The Assignment: Create and implement a multiphase plan for the relocation of tens of thousands of museum objects from a temporary space known as the Interim Storage Facility into a permanent Collection Center (CC). Also, move several hundred thousand books and 5500 linear feet of manuscripts. For those of you keeping track, that’s more than a mile. Don’t forget all of the shelving on which they are stored. Oh, and pack and take along seven permanent staff members and their offices.
Time frame: 12 weeks total. During a New England winter.
View from outside temporary storage on March 13. Three nor’easters hit in March and shut down the museum. They did not prevent us from working on the project. Photo by Angela Segala
I knew this assignment was coming, but that didn’t prevent it from feeling like a daunting, nearly impossible project. For the last six years, I’ve been a member of the Collections Management Department where the safety and stewardship of PEM’s collection is our ultimate priority. For well over a year before it began, the details of “The Move” took over my daily life.
Photo by Angela Segala
To make things even a bit more tricky, there were layers of deadlines and tasks nested within the project. For example, within the 12-week time frame lurked the deadline to move all museum objects out of temporary storage, in order to meet our lease requirements. Meanwhile, the library collection needed to be arranged in a way to make it more accessible, with room for growth. This required extensive investigation, planning and an intimate knowledge of both collections so that they were primed for long-term care. This was an enormous opportunity and a colossal responsibility. I had a lot of work to do.
Talk to anyone associated with a museum, library, historical society, household or other collecting entity and the problem of limited storage will inevitably surface. It is so pervasive that it was described in the American Institute for Conservation’s 2004 landmark study The Heritage Health Index Report on American Art Collections as a major threat to America’s cultural collections. According to the study, inadequate storage affects organizations of all type, size and age. Simply stated, museums need large amounts of climate-controlled storage.