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Collections

"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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41 Issues

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Collections Vol 9 N4 7
Collections Vol 9 N3 7
Collections Vol 9 N2 11
Collections Vol 9 N1 10
Collections Vol 8 N4 8
Collections Vol 8 N3 5
Collections Vol 8 N2 5
Collections Vol 8 N1 3
Collections Vol 7 N4 13
Collections Vol 7 N3 6
Collections Vol 7 N2 12
Collections Vol 7 N1 18
Collections Vol 6 N4 7
Collections Vol 5 N4 4
Collections Vol 5 N3 6
Collections Vol 5 N1 4
Collections Vol 4 N4 3
Collections Vol 4 N3 6

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135 Articles

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A Letter from the Editor

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One of the premier venues for collections professionals to gather, the American Association of Museum’s Annual Meeting will be held in Los Angeles in May 2010. This year’s theme “Where Ideas Live!” sounds more like a tagline for an exciting avatar-centered game rather than a conference call. I can’t say that I blame the AAM for this creative branding. As readers of this journal are well aware, museums and archives are living entities rather than static, monolithic institutions. Faced with layoffs, reassignments, and other cost-cutting measures, collecting institutions feel the burden of pressure to contend with budget-saving measures including staff freezes, curtailed print and media funds, and reductions in programming, as well as acquisitions. Economics aside, cultural and political issues also threaten collections.

A call to action is in order. As museum and archives professionals, we must maintain our standards and move beyond essential preservation and access schemes to lunge forward, to incorporate, and even compensate for, new interventions. Given that collections are places where ideas live (rather than decay, deteriorate, or die), how do we engage this malleable nature? To what extent is it possible to serve as good stewards of our collections?

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Special Issue: International Symposium on Cultural Property Risk Analysis

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This collection of essays continues the focus of the Fall 2012 issue, that is, the International Symposium and Workshop on Cultural Property Risk Analysis, an event devoted to an increasingly important aspect of cultural heritage: risk assessment and loss mitigation. The articles present a range of approaches clustered around the creation of a risk model and the means of risk analysis. In preparing this issue of the journal, again, a debt of gratitude must be paid to Rob Waller, Editorial Board member of the journal and Guest Editor, for his interest in assembling papers from this symposium solely dedicated to risk-based perspective and strategies.

Looking ahead to what’s in store in other issues that will appear in 2013, readers will be treated to a focus on Museum Studies from the academic perspective, automating collection records at the Peabody Museum, an overview of the Canadian Conservation Institute’s history and mandate, and the use of QR codes in museum collections management. In addition, we are at work on two guest-edited issues. Nancy Bryk, Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation at Eastern Michigan University, is gathering essays focusing on three topics fundamental to historic house management and interpretation (innovative or ingenious ways historic house staffs are monitoring, protecting, and caring for the collections; engagement of a board and community to re-think the use and interpretation of the house; and means of providing active learning and compelling interpretation in these environments, through their collections). And, Jane Milosch, Director of the Provenance Research Initiative Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution, is part of a team of guest-editors to undertake an issue focused on Provenance Research. As always, I am grateful to scholars and practitioners who come forth with such scintillating ideas upon which we are able to devote entire issues of the journal. And, to those who submit your work for review, please continue to share your interest, experience, and passion with our Editorial Board and readership. Thank you, all, for what you do to keep Collections relevant, engaging, and timely.

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A Letter from the Editor

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I am pleased to begin my tenure as editor of Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals and equally honored to usher in its fifth year as a scholarly publication dedicated to foregrounding the work of collections professionals. This journal seeks to address ideas, initiatives, and issues related to collecting, preserving, exhibiting, and interpreting works. From the outset, Collections has been subtitled “from the practical to the philosophical” — a range of approaches that, to me, is critical. Rather than seeing these two terms as fixed points, I see them as a range of areas wherein there is much oscillation, for what collection is managed with only a practical approach? How do museums and archives develop, sustain, and revise collecting philosophies? How are collections successfully managed? What marginalizes them? What are the ways in which the public connects with a collection? Who or what fosters this connection? Who or what prohibits it?

The authors in this volume have an international perspective, with current work from professionals based at the National Park Service in the United States, the National Archives in the United Kingdom, the Jewish Museum of Greece, and Aberystwyth University in Wales. The progress report from the NPS comes in the form of a multi-authored document that identifies issues relating to assessing the significance of collections. With more than 115 million items in its holdings, the NPS has made progress toward establishing criteria tied to collections as opposed to sites. This article outlines an ongoing effort to develop museum collection significance criteria that are practical and flexible while providing continuity and context for the future. I am extremely grateful to Laurel Racine and eight co-authors who have made Collections the venue for sharing their work with a wider readership. Anna E. Bülow’s study at the National Archives’ Department of Collection Care takes its cues from Robert Waller’s risk assessment model (1994) and greatly brings the notion of collections care among digital records, archival microfilm masters, and paper/parchment records into focus. Aristotelis Georgios Sakellariou introduces readers to practical issues associated with cleaning and refreshing display cases at the Jewish Museum of Greece — a project that allowed visitors to the museum the ability to observe the process first-hand. Finally, Jennie Hill’s review essay addresses broader themes of visual culture and collection construction and care, offering a remarkably rich analysis of three key publications from recent years.

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Special Issue: International Symposium on Cultural Property Risk Analysis

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This collection of essays features papers from the International Symposium and Workshop on Cultural Property Risk Analysis, an event devoted to an increasingly important aspect of cultural heritage: risk assessment and loss mitigation. The Symposium and Workshop were held in September 2011 at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Monte de Caparica (Portugal) and in association with the ICOM-CC Preventive Conservation Working Group.

The papers selected for this issue of the journal, and the subsequent one, thus present a range of approaches clustered around the creation of a risk model and the means of risk analysis. Their contents offer incredible insight as to risk assessment and loss mitigation within the context of cultural heritage. For cultural heritage, as a type of collection, is exposed to conditions that impact its sustainability in both the short and long term. Thus, readers of the journal will find interest in a number of the papers.

A debt of gratitude must be paid to Rob Waller, Guest Editor of this issue and Editorial Board member of the journal, for his interest in assembling papers from this symposium solelydedicated to risk-based perspective and strategies. I am grateful for his suggestion of having Collections serve as the venue for putting these papers into print, as the journal’s reach indeed extends beyond the practical and the philosophical—premises of journal founder, Hugh Genoways—to include such stimulating proceedings from symposia.

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From the Editor

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This issue of the journal offers three articles and three reviews across a range of topics. Richard Cox asks us to ponder the future of our documentary heritage, noting that many of the current challenges are extensions of older challenges that we have already faced. Our work in collections of archives and museums is challenging and, perhaps, in a transitional era. Cox argues that the archival impulse is “too much of a basic human need, remembering” (338). Are we in a crisis? Or are we following in the footsteps of others who were faced with a similar overload?

From overload to multiplicity, we move to Nina K. Müller-Schwarze’s article on museums and meaning-making. In her article, Müller-Schwarze questions scholarly narratives focusing on the topic of voodoo, puts these into conversation with local participants in New Orleans, and documents the heteroglossia encountered and generated by the M.A. students she taught at the Southern University at New Orleans.

Hank Zaletel recounts the steps involved in securing funding through a state Department of Transportation in order to identify, preserve, and provide access to historic photo and document collections at Iowa State University/Iowa Department of Transportation. Zaletel demonstrates how Transportation Enhancement Funds through the Transportation Enhancement Program were used to develop this historical archive and digital database.

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FOCUS: Public Art

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This issue is once again focused on public art—a topic whose relevancy is proved by the continuing public funding of major public art commissions. As noted in the Guest Editor’s foreword, another major project is opening in New York Harbor and its success with its various audiences will be followed by major art critics nationwide.

This issue presents a consideration of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Such all­encompassing public spaces incorporating art as well as featuring diverse cultural offerings is perhaps the way of the future. In the park, art is set within a landscape space that is appropriate for its appreciation and consideration. The museums of the past once were surrounded by grand parks. As an example, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History are connected by Central Park. More recently, museums with a more narrow focus were placed in settings that were not park-like at all. Often, the settings were abrupt urban streetscapes. Yet in today’s world, museums, sculpture, and art centers openly compete with shopping centers for audiences, making creative leveraging a necessity to attract the optimum number of visitors.

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Re-establishing Context for Orphaned Collections A Case Study from the Market Street Chinatown, San Jose, California

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Barbara L. Voss

Associate Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, 450 Serra Mall, Bldg. 50, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305-2034, phone: (650)723-3421 (dept. office); email: bvoss@stanford.edu; https://www.stanford.edu/dept/anthropology/cgi-bin/web/?q=node/75; http://marketstreet.stanford.edu

Megan S. Kane

Social Science Research Assistant, Department of Anthropology, 450 Serra Mall, Bldg. 50, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305-2034, phone: (650) 723-3421 (dept. office); email: mskane@stanford.edu; http://marketstreet.stanford.edu

Abstract While the primary rationale for curating orphaned archaeological collections is to restore the collections’ research potential, in practice such research programs are rarely actualized because of the challenges in reconstructing archaeological context. This article presents the results of a concerted effort undertaken to re-establish the context of the Market Street Chinatown archaeological collection. We outline the history of the excavation of the Market Street Chinatown, the subsequent “orphaning” of the collection, and the early efforts that uncovered the untapped research potential of the collection. Next, we describe the methods and results of the four-stage process we used during 2010–2011 to develop historical and archaeological context for research on the collection: archive analysis, methods analysis, feature context, and research potential assessment. While some of these procedures were tailored to the specific circumstances of the Market Street Chinatown collection, the overall process provides a model for re-establishing context for research purposes on other orphaned and endangered collections.

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From the Editor

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Collections readers, great news! The generosity of many publishers has enabled us to offer an entire issue of the journal devoted to book reviews! Contained within are fifteen reviews of recent publications from a range of publishers including University of Colorado, University of Pennsylvania, Routledge, Yale, and English Heritage as well as familiar friends, including AAM, SAA, Left Coast Press of Walnut Creek, and the publisher of this very journal, AltaMira Press. We also welcome word from a smaller press headed by Nina Simon, Museum 2.0.

This issue also ushers in a review of another kind, that of online content. The hope here is to add a second branch of critical response to supplement our already concerted efforts of reviewing leading texts in the field of archives and museums. First in the queue is the project spearheaded by Rachael Cristine Woody, Archivist of the Freer∣Sackler Archives, known as the Smithsonian Institution Blogathon to celebrate American Archives Month. During Archives Month (October 2010) daily posts were made by archives staff regarding institutional operations, remarkable projects, and collections stories. The Smithsonian teamed up with “sister blogs”, including Around the Mall, The Bigger Picture, Archives of American Art, and affiliates such as Telluride Historical Museum, Montana History Revealed, and others, to expand online content as well. Furthering the reach of this endeavor, we invited three reviewers to check the Smithsonian pages regularly and respond both to the idea of a Blogathon and to particular posts throughout the month. Kelly Caldwell, Dara Flinn, and Chelsey Reid visited the Smithsonian blog and provide us with their perspectives on the value of such a virtual project. Their points of view open this issue of the journal and call for another round of collective blogging during Archives Month this coming year! While the Blogathon is long over, the posts and comments remain online at http://si-siris.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html

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A Letter from the Publisher

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As the Publisher of Collections, AltaMira Press would like to welcome Dr. Juilee Decker as the journal’s new editor. Juilee earned a Ph.D. in art history at Case Western Reserve University in 2003, and she is now associate professor of art history at Georgetown College, in Kentucky. Her interests include art history and methodologies, women and art, psychology and art, printmaking and design, and curatorial methods and practices. She has served as curator for a variety of exhibitions and as guest editor of the Spring and Summer 2008 issues of Collections (volumes 4:2 and 4:3), which focused on public art.

Outgoing editor Pamela White has made a valuable contribution to Collections over the past two years, and we thank her for her service. Pam will now devote all her time to her academic duties at the University of Iowa and her responsibilities as interim director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which sustained severe damage during this summer’s floods. We would also like to thank assistant editor Elisa Ewing, who managed to keep Collectionsmoving while disaster struck in Iowa.

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A Journey of 13,033 Stones The Westlake Collection and Papers

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Rebe Taylor

Australian Research Fellow, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia; email: rttaylor@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract The Westlake Collection in the Pitt Rivers Museum includes 13,033 Tasmanian Aboriginal stone artefacts; it is the largest collection of its kind. Formed by amateur English scientist Ernest Westlake from 1908–1910, this paper tells the story of Westlake’s life; why, and how, he chose to travel to Tasmania to collect stone artefacts; and what happened to that collection after his death in 1922. It also explores Westlake’s collection as an enactment of nineteenth and early twentieth-century scientific ideas about Tasmanian Aboriginal people, and examines his accompanying paper archive, in particular his interviews with Aboriginal people. Possibly the richest source of Tasmanian Aboriginal language and culture dating from early twentieth century, these long-overlooked notes demonstrate the enduring traditions of a people once presumed extinct. An epilogue explains how these papers are being published in an innovative online archive guide and history.

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Soapbox for the Automobile: Bumper Sticker History, Identification, and Preservation

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Conservator and Associate Librarian, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS 66045-7544; email: wbaker@ku.edu

Abstract First produced in the late 1940s, the bumper sticker quickly gained prominence in the early 1950s and over the years has served a wide range of purposes—from advertising tourist attractions and promoting public safety to political campaigning. As a result, many bumper stickers holding value as historical, cultural, or aesthetic artifacts have been collected by archives, museums, and libraries. Due to their potentially unstable composition, however, bumper stickers often present challenging preservation issues. In order to identify the types of bumper stickers currently held by U.S. cultural institutions and assess their preservation needs, a survey of over two-thousand bumper stickers was conducted. This paper documents the survey findings and provides guidance for dating and preserving bumper stickers.

The bumper sticker is a genuine North American product, rooted in post-World War II experimentation with war-time materials—including daylight fluorescent inks, pressure-sensitive adhesives, vinyl, and silicone—and the maturation of commercial screen printing. Americans’ post-war obsession with the automobile and the freedom it afforded fueled the popularity of the bumper sticker. The earliest bumper stickers—or “bumper strips,” as they were known until the 1960s—advertised tourist attractions, public safety initiatives, political campaigns, radio and television stations, and political and personal viewpoints. Later bumper stickers documented document a range of historical and social events and trends. As ephemeral artifacts broadcasting historical and social events and trends, bumper stickers are widely collected by museums, archives, and libraries. Given their purpose, however, bumper stickers were designed to last for weeks or months; removability and impermanence were, in fact, selling points. As a result, preserving bumper stickers presents challenges: stickers may discolor, adhere to adjacent stickers or paper collections over time, and release gases that may hasten the degradation of some types of collections stored nearby.

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From the Editor

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This issue is brimming with a range of topics designed to pique your curiosity: a case study of an Historical Administration graduate program geared toward integrating knowledge and skills necessary for future museum and archive professionals; a new digital technology aimed to engage curious visitors to a music collection who wonder how a clavichord sounds; an overview of object theatre and a case study of its use; a case study of an alternative contemporary arts center; and disclosure of the ways in which medical history collections may pose risks to collections and the staff who care for them. To begin, Terry A. Barnhart, Debra A. Reid, and Linda Norbut Suits share their efforts at integrating knowledge and skill while marrying theory and praxis through the courses taught in the Historical Administration program at Eastern Illinois University. Andrew Lamb walks us through the Bate Collection of musical instruments from the mid-baroque to the contemporary era, informing us of an exciting new audio guide technology that enables visitors to listen to the instruments on view. Tisha Carper Long discusses object theatre and explores, as a case study, her execution of an exhibit focused on an antique Irish harp. Using Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center as a case study, Karen Walton Morse acknowledges a lack of understanding within the wider community about the role and importance of alternative arts organizations, giving evidence of the importance of documenting and archiving histories. S. Victor Fleischer points out the health and safety hazards of medical history displays like the one pictured on this cover while also identifying the possible harm of amputation kits, sphygmomanometers, transformers, medicine kits and other materials to staff, visitors, the environment and other collection materials.

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INTRODUCTION FROM THE GUEST EDITORS Translation, Intervention, and Innovation in Curatorial Practice

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Museum and Curatorial Studies, History of Consciousness, University of California—Santa Cruz

What is the task of the curator? What histories have shaped this professional role, and which theoretical frameworks might offer us new insights into what it entails? How can we learn from curatorial methods both in and out of museums, or reimagine them to enable new forms of exhibition and relationality?

Etymologically, curating is a practice steeped in “keeping,” “guarding,” and “caring for”—though how these meanings have been interpreted and translated into action has changed dramatically over time. As Lianne McTavish explains in this volume, curating in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was once associated with custodial work and other forms of manual labor. In the early- and mid-twentieth century, it became a profession that required highly specialized knowledge and skills, often legitimized by a PhD, to guide how collections would be interpreted by the public, and to introduce that public to institutionally legitimized forms of connoisseurship. Yet, in demonstrations of the pliability of curatorial methods and definitions, several artists and activists throughout the twentieth century appropriated the role of the curator to wager critiques of Western cultural institutions and commoditization. Such artists in the 1960s and 1970s included Graciela Carnevale, Hans Haacke, Ida Biard, Colectivo Acciónes de Arte (Collective of Art Actions), and Andy Warhol—to name only a few. Around this same period, oppositional minority institutions such as El Museo del Barrio and the U’mista Cultural Centre were established by activist curators and cultural agents in response to dis-identification, exclusion, and misappropriation in museums, reactivating yet again the open-ended connotations of “curating” to challenge its conventional expressions.

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From the Editor

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This issue of the journal entices readers by asking questions. First, Sharon Loving and Richard Stamelman ask us to consider the possibility of curating an exhibition about scent. In discussing their exhibition, Making Scents: The Art and Passion of Fragrance held at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, they share with us myriad efforts through conception, planning, organization, and realization from day one, more than seven years ago now, to the exhibition’s launch in 2010. Their article demonstrates the difficulties of describing scents visually, linguistically, and olfactorily, while at the same time, evidences the incredibly rich collaboration among horticulturists, designers, and curator. Their efforts and the resultant exhibition, along with their participatory experience for visitors, offer much food for thought for collections professionals everywhere.

Next, Georgia Barnhill, Founding Director of the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society, asks us to heed the benefits of exploiting collections. In particular, she addresses the visual—i.e., prints and photographs that demonstrate the extent to which such materials are not mere illustrations, but rich examples of material culture. In addition, she comments on the AAS’s other collections, including newspapers and serials, children’s literature, almanacs, and other publication types. Treat yourself to visual elegance as you peruse Barnhill’s article, including the reproduction of the litho on the cover of this issue of the journal.

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A Note from the Editor

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With this issue of the journal, readers are in for a treat. In serving as guest editor, Greg Lambousy (Director of Collections at the Louisiana State Museum) has assembled a fantastic range of articles that address the theme of “Collections Moves.” The impetus to spearhead this effort came as a result of a series of emails between Greg and me — correspondence that, interestingly, grew from Greg’s response to Dee A. Stubbs-Lee’s article entitled “Inside Out: A Conservator’s Investigation of Museums, Visible Storage, and the Interpretation of Conservation”, a study that appeared in volume 5, number 4 of the journal. Through subsequent emails and conversations, Greg and I discussed topics that would be of interest to the readership. He suggested collections moves and here we are.

As to histories and causes, collections moves may come as a result of tragedy or damage, but they might also be precipitated by opportunities that aim to foreground, showcase, or draw attention to the collections themselves. Moreover, collections moves may provide an occasion to improve storage or exhibit mounts in addition the ability to enhance and expand photographic documentation, database records, and many other aspects of collections care.

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Use of QR Code Labels in Museum Collection Management

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Maria Consuelo Sendino

Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW75BD, UK; email: c.sendino-lara@nhm.ac.uk

Abstract The results presented here are from a pilot project using QR labels, apparently for the first time in museum collection management. This new method for labelling significantly enhances collection management, enabling more information to be recorded than any other method on very small labels (from 1.5 cm) that can be read by a mobile smartphone. QR labels have already been used in museums for displayed specimens, but it is shown here that they also have value in the management of reference collections, research, and loans.

Museums typically record information about individual specimens on labels that accompany the specimens. These labels are normally standardized in size and format according to the specific museum, department, or section. As levels of documentation increase with time, and specimens have more associated information, it becomes impossible to fit everything on a small label. For this reason, Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) methods have been introduced and are expanding in museums. AIDC not only saves space, but uses labels that are economical to generate. Cultural Heritage institutions, such as museums of all kinds and art galleries, can take advantage of this new technology. In the words of Dahlström et al. (2012, 455): “Digitization of cultural heritage brings new practices, tools, and arenas that reconfigure and reinterpret not only the collections, but the memory institutions themselves as well as the roles they respectively play on a societal level”. A digitization strategy can be applied at two levels: mass digitization (every specimen) and critical digitization (e.g., only displayed specimens).

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From the Guest Editors

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Greg Lambousy and Katherine Hall Burlison

At the Louisiana State Museum (LSM), we recently conducted a two-year loan resolution project. Our old, unresolved loans stretched back to the beginnings of the institution in 1906. From that early period and all the way up to the late 1960s, there was often very little in the way of record keeping for incoming loans and also a lack of consistent loan policy. Consequently, by the year 2006, the LSM had over 10,000 unresolved loans spanning the 100-year history.

The work that our team of loan resolution specialists conducted on this massive project led to the idea for this journal issue. Our experience, and surely that of specialists worldwide, indicated that unresolved loans are almost impossible to avoid, since a lender may become deceased during a loan term or, if the loan is from an organization, it may change leadership or cease to exist. Therefore, the presence of unresolved loans knows no boundaries: from the most fastidious and well-funded museums to the smallest of municipal institutions.

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A Letter from the Editor

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This issue of Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archive Professionals questions the practice of museums and offers guidance as to the care of their collections. These are areas of inquiry that are, certainly, part and parcel of our disciplines, and yet, they still manage to wage discomfort, uncertainty, and difficulty. And, while significant contributions have been made, over time, to our modern understanding of how to define and care for a collection, other forms of repositories, methodologies of display, and recontextualizations have enriched the milieu of “collections” conceptually and materially. The essays and reviews herewith critically evaluate the making and meaning of “collections” in terms addressing a range of activities and practices, making notice of efficiency of collections handling, acknowledging what is on view and what is kept from display, and noting provenance and provenience (or lack thereof).

To begin, Bobby Marlin and Mikaela Selley outline a new, expedited approach used by the University of Houston Libraries to process a manuscript collection. Christina Kahrl Brody addresses the issues faced in the publication and exhibition of unprovenienced collections in museums. Tunde Akinwumi and Obododimma Oha call into question the long-range significance of bridal fabrics that, once worn, are often stored away, despite cultural and semiotic richness. Lanfranco Aceti interrogates issues related to the preservation, exhibition, and storage of immaterial art forms, particularly digital and new media practices.

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