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Collections on the move: How Project Transform will improve RCS’s Library, Museums and Archives Services

10 Feb 2017

Library, Museums and Archives staff

When the plans for RCS’s Project Transform were announced and the impact on the College's Library, Museums and Archives was realised, there was some apprehension at the gargantuan task ahead. The prospect of packing up all RCS collections and planning their return to different spaces, with multiple changes to how we provide services, filled even the calmest of us with a huge sense of trepidation!

However, once the initial nerves had subsided and we began to consider how to tackle the complex project ahead, we have been able to consider the many positive outcomes that the plans will create. Here are five key areas where Project Transform will improve RCS’s Library, Museums and Archives:

Project Transform: Artist's Cross-section

1) Upgrading the Historic Building

The iconic classical frontage of the Royal College of Surgeons on Lincoln’s Inn Fields dates to the early 19th century and is a Grade II listed building. The original building designed by George Dance was opened in 1813, and in the 1830s it was redesigned by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. Project Transform affords the opportunity to upgrade and refurbish the architecturally significant areas of the building especially Barry’s Library Reading Rooms.

Project Transform: the Library

2) The Hunterian Museum and improved visitor facilities

The Hunterian Museum will be relocated from its current first floor position to its original 1813 location on the ground floor of the building, greatly improving visitor access. There will be direct access into the new building from both Portugal Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Audience research is helping to inform the layout of the new Museum: while all of the Hunter Collection and ‘star’ objects currently on display will remain, displays themed around anatomy, John Hunter’s life, and contemporary and future surgery will be enhanced with new material and subtle interactive displays.

Outside the Hunterian Museum, there will be displays on every floor of the new building, themed to surgical associations, activities and the latest research.

On the ground floor, next to the Museum, a new temporary exhibition gallery, a learning and discovery room for collections study, a café and a shop will further enhance visitor services. There will also be a new dedicated research room on the first floor, specially designed for the study of RCS’s special collections of rare books and archives, supported by the latest search tools and subject content. Additionally, new flexible display spaces will open up opportunities to incorporate more library and archive collections into the temporary display programme.

Project Transform: the Hunterian Museum

3) Collections Catalogues

At the heart of all best practice collections management is a comprehensive and accurate database. Cataloguing may not be seen as one of the more exciting aspects of collections work but it is the foundation for protecting collections for the future, while allowing access to as many people as possible in the present. In advance of the moving of the RCS collections to temporary storage, it is vital that as much uncatalogued material as possible is identified and its information recorded. Project staff have been tackling the backlog and making great headway: not so easy when there are nearly 400,000 items! This work is not only essential for keeping track of collections during the move, but will greatly benefit users in the future.

4) RCS Fellows and Members Services

We are taking advantage of Project Transform to ensure that the services and activities provided for RCS Fellows and Members are responsive to what they have asked for in recent membership surveys.

Access to information on the latest surgical practice and developments across all surgical specialisms are highly valued benefits of College membership. Providing these services to Fellows and Members wherever they work and live in the UK or abroad is at the heart of all service developments.

Wide-ranging online resources are of key importance and ongoing research will ensure services continue to meet the changing needs of Fellows and Members, with specialist librarian-led advice and information support.

5) Collections Conservation

Behind the scenes, RCS’s Library, Museums and Archives undertake a lot of expert conservation work on the collections, from the care of John Hunter’s original collection of specimens to the delicate conservation and cleaning of fragile manuscripts, papers and books. New conservation facilities will be created in the basement and on the first floor to support this essential work.

Onwards to 2020

There is a undoubtedly a great deal of work to be done in the coming years but we are looking forward to capitalising on the opportunities Project Transform presents: enabling improved access to RCS’s collections both on site and on-line, improving their condition and opening up new opportunities for partnership.

In the coming months we will keep you updated with news of Project Transform, details of the Library, Museums and Archives work being undertaken and interesting discoveries about the collections and building.

If you have any questions about accessing our collections, either before or during the project, then please get in touch at

Library, Museums & Archives

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