Collections Management comprises three intersecting subdivisions: registrars plan and orchestrate logistics for works of art entering and leaving the Museum; collections care specialists are responsible for supervising the movement and safe handling of artworks within the Museum; and collections documentation staff maintain comprehensive object files and manage the Museum’s centralized collections management system.
The registrars organize all aspects of transporting and tracking works of art to and from the Museum. Thousands of objects come and go through the Museum each year, as potential acquisitions, for inclusion in exhibitions, or as loans to borrowing institutions worldwide. (Please see Loan Request Procedures for information on borrowing collection objects from the Museum.).
Working closely with all Museum departments and outside service providers and in compliance with laws and regulations of the United States and foreign governments, registrars must:
- coordinate shipping of artworks to national and international borrowers and lenders
- ensure safe packing and crating in accordance with conservation requirements
- work with customs agents and brokers to procure security and customs permits
- secure commercial and indemnity insurance coverage
- review facility reports and manage contracts
- schedule couriers from the Museum and from lending institutions to accompany traveling objects
Preparing official documentation, such as receipts and loan agreements, is crucial for smooth operations and the safe transport of objects. For international shipments in particular, registrars provide proper customs declarations and apply for government indemnity, immunity from seizure, and licenses to ship materials comprised of endangered species or from countries sanctioned by the U.S. government. Keeping current with international regulations and trends, the registrars continually review policies and procedures to guarantee accurate documentation and the safe handling and transportation of all artworks that pass through the Museum, whether they be collection objects or loans.
Collections care staff are charged with managing the movement of artworks within and between Museum facilities for shipping, display, treatment, and photography. Duties include:
- assisting with packing and labeling
- assessing and implementing strategies to improve storage spaces
- monitoring environmental conditions in both exhibition and storage areas
- ensuring safety of artworks during installation at the Museum and at all venues exhibiting collection objects
- maintaining accurate location records in the collections management database
- cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming objects on display
Staff members are also entrusted with designing and fabricating special mounts and supports for both exhibition and storage. While mountmakers and exhibition preparators are responsible for mounting, matting, framing, and glazing most material, collections engineers develop systems to support monumental sculpture and architectural elements, using earthquake mitigation methods as appropriate.
Development of a centralized collections management system in 2000 transformed the Museum’s ability to document curatorial, conservation, and administrative information. Serving all departments across the Museum, the relational database is not only a repository for artwork information and media, but also links objects with corresponding conservation reports, loan and exhibition records, lender and shipping documentation, and publications.
Along with formulating procedures pertaining to the accessioning and deaccessioning of collection objects, this division also conducts an annual audit, documents previously uncatalogued collections, and ensures adherence to national and international museum data standards and nomenclature.
Staff continually assess collections-related operational requirements to facilitate data collection and verify effective and efficient use of the system. Staff members develop custom applications to enhance database capabilities and provide technical support to users across the Museum, training staff, volunteers, and interns on using a centralized system that makes possible the sharing of nearly all of the Museum’s collections with the public online.