Behind the Scenes: Collection Management in the Small

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by Brooke Mundy

Many people go to a museum and view interesting treasures of history or beautiful works of art, but most of the time have to maintain a three-foot distance from the object or are separated by a glass case. These degrees of separation increase a curiosity as to what happens when the object is not on display. This intrigue of what happens “behind the scenes” is what led me to want to become a Collections Manager. I wanted to be the person who got to help set up the objects viewed in the museum and help care for them, the person who got to handle the objects that people from all over come to see. Well, I have that job now and truly enjoy it, but it also comes with a great deal of responsibility.

At times collection management can be a daunting task for any museum, large or small. Collection management is a sensitive area of the museum since it manages the museum’s special objects. To protect the items in the collection effectively requires great attention to detail and keeping in mind the museum as a whole. The Collection Manager or Registrar often times has to consider legal parameters when it comes to certain objects and what can be done with them, environmental conditions, registration, and inventory.  They also have to consider security, pest management, and facility management in their care plans and daily operations. At the C.H. Nash museum I work as the Collections Manager and work closely with our Director and Collections Committee, but for the most part am on my own when working on daily tasks. I occasionally have interns and regular volunteers who help me, but they are a select group since there is a certain degree of training needed when working with collections. Working in an older small museum and an archaeology museum, I am often lifting heavy boxes, fighting dust and pests, sifting through lots of paper work, and climbing ladders. My behind the scenes work is not always as glamorous as people think it may be, but is always rewarding and includes the hands on aspect that I enjoy.

Working mostly solo and in a small museum does come with benefits. Since I am also a graduate student and still learning what is entailed in being a museum professional, my projects have given me an immense amount of experience. In the ten months I have worked at the C.H. Nash museum I have created certain needed forms and policies for the museum, moved our library collection to a new part of the museum, rearranged our collection spaces to be more accessible, organized several deaccessions and loans, formulated a Facility Management Committee, Pest Management Plan, and currently working on the early stages of inputting artifact information into our database. Since we are a small staff I also work with other areas of the museum such as exhibit development, special events, daily operations, Social Media (thus you have this blog), and programming. Through my position at the museum I have been able to attend several museum conferences. I was awarded a partial scholarship to attend a Legal Issues in Museums conference in Chicago and was able to go to the American Alliance of Museums Conference in Baltimore. Especially as a student, these conferences were great opportunities for me to learn more about collection management and network with other Collection Managers and Registrars. While my projects are mostly on my own I am not alone. There is a strong team effort that comes with working in a small museum. Everyone chips in to the best of their ability. If you are not a team player then you will probably not like working in a small museum or really any museum. Museums function on collaboration because every part is connected in some way.

Working behind the scenes is a lot of fun and always interesting. Next time you are at the museum consider the things sometimes taken for granted such as the facility and how objects are placed or used in the facility because one or likely several people had a hand in everything you see at the museum.

Brooke Mundy is the Collections Manager at the C.H. Nash Museum and a graduate student in Art History and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.  Brooke can be reached at cmundy(at)memphis.edu

About C.H. Nash Museum

The mission of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a division of the University of Memphis, is to protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the Public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities on the landscape’s past and present Native American and traditional cultures.
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