Many people in and out of the museum world wonder what a Collections Manager really does on a day-to-day basis. My job description is long and filled with specific language targeted for people knowledgeable in Collections Management. I receive questions ranging from “So you handle the money right?” to “What is there to manage?” As the staff of Stratford Hall recently completed the restoration and reinterpretation of the Southwest Outbuilding and Northwest Stair Passage, this is a prime opportunity to explain what my job entails at a Historic House Museum.
The Southwest Outbuilding, with its reinterpretation of a workshop and servants chamber, has a mixture of both period correct reproductions as well as pieces from Stratford Hall’s decorative arts collection. The workshop, filled with close to one hundred tools from the M-WTCA and other donors, needed to be individually cataloged, their condition evaluated, photographed, measured, and labeled with accession numbers using museum appropriate materials. Once this information is collected, I input the data into our collections management database, Rediscovery, as well as create and maintain paper files with photographs, invoices, and other pertinent information regarding the objects. Even objects that are considered non-accessioned (which means they are not part of the permanent collection) receive the same treatment as accessioned objects. They are labeled, cataloged, photographed, and measured so that future employees at Stratford Hall do not pick up a pillowcase on the newly crafted field bed and wonder if it is part of the permanent collection. Even the hands-on activity was numbered to prevent future confusion!
This information assists members of the Stratford Hall Collections department with one of their most important tasks in managing the collection – inventory. Images, measurements, and accurate locations for pieces in the collections enable us to know where everything is on the estate. An accurate inventory helps with insurance values, donor and lender communications, and relationships with other departments within our organization.
Even though the areas are now open to the public, there is still much to do, including securing loan pieces to be displayed in these areas (which include working with insurance companies and fine art shippers), monitoring the building environment, adjusting cleaning routines, inventorying the pieces from the Architectural collection used in the Northwest Stair Passage, and other tasks as they arise. So please, come and see the reinterpreted spaces at Stratford Hall – who knows, you might see me in the back of a room – crawling on the floor – inventorying!