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Research Agenda

There’s a gap in our knowledge (especially in the United States) about the objects museums have, how they are acquired, and how to use them in more innovative ways. However, we know that there has to be exciting research and innovative projects that we haven’t heard about!  We're just a couple of passionate museum professionals with day jobs so we are asking for your help in furthering our mission.  If you know of good writing, research, or projects underway in any of these areas, please tell us about them!


  • The impact of museum objects on visitors’ emotions. Is it possible to chart how people feel about collections?

  • Easy museum loans -- are there museums that are loaning collections to other institutions with the ease of an inter-library loan system?

  • A survey that looked at museum workers and hoarding. Are we more likely than the general public to have problems getting rid of things?

  • Good data about how collections are used at your museum. Tracking how many times collections are used and for what (like libraries do with checked out books).

  • Research on the impact of the MPLP (More Product Less Process) has had on archives. Are there studies that show increased archival use as hidden collections are made discoverable?

  • What is the ratio between what American museums are acquiring vs. what they are deaccessioning (there’s some data from England, but is there anything from the US?) 

  • Surveys looking at the average collections“backlog” in different types ofAmerican museums.

  • Do collections approaches and policies vary worldwide based on cultural relationships to material culture?

  • Are there examples of museums that only collect digital assets?

  • Are there examples of museums that have eliminated their collections but are still active museums?

  • Studies looking at the rate of acquiring things by Americans in the 21st century. We know the self-storage business has boomed, but has this been systematically studied?

  • Data on the costs of collecting. What does it cost museums to acquire and store collections?

  • Studies looking at the motivations of donors for giving collections to museums. Can we better understand their reasons for donating?

  • Data on measuring the power/impact of allowing visitors to touch “real” artifacts?

  • Examples, anecdotes and case studies about museums undertaking large-scale deaccessioning projects.

  • Museums using different metadata to help users search for collections based on emotion or meaning -- not simply classification by object type.

  • Are there success stories from around the world that someone can share? We know there have been similar efforts in England. How about other places?

  • Most metrics on collections are focused on counting them and/or calculating the percentage of collections that are "at risk." Has anyone tried to do this while looking at the usefulness of these collections? We're concerned about declaring something "at risk" if there's no real benefit to saving it.

  • How can we measure the "usefulness" of collections? Has anyone tried to develop a metric for this based on your mission? (see the Crazy Ideas page for more).

  • We need ideas on how to involve communities in these discussions. Any takers? Too often collections conversations remain internal and do not involve stakeholders. How can we get better at that? 

  • How about some funding so we can go farther, faster?

We want this project to have lasting impact across the field, but we need help to make that happen!