TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Access to museum storage
Author  :  Wendel Swan mailto:%20wdswan@erols.com
Date  :  01-17-2001 on 10:42 a.m.
Dear John, Marvin and all,

The posts made by John and Marvin raise issues that I think should be addressed in separate threads. This one deals with access to museum storage.

I am not an apologist for the seemingly bureaucratic barriers often raised by museums, but I can offer some observations.

John and Marvin's experiences with the V+A were somewhat different than mine. I wrote them about a month before my intended visit, but my request for limited access to described pieces was denied (despite the pleas of some influential Londoners) because it has not been made six weeks before my arrival rather than four. As might be expected, they blamed a shortage of personnel. The TM would probably cite a similar reason for being unable to accommodate some requests.

As to Marvin's experience in 1978 (and conditions may well have changed since then), I can only ask whether any of us would allow a stranger into our homes for an unsupervised visit of our collections? I wouldn't and I can't imagine a responsible museum doing likewise. I understand from John that there may have been a brief period when he, too, was unsupervised.

Snippets could be taken or objects stolen when there is no supervision. As one who would like to have access to some museum collections, I nevertheless believe that any museum has the right and responsibility to impose reasonable "need to see" rules for visits to their storage. There is far more to this question that simply being "nice."

As I will suggest in other threads, museums could use volunteers to alleviate some of these burdens and complaints. Docents are trained to give tours of exhibitions. Why couldn't volunteers be used to provide infrequent, but scheduled, access to the vaults? For example, I think there are many qualified volunteers in the Washington area who would be willing to meet with presumably knowledgeable visitors to the Textile Museum.

Unfortunately, this type of volunteerism has not been encouraged and that fact could be cited as symptomatic of or partially responsible for the increasing gulf between the collecting community and some of our cherished institutions.


Subject  :  Re:Access to museum storage
Author  :  Spence Maschino mailto:%20spencer_maschino@hotmail.com
Date  :  01-17-2001 on 06:28 p.m.

The Library of Congress is a local example of an institution that suffered serious losses due to the free access it granted to original materials. While I benefitted from the LOC's earlier generosity, I was sickened, but not surprised, to hear the stories that broke a few years back about theft and mutilations (of the books, not the librarians). Like most public institutions the LOC lacked the manpower to adequately supervise individuals acessing the special collections.

Now, that won't stop me from trying to get some hands-on time at the V&A this coming June. But if they say "no", I will understand.

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