Friday, June 25, 2010

Secret Lives of Interns: Growing the Museum's Collections

Over the past 2 weeks JMM collections & exhibitions interns got a first hand peek at how an item becomes a part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland collections. Interns sat in on both the staff collections meeting, where the relative merits of each item offered for donation were discussed. Those lucky interns also got assigned a number of small research projects to gather additional information about many of the items up for offer, checking both our own collections to make sure we don’t duplicate our holdings as well as researching further abroad to hunt down information not only about the items but about the donors and donor families. At the end of the meeting the staff made recommendations for the disposition of each item offered – some for accessioning into the permanent collection, some to our teaching collection or our vertical files and some to be returned to their donors.

Checking out the items offered for donation.

A week later we reconvened in the boardroom for the official Collections Committee meeting. The Collections Committee, chaired by Trustee Duke Zimmerman is made up of board members and professionals from other museums and repositories. At these meetings the staff explains their recommendations, answers questions (and often participates in very lively debate!). At the meeting’s close the Committee votes to accept or reject the recommendations. At the next quarterly board meeting the list of items for accession will be voted on – once concluded this round of items will become official parts of the collection!

Committee Chair Duke Zimmerman explains the meeting to the interns.

I asked the interns to write up their impressions (sadly, registration intern Sara was not present, as she was getting her wisdom teeth removed. Feel better Sara!)

Jobi shows off her favorite item of this batch -
a booklet about the Jewish "Fascination with Mahjong!"

I learned that when a donation is received, it must be contextualized in terms of related objects already accessioned to the collection or relevance to the museum's purposes. I explored the vertical files to find out if the JMM already had a copy of a donated document, and if there were other volumes of that same publication in the files. I was glad my work proved useful in determining whether a donation should be accepted by the Collections Committee.

Jenn talks about archives.

I've always wondered about the behind-the-scenes life in a museum, and today I was able to witness the cogs which turn the exhibit wheel. I was able to hear the board discuss whether an item was a significant contribution to the collection. As a lover of history, I never thought a museum would consider rejecting an item, but then again I never considered a museum's finite storage area to be a factor either.

Julie examines a package of Hanukah napkins (recommendation: accession!)

Attending the Collection Committee meetings and sitting through the accession process was a great learning experience for an aspiring museum professional such as myself. I did not previously know how much time went into selecting, debating, and finally coming to a decision as to what material is chosen to be accessioned. I enjoyed listening to the Committee's lively discussions about future collection endeavors and archives expansion options.

Brittney displays the record "Silence." Wonder what it sounds like...

I found the Collections Committee meetings, both with the staff and the rest of the Committee, very interesting. I was surprised by the lively discussion over the vertical files and the K collection. Who knew that newspaper articles, ephemera, and food boxes could create so much discussion?

Kristin checks out an empty box of Hanukah candles.

I enjoyed sitting in on the Collections Committee meeting because it not only showed me the accession process but gave me a better sense of what makes the JMM tick. The committee being fairly diverse in ages and backgrounds (and museum knowledge) made for some interesting discussions.

Rachael looks over the full disposition list...all 27 pages of it!

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