Chap 10: ‘Collection care and management: History, theory and practice,’ by John E. Simmons

For most people, collections are synonomous with museums, but collection management has not received the attention it deserves in museum studies texts. In my new edited collection Museum Practice there is a chapter on collection management and care, still a core area of museum work but one which has had very little critical analysis apart from manuals and guides to the specifics of registrations methods etc. Experienced professional and academic John E. Simmons addresses this gap in the book by providing a broad and detailed description of the field, covering most aspects of its “History, theory and practice.”

Collection management encompasses the “acquisition, accession, registration, cataloguing, care, use…and disposal of objects and specimens and their associated information, as well as collection security, conservation, storage environments, and access.” Though museum collections have been around a long time, collection management has developed quite recently, in response to the need to cater for “collection-based information” on a much wider and more complex scale than previously. He writes that museum theory and university-based training is transforming the profession “from a focus on discipline-specific subject matter to a knowledge base grounded in museological theory and functions-based operations.” After a full survey of current best practice in this area, Simmons concludes by examining a series of key problems for the future of collection management: growing collections (and shrinking budgets), offsite storage, access, and digital information.

IMG_0074 011edited (2)

Figure: Julianne Snider, Assistant Director of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at The Pennsylvania State University, checking a catalog number in an electronic database.

John E. Simmons (B.S., Systematics & Ecology; M.A., Museum Studies) began his career as a zoo keeper before becoming collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences and later at the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, where he also served as Director of the Museum Studies Program until 2007.  Simmons’ publications include Things Great and Small: Collections Management Policies (2006), Cuidado, Manejo y Conservación de las Colecciones Biológicas (2005, with Y. Muñoz-Saba); Foundations of Museum Studies: Evolving Systems of Knowledge (2014, with Kiersten F. Latham), and Fluid Preservation: A Comprehensive Reference (2014). Simmons currently is a museum consultant and teaches museum studies at Juniata College, Kent State University, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the Northern States Conservation Center, and serves as Adjunct Curator of Collections at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at Penn State University.


About mccartco

Conal McCarthy has published widely on the historical and contemporary Māori engagement with museums, including the books Exhibiting Māori: A history of colonial cultures of display (2007) and Museums and Māori: Heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice (2011). His new book is Museum practice (2015) in the series International Handbooks of Museum Studies. This edited collection includes chapters on many aspects of current professional work from audience, leadership and policy to collections, exhibitions and conservation. His next book co-authored with Bronwyn Labrum of Massey University will explore history of/in museums.
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