Here are some crazy ideas we've been kicking around. We wish some history museums would try them and then write up the results for our case study page. We also wish you'd contribute your own crazy ideas for us to post.
Deaccession Special Ops Team
Large-scale deaccessioning is complicated and hard. It has such a high learning curve, and yet many museums/museum workers do it once and never again, so there's no opportunity to apply the learning and develop deeper expertise. What if history museums could apply for deaccession consultations, similar to a MAP assessment? A team of deaccession experts—senior museum professionals with deep collections knowledge and multiple deaccession experiences—would travel the country, helping museums make sound decisions in planning and implementing large-scale deaccessioning. Assistance from the special ops team would convey a seal of approval that the deaccession project had been carried out ethically and according to best practices. Maybe you could make more confident decisions if the special ops team is there to help you figure out which artifacts are lazy and which are active.
Let's develop a usefulness meter to measure how important artifacts are to our institution. Libraries often cull books that haven't been checked out in a number of years. What would be a good metric to use for history museum collections so we could determine if they are useful to the institution? Would it be as simple as how many times it was researched or loaned? What are the other factors at play?
Easily Customized (and Shared) Collections Plans
dPlan is a great template for creating a disaster preparedness plan. It will even remind you when you need to update it. We've looked at a lot of collections plans, but they're all over the map in terms of content and format. Could we create a template for a collections plan that museums could use? It could help standardize data and formats. AND it would make it easy to share and see what other museums in your state and region are collecting—to make it easier to tell when you were duplicating efforts.
A Field for Emotions
One way to tell that an object is active and holds deep meaning for museum audiences is when it elicits deep emotion—joy, pride, shame, heartbreak. How about a field in collections databases to catalog emotions associated with artifacts? This strategy alone won't solve our collections problems, but it might be a useful tool in understanding which objects are lazy and which are active: if you look at an object and draw a complete emotional blank, maybe you should think twice about whether it's serving any purpose in your collection.