, Collective Imagination. I’m a fan of Gallery Systems’ webinars too; they helped me plan our most recent big upgrade to TMS 2012. 

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

I think it would be a recent acquisition by the National Gallery, ‘La Ferté’ by Richard Parkes Bonington. It’s a small sketch of the French coast from about 1825, and I feel it has an exhilarating sense of freedom and freshness.

7. After such a diverse career, what are your plans for retirement?

I’m looking forward to the luxury of having more time and energy to spend on seeing friends and family, theatre and exhibitions, reading, and enjoying the countryside!

About the Author:

Sheena Archer
Sheena Archer is the Director of Marketing at Gallery Systems and has over 10 years of experience in Marketing and Communications for technology companies. Sheena holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a diploma in graphic design. When she’s not building marketing plans, designing websites or interviewing clients, you can find her growing vegetables, walking the world’s cutest dog or attempting to turn herself into a human yoga pretzel.


  1. tender October 6, 2017 at 11:48 am

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉

  2. tinder dating October 6, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Post writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with
    then you can write if not it is complicated to write.

  3. tinder dating site October 6, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Excellent beat ! I wish to apprentice at the same time as you amend your web site, how can i subscribe for a weblog web site?
    The account aided me a acceptable deal. I have been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided shiny
    transparent concept

  4. tinder October 7, 2017 at 5:00 am

    If some one wishes expert view on the topic of blogging then i advise him/her
    to pay a visit this webpage, Keep up the good job.

  5. tender dating site October 7, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Hurrah! In the end I got a blog from where I know how to truly get useful facts concerning my study and knowledge.

  6. tender dating October 8, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Hey there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout
    out and tell you I really enjoy reading through your posts.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics?
    Thank you so much!

  7. tender October 8, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    I’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should also pay a visit this web site on regular basis to obtain updated from most recent gossip.

  8. wedding planners October 9, 2017 at 1:32 am

    750638 563942Perfectly indited content material , thanks for selective details . 789166

  9. tinder dating site October 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you a lot for sharing this with all folks you actually know what you are talking
    about! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally talk over with my site =).
    We could have a hyperlink change arrangement between us

  10. tender dating site free October 9, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Incredible points. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the great effort.

  11. tinder dating site October 9, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Hey there I am so delighted I found your
    blog page, I really found you by mistake, while I was browsing on Google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would
    just like to say kudos for a incredible post and a all round interesting
    blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time
    to read through it all at the minute but I have saved it
    and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be
    back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the awesome b.

  12. tender October 10, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Great blog here! Also your site loads up fast!
    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  13. tinder October 10, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    When someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the
    idea of a user in his/her mind that how a user can be aware of it.

    Therefore that’s why this paragraph is perfect. Thanks!

  14. tinder dating site free October 11, 2017 at 12:52 am

    Wow, this article is pleasant, my sister is analyzing these
    things, therefore I am going to tell her.

  15. tinder dating October 11, 2017 at 3:47 am

    magnificent post, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of this
    sector don’t realize this. You should proceed your
    writing. I’m confident, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  16. tinder dating site October 11, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Good post! We are linking to this particularly great content on our
    website. Keep up the good writing.

  17. tinder October 11, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of
    any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter
    updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like
    this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience
    with something like this. Please let me know if you run into
    anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  18. tinder dating October 12, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing
    this website. I really hope to check out the same high-grade blog posts from you later on as well.
    In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal site now

  19. tinder dating October 12, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Hi, all is going nicely here and ofcourse every one is sharing
    information, that’s actually good, keep up writing.

  20. tinder October 13, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Your style is really unique in comparison to other people
    I have read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this web site.

  21. tinder dating site free October 13, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 40 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad
    is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but
    I had to share it with someone!

  22. tinder dating October 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Can I simply say what a relief to find someone who really understands what they are
    discussing on the web. You actually realize how to bring a problem to light and make
    it important. More and more people ought to read this and understand this side of your
    story. It’s surprising you are not more popular since you most certainly
    have the gift.

  23. tinder dating October 14, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Hey! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted
    to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your blog posts.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics?
    Thank you so much!

  24. tinder dating site free October 14, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Spot on with this write-up, I seriously think this site needs far more attention.
    I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the information!

  25. Ronjeasidge October 15, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Kamagra Oral Jelly 100mg Sildenafil Citrate Online Pharmacy Paypal [url=]online pharmacy[/url] Dapoxetina Porto Alegre Bayer Generic Generic Levitra 100mg Relief Of Sinus Infection With Amoxicillin

  26. tinder dating site October 15, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox
    and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that
    service? Bless you!

  27. tinder dating October 17, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Great goods from you, man. I’ve be mindful your stuff
    prior to and you’re simply extremely great. I actually like what you’ve acquired right
    here, certainly like what you are saying and the way by which you say it.
    You’re making it entertaining and you continue to take care
    of to keep it smart. I can not wait to learn far more from you.
    That is really a terrific web site.

Leave A Comment


Join Our Community

Get our best collection management tips, trends and articles in your inbox.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Thanks for signing up to get industry news and resources delivered straight to your inbox.