Welcome to module 7

Learning Objectives


Module 7 will teach students about the practical considerations behind museum collections management.

By the end of this module students will be able to:

  • Define the primary responsibilities of collections managers
  • List three reasons why museums need to manage their collections
  • Describe one difference between the management of cultural vs natural history collections

lecture THEMES

Basic concepts / Archaeology collections

In this presentation Scott Shirar introduces and provides an overview of the basic concepts and practical considerations of collections management from the institutional level. He also provides specific information about the archaeology collections at UAMN concerning how and why we acquire collections, how we integrate and store those collections, how we manage the associated data, and how we provide access to that material. This video also provides specific examples of how the archaeology collection is managed using a combination of paper and electronic storage methods. (18:33)

paper-based Collection Management systems

Many small historical or ethnological museums are completely reliant on paper-based collection management system. Large museums use combinations of computer and paper systems. Each system has important elements that help collections managers document the various transactions associated with the objects for which they care. In this video, Angela Linn shares how the staff, students, and researchers who work in the UAMN Ethnology & History collection rely on the paper-based system to document over 17,000 objects. (11:48)

natural history collections

Two videos posted in the Activities/Assignments section below are provided by Aren Gunderson, collection manager for mammalogy, which show some of the hands-on process of bringing mammals from the field to the museum and then into the collections. In one video he walks you through the process of preparing a marmot, including cleaning the skeleton and taking samples for the frozen tissues collection. In the second video he and a crew from the museum salvage a humpback whale from Kincaid Beach near Anchorage.

genomics collections – DIGITAL MANAGEMENT

Kyndall Hildebrandt, Collection Manager of Genomic Resources at UAMN, shares how she manages a collection of 260,000 tissue samples in a totally digital platform. (6:45)

data management

Collecting and organizing data about collections objects is a major activity in collections management. This summary document by Campbell Webb introduces students to some of the key functions of a data management system. He shares links to videos that will help explain those ideas. (estimated time to complete – 25:00)


The specialized tasks associated with collections management involve a shared vocabulary between professionals. Learn this list of terms to better understand this field of museum work.

  1. Collection Management Policy
  2. Stewardship
  3. Catalog
  4. Database
  5. Conservation
  6. Specimen
  7. Object
  8. Taxonomy
  9. Inventory
  10. Preparation
  11. Accession
  12. Accession file

Activities / Assignments

Reading / Video content



Jamestown – Managing the Archaeological Collection (7:19)

Alaska Energy Desk: Trans-Alaska Archaeology (3:05)

Canada Science & Technology Centre – Artifact Move and Storage (2:15)

Expedition Alaska: Mammals Skeletal Preparation (2:22)

Field Collection: Whale Skeleton Takes Flight in Anchorage (1:37)

UAMN Herbarium: Plant Pressing (12:21)

UAMN Genomic Resources (3:29)

Museum Science – Washing a Duck Specimen (4:07)



For Exploration:


Log into our course shell in Canvas and go to ‘Quizzes’ on the left side menu.

Take ‘Quiz 7’: Vocabulary related to Collections Management.

You will have up to three attempts to match the vocabulary and definitions. Click over to Canvas to take quiz 7.

Meet Up

Time to get together! This is optional but highly encouraged. We will meet via Zoom at 12:30 pm (AKST) on Friday March 3. The link to the session can be found in this Google Document (you must be part of the class to view the document). If you are unable to join the meeting will be recorded and you will be expected to review the recording prior to writing your discussion post (see below).

Assignment – Discussion

Activity: Find one item in an online museum database and examine some of the collections management elements associated with it. This might include: accession, loans, projects, exhibits, condition reports or conservation treatments, media, or other documentation. Find an item in your home and write a post that describes that item in a similar way.

  1. Create a new post on this website and answer this question based on your personal experience. Your post should be roughly 500 words and should include an image. Think about the reading and video material this week and personal experiences you have had to help illustrate your ideas.
  2. At the end of your post, include a question for your fellow students to answer.
  3. Respond to each others’ posts (you will need to respond to/comment on at least two other posts).
  4. Select “7. Collections Management Discussion” from the list of discussion categories on the right hand side of your posting window on the dashboard.

Looking Forward

Next week we’ll look at preventive conservation & preservation, including the philosophy, different theoretical approaches, ethics and practical issues.

Did you know?

Fun tidbit not to be tested on.

The State Hermitage Museum, one of the greatest and most recognizable landmarks in St. Petersburg, Russia, that was once the home of the Tsars, employs cats to keep the museum free of mice and rats. According to various sources, 50 to 70 cats are living and working in the Hermitage today. —Source