Behind-the-Scenes Tours

AcklandStorageHas your institution ever tried or even considered storage area tours? Recently, there was a spirited discussion about this topic on the RCAAM listserv (Registrar’s Committee of the American Alliance of Museums). Comments revealed serious considerations and a range of opinions about the activity.

Pros:                                                                                    Cons:

Additional access to your collection                                  Security risk

Increased public understanding of the time                     Staff time requirements                       and expense of collections care

Several years ago a panel of security experts produced” Suggested Practices For Museum Security As Adopted by The Museum, Library and Cultural Properties Council of ASIS International AND The Museum Association Security Committee of the American Association of Museums” (Revised June, 2008).  The guideline asserts that storage tours are an additional security risk for collections and recommends against them. Where educational tours are necessary, the document recommends a written policy defining the safeguards to be taken and the responsibility of each person assigned to the tour. The policy should:

  •  limit the size of the tour to no more than 25 maximum for large rooms with a staff member assigned for every 7-8 people. Smaller groups are advisable for small spaces or those with small or especially valuable items.
  • address allowing members of the tour or class to leave to go to the restroom without an escort and what to do if someone becomes ill and needs to be escorted out of the room.
  • prohibit the use of cameras in collection storage where security equipment or procedures might be photographed.
  • provide a holding area for attendees’ personal belongings. Parcels carried by members of a tour should not be permitted in collection storage. In one instance, museum staff put belongings on a cart inside the door to the vault. “We let them know that their items are safe behind locked doors and that we ask them to do this, as neither we nor they want to accidentally knock something off a shelf.”

Do storage tours raise money? Responses indicate that tours do not generate monetary donations (even when wealthy guests come through)but do prompt offers of objects for donation. Several museums charge to take these tours, so they can become a revenue source. (Several charge $15-$25/ person.)

Is there an effective compromise to satisfy both security and access concerns?

  • One museum accomplished this by escorting visitors along the front of the large storerooms, where they could look down the long rows of shelves. The end section of each row had one or more particularly interesting objects stored on it, and the “tour guide” would be prepared with a talking point for each.
  • Another recommendation from is to pull artifacts from storage for a program to explain various collections care principles, especially the costs and labor involved in providing appropriate storage. This format works well for one professional who found that tour participants are too visually overwhelmed to focus on collections care messages while in storage.
  • A third compromise is to post photos of collections storage on your institution’s social media sites (eliminating, of course, any sensitive security information).

What lessons have you learned about storage tours at your institution? Do you know of any other strategies to address the disparate goals of security and access?

Thanks especially to Lana Newhart-Kellen, Collections Manager & Registrar at Conner Prairie; Lisa Kay Adam, Curator and Registrar of the Museum of South Texas History; Malia Van Heukelem, Preservation Management Specialist, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library; Janice Klein, Collections Consultant; and Wayne Phillips, Curator of Costumes & Textiles, Louisiana State Museum for their contributions to this post.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on February 19, 2013, in collections access, collections care, storage and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. lways interesting…

    On Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:27 AM, collectionsconversations wrote:

    > ** > collectionsconversations posted: “Has your institution ever tried or > even considered storage area tours? Recently, there was a spirited > discussion about this topic on the RCAAM listserv (Registrars Committee of > the American Alliance of Museums). Comments revealed serious considerations > a”

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