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The Harkness Building decant was a long project but split into many stages. What was the process of decanting the building, and how long did it take?
JENNIFER: Work at Harkness started at the end of summer 2020 when we were still working with a reduced team due to Covid restrictions. We packed the Western Art furniture first and took the furniture to the temporary store. Then in the new year the entire team came back to Harkness on a part-time basis, where we worked on the boxed Antiquities and Eastern art objects.
We split the objects by whether their permanent resting place would be the Ashmolean or the new Swindon store. So for several months over late summer and autumn we packed objects destined for the Ashmolean.
GILES: After that we cracked on with packing the carpets and brass rubbings collections for the temporary store. We then worked with the contractors Constantine towards the end of the year who supported us with packing and moving the remaining free-standing objects and boxes to the temporary store.
JENNIFER: So, in total, the Harkness decant took about a year to complete (with some breaks for other projects and Covid disruptions).
What do you think has been the biggest challenge(s) of the Harkness decant?
LAURA: The many reasons the Harkness Building was unsuitable for storing museum objects also made it hard to work in. The heating system was very old and faulty, making rooms on the first floor wildly hot, but parts of the ground floor incredibly cold! There was no plumbing so we had to nip to the nearby Maths Department to use the loo. Because the building conditions were deteriorating, we couldn't fix these things and had to stick it out and move all the objects to the temporary store as quickly as we could. Catching up with the schedule after working from home for periods was also a challenge!
When we first started the decant, the old database posed lots of problems - it was slow, hard to navigate and difficult to use to solve "problems". We started using the current version of the database in spring 2021, and it really helped to speed up our packing and auditing process.