Collections Management…the fun stuff.

This reading reminded me a lot of what Maegan Smith and Marianna P. Luquette spoke with us about during the Fall 2017 Public History Workshop. They pulled up PastPerfect on the projector and explained the importance of collections management. I have also dealt with this stuff during my graduate assistantship at the Hilliard University Art Museum and currently while working at the Center for Louisiana Studies.

Collections management is important for many reasons as the reading states. At the center we make sure that each collection given to us has the right documentation because without that the collection is pretty much useless. A collection given to the center, or anywhere, might be cool to look at privately, but if someone can’t use them to inform the public because the right papers were not signed then what good does that collection do? The reading explains the importance of having the right documentation on artifacts that you are borrowing, that is being given to your institute, or that your institute is loaning out, as well.

At the Hilliard I experienced preventive conservation, as mentioned in the reading, when one of the sculptures made out of gourds began showing signs of termite damage. According to the pictures taken when the collection arrived at the museum there were not little holes all over this sculpture until being in one of the galleries for a few weeks. The museum regularly sprays for insects so it was concluded that the bugs were brought over from the owners house. Once finding the holes the collections manager quarantined the sculpture in order to protect the rest of the collection and had an exterminator come out to spray the museum to prevent the spreading of the bugs any further.

Insuring that the collections is safe and preserved for future generations should be one of the most important parts within the museum and public history world.

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I am a graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette studying Public History.

6 thoughts on “Collections Management…the fun stuff.”

  1. Is there any other tasks that you have performed at the Hiliard that fall under “preventive care?” I have never really done anything related to preserving the overall collection at an institution that I volunteered or interned at and I fortunately haven’t had to deal with termites in the museum that I interned at over the summer. Although in talking to my supervisor termite infestation seems to have been a reoccurring issue for them throughout the years. The article emphasizes temperature and humidity control as two of the most important environmental conditions to monitor listed under preventive care. I would assume that the climate in South Louisiana would present more potential problems related to these than some other geographic locations in the country.


    1. As far as preventive care the Hilliard has climate controlled storage for the collections that aren’t on display, as well as, for the galleries. Everything from the amount of light shining on the pieces to the amount of dust that is accumulated while in the galleries are taken into consideration. And you are right, the humidity is amazing in South Louisiana. That is another obstacle that was dealt with on a day to day basis both at the Hilliard and at the Center for Louisiana Studies.


      1. Thanks! This answers one of my questions about the particulars of preventing damage in South Louisiana. Just curious, have you ever witnessed a piece that was damaged while in the possession of a museum and if so how was this dealt with?


      2. Yep. In my blog post I talk about a piece that had termites that weren’t noticed until a few weeks into the exhibition. Although the bugs were thought to be already present before coming into the museum it was still up to the collections manager to (freak out and then) deal with the piece. She had to refer back to her pictures and notes of the object during intake. She noticed that there were more holes now than there were during that time. She notified the owner (who was understanding since the piece was made out of gourds), and then quarantined it long enough for the bugs to die and not spread. Other times when pieces were considered broken or torn the same thing happened. The collections manager would refer back to pictures and notes to prove (hopefully) that it didn’t happen at the museum, and then of course contact the owner that hopefully wasn’t too pissed.

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  2. I enjoyed your blog. Your experience at the Hillard added to my understanding of the preventative conservation. It also made me consider the delicate situation that a museum steps into when displaying works of art that come from an artist’s home collection. The story about the termites was a perfect illustration of how a good relationship between artist/donor and museum can go very wrong. The importance of written procedure, protocol, and management policy is essential to protect the collection for the public’s future use.


    1. I agree, Liz. It was very important that the owners respected what the professionals at the museum had to say about the piece and the damage that had occurred. It justified the sections of the reading that dealt with insurance, documentation, photography of the article, and so much more.

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