Sometimes the importance of storage and its scale is news to the public, architects, officials, and newcomers to the museum.
Getting to know museum practice principles alerts volunteers and new museum staff to the broader needs of collections. Museum Development Officers (MDO) talk with groups about this aspect of museum work and offer support and information. National Services Te Paerangi (NSTP) also offers workshops about preventive conservation. Considering how to store collections and their future requirements is an important part of any project to develop or redevelop a museum. A study in the United Kingdom in 1989* found that the ratio of storage to exhibition space varied between1:1 in the national institutions to 1:2 in local authority ones (*ref Lord G. and Lord B. The Manual of Museum Planning, 2nd edition, 1999, p.113). Independent museums averaged 1:4. Such an important aspect of museum operations deserves well-considered and detailed planning. Over the last months, I've visited successful projects where the current and future storage needs of the collections have been well served.
Akaroa Museum opened a new storage facility this year. This increases total storage space by two thirds to around 307 square metres. This is one third of the total floor area to two thirds exhibition space (1:3).
The storage area is mostly on ground level and also has a small mezzanine floor for costume and textile storage. It’s equipped with a small goods lift. Areas are fitted out with mobile, powder-coated steel, mechanical-assist shelving, leaving space for future shelving. From planning to completion the project took six years. It was partly supported by a $200,000 donation from the Canterbury Community Trust.
The storage area adjoins existing buildings and was designed to fit sympathetically into the street landscape of the historic town.
Director Lynda Wallace said, ’It is the first time in my 30 years of working in museums that I've had the pleasure of planning and then occupying a brand new storage facility, and it's a very pleasurable experience!’
Earlier this year, I was lucky to have a tour of the brand-new storage facility at Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, with Claire Nodder, Collection Manager. This is the impressive, extensive collection storage that you expect to see in metropolitan or regional museums. Storage areas are divided into separate object types and sizes, allowing for efficient use of space, air conditioning economy, and easier access and work practices.
While some museum visitors and donors may still comment that there is not much point to collections if everything isn't on display, museum volunteers and staff can explain that items left on exhibition for too long may not survive for future generations. Showing visitors collection items being well cared for and housed helps. Recent thefts from museums highlight security issues as a concern. Where objects are on open display, a rethink is necessary.
Visible storage is a way of allowing collection items to be seen while still being securely stored. The art store at the Forrester Gallery in Oamaru is a good example of visible storage possibilities. Visitors enjoy seeing the art collection store through glass, and a time switch keeps light exposure to a minimum. This is not a new idea, but it is not often used.
Providing digital visual access to collections currently in storage through websites such as NZMuseums is another way of sharing your collection with a wide audience, and increasing our knowledge of New Zealand wide collections. Otago Settlers Museum and Owaka Museum do this well.
Museums need to consider how they can better serve the needs of the public and not be gatekeepers, while still protecting collections.
Incorporate secure storage space development in your museum’s long-term plan, and ask your MDO for advice. Well planned and managed storage and collection access is a key to the sustainability of our museums.
1. Lynda Wallace, Akaroa Museum Director in the new collections store
2. Akaroa Museum collections store, view from the street
3. Otago Settlers Museum textiles store
4. Otago Settlers Museum large objects store - furniture
5. Otago Settlers Museum large objects store