Priceless IT at the V&A and AGM

Date:     Wednesday 20 Oct 2010
Time:     19:30 – Priceless IT
Speaker:     Sarah Winmill, Head of IS Services – The Victoria and Albert Museum
Location:     Armstrong Siddley Building: AS124


The Victoria and Albert Museum (a.k.a The V&A) explodes the image of a Museum as ‘a place where objects of interest are displayed in glass cases with dry informational labels’, with cutting edge exhibitions exploring digital art and modern popular culture, an outstanding programme of ultra chic special events and educational programmes, not to mention an enthusiastic and expert staff devoted to engaging the public in the beauty of the collections. Day to day IT systems allow the tracking, maintenance, research, and display of the millions of objects in the V&A’s priceless collections.

Sarah Winmill, Head of IS Services at the V&A, was very enthusiastic about all the pretty things on display and considered the challenges of tracking where they all are, moving priceless and fragile objects (and shipping them internationally!), bringing the knowledge of the organisation into the public domain, and the technology into the 21st century! She also highlighted the challenges of providing information systems throughout a listed monument – you can’t just channel the walls, you need to apply three months in advance just to lift a floor board. Therefore all upgrades are carefully planned around gallery refurbishments.

The information desk is an island in the middle of the entrance hall, to get the data and power to that they had to drill down through a 12 foot thick concrete floor to the basement. Of an evening, that same desk is re-configured as a bar … the monitor, keyboard and mouse is configured through a single custom plug, and can be broken down, put on a trolley and wheeled away at closing time, ready for any special events. Likewise, the lake in the fully enclosed garden can be emptied into a tank in 25 minutes for special functions, then re-filled back from the same tank afterwards .. and in the summer the kids love paddling in the lake. Did you know that they have the most secure server room in the country, after all who wants to steal boring old computers when they are surrounded by acres of beautiful, priceless pretty things???

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