AAHC Forum: So I’ve Got this Thing…Resources for Collections Care

By Tracey J. Berg-Fulton
Registrar, August Wilson Center for African American Culture

At the recent IMLS AAHC convening, there were a few recurring themes:

  • We love what we do, and who we do it for.
  • There aren’t enough hours in the day, and we all need a doppelganger.
  • We’ve got a lot of stuff and need help to care for it and show it off.

While I’m of absolutely no help on points 1 and 2, number 3 is, thankfully, well resourced in both print and web. Newer and smaller institutions, and those in areas without a high museum concentration, may face challenges in collections management and an overwhelming ratio of stuff to staff. But fear not! Help is at hand.

There are a number of resources for asking questions, finding answers, and sharing knowledge.

Books

All of these books would make a valuable edition to an institution’s bookshelf. They provide guidance on registration basics, forms, and policy formation. While fairly expensive to purchase outright, AAM members receive bookstore discount, and secondhand copies can also be found.

1) Museum Registration Methods, 5th Edition

2) A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections

3) Things Great and Small

Websites

1) The American Alliance of Museums
AAM has online seminars available on a sliding scale based on membership level, as well as professional resources that are available to members only and resources that are available to everyone, such as a guide to best practices for collections stewardship and a guidance document on creating a collections management policy.

2) The Preparation, Art handling, and Collections Care Information Network
PACCIN (cleverly pronounced Packin’) offers an active forum for display issues and articles on handling and crating conundrums. And you can subscribe to their ListServ* for additional information. PACCIN is also a great place to post job descriptions for preparators and technicians.

3) Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums
The RC-AAM offers a form and policy swap, a membership database, and an active ListServ* to assist in identifying objects, talking through numbering issues, and addressing a number of problems.

4) CollectionsLink UK
CollectionsLink is a subdivision of the CollectionsTrust, a British charity that promotes the practice of collections management in museums and libraries. They have a handy tool for evaluating collections databases that includes some of the systems that are less common in the U.S.

5) Heritage Preservation
Heritage Preservation offers great guidelines on preserving heritage materials. They have  free downloads and they publish the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel for collections. The National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) issues a free app version of the wheel for download.

6) The National Parks Service Museum Management Program
The NPS provides a wonderful series of free leaflets called Conserv-O-Grams that address everything from water damage to pest issues. They also have their Museum Handbook available online for reference and modeling.

Personal Support
Everybody needs somebody, sometimes. Here are some personal supports that can help.

1) The Alliance for Response
The Alliance for Response operates local forums in several cities and regions. AFR forums frequently conduct disaster-planning sessions, organize resource banks for disaster response, and assist other local organizations in times in crisis. If there isn’t one in your city, consider joining a regional one or organizing one!

2) The Reinforcement Crew/White Gloves Gang
These are events when registrars, conservators, and collections professionals get together to help institutions tackle projects that they don’t normally have the manpower to address. The Regional Committees of the AAM (RC-AAM) put together events like this, usually in conjunction with their annual conference, and the RC-AAM puts together an event in conjunction with the AAM Annual Meeting each year. It’s helpful to let the regional chairs for these committees (likely under registrars or programming) know your specific needs and projects to see if they can be of assistance.

3) National and Regional Committees and Associations
Membership has its benefits. Being a member of AAAM, AAM, AASLH, CAA can be a tremendous benefit for you and your organization. Consider also joining a regional committee or affinity group, as well, and volunteering to hold an office. Active participation in governing bodies ensures that institutions of all sizes are heard and that particular needs are being addressed.

4) Your Neighbors
Do you know who your counterpart is in the museum down the street? If not, find out and invite them to coffee. Your local colleagues are great resources for what shipper to use, who the local contractors are, and which up-and-coming intern needs their first job. Several cities have established the Twitter hashtag of #drinkingaboutmuseums to organize casual happy hours where professionals can meet, relax, and know each other. Forming a community in this way can come in handy when one needs a favor, has an emergency, or needs a spot of advice.

Do you have a favorite collections resource? Share it in the comments!

*I highly recommend not using your work e-mail for receiving ListServ messages. The message volume can be incredibly high and can really bog down internal e-mail systems. I suggest a free webmail account for this.

About the Author:
Tracey Berg-Fulton is registrar and collections specialist at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, a position created by the IMLS AAHC grant. Prior to AWC, Tracey worked as a contract registrar in the greater Pittsburgh area. She currently acts as chair of the website committee for the RC-AAM. Tracey graduated from Otterbein University, Ohio, with a BA in Art and Journalism, and received her M.Litt. in Decorative Arts and Design History from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. She tweets in a personal capacity as @BergFulton.

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