Bolton Library and Museum Services

Interpretation Policy

Purpose of This Policy

This Interpretation Policy is a key policy document that will aid the development of our strategic aims into a working programme. It is intended to give structure and focus to our forward planning, especially in defining and defending the continued use and development of our collections. 


Bolton Council has been collecting objects and records of historic, scientific and cultural interest since 1852. By the turn of the 21st Century, these collections had been used as a much-valued educational and cultural resource by the town for more than 150 years, but serious financial and organisational challenges within local government now prompted a complete review of the way in which they were managed. Although a ground-breaking economic survey in 2005 demonstrated that local Council Tax payers placed a high value on the continued existence of a museum, the sustainability of the traditional service was increasingly in question. In particular, the long-term storage of a continually growing collection was identified as a major issue and a Member scrutiny panel recommended a rationalisation of the collection to reduce its size and improve its care and use. 

The result was a new vision for a combined museum and archive service that focused more clearly upon Bolton. The purpose of this was to give strategic direction for both rationalising the existing collection and developing future collecting. In addition, it was conceived as a method of demonstrating more clearly our role as an accessible, relevant and effective public service to Council Tax payers and other parts of Bolton Council. Only by consolidating and improving this public profile will the long-term future of Bolton Museum & Archive Service be made more secure.

Relevance to Bolton Council Strategic Aims

This policy has been designed to ensure that key museum activities deliver on as many Bolton Council strategic aims as possible which are laid out in the Bolton Vision Community Strategy, which states the Council’s main aims for the next three years:

Bolton Vision Partnership Community Strategy.

The commitment to secure economic prosperity and narrowing  the gap are central to the Vision’s Community Strategy along with six priority themes

• Prosperous

• Health and Well-being

• Children and Young People

• Clean and green

• Safe

• Stronger

Interpretation Guidelines

  1. The new museum vision is based upon an understanding that the unique asset of the museum is its collections. Although parts of the collections, especially archive material and aquarium stock, have a significant (if not primary) function as research resources, the vision asserts that all elements of the collections should also be used to deliver public interpretations.  To this end, the Interpretation Policy will be used to guide the Development Policy of Bolton Library and Museum Service. Following the idea of the ‘dynamic collection’, we wish to use this interpretative framework as a guide in making positive decisions about both new additions to our collections and disposals i.e. what objects would help us to better tell the stories we wish to tell, and what do we not need.
  1. Although we wish to deliver accessible and entertaining services to our users, the Service also has a responsibility to deliver clear learning outcomes that extend beyond simple nostalgia. Our fundamental function is to help our local users to understand more about themselves and encourage a positive engagement with their social and natural environment. These learning outcomes can be summarised as:
  • Development of knowledge
  • Sparking of inspiration
  • Fostering of local pride 
  1. In working to achieve these outcomes, we will also help to develop a positive external identity for Bolton.
  1. The Interpretation Policy lays out the basic storylines that will enable us to achieve the stated learning outcomes. It is intended to provide a broad strategic direction when it comes to planning our activities at all three sites for which the Service is responsible (Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Archive, Hall i’ th’ Wood, and Smithills Hall), plus the website and community outreach services. The Interpretation Policy should also be used in conjunction with the Access & Audience Development Policy. The former guides what stories we wish to tell; the latter identifies the audiences we wish to tell the stories to and the methods we will employ to reach them, including exhibitions and permanent displays. Our planning meetings will aim to make sure that the two policies are matched up.
  1. Although school activities offered by the museum are necessarily shaped by National Curriculum guidelines, it is intended that this Policy should also be taken into consideration when planning our services for schools.
  1. The Interpretation Policy acknowledges that any real understanding of the people and environment of Bolton can only be achieved by establishing these within broader regional, national and global contexts. To ignore such contexts would be to condemn our interpretations to narrow parochialism.
  1. Bolton Library and Museum Service will not base public interpretations purely upon the organisation of academic typologies, unless to do so would contribute to one or more of the Interpretation Storylines below.
  1. Although the Interpretation Policy will guide our self-generated activities, it is not intended to be entirely proscriptive. The Service reserves the right to host other events and exhibitions which may not directly fit the interpretation storylines below, where such activities are judged to provide important cultural experiences for our local communities. 
  1. The policy should be reviewed at five-year intervals.

Interpretation Storylines

The following questions, which are not in any order of significance, summarise the key storylines that as a service we wish to tell. Many of these questions overlap and are intended simply as basic starting points. All new displays, exhibitions, major events and collection developments must offer an insight into one or more of these guideline questions:

  1. How have the lives of people in Bolton changed, with special reference to domestic life, working life and use of leisure time.
  1. Who makes up today’s Bolton community and how has this changed?
  1. How have relationships between people in Bolton changed, with special reference to class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and age. 
  1. How do the people of Bolton see themselves and how do others see them?
  1. How and why has Bolton’s economy changed and what legacies has this left?
  1. How is Bolton’s history reflected in the built environment?
  1. How has the geography in and around Bolton changed over time (on both a geological and human time scale). How has local geography both shaped and been affected by human activity? How is the environment continuing to change?
  1. What flora and fauna can be found in the Bolton area? How have these changed over time and why? How do these examples compare with those found in other environments found elsewhere and why?
  1. How have people’s attitudes changed to their environment (both natural and built) and their place within it?
  1. What artistic works have been produced by artists with a connection to Bolton?
  1. What art work reflects the experience of being brought up and/or living in Bolton both now and in the past?
  1. What art and other collections were gathered by local collectors (including the council) over the previous 150 years. Why did they collect such material and what does this say about their aspirations for themselves and Bolton?
  1. How were the lives of ancient people, particularly from Egypt, both similar and very different to our own and what insight does this offer in understanding ourselves?