Get Involved! Scottish Fisheries Museum

Over the next few weeks, Michael is going to tell us all about some ways to get the most out of your St Andrews experience, starting with a spot of […]

Over the next few weeks, Michael is going to tell us all about some ways to get the most out of your St Andrews experience, starting with a spot of volunteering at the Fisheries Museum. 

Do you read the Wednesday Memos?

Those of you chortling out “No!” should sort your lives out; for amidst the dross of appeals to participate in Psychology Studies, there lie some righteous opportunities.

In first year I only dipped my toes into the weekly revelation from the God of memos; I gave blood, participated in a psychology experiment, amongst other things. But my faith grew, and second year granted me the mitzvah (good deed for all you non-Jews out there) of a hilarious week-long tree-planting expedition to the Highlands. Continuing on the path of the righteous, last January saw an auspicious notice that the Scottish Fisheries Museum was looking for volunteers…

Immediate reactions:

  1. A Scottish Fisheries Museum? In Anstruther??
  2. I am a history student, this is a perfect opportunity to experience the type of job I never want to have in real life!
  3. I can cycle to Anstruther to do this, +10 to my exercise schedule
  4. This is actually a Museum just about fishing in Scotland?!?

In any case, I was intrigued and responded to the memo. I cycled to the museum for the first time in the rain after making the genius decision to not wear a raincoat. An exciting day was spent wandering around in a puddle as I learn what the SFM is, and what Collections Volunteers do.

So what’s it all about?

Opened in 1969, the museum tells the story of the East Neuk fishing community while placing that story within the wider context of the Scottish Fisheries. Housed in an interesting maze of historic buildings, the museum’s collection is impressive; a large assortment of artefacts, models, and full-size boats (including two active seagoing vessels) relate the journey of Scottish fishing from prehistoric Coracles to the present day.

The museum is pretty solid, and largely avoids the current trend which sees museums attempting to transforms themselves into amusement parks. But the quality is not always consistent; majestic features such as the full hull in the Zulu gallery are marred by cringe-worthy features such as the macabre paper-mache mannequins. This occasional incongruousness in some way encapsulates the museum; for although the SFM holds a collection of “recognized national significance”, it lacks the budget to present, develop, catalogue, and preserve that collection in quite the manner it would like.

What’s a Collections Volunteer?

The role is fairly open-ended, and the museum is really good about letting people pursue activities of personal interest. But on the whole there is a lot of accessioning (DATA ENTRY!), which consists of filling out paperwork for new museum acquisitions. Volunteers also undertake preservation work (primarily with woodworm and corrosion damage), researching acquisitions, digitizing photographs, or a range of one-off tasks. One week, I helped move several hundred boxes to the other side of the museum so that new insulation could be installed in several rooms. A fortnight later I was fortunate enough to also participate in moving all the boxes back to where they started.

For me, this notorious box-moving incident encapsulates the idiosyncratic appeal of the Museum. There is a degree of absurdity in some of the tasks. However, once you step past the absurdity, the work is fairly satisfying. A couple hours a week of data entry is a nice change from the analytical essay writing that constitutes my arts degree. Likewise, tasks such as preservation work are a welcome opportunity to do hands-on work rather than stare at a screen or book for hours. Most of all, the end of each day brings a measure of genuine satisfaction from the knowledge that you have put a tiny corner of the universe in order.

Verdict and Sentencing?

For civilians, the museum is certainly worth a visit during your four years at St Andrews, especially considering its location right next to the Anstruther Fish Bar. Entry price is reasonable; and the museum is an important reminder that for a long time, fishing was as important to St Andrews as the University and Golf.

Volunteering is a great opportunity for students interested in museum work. Accessioning, preservation, working with a collections database, and researching acquisitions are all nice skills to add to your CV.

And personally, although I have no abiding interest in museum work, I nonetheless found my time at the SFM rewarding.

Two thumbs up.


The Scottish Fisheries Museum

St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther, Fife KY10 3AB

Volunteering Contact:

[email protected]

image © scottish fisheries museum