On the trail of cats, coats and carpets

When the National Museum of Scotland re-opened in July 2011, the Information Services Department started  a new service: the Info Zone. Situated next to the Balcony Café on Level 3 of the Grand Gallery, the Info Zone provides visitors with a place to find out more about our amazing objects and the many activities in the Museum.

The Info Zone at National Museum of Scotland
The Info Zone at National Museum of Scotland.

Upon first opening it was difficult to know how the Info Zone would be used. Who would be attracted to use it? What kind of questions would they ask? What kind of research tools would be useful?

Almost a year on and we are beginning to get answers to these questions. We have now welcomed over 35,000 visitors to the Info Zone and answered over 7,500 enquiries.

Popular questions include ‘Has the building always been a museum?’ and ‘What paint colour has been used on the walls?’ The answers are ‘Yes’ and ‘Farrow and Ball, Light Blue’ in case you have pondered the same thing!

Many people have asked us about specific objects that the Museum might house, or subjects that we might know about. Memorable examples have been:

  • Can you find my Afghan coat; it was donated by my mother?
  • Could you tell me more about a horse-drawn fire engine from my family estate in Dumfriesshire? I think it may have been donated to the Museum.
  •  Where can I find out more about the polar bear skull found at Inchnadamph?
  •  I’m looking for a mummified cat that was found inside a wall on the Royal Mile.
  •  I’d love to find a tapeworm I saw here as a child; it had a lovely wee face!
  •  My forefather worked for the Fire Brigade in Edinburgh and donated a model fire engine to the Museum do you think it’s still here?
Model fire engine donated to the Museum.

For questions like this we are very grateful to the Museum’s curators, who are always willing to help locate a mystery object or provide information on their specialist subjects.

Other questions we admit we cannot answer, but they certainly bring a smile to our face. We have been asked for directions to our collection of flying carpets and griffins’ nests among others.

Our collection of books has proven to be popular with a large number of adults and children, and the themed trails around the galleries that can be collected from the Info Zone are a big hit.  The online portal provides visitors with information about Museum objects as well as entertainment through games, helping younger visitors (or young at heart!) to discover more about the background of the Museum collections.

We are now looking to the future and planning what improvements and adjustments can be made to make the Info Zone the best possible resource for all of our visitors.

The next time you are visiting the National Museum of Scotland, why not drop by and discover even more about the Museum and what it holds? We’d love to see you!

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