Museum Monday: Developing Staff Resources for Managing Collections

My colleague and friend Rob Waller of Protect Heritage Corp. recently sent me a book he collaborated on in 1996, Developing Staff Resources for Managing Collections. It examines institutional responsibilities to protect its collections through development of staff and how to create staff development plans. I specifically like its approach in analyzing the internal and external clients of institutional collection management staff, the services provided to those clients, and the mapping of priorities. It’s a smart way to think about the maelstrom of small actions collection management staff provide every day toward the preservation and access of collections.

I’m on the verge of leaving for Winterthur Museum for a research fellowship during which I will explore for part of the time, professional development of collections management and care professionals. Many collection managers work in institutions for curators or directors that can’t necessarily advise and mentor how that collection management professional should continue to develop their career. My project is to create a template for mentoring exchange between two or more institutions to provide collection management professionals with exposure to new ideas concerning managing change, fundraising, and new ideas in environmental monitoring, risk assessment, and collection care policy.

I realized that this book was published just before I entered grad school, my most absorbent time for Museum Studies literature, but I had never heard about it until now. Published by the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), it is one of a number of great documents by that organization that encourage collections care planning, rather than a piecemeal and sporadic approach espoused by many museums. Beyond bibliographies scattered on a number of sites, how do we protect access to great efforts in our field over the long term? To say “out-of-print” is no longer acceptable. One great project by SPNHC from 1992, Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions, will soon take on new life as a website called STASH: Storage Techniques for Art, Science, and History collections, a project of SPNHC and the American Institute for Conservation. Stay tuned for this important resource.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.

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