Course 2

Museum Essentials : Working with Collections

Free - Enroll now

About this course

Collections work is vital and our collections underpin all aspects of museums. In this course we will look at some of the ways in which we can use our collections to keep them relevant for the modern world and represent our audiences better.  

We hope by providing a mix of information, insights, exercises, resources and signposting you will be able to develop your confidence and competence around your own collections practice. 

Working with Collections supports the Public Engagement and Benefit and Stewardship of Collections Competencies in the Museums Associations Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA). For more information about the AMA please click here.

Dynamic Collections Practice

Museum collections evolve and change in their nature, rather than to remain static. This course will help you understand the importance of this how it can be achieved.

Contemporary Collecting

Contemporary Collecting is vital for a museum to remain relevant to society and it is a process that should be ongoing and involve audiences and communities. This course will help you understand some of the approaches to contemporary collecting.

Interpretation and Use

The objects themselves are only one aspect of a collection, the memories and stories an item can unlock from an individual or community is often the real value of the collection. This course will help you find your role in this process.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will it take to go through this course?

5-15 hours

Do you have to complete each lesson in order?

The course has been designed so that there are no mandatory lessons and the lessons can be completed in whichever order is most meaningful for you.

Do I have to complete all of the exercises?

The exercises have been developed to help you reflect, capture and focus your learning. In exactly the same way as the lessons none of the exercises are mandatory.

Is there an opportunity to discuss our learning with Museums Association staff?

The discussion area is not monitored, moderated or facilitated. If you want to talk to a member of the Museums Association about collections practice then email

Is there a course start date?

There isn't a course start date. This is an open course that you can start and finish whenever you want. As an individual Museums Association member you have full access to the content.

Where can I find more information about collections?

We have a range of resources available on our website

Is there an opportunity to discuss our learning with other learners?

We have a discussion area at the end of each lesson and this is a way to discuss the content, your reflections, the impacts on your professional practice as well as seeking insights and information from others.

Meet the expert

Sarah Briggs

Sarah is the collections development officer at the Museums Association, she has over a decade of experience working in collections management and has worked with a variety of collections types from archaeology to zoology.


Rachael Lee and 307 others have booked this class

David Nash

Linda Evans

As one of the front of house team at our exhibition, I was asked to test Museum Essentials. I am not a qualified curator, but as an attendant, I learnt a great deal of interesting information about collections and the way perceptions of them are changing, both within organisations and in the community. Not having any experience in collection management, I had to skip some of the tasks such as professional practice exercises, but the course has made me start to think about how we can capitalise on the untapped potential of the Dylan Thomas exhibition collection. I think 'bravery' is a very useful term and the videos are very inspiring and useful and represent a wide range of types of museums. I'm already starting to think of our collection within different concepts and feel very positive and excited about its future role, particularly within the local community. One negative is thee way the course 'handles', which can be quite confusing. The progress bar needs to be more detailed, headings made clearer and bigger, etc. It's not often clear when there are further tasks on a page - all you can see is the 'next' button. Some videos from YouTube went on to play completely unrelated clips. On the whole, I think it is a very good course, and flags up some of the dilemmas that museums face in terms of the balance between preservation and care of objects, and their use. The idea of giving up some control of a collection to the wider community, both online and locally, so it no longer totally reflects the 'curatorial' voice, is interesting, and I can see this happening at other local cultural venues. If collections underpin museums, having staff at all levels that are enthused about their past, present and future use is also very important, and this course really helps to foster that. The term 'power to the people' also resonates, as does the idea that objects can be chosen and displayed in many different ways e.g. to evoke emotions, prompt recollections and memories, etc. I'd give this four stars, in it's present format.

Katie Bowman

I found it very in depth and learnt a great deal. I would have preferred the first section to have been broken down a little more (there seemed quite alot of information to absorb before the first quiz). I hope that I can apply the pronciples I learnt into my everyday work practice.

Alison Fish

A good overview for me on some fundamental issues. I am new to the museums sector and now feel I could 'keep up' and maybe participate with confidence during team meetings, even if simply to ask questions or make suggestions.

Karen Cope

Excellent, broad and relevant topics covered. Enjoyable to work through with a mix of videos and downloadable documents.

Nicola SIkora

Mike Tyler

Excellent and very accessible.

Dr Nadia Randle

Useful tools on participatory practice that I hadn't seen before. Good for those new to the sector who are looking for a brief summary of these areas and a place to start from to learn more.

John Rochester

A broad range of topics and points of view from museums across the British Isles, but they show how we all have a lot of work to do, even if that only starts out as a reflective exercise. The material has convinced me that there is a lot of work ahead but with the right frame of mind to make the collections a usable resource for all sorts of audiences then we are on the right track. Thanks.

Shannon Wilson

I liked that I was encouraged to reflect on topics at various points throughout the course so that I could think about how to apply what I had learnt in practice.

Clare Lehovsky

katherine Dowd

I found the videos very interesting and the highlighted articles. The little quizzes really helped reinforce my understanding.

Manuela Portales Sanfuentes

I really enjoyed it! I was expecting more about the objects themselves instead of reaching/educational strategies, but in the end it came up the be really helpful.


really informative, with plenty of information. Gained new knowledge.

Kate Fraser

As a museum volunteer just entering the museums sector, I found the course very useful in giving me a grounding in current issues surrounding working with collections

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25 Lessons included in this course