Accessible preservation: An investigation of conditions for public access to museum collections in storage
The societal role of museums has changed through time. As of 2022, ICOM is in the process of developing an updated museum definition. The proposal for a new definition emphasizes that museums are institutions in service of society, inclusive and accessible to the public. A large percentage of museums’ collections are kept in storage facilities, which have traditionally been inaccessible to the public. The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the conditions for providing public access to stored museum collections, and to reach an understanding of what factors enable or limit public access to museum objects that are kept in storage. This study departs from contemporary conservation theory, according to which cultural heritage should be understood as a resource for people of today. A systemic perspective is applied on the empirical material, to distinguish what factors determine and enable public access to stored museum collections. Through a literature review, different approaches to promoting access to museum objects in storage are explored, as well as associated issues. A nation-wide survey, sent to 140 public museums, is employed to map out the present-day accessibility of stored collections in Sweden. The survey data is analysed statistically, searching for factors that can be related to public access being promoted. Four semi-structured qualitative interviews with museum professionals, working at institutions with different approaches to making stored material publicly accessible, further add to an understanding of factors that determine public access to stored museum collections. It is concluded that having a well-organized collection, that is accessible to the staff, and stored in proper conditions, is a basic requirement for promoting public access. Furthermore, access can be promoted in different ways. It is concluded that factors such as staffing, resources and collections characteristics influence what appropriate access can be, at a case-to-case basis. Last, it is suggested that making stored museum collections accessible to a wider audience requires substantial systemic changes, reconsidering what the mission of museum storage and collections management staff should be within the larger museum system.
Degree project for Bachelor of Science in Conservation 2022, 180 HEC Second Cycle 2022:3