The annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History always covers a diverse range of topics, but collections management is certain to be among this. This year in St. Paul was no exception and three very different projects caught my attention.
In a poster session, Tamara Hemmerlein shared Deteriora and the Agents of Destruction, a publication of the Indiana Historical Society. Presented as a “living graphic novel,” it informs readers about the various ways to preserve collections from light damage, pests, dust, and mishandling (represented by such villians as Ultra Violet, Mass-O-Frass, and Miss Handler) and includes links for additional information. I’m not sure of the intended audience, but it’s a lot more fun than reading a collections management policy.
Chatting in the hallway, Trevor Jones of the Kentucky Historical Society clued me in on the Active Collections Manifesto and slipped me a dramatic green postcard with the urgent message, “Stop the Collections Avalanche.” Seems that he and Rainey Tisdale want museums to get away from the “collect and preserve” mode of management and generate a new approach to collections that is more effective and sustainable. Trevor and Rainey “believe collections must either advance the mission or they must go.” I can hear some museums responding, “Wait a minute! Collecting is our mission.” They’re proposing some crazy ideas to move their ideas along, such as a “usefulness meter” for artifacts and a roving “deaccession special ops team” to review and approve decisions. If you’re overwhelmed by collections, you’ll want to follow this project.
Testing the waters with an expanded definition of collections is the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At a session they explained their rationale for including buildings and landscapes along with usual furniture and paintings in their collections management policy, and then used Cliveden as a case study. I like the concept in general, but they admitted that the details are unclear and ideas untested so I’m hesitant to endorse their approach at the moment. If this is something you’re exploring, you can learn more in the latest issue of History News and Forum Journal. We’ll definitely be discussing this topic with my graduate students at George Washington University.