Step-By-Step Guide to Uncrowding Museum Collections

Guide to Uncrowding Museums

Step-By-Step Guide to Uncrowding Museum Collections

A Step-By-Step Guide to Uncrowding Museum Collections

If you’re facing collections overcrowding issues, we understand what you’re up against. We know that collections can grow unpredictably and despite everyone’s best efforts, standards can be relaxed “just this once” until objects are sitting on the floor, crowded into cabinets, and overflowing into staff office space.

Imagine having someone on call who could help uncrowd your collections, optimize your space, and promote best practices in preservation and access. Good news: your local Spacesaver consultant offers a wealth of expertise in dealing with collections storage issues.

Get space planning tips from architects, space planners, and museum professionals.

Here’s our step-by-step approach to creating an uncrowding plan:

1. Discover underutilized space

This should be your first step, because it’s free and relatively simple. Your local Spacesaver consultant can visit your collections area to take a look at the cabinets, shelving, and other storage equipment you already have to see if there are ways to put unused space to work. Even a few wasted inches on every shelf, when multiplied over hundreds of linear feet of shelving, creates a lot of space that can be recovered and put to good use.

2. Conduct a collections inventory

If your current museum storage equipment is maxed out, it’s probably time to think about ordering more. Smart planning will help ensure you buy the right equipment for your space and your collections.

Prepare a detailed inventory of the objects in your collection, along with the items’ sizes and storage requirements. You should also offer estimates regarding how the collections will grow or change in the next 10 to 20 years. Here’s an example of what a small museum might prepare for their Spacesaver consultant (see table).

Type of Object Storage Equipment Area / Volume Currently Required Projected Growth within 20 Years
Hanging art Art racks 200 sq. feet 10%
Maps, architectural plans Flat file cabinets 70 drawers 50%
Botanical specimens Botany cabinets 12 cabinets (existing) 0
Large crated objects Wide span shelving 12,000 cubic feet 10%
Rolled textiles (flags, quilts, etc.) Textile racks <480 cubic feet 40%

This simplified table shows the holdings of a fictitious museum that intends to significantly increase its holdings of maps and flags over the next 20 years. This table is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to serve as a planning tool.

3. Evaluate existing equipment

We’re as committed to sustainability as you are, and we can help conserve resources by incorporating your existing equipment into new systems. For example, we designed cabinets and compactor systems that would allow the entomology department at the Field Museum to repurpose many of their existing specimen drawers while also creating more space for specimens.

4. Sketches and drawings for donors

Your local Spacesaver museum consultant can evaluate your space and measure its structural features, including ceiling heights, sprinkler placement, columns, ductwork, and more. They’ll also look over your collections inventory and your current storage equipment.

After we know more about your space and your collections, we can develop detailed plans for uncrowding your collections care area. Clients often use our drawings or fly-throughs to help secure funding for new storage equipment, because funders can instantly see how uncrowding will help create an optimal environment for preservation and access at your museum.

Whether you’re losing sleep over the state of your collections area or just need a little help here and there, your local Spacesaver museum consultant can help. Contact us to get connected.