Journal Articles

Registration and Collection Management at Auckland Museum

Auckland Museum atrium

Auckland Museum is 160 years old and houses approximately 3.5 million objects ranging from natural history (geology, botany, entomology, marine and land vertebrates), to human history (archaeology, ethnology, history, pictorial and applied arts) and the third largest heritage library in New Zealand. The Museum has approximately 170 full time staffing equivalents and over 200 volunteers.

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Structure 1995–2008

Registration began as a department at Auckland Museum in 1995 and was responsible for documentation of acquisitions, deaccessions and loans (including contract negotiations and freight logistics) and management of the database.

Collections were managed by individual departments with a Curator and, usually, a Technician. The library was a separate division with a Library Manager and a team of staff. There was a separate conservation department with a Senior Conservator, three Conservators and a Technician. Around 2004 Registration had grown to a team of 4 people and included care of the museum’s offsite collection – inventorying, preparing and relocating these collections back onsite to a newly built collection store. [See Diagram 1]

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Advantages of the structure were that Registration functions were reasonably well defined and had staff specialised in loans, acquisitions, and database management. This structure had sufficient resourcing for current Registration work although no capacity to resolve historic issues such as old loans, acquisitions, etc. Disadvantages were that collection management practices and procedures varied throughout the museum and it was difficult to prioritise or adjust resources between separate curatorial departments.

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Structure 2008–2012 

In 2008 restructuring created a Collection Management department with a Collection Manager, a Collection Team Leader, 10 Collection Technicians, a Conservation Project Team Leader, and 2 Conservators. There was no focused registration department and the new Collection Management department was responsible for the physical as well as documentary care of the collections, including registration and conservation work. Between 2008 and 2010 there were variations on reporting lines, although the structure within the Collection Management department remained basically the same. Care of the library collection continued to be managed as a separate department under the Library Manager. [See Diagram 2]

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Advantages were that, for the first time, all the collections (with the exception of the library) were managed under a single umbrella and a review of collection management practices across the organisation was undertaken. This enabled the implementation of consistent practices across the organisation and an inventory project and condition assessment project were initiated under this structure. Another advantage was, with a pool of staffing, focused projects were able to be undertaken leading to significant improvements in the care of collections, for example; a major tapa rolling project; re-housing firearms; re-housing marine type specimens; consolidating numismatics to a single secure location; decommissioning two inappropriate stores and re-storing the collections in more suitable conditions. Critical disadvantages included insufficient resourcing to be successful (with a reduction in staff working physically with the collections and on registration activities from 16.5 to 10) and the lack of a dedicated registration function. The Collection Team Leader’s role was far too broad, with too many direct reports, to be sustainable.

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Structure 2012 

In August 2012 the Collection Management department separated into four areas – Human History, Natural Sciences, Library and Collection Care. Human History and Natural Sciences have a Senior Collection Manager and a small team of Collection Managers. There is a fixed term Loans Officer in the Human History section. Collection Care has a team of Collection Managers as well as Conservators and a section head role. The pictorial collection has moved across to the library along with one Collection Manager. The registration tasks of acquisition, deaccession, loan, and database management are undertaken by the collection managers in Human History, Natural Sciences and Library, as is day-to-day care of the collections. The Collection Care team is largely focused on macro work (e.g. pest management, disaster planning, etc) and project scale improvements to collections (e.g. relocating and re-housing collections). With Conservation as part of this team this includes object treatments, without needing to be of a macro or project scale. [See Diagram 3]

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Advantages are that there is a team dedicated to macro tasks and projects which lift the state of collections. There is also acknowledgement that loans need specialist knowledge and attention. Dividing the larger pool into Human History and Natural Sciences pools may prove to have some advantages as the team members can specialise to a greater extent. The pictorial collection joins the library team and it is hard to comment at this stage whether there will be the advantages of a pool or not for this collection. Disadvantages are the loss of collection management as a separate distinct and important discipline within the organisation.

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With the separation of the discipline there may also be a loss of continuity and cross- pollination between the three areas of pictorial/human history/natural sciences which could lead to inconsistencies of practice across the organisation. Another disadvantage is that this structure does not acknowledge and provide sufficient resources for the higher volume of complex enquiries in the Human History section, making the workload of Senior Collection Manager Human History too heavy to be sustainable. Finally the fixed term nature of the loans officer role is problematic.

By Laura Vodanovich, Director at Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne. Between 1997 and 2012 she held various senior Registrar and Collection Manager roles at Auckland Museum, including Director, Collections and Research in 2009/2010.