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UK Science Museum group is building a coronavirus collection in response to pandemic

Other institutions reflect on ethical concerns linked to Covid-19 material

Museums in the UK are beginning to collect items related to the coronavirus pandemic

Curators at the UK Science Museum group are amassing material relating to the Covid-19 crisis and considering how to “collect important objects on behalf of the nation as a record of the medical, scientific and cultural responses to the outbreak”, says a museum spokeswoman.

According to the UK newspaper the Telegraph, items such as the letter sent by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to all UK households about the coronavirus outbreak could be among the items collected. The experimental magnets which were accidentally lodged up a scientist's nose as part of an attempt to create an anti-virus device may also be included. Hand sanitiser and social distancing posters might also be acquired for future generations, while digital content is another important aspect of the research.

The museum will research stories and identify objects linked to the pandemic but crucially “our curators are undertaking this serious project within strict ethical guidelines, given the current global emergency, so as not to distract from vital work,” the spokeswoman stresses. There are no plans to show the coronavirus artefacts, however. “Indeed, we have not talked about a timeframe, and in any event the timing would reflect public appetite,” she adds.

The formal acquisition of Covid-19 objects is on hold during lockdown. “Some items that have already been donated are currently being stored securely at the Science Museum, while other materials are being kept in the donor’s possession until they can be safely added to the Science Museum Group Collection. The formal acquisition process will happen when it is safe to do so,” the spokeswoman says.

Other UK museums are also documenting this historically significant moment. Leeds Museums and Galleries has asked people via its social media platforms to share their “positive and negative experiences… these could be things like hygiene notices, images of your working from home set-ups, diaries or empty shopping aisles.”

Earlier this month, the UK Museums Association issued a statement detailing how museums can approach contemporary collecting of Covid-19 material with “sensitivity and respect” and act in an ethical way. London Transport Museum has meanwhile published a Contemporary Collecting Ethical Toolkit centred on five themes including “trauma and distress”. UK museum professionals have also invited “organisations and individuals interested in documenting and collecting around Covid-19” to contribute to a publicly accessible directory on Google.