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Get your copy of Active Collections, the BOOK 

In November 2015, we held The Future of Museum Collections Roundtable at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. An overview of the participants present, their topics, and our following discussions can be found in the Roundtable section. 



Do you walk through collections storage and see row after row of nearly identical artifacts? Do you start out each year with a resolution to finally eliminate your cataloging backlog, only to fall further behind? Do you pass by the Heritage Health Index report on your office bookshelf and get a little queasy thinking about how there are thousands of history museums just like yours? Out of all the objects in your collections, can you only think of a handful that could be used in transformative exhibitions and programming?            

Are you slowly being buried alive under an avalanche of objects that only sort of serve your mission?       


To some extent, these are age old issues for history museums, but the problems are getting worse because of some important trends:

  1. Americans are being crushed by avalanches of objects. The average American house is 26% larger than it was in 1980, and self storage is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. The idea that more stuff is better is creating a nation with too many things.

  2. The 20th century is impossible for history museums to collect comprehensively: there’s just too much stuff. As we push further into the 21st century it is clear that our museums’ conventional model for acquiring and managing collections is unsustainable.

  3. The bar is now higher for museums. With decreased public funding and more engaged donors, museums can no longer just be institutions that just preserve collections. History museums must demonstrate real public value to their communities or face extinction.

We want to generate discussion and action across the history museum field to develop a new approach to collections, one that is more effective and sustainable. As a first step, we drafted a Manifesto. Now we’re calling on you to help us move from problem to solution.