Collections FAQs

Everything you might want to know about our collections! Please check our helpful answers before getting in touch with us.

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Q. How many objects do you have in your collections?

There are over 1 million objects in our collections. These sit broadly under the three main subject areas of Art, History and Natural Science and represent the stories we tell across our three sites: the Ulster Museum, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum and Ulster American Folk Park.

Q. How do you decide what to collect?

Our collecting activity is guided by a Collections Development Policy which is reviewed at least every five years. Our current Collections Development Policy can be found here hyperlink. Given that we have limited storage and limited resources we have to make a strong case for any object we collect, and we have to be able to manage and care for it effectively and ensure that it is of value to the public.

Q. Why aren’t all the objects on display?

As with most museums, only around 8% of our collection will be on display at any given time, though this is constantly changing due to a rolling programme of interpretation. All museums are effectively archives of objects, and have larger collections than they have space for display. We do not collect objects for the sole purpose of putting them on display, and many of our collections are purely record and research collections, for both current and future generations. Some objects cannot be displayed at all, or only displayed for a short time, for conservation reasons. Displays are only one method of making our collections accessible, and so we support research into our collections and proactively widen access to them through a range of different means, including loans, temporary exhibitions, touring exhibitions, outreach and digital initiatives.

Q. What happens to the objects that aren’t on display?

Most objects, when not on public display, are maintained in one of our museum stores. In the stores, the collections are preserved for longer by reducing risks that could cause decay. We control the environment and keep them safe and secure. Our Collections Care team is responsible for storage, conservation, and moving the collections.

Locations and other key information about the objects, such as descriptions and details of when and how they came into the collections, are recorded by curators and documenters.

Q. Do you have a full collections database I can search?

Not all our collections are available on our online collections database, but we are adding to it all the time. Try a range of searches, such as object type or artist name, to see if you can find what you are looking for, or browse by suggested themes. Explore our online collections.

Q. What do I do if I want to donate an object to the museums?

Check our Collections Development Policy first, to see if your object is referenced. Then contact the relevant department using the e-mail addresses below:

Art, including paintings, works on paper, sculpture, jewellery, costume, textiles, ceramics, glass – art@nmni.com

History, including archaeology, world cultures, photographs, maps, folk life, emigration, transport, contemporary history – history@nmni.com

Natural science, including rocks, fossils, minerals, taxidermy – naturalscience@nmni.com

Alternatively, call 0845 608 0000 to talk to a member of staff.

Please do not bring objects to the museums without first making an appointment with a curator.

Q. What do I do if I have an enquiry about the collections?

Not all our curators are based at their relevant museum site, so please do not bring enquiries to them without first making an appointment. Please use the contact details given above.

Q. Can I see collections that are in storage?

You may be able to see collections in storage for research purposes, but you will need to discuss this with the relevant curator and make an appointment.

Q. Can I borrow an object from the collections?

We make our collections accessible to the public through loans to other museums and cultural organisations.  Please see the loans section of our website for information on borrowing from the collections.

Q. Can you give me a valuation for one of my own objects?

We’re afraid that as an accredited museum we cannot offer valuations for your objects. Try contacting a local auction house.

Q. Can you repair one of my own objects?

At present our conservation team can only carry out work on our own collections. To find a conservator please check with the Institute of Conservation https://icon.org.uk/ 

or Institute of Conservator Restorers in Ireland  https://www.icriconservation.ie/

Q. Can I take photographs of objects on display?

We encourage personal photography of objects on display but would prefer if you did not use a flash. Clear instructions will be given if you are unable to take a photograph of an object for a particular reason e.g., it is not our object and has copyright restrictions associated with it, or if you cannot use a flash. Please ask one of our Visitor Services staff if you have any questions.

Q. What if I want a high-quality photograph for publication?

Please contact our Picture Library executive on Tel +44 (0)28 9039 5105.