Collections Move Project - A Year in Review

It has been over a year since the start of the ambitious project to study, audit and move over 4 million museum collection objects held in more than 10 stores into two new sites: a Collections, Teaching & Research Centre in Oxford (CTRC) and a collections storage facility in Swindon (CSF).

Oxford University’s four museums collectively hold over 8.5 million objects and specimens, ranging from scientific instruments and dinosaur fossils to classical sculpture and musical instruments, but with less than 1% of objects on display. The two new storage sites will bring the museum collections together and will improve access to the collections for researchers, students and local communities.

We look back at the collections move team’s achievements during 2020 as they managed to progress the work of repacking and moving a variety of collections despite the huge challenges of working during lockdown.

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Early 2020

The nine collections move assistants began in early 2020 by auditing and moving 7,000 musical instruments from the Pitt Rivers Museum collection. They moved onto repacking 88,000 stone tools where they lined each box with padded Jiffy to ensure the objects would be safe when moved. Then they weighed, labelled and organised each box onto shelves by country of origin. Before lockdown the team repacked 200 boxes of stone tools, but they then had to pause the project.

During lockdown, the team adapted their work by planning object storage, preparing for object moves and managing collections data. They planned the shelving of 5,670 boxes ready for their move into the Collections Teaching and Research Centre (CTRC), prepared 57,000 jiffy bags for packing and cleaned 5100 data records for the History of Science Museum.

Summer 2020

In June, the team returned onsite to continue repacking the stone tools including those stored in old mustard crates or wooden chocolate boxes that were unsuitable for transport. They then moved all the stone tools (over 2,000 boxes) to another temporary store.

Between August and December 2020, the team moved over 80 pieces of furniture from the Ashmolean Western Art Collection held in the Harkness Building to a new temporary store. They also carried out a visual audit to assess the packing and conservation needs of all 64,600 objects, comprising the Ashmolean Western Art, Eastern Art and Antiquities collections.

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Late 2020

Meanwhile, two team members started work at the new temporary store rearranging and storing over 1,000 music collection boxes and crates from the Pitt Rivers Museum collection. They also moved 50 cabinets containing approximately 1,000 fossils, casts and specimens in each, 4,250 boxes and loose items as well as furniture. Due to COVID safety procedures, this process took much longer than usual with only two team members to remove drawers, move cabinets and then fill them again. One of the heaviest objects to be moved at this site was a stone plinth from the Ashmolean weighing approximately 2.1 tons.


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Early 2021 

The team are now back on-site processing and moving approx. 64,600 objects in 9,530 boxes in the Harkness Building store which they will have emptied by November 2021. The daily target is for the team to process 140 objects per day, the equivalent of 3 minutes per object. The collections move project will continue into its third year in 2022 with a number of moves into the temporary stores, ready for the final move into the Collections, Teaching & Research Centre (CTRC) in Oxford once built in spring 2023.


Learn more about the Collections Move Project