Guidance Notes -  

Making Loans Boxes/ Handling Kits

A handling collection can be used for numerous different groups and activities, including:


Their use can have many benefits for the participants, including:

Step One: Your collections

This is where to start!  What information do you want to get across? 

Step Two:  Choosing the contents

The Purpose

It is best to start with a ‘theme’ for the box. 

Think about;

The Objects

Involve your curator – seek their guidance on the correct care and handling of objects and compromise on ways to view more fragile objects. 

If you are including clothes or designing a costumed handling session use replicas for ‘dressing-up’, but have originals to look at in a controlled environment. 

Don’t include anything too fragile or valuable (without proper protection/risk assessment) 

Paper objects deteriorate easily, especially if handled frequently, it is sometimes possible to laminate these or put in a plastic sleeve to protect them.  Alternatively, you could also produce photocopies of the documents to pass around (however remember the upkeep of this). 

Photographs can also be laminated to protect them from damage.

Risk assess the objects.

Include things like CDs with music to link with the ‘theme’ of the box.

Include books on the subject or a list of further reading and reference points.

Magazine/ newspaper articles, posters and tickets from the time make interesting talking points for social history and reminiscence. 

Include a magnifying glass for looking at detail or small print. 

You might want to include modern day equivalents of some of the objects for comparison. 

Ensure that your objects cover a range of teaching points and different materials, e.g. *

·                     a chamber pot illustrates sanitation and housing

·                     a coal scuttle or shovel illustrates heating

·                     a candlestick or snuffer illustrates lighting

·                     a copper kettle can link to kitchen ranges and cooking

·                     wooden butter pats can link to food production, preparation and lack of refrigeration

·                     a water jug (and bowl if possible) illustrates personal hygiene

·                     a flat iron links to washday


*Information taken from the ABC of working with schools

Step Three: Choosing and designing the box

When designing your box, think about the following:

Weight and size

The size of box will often be determined by the largest object. 

Make sure bigger boxes are carried by two people (health and safety issue) Make it easy to carry with strong handles with comfortable grips. 

Don’t include anything which is too heavy. 


Think about transportation – who is going to be lifting and transporting the box? Make sure things are unable to move about in boxes during transportation. 

Protection from damage

Make the wrapping as straightforward as possible for the user. Think about the time it will take to un-wrap and re-wrap each item.  Remember the easier you make it, the more chance there is that it will be returned in the same manner as it was sent out.    For example, bubble wrap is inexpensive, but can be untidily packaged and time consuming. 

Sponge is good for lining boxes to avoid damage.

Perspex is also good for making protective boxes and casing for more fragile objects.

MDF can be good, but is heavy and can harm certain objects.  However, there are many ‘museum-friendly’ plastics available which can be used for boxes if needed. 

Put objects in separate compartments to avoid them knocking together. 


Think about where and how you will store the box(s) when not in use.  This will also determine the size of the box. 

Get a technician or volunteer to help design and make the box.  If you don’t have a staff member or volunteer with appropriate expertise, you could approach a local joiner for help.  Make sure you take the objects for them to look and feel before making a storage system for them. 

You can either completely build your own box from scratch (if you have an experienced technician to help) or purchase suitable containers from an equipment suppliers (see list at end). 

Line the bottom of the box or container with foam or sponge.  This protects the objects from being bumped when placing back into box. 

Make a frame with spaces measured to custom fit the objects.  You can also line this with foam for extra protection.  Make sure things are unable to move about in boxes during transportation. 

Keep 2D and 3D material separate. Place flat materials on top or preferably in a separate compartment in the lid or against the side of your box.   

Remember, things will deteriorate over time with handling.  Laminate photographs if possible and either photocopy or laminate newspapers.  Do this from the start.  Don’t wait until they are already damaged! 

Make sure you clearly label everything in the box.  Include labels for things which need to be folded and warnings about anything that has a rough edge, etc. 

Place a card in the box with a description of all the contents – name, description and use.  

You could take a photograph of how the box should look when objects are placed properly and leave it in the box to remind users. 

Step Four: Administration for off-site

It is very important to keep an accurate record of everything going out! Make sure everything is clearly labelled and accounted for before the box goes out and again on its return. 

It is a good idea to provide users with;


Think about;


Be prepared for carelessness/accidental damage, theft and vandalism – it sounds negative, but these things may happen and you can’t be too careful about what you send out. 

Step Five: Use in the museum

Numbers in group

It is easier to work with smaller groups (ideally no more than 15) however this is not always possible.  So if you have a larger group (for example a primary class of 30) divide them into 5 smaller groups and have them gather around 5 separate tables. 

Care with handling*

It is important that children feel free to examine the objects closely, but it works best to encourage the children to suggest guidelines for handling, through careful direction by the session leader, e.g.

*Info from the ABC of Working with Schools

Discussing the objects

It is always good to begin with a few ‘icebreakers’ to get people to start talking and thinking about the objects. 


Once you have done a few of these you can begin to discuss the objects and their uses in more detail. You can begin to talk about the difference between real and replica objects and then go onto discuss things such as:


Remember to tell participants that there is no right or wrong answer – you are simply investigating the objects in front of you. 

Linking to collections in the museum

You can also play learning ‘games’ around the museum to link the objects in with the collections.  Divide children into groups of 4 or 5 and give them an object relating to a certain area of the museum. Let the group gather information relating to that object and become ‘experts’ on that particular area.  For example, if you gave them a chamber pot – they could find a part of the exhibition which tells all about sanitation in Victorian times.  They could then report their findings back to the rest of the class.  You could set them a secondary task of finding all other objects within the museum connected with their subject area. 

You could also use stories in the museum relating to the objects – this is especially good for work with younger children. 

Charges within the museum

Charge as you normally would for a workshop – this might be included in the price of a school tour or if you are using a facilitator add an extra workshop charge per head. 

Step Six: Maintenance and upkeep

Evaluate from Steps one through to six

It is very important to build evaluation in from the very first planning stages of your resource – in the long run it makes evaluating a lot easier.  A good framework to follow is Inspiring Learning for All.   It uses generic learning outcomes which help to create a common language to evaluate the learning experience of all participants from the planning stages through to the final completion of the project. 

You could also devise a simple questionnaire to go in with the box for participants to complete at either the end of the session or return of the box. 


Their Past, Your Future Boxes, West Dunbartonshire Museums


Everything you need to set up your own street party - in a box!

These packs have been developed with West Dunbartonshire schools and community groups in mind, providing starter materials for the organisation of a World War II street party.  Included are CDs of period music, song sheets, bunting, wartime recipes and much more! These resources are offered free-of-charge for fixed loan periods.


Everything you need to bring back memories of the war years - in a box!

Wartime-related ‘topic boxes’ have been produced for West Dunbartonshire schools and community groups. These will include: facilitator notes, original and reproduction objects from the period, fact sheets and time lines, copies of local newspapers, craft exercises, and CDs of popular music from the period. These resources are offered free-of-charge for fixed loan periods.

For further information on either of the above, contact Andrew Salmond, Arts Development Officer, West Dunbartonshire Council.  01389 608 042,   

Stockists and suppliers

Try second hand markets, car boot sales and ask your local community for donations (make sure you specify what you want, otherwise you will get everything!)  Other places to source objects both real and replica are; 

EBay - an online auction site where you can buy or sell new and used items

History in Evidence/ TTS Group - provides fantastic replicas and resources for object handling and resource boxes.  Tel: 0800 318686  Fax: 0800 137525.

Artefacts produce replica objects and costume.  Artefacts, 43 The Quarry, Cam, Dursley, Gloucestershire GL11 6JA      01453 547169 or 01945 587452

For makers of perspex boxes and cases, try Balcon Plastics, Unit 30, Second Drove Industrial Estate, Fengate, Peterborough.  PE1 5XA   01733 558232

For ready-made perspex articles try Glazer Plastics plc,  Dudden Hill lane, Neasden, LONDON NW10 1BJ        020 8452 6575

The British Educational Suppliers Association has an on-line directory of suppliers at    

General replicas can be found at 

Further information…

Glasgow Museums Resource Centre and the Open Museum is a new purpose-built museum storage facility and visitor centre in Glasgow's south side, and includes Open Museum Resources.  200 Woodhead Road, South Nitshill Industrial Estate, Glasgow, G53 7NN    Tel: 0141 276 9300   Fax: 0141 276 9305

Queensland Museum have a website on 'How to Make a Museum Loans Kit’

Reading Museums also have a really comprehensive loans box service, see

World Museum in Liverpool have a lot of activity boxes for use in the galleries, see

This resource was written with kind support and guidance from the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre and the Open Museum. 


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