The last presentation of the Outreach to Allies Session at the AIC Annual Meeting 2012 was an interactive session organized by the Collection Care Network. The leadership team of the network designed it as a way to identify priorities and projects for the network. Imagine nine groups of 7 to 9 people sitting around tables discussing the content of a nine different short videos. Each video presented a collection care challenge or question. The discussion aimed to suggest project the Collection Care Network could develop that would provide tools to overcome the challenge or answer the question. Now imagine people engaged in conversation. So engaged they didn’t get up for food when asked to do so! So engaged the had to be asked a second time!! Now you have a very small idea of what the session was like. This particular post gives you more details about the discussion at Table 9. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.
Table Nine: Collections Managers are not bountifully represented at AIC – we are in the minority. However, in my role as Collections Manager for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my responsibility is to put conservation theory into practice. I work closely with our departmental conservators. The Collection Care Network encourages all staff vested in collection care to get involved, so it was important that one of our discussion groups talked about working with allied collections professionals.
The video: The video presenter was Derya Golpinar, Assistant Registrar for Collections at the Rubin Museum in New York. In the video, Derya described her daily responsibilities, including maintaining proper environment, security, identifying potential condition issues with the collections, and identifying appropriate conservators and other experts to consult on overall preservation issues impacting the collections. It is a role that Derya described as liaising with all departments of the museum to create a coordinated preservation effort.
In her former position as Collections Manager at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, many of Derya’s responsibilities were the same, even though her title was different. This underlines the occasional lack of clarity of roles among collections staff. From this discussion of her role, the following questions were posed to meeting attendees:
- Collections Managers and Registrars apply much of the conservation ideals the field establishes. How can we support them as a professional in reaching these goals?
- How can titles affect professional standing for this group? Is there a benefit to having more standardized titles?
- In some cases conservators are the employers of collections managers, and in others, collections managers are the employers of conservators. What are the skill sets that we share? What information do museums need from us when establishing preservation staff roles?
- Much of what collections managers do is implement the ideals of preventive conservation, but they themselves do not have a professional organization, or clear pathways to entry level or mid-career training. What programs do you feel to be the best? What training would you identify for a collection manager at mid-career? In what areas should conservators and collection managers train together?
- How do we increase visibility, and therefore better support collection care?
The discussion: The topic – discussing collection staff – came as a surprise to Table 9’s participants. Interestingly, most of the participants at Table 9 were not institution-based conservators, but instead worked in private practice. They also usually were contracted to perform treatments, rather than examine and establish collection care policy and procedures. It was evident that traditional conservation training often does not address how conservators will work with others in preserving collections – one participant noted that she didn’t learn about collection managers until she was interning with a paper conservator. Another point made by Table 9 participants was that they often want to address collection care policy that may have led to damage they are contracted to repair, but that museums may not be receptive to this approach.
The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:
- Mid-career training for collection staff is often difficult to identify. Available training has often targeted conservators or is more entry level in nature. Needed training that would be useful to both conservators and collection mangers included mentorship opportunities, self-assessment, benchmarking, and fundraising.
- Create tools to assist the private practice conservator address collection care when creating a contract with an institution.
- All collection activities and staff need more visibility to generate support for collection care. Some ideas included public interaction when some collection care activities are taking place and web features that highlight behind the scenes work.
- Increased communication and visibility of collection staff and their work can also assist conservators in furthering a preservation message.
- AIC collaborations with organizations such as ICON, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists, the Society of Historical Archaeology, regional organizations, and others can only help us to better understand each other’s goals and develop methods to work together.
The contributors:Moderator – Becky Fifield; Note Taker – Christian Hernandez; Table Participants – Molly Gleeson, Amy Brost, Kathryn Oat Grey, Nicholas Dorman, Melanie Brussat, Felicity Devlin, Ann Shaftel