Saying Goodbye to the National Museum of Scotland

June 2, 2011


National Museum of Scotland

My love affair with the National Museum of Scotland began in the early 80s when I was a kid (in fact, it’s the first museum I ever remember visiting), back when it was just the Royal Museum. We lived just across the park, no more than a 20 minute walk away, and my parents have always been enthusiastic museum goers, so we were frequent visitors. Vivid memories include going on an alternative ‘Easter egg hunt’ round the old Bird Hall, wrapping my teddy bears up in toilet roll after seeing the mummies in the Egyptian section, my little sister winning a prize in the Christmas art competition for her drawing of a giant panda, begging my mum to let me go to school despite having a raised temperature so I wouldn’t miss the trip to the museum, visiting a dinosaur exhibition while the removal men packed up our stuff ready for moving house…to name just a few.

I spent most of the 90s in Germany, but we made annual visits to Edinburgh – and, of course, to the Royal Museum. Anyone else visiting with us was dragged along too. I remember there being a big elephant in the main hall during those years. In fact, my best friend from high school, who was with us on one of those visits, still refers to it as ‘the museum with the big elephant’. For a geography project in middle high about capital cities around the world, Edinburgh was of course my first choice and the museum featured prominently in it (including a picture of the elephant!), and again made another sneaky appearance in my senior high English class when we were discussing dialects of English around the world and I was volunteered to introduce the Scottish variety – the museum had little to do with this, but I managed to mention it anyway.

I returned to Scotland in 1998 to study Scottish Ethnology at Edinburgh University. The School of Scottish Studies (as it was called then) is situated in George Square, right next to the museum. Later that year, the new Museum of Scotland building opened and in those days the back entrance of the museum across from the university campus was still open all day (i.e. not just for special events in the lecture theatre) – perfect for slipping in during free periods between lectures. During my later university years, when I had settled on following down the museum career path, I also became a volunteer at the Museum of Scotland as a facilitator in the Discovery Centre (which has since closed and been replaced by Discovery Zones scattered throughout the building) and giving guided tours for children. When I went on to do museum studies in Leicester, I decided to take a break from the National Museum of Scotland when it came to choosing my work placement, and instead spent two wonderful months at St Fagans in Wales. But it was not long before I was back in Chambers Street – this was the museum I wanted to work at, and nothing was going to stop me!

It took 18 months and  three interviews to finally get the post as Visitor Studies Officer in April 2005 (if there was ever an example of persistency paying off, this is it), but in the mean time I’d also put in stints as a freelance evaluation consultant and a Learning and Programmes Officer. Initially, mine was a bit of a ‘lone ranger’ post within the Learning and Programmes department, being the only Officer not part of a team, but that changed in April 2010 when the post was renamed Audience Research Officer and I joined the also newly named Community Engagement Team. Six months later, I took a temporary leave of absence to go on maternity leave – at least I thought it was temporary. When the museum announced earlier this year that, due to budget cuts, they were inviting staff to apply for voluntary exit to contribute towards the budget shortfall, I initially dismissed it. Leave the job I loved and had put so much time and energy towards getting? Crazy thought! But then the idea began to grow. My husband had had itchy feet for a while and I was also thinking about a change in the next few years. Maybe this was a bit earlier than we’d been considering, but on the other hand maybe this was the right time – new family, new start – and the incentive we had been looking for. After much discussing and deliberating, I handed in my application and it was duly accepted. It was not an easy decision, but I don’t regret it.

So, after 6 years and 81 days in post I will be leaving the National Museum of Scotland at the end of this month. If you take my previous posts into account it’s been almost eight years, though going back to when me and the museum first met it seems more like a lifetime! During my time, I’ve worked across all of our five museum sites, with staff from numerous different departments, with visitors of all different ages and walks of life, I’ve gotten married and welcomed my son into the world (who has already been to the museum so many times I have lost count), I’ve seen people come and go (I think I’m the joint fourth longest serving member of Learning and Programmes) and now it’s my turn to go. In related news, since accepting the voluntary exit, my husband has been offered a new job, so he, the boy and I will be moving to Berlin over the summer. Exciting times!

But I’m sure, one day, I’ll be back – so, it’s not Good Bye but, as we say in Germany, Auf Wiedersehen!


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3 Responses to “Saying Goodbye to the National Museum of Scotland”

  1. Sylee Says:

    Oh, I have very fond memories of this museum too (though mine don’t stretch back quite as far as yours). I just returned from Edinburgh raving about the city and its galleries, so I’m very pleased to have discovered your blog!



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