Behind the Scenes at a Museum: Collections-Style

To start out this blog I thought I would talk a bit about what us little known, and in many cases little seen, collection staff members do at the Museum.

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Welcome to the inaugural post of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Blog. In this blog we hope to give all visitors a “behind the scenes” view of just what goes on at our Museum. This can span from new acquisitions that are brought into the Museums collections, to a new exhibit that might be in production, to some of the various special events the Museum puts on through its education and outreach programs.

To start out this blog I thought I would talk a bit about what us little known, and in many cases little seen, collection staff members do at the Museum. The collections at the Museum are managed by 6 staff members. The Museum itself has over 11,000 objects in its various collections, but only a small portion of the objects are on display at any time. In fact almost all museums who have collections keep most of them in specialized, and secured, storage areas. As the Museum Registrar, it is my main job to make sure that all objects owned by the Museum are stored properly and can be easily accessed if they are needed. At this point most visitors ask me about what happens to all of the objects that are left in storage. Are they left in a closed, darkened room, where no one is ever allowed to access them? (Visions of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark tend to come to mind at this point).

CollectionVault
Inside the vault at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki

Well this idea is partially true. All objects not currently on exhibit are kept in our secured collection areas. The collection areas are kept at a constant temperature (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% humidity, a great thing in the middle of hot Florida summers) and all lights are turned off when no one is working in the storage area to help prevent light damage to the objects. But rather than never being accessed, the objects are constantly monitored by collection staff members for further signs of deterioration. If any major problems are noted, the object is transferred to our conservation lab where the on-staff conservator begins to stabilize the object. Objects are also pulled for study and viewing by both researchers, who of course make an appointment to view the objects, and Tribal members. Collection staff are also constantly ensuring that the objects are stored correctly and that all important information about them is reflected in our electronic database. So rather than being the closed off, inaccessible, place most visitors might think of when they get a glimpse of our storage, the collection areas are in fact some of the most active “behind the scenes” areas of the Museum.

4 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes at a Museum: Collections-Style”

  1. Most museum only display two percent of their collection. So what you see in the galleries are the best of what they have. There are some interesting things hidden in storage, but not everything is so exciting.

    1. It is true that most museums only show a small portion of their collections. But as to what collections the museum decides to exhibit usually depends on the story lines being presented in the museum itself. Also it is very difficult for most museums to create exhibit space to display all of their collections. A good example of this is the Smithsonian, whose collections run in the millions. To create exhibit space to display all of those objects would create, quite literally, the world’s largest museum space. Another thing to think about is that the general practice of placing objects on exhibit is somewhat “hard” on the object. It is common practice in the museum industry to rotate objects on exhibit so that they can have a rest period for either conservation treatment or just to extend their condition status.

      1. I was wondering, although the museum is located a bit from the beach, is there a disaster management plan in place in case of a { dreaded } hurricane or another natural disaster.?By the way, thanks for the great blog, I am happy to see the museum putting forth the effort to engage the public in how much work actually goes on behind the scenes.

      2. Even though the Museum is located a good 70 miles or so from the closest coast we definately have a disaster plan. Hurricanes tend to jump across Florida quite often, case in point Hurricane Wilma back in 2005. That particular hurricane caused a decent amount of damage to both the roof of the main Museum building and to our outdoor boardwalk. Overall our plan consists of making sure our collections, both loaned and owned by the Museum, are placed in a secured storage space. Many of us in the Collections and Exhibits Divisions have also had basic training in artifact salvage procedures, so if a disaster would happen we would be able to save our collections.

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