Trust at work

Looking behind the scenes at the National Trust for Scotland’s work with collections, to show you how we look after our historical items.


Curating our collections is all about looking at the big picture – uncovering the whole story of a time or place through the items and artefacts to hand. The curators who work with our collections are experts in researching and displaying objects. They interpret artefacts in a way that tells the story of Scotland’s people and buildings, using items from paintings to teapots to give a voice to the people behind them.

Acquisition and disposal

As Scotland’s biggest conservation charity, the National Trust for Scotland looks after its collections for the people of Scotland.

We work within standard guidelines for museums and galleries, and follow a carefully worded policy on what we’ll accept into the collections. The main focus of our collecting policy is to acquire objects that are directly linked with the properties we care for and the people and stories associated with those properties. Before accepting anything into our collection we ask ourselves: Is this particularly important to our understanding of a time or place? Is it an outstanding example of a certain type of design or craft?

Likewise, when we review our collections, we sometimes need to dispose of objects that don’t meet these criteria. Caring for objects that have no relevance to our properties can be a drain on resources and in these cases we follow a careful disposal policy, transferring objects to other museum collections to keep them available to the public.

Care and conservation

We practise preventive conservation, where the focus is on preventing any potential damage instead of waiting until we’re forced to fix it. Of course, different objects – textiles, books, watercolour paintings, footstools, etc – need different kinds of care. Our conservators can clean or arrange for conservation of an object. Keeping our collections in their original historical setting can make conservation trickier, but it’s worth the extra work.

Documentation and digitisation

Every item in our collection needs to be documented in detail, and we use a number of powerful databases to store collections information and digitised images. Our archivist is responsible for cataloguing and storing the paper and electronic records that we create; our photo librarian manages a database of images; and our collections management team compile and maintain the catalogue of the fine art and object collections.

Digitisation is a way of giving better access to our collections by creating digital copies of documents and photographs and by photographing objects. It also ensures preservation of key information held in paper records – like a back-up.

For all documentation, cataloguing and digitisation work, it’s essential to be able to link a database record with the object or document that it relates to. Object numbers help us to do this, and if you see a number marked on an object in one of our properties, this will link to a record on our database. When we move an object, we record this number and update the database to keep our information up to date.

Loans and exhibitions

We don’t mind seeing our collections fly the coop every once in a while. Our artefacts and artworks have travelled all around the country and across the world.

We arrange for the lending of items like paintings, sculptures and furniture on a case by case basis – sometimes for short-term exhibitions and sometimes for a longer spell. The work involved is complex, and the negotiation and careful planning for packing, transport, insurance and handling is seen to by our own expert registrar.

Professional standards

The Collections Team works to certain strict industry standards. The Museum Accreditation Scheme, the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics and ICON International Conservation Organisation provide organisations like ours with frameworks for good museum practice. We work closely with colleagues across the Trust to share this practice with our partners and our properties.