Anyone who stops by and reads through this blog will realise that in amongst some fascinating arcane stuff about old leaflets and carriages from Weardale, there is also the opportunity to debate the direction of a national museum. And anyone who has studied the history of this museum from the early years of the 20th century will realise that plenty of views have been expressed.
It is important therefore for me to express a bottom line as the museum heads towards a new director.
Here it is: Is the north of England, the home of the railway, worth more than a pack em in/stack them high museum product for surely that has to be the result of being both the most visited museum outside London and at the same time the National museum that achieves the most visitors for the least per head spend? That is my bottom line and one of several simple tests of what I claim is this: stand on the Search Engine balcony and ask yourself when was the last time the tops of the engines on show were cleaned? Does the museum have a cherry picker with a timetable for cleaning exhibits? Likewise look at the image at http://www.nrm.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/2009/museumseeksstories.asp . Does that do justice to the museum's work?
It might appear we are picking some form of fight. Funnily enough, that is far from our character. I have been in the museum several times this summer and found it heaving. It is a free museum, one that you can spend all day, or just 20 minutes. I have no doubts that by a number of quite genuine measures, it is a great success. And it has established through the Institute of Railway Studies an organ for academic engagement, clearly a special interest of mine. Even so, the variety of publicised controversies (like 4472), the bottom line financial balance as I articulate it above and the opportunities that the arrival of a new director implies surely mean that interested individuals should have a public forum to talk about these issues and I invite readers to do that.