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Gail Steketee Summary

Summary written by graduate assistant Anne Jordan

Dr. Steketee was an interesting person present at the Roundtable because she was the only member who operates outside the museum world.  She comes from a social work background and works with people who suffer from hoarding disorders.  So what does that have to do with museums and collections? Everything.  The practices some institutions have employed essentially mimic the tendencies individual hoarders possess.  Dr. Steketee’s talk, then, overviewed the symptoms, consequences, and treatment options available for those who possess hoarding tendencies and we the listeners connected that to our field of work.    

For example, Dr. Steketee discussed the difference between collecting and hoarding, and you could hear the museum professionals in the room start to feel uncomfortable with the reality they were facing.  If you collect objects, you have focused themes and only collect what you need; hoarding is when you collect many types of different objects that may or may not adhere to your own guidelines.  Collecting is usually a pleasurable experience whereas hoarding can cause distress due to the clutter the objects create and the fear or discarding objects.  In recent years, many museums have complained about the lack of space in their collection rooms and disorganization in their databases.  Does this make museums and museum professionals hoarders?  That is a question for individual institutions to decide.

There was a positive side to this discussion, too. Dr. Steketee discussed some of the treatments used to control the hoarding tendencies.  The first step in treating your hoarding problem is to define your personal values (a.k.a. looking back at your mission statement).  As an institution, you need to figure out what you want most and what is most important to you.  Next, you must work on your organizational and problem solving skills to relieve some of your stress.  Finally, you need to restrict your acquiring and decrease the size of your collection.  To some, these steps may not appear to be new.  To others, however, this is a new way of looking at their collection and their hoarding problem.

Dr. Steketee may have opened the eyes to those you never wanted to admit they have a problem.  If more museums step back and think of their organization as one being with a hoarding problem, maybe they’d be more willing to change their collecting ways.