When you hear the word museum, it is only natural to imagine large exhibition spaces filled with glass display cabinets brimming with wonderful and exotic displays, ancient curiosities and the intriguing histories associated with the artefacts on show.

Yet this is only one area of the museum, the one that most visitors get to see. There is a whole other world behind the scenes in the bowels of the museum, that is less frequented by the public.

In most museums, less than 5 per cent of their entire collection is exhibited at any one time, the rest being housed in store rooms and cared for by collection staff, but that does not mean these items lay dormant while awaiting public display.

How museums store and display collections is constantly evolving and there is always a desire to display more and make them more accessible, not only to academics but to the public as well.

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Some of the carefully selected items, several dating back over 100 years. Photo / Supplied.
Some of the carefully selected items, several dating back over 100 years. Photo / Supplied.

One way of displaying more from the collection is by rotating exhibitions on a temporary basis which is a practice used by Whangārei Museum.

Alternatively, while some items are regarded as too fragile to be displayed for any length of time, they are exchanged regularly for substitute pieces in storage, transforming smaller displays.

Kiwi North is committed to show-casing its museum collection as widely as possible to increase public access and collaboration.

This is accomplished by loaning collection material to other institutions such as galleries, clubs or schools.

It also encourages the access of collection items and archival material through public enquiries or by appointment from the likes of family historians, researchers, school groups or interested public.

Museums are for people and Kiwi North encourages users to explore, discover and interact with the Museum's collection while still ensuring it is preserved for future generations.

One recent visit by a local school group is a prime example of how collection access is extended to the wider community and utilised in a more amenable and comprehensible manner.

Initiated by Jay Simmons, Whakairo teacher at Otamatea High School and Kiwi North educator Shirley Peterson, a request was received to view an assemblage of carved taonga and tools associated with the wood carving process for senior students.

This resulted in a small in-house display of whakairo rakau items which were carefully selected for their distinctive and elaborate carving, some dating back more than 100 years.

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Among the diverse array of taonga were customary structures such as an ancient taurapa (canoe sternpost) found on a beach near Tauranga, a tata (canoe bailer) and beautifully crafted taiaha, one of which was used in a peace-making ceremony between tribes.

Other examples from the museum collection available for students to examine were of a more personal nature including several tokotoko (orator's staff/walking stick) and a waka huia (feather box).

While some pieces come out of storage for occasions such as this, sparking interest and inspiration, other collections items are routinely accessed for alternative purposes.

Many museums increasingly post pictures of their holdings online, providing an invaluable insight of what is held behind closed doors, but for many people that's not enough and they prefer a more tangible experience.

Museums are for people and Kiwi North encourages users to explore, discover and interact with the museum's collection while still ensuring it is preserved for future generations.

■ Natalie Brookland is collection registrar, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.