Unmanaged Collections: Worst First Impressions

alttext As I announced recently I’m looking for real world examples for my book about managing unmanaged collections. The first chapters will have much to do with the process of getting an overview of what items the collection consists of, defining priorities and developing a strategy to tackle them.

I think maybe the worst moment is the first time you see the collection. It’s the moment you get the first idea of how much work it will be and how many issues you will have to face. What was your worst first impression? I think mine was a collection of vintage cars and agricultural machinery crammed into a shed in a way you could barely walk and sometimes had to crawl over a few things to get deeper into the collection. All the objects were rusty, a considerable amount of windshields were smashed and the fact that this place was inhabited by mice, martens and pigeons was sadly all too obvious. To make matters worse, there were some more delicate objects carelessly crammed in between the bigger objects and I found something that turned out to be a lady’s dress under a plow.

What was your worst first impression when you worked with an unmanaged collection?

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This post is also available in: German

5 comments

  1. Pedro Angeles says:

    A fascinating subject, indeed the first impression of a collection unmanaged is usually fatal, it also gives me the same impression a collection that was administered and for some reason forgot care

  2. Oswald D. says:

    “anonymous” is what keep the situation unchanged…

    • Angela says:

      Hi Oswald,

      not necessarily, in my thinking. Sometimes you have to stay anonymous to protect the innocent.

      Besides, I doubt that pointing fingers ever helped improving a collection. A institution that admits it made mistakes has my deepest respect for acting professional and showing the will to improve. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t professional work done in institutions that don’t want to be named.

      I’m collecting those stories not with the intend to write up who has done something wrong. I collect them to encourage those confronted with an unmanaged collection. It can be a shattering experience. Knowing that others were confronted with similar or worse experiences helps.

      Best wishes
      Angela

  3. Erin says:

    The worst I had was a completely unmanaged Dentistry Collection. Sadly, this collection had once been a well-run collection of historic dental implements and teaching tools such as human, hominid and other osteological material. When I accessed it, you could not move in the room. There had been a leak of hydraluic fluid from an old dental chair. There were beautiful ivory elephant tusks that had been left on a dental chair in the sun for probably 30+ years and were incredibly fragile. The worst was when we located contact explosives and the bomb squad had to come in. All in all, after 3 years of work, I have a wonderful before and after shot to show the difference. I’d be happy to share.

  4. Laura W says:

    Hi Angela,
    I have some experiences to contribute to your book. Can I share them off-line (via email)? I would want the people/institutions be kept anonymous.
    Best,
    Laura

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