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Subject: Visible storage

Visible storage

From: Valerie Tomlinson <vtomlinson<-at->
Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Alicia M. Bjornson <ambjornson<-at->me<.>com> writes

>...  The gist of the
>story is can you turn storage into an exhibition.  Really an
>important discussion for institutions whose bulk of their collection
>are not seen.  I'd be curious to see how insurance and risk
>management view this shift of ideology.  When storage is visible do
>we compromise security or is security improved because objects are

I just thought I'd put in my 2 cents worth too.  I have worked at
several other museums that have tried visible storage, and my
present museum is experimenting with putting some areas into visible
storage.  Vivian brings up several valid points: Visible storage is
not so much visible storage as compact display; It takes up more
room than true storage; it takes significant conservation resources
in most cases; everything is exposed to more light and the ensuing
degradation from it...

One of the museums I have worked at put many person-years of
conservation work into dusting wood and polishing silver that was
perfectly stable, but needed to be made publicly presentable for
visible storage, at the expense of treating unstable objects.  The
unstable objects were considered too time consuming to treat fully,
and would be less displayable looking afterwards because of their
initial poor condition, so they were not treated, but packed away
carefully.  The intense focus on dusting everything to get it in
displayable condition meant it was possible that original residues
were removed, eliminating historical evidence.

Most museums I have heard about have not found that visible storage
has eased space issues.

Many people argue about getting collections out of storage and
visible to the public, rather than hiding them away.  This attitude
tends to be a bit misguided.  In terms of visitor experience, a
whole pile of stuff on display tends to be a bit overwhelming.  It
is difficult to focus on any part of it, and there's usually little
information on what you are looking at, so you breeze past without
looking at anything specific.  That has been my own experience when
looking at visible storage in museums.  Thinking back, I couldn't
tell you what was on display in one of them, other than it was a
bunch of silverware, metal objects and ceramics from the Gold Rush.
This kind of visitor experience is less satisfying than looking at a
few things, actually focussing on them, and learning in detail about
who they are associated with, what they were used for, and/or the
period in history and the events around it that the object is from.

Another point of this argument is that, as one colleague has said,
"museums are not just emporiums of entertainment".  Not all objects
in a museum are things you want to display.  Some are very
uninteresting and/or ordinary looking, some are down right ugly, and
some are very sensitive and fragile, and not suited to display.
However, these objects can be hugely important historically, or have
great research potential (think of a vial of gnats in the wet
collection of a natural history museum).  They should be kept in a
museum and made available to researchers, but they shouldn't have
the extra resources spent on putting them on display.  Light
sensitive objects should never be put in permanent display
conditions.  They should at most have short periods of display when
relevant, and be protected in the dark the rest of the time.  Some
items should be protected as much as possible and only researchers
have access to them to document and research on rare occasions, like
with some rare cave paintings.

All of these arguments mean that visible storage needs to be
carefully considered, and the gain in visitor experience needs to be
weighed carefully against the impact on the collection and the
impact on resources.  It shouldn't be thought of as efficient use of

Valerie Tomlinson
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Tamaki Paenga Hira
The Domain
Private Bag 92018
Victoria Street West
Auckland 1142
New Zealand
+64 9 306 7070ext7304

                  Conservation DistList Instance 29:37
                 Distributed: Sunday, February 14, 2016
                       Message Id: cdl-29-37-004
Received on Tuesday, 9 February, 2016

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