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.

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.