Collections Conundrums

Posted on July 17, 2009 by


On Wednesday, Collections and Exhibitions staff members sat down to participate in a webinar presented by the American Associations of Museums. The webinar was a “practical review of collection issues.” The panelists included:

Jeanne Benas, Registrar, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Rebecca A. Buck, Deputy Director for Collection Services, Newark Museum

Jean Gilmore, Registrar, Brandywine River Museum



and the panel was moderated by:

Greg Stevens, Assistant Director for Professional Development, American Association of Museums

Jonathan Finkelstein, Founder and Executive Producer, LearningTimes


Throughout the webinar there was lively debate, well informed commentary and a general sense of fun. Questions and comments from webinar participants came in through on-line chat, text messages and even through Twitter! We took plenty of notes (and had plenty of debate just between the four of us!) and despite the small confines (all four of us crowded into Karen’s none-too-spacious office) and the difficulty of squeezing such a broad topic into a short time, had a good time.


I attended the session by the same name at AAM this year. Rebecca, Jeanne, and Jean really know collections management! In both settings they were pretty clear and firm about writing a Collections Management Policy that is tailored to your museum’s needs. For the most part their responses to questions were straight forward, but they didn’t take into consideration the various shades of gray that make each issue an actual conundrum. The live setting did allow for a more thorough answer, as the inquirer could ask follow up questions or provide more background.

I think the difficult part in either a live or on-line setting is establishing which audience the session is designed for: natural history, historic house, art museums, etc., interns, new professionals, mid-level, or senior staff. It is good, though, to reconfirm what you know and see if there are new developments in the field. – Jobi (Senior Collections Manager and Registrar)


Check out that neat handwriting!

You can tell Jobi’s a registrar – and one of the best!



The webinar was about things that I don’t deal with in the course of my normal day—these things fall more in Jobi’s bailiwick. So it was interesting and broadening to hear a discussion of some collections conundrums. It was also gratifying to find that our instincts about the right way to handle problems are on target. And that we are not alone in the field in having these problems. – Karen (Curator)

A one hour webinar is hardly enough time to thoroughly discuss Collections Conundrums. Once conundrum, maybe, While the presenters did well in trying to introduce a variety of issues that collections management professionals encounter, variety often means lack of depth. The most interesting part of the webinar to me was a discussion about historic sites and getting rid of items within an historic home when it transfers to a museum – I completely disagreed with the presenters! Maybe they need to hold a webinar on that. – Jenn (Activing Archivist and Curatorial Assistant)






You can tell I am NOT a registrar – to be fair, I AM a lefty so I’m working with a handicap!


I was surprised the webinar format worked as well as it did! There was a clear commitment to using current technologies (I love that they jumped on the Twitter bandwagon!) and the moderators did a great job keeping up with questions from us participants. I would have appreciated some accompanying materials (such as suggestions for how to look up state laws regarding abandoned property/museum property/etc.) but was overall not disappointed in the experience!- Rachel (Photo Archivist)

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