Contributors: Kathleen King
The field of collections management administers the organization, documentation, and protection—both physical and legal—of museum collections in regards to their care, display, storage, and accessibility. Coupled with collections management is registration: many institutions will have a registrar on staff, if not both a registrar and collections manager. If such a delineation exists, a registrar would generally take on the responsibilities of collections recordkeeping, database management, and carrying out the legal and logistical paperwork involved in object accessioning, deaccessioning, loans, and exhibitions.
Depending on the size and staffing structure of an institution, collections management staff may also be responsible for preventive conservation initiatives such as integrated pest management and environmental monitoring. Even if an institution has a conservation department that manages these programs, it is essential that collections management staff have a thorough understanding of the agents of deterioration that threaten museum collections so that they can more safely approach their daily tasks and projects and communicate such issues effectively with other departments.
Due to the nature of collections management duties, such positions require frequent communication and collaboration with conservation, curatorial, exhibition, and facilities departments to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of museum collections. Therefore, this field generally requires a combination of education and experience in museum studies, art history, conservation, general administration, object handling, problem solving, effective communication, and keen organizational abilities.
C2CC is an online community for museum collections management professionals. It is a place to participate in frequent (and free) webinars for a wide assortment of collection-related topics. Participants can also take part in online discussion forums and find scenario- and material-specific resources for a variety of collections issues.
The CCAHA’s “Guides and Fact Sheets” webpage provides links to various resources related to collections care and management, including webinars, glossaries, guidelines, charts, forms, etc.
The National Park Service’s “Museum Handbook” is a thorough compendium of policies and procedures that guide its museum collections management staff. Although it is specific to NPS, the majority of the information can be used or adapted to any museum’s specific needs. The entire handbook is accessible online and downloadable as searchable PDFs.
STASH deals specifically with collections storage topics from the micro-level (custom mounts, boxes, creating microclimates) to the macro-level (storage cabinets, storage room organization, visible storage, environmental controls, transport safety).
A resource specifically aimed at collections professionals that manage contemporary media artwork (those that involve electronic and/or digital components), Tate’s “Matters in Media Art” website provides a solid overview of policies and procedures that should guide the acquisition, documentation, loaning, and preservation of such collections.
Buck, R. A., and J. A. Gilmore (eds.). MRM5: Museum Registration Methods. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: American Association of Museums Press, 2010.
MRM5 is one of the primary printed resources for collections management and museum registration. It covers every aspect of the field, including the creation and evolution of the profession, best practices, policies, procedures, example forms, database management, and discussions of legal and ethical issues pertaining to collections management.
Malaro, M. C., and I. DeAngelis. A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections. 3rd ed. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2012.
Another primary printed resource for collections management and museum registration, this book delves more deeply into the legal and ethical issues that collections managers and registrars will no doubt deal with at some point in their careers. This book covers topics regarding the role of the board of trustees/directors, loan agreements, insurance and tax-related issues, appraisals and authentication, and ownership issues among others, and includes numerous real-world legal case studies to support each discussion topic.
ARCS is the product of AAM’s former Registrars Committee (RC-AAM) and is the foremost association and resource geared specifically toward museum collections management professionals. This association holds a biennial conference, maintains a mentorship program, and provides numerous professional development resources including topic-specific workshops, webinars, and a job board on its website. Annual membership fee required.
CSAAM (formerly RC-AAM) is the subset of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) devoted specifically to collections stewardship, and is tied closely to the aforementioned ARCS. On this website, you can view example forms, explore resources for archival supplies and materials, and join the Collections Stewardship listserv (CSAAM Listserv, formerly the RC-AAM Listserv). Access to this website and subscription to the Listserv are free, but AAM membership requires an annual fee.