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Organizing Your Museum: Highlights from the 2016 Western Museums Association Annual Conference

January 5, 2017

By Kathleen Daly

With the beginning of the new year, it’s a good time to begin to plan some cleaning and organization goals. This year’s Western Museums Association (WMA) Annual Conference provided a lot of great information to help with this very thing.

gloves_0437One useful tip gleaned from Find/Create/Organize: An Archive for a Small Museum, was a simple “how-to” for removing photographs from old, adhesive-based (sticky) photo albums. If you have ever attempted this, you know how dangerous and scary this can be. According to the presenters, try using unwaxed, unflavored dental floss to carefully tease the photo off the sheet. This method may not always work, so remember to work slowly and cautiously. If there is any indication of damage to the object, stop.

This session also provided a valuable outline for how to organize an archives collection. (Note: although specifically for archives, the same steps can help you through most collections organization projects.) First, define your collection. This may be done by following your collections management policy, or through a clear definition of the project at hand. Secondly, identify what is actually yours. Do you have paperwork to match up to the objects/material? Was ownership clearly transferred? Next, determine where your centralized collections space will be. In other words, where are these things going to be stored when the project is complete? It is important to prepare this space so that as soon as pieces have been processed, they can be put away. Before starting, identify your resources. This could be the National Park Service, Connecting to Collections, another, or, since we are so lucky to have this option available in Oregon, MentorCorps. (Remember, MentorCorps utilizes trained museum, library and preservation professionals from throughout the state to assist with a number of institutional needs. Plus, it is FREE!) Then lastly, begin your inventory and rehousing project.

Again:                                                      Kam Wa Chang Heritage Program Grant 2011 Processing Archives.JPG

  1. Define the collection.
  2. Identify what is “yours”.
  3. Create a centralized space for collections.
  4. Identify resources (MentorCorps, Connecting to Collections, Oregon Museums Association, Canadian Conservation Institute, the National Park Service, etc.).
  5. Inventory and rehouse.

Whatever project you decide to undertake, be realistic about your outcomes, expectations and goals. And, as I always say, do what is within your means! You are not expected to know everything, nor can you. Focus on a strategy and do what works best for you. Also, think outside of the box. Perhaps a local university can use you as a project for one of their preservation programs. Or, maybe there is a local venue willing to share display space (to help market your facility) or temporary storage space?

If questions, frustration or obstacles occur during upcoming projects, remember to take a step back to re-focus on the task at hand. It is all too easy to become overwhelmed or find yourself in the weeds. You are only one person and can only do so much. Remember this. Most importantly, there is a community of individuals (museum professionals or not) who are ready and able to help.

Kathleen Daly received Oregon Heritage’s Elisabeth Walton Potter Heritage Preservation Training Scholarship to attend the 2016 Western Museums Association Annual Conference. This scholarship provides financial assistance for Oregon residents to attend a preservation-related conference, workshop, or training in the United States. Eligible travel expenses include registration fees, transportation, lodging, and meals. Scholarships are offered to those actively involved in local preservation efforts and who demonstrate how attendance at a preservation-related conference, workshop, or training will help meet the preservation needs of their local community. Scholarships are competitive and offered twice per year. 

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