Whether digitizing collections, developing conservation techniques, or discovering previously unknown astral bodies, folks here at the Smithsonian are always on the cusp of the next big thing. SITES' head registrar Christina Schwartz is no exception.
Leading the American Association of Museum's (AAM) registrars' committee, Chris recently finished updating the "standard facility report," the often-maligned document so crucial for museums wanting to borrow objects. The report is a technical look at your building from the ground up: How safe is it? Is the HVAC system working properly? Does the site have a secure loading dock? Are the galleries flooded with afternoon light? Indeed, 95% of lenders won't give you that much-desired painting or sculpture if you DON'T have a current facilities report (within the last three years).
Because of limited resources or aging facilities, small museums (and even some mid-sized museums) may have difficulty with some of the questions in the report. Fear not. Local fire departments, security companies, and HVAC operators will have answers. If you're in the market for free services, peruse your rolodex for colleagues at larger museums who might be willing to offer advice and/or unused equipment (hygrothermometers, for example, to measure temperature and humidity). No matter what your situation, you should strive to complete the report. (Don't forget, having a current and complete document is also necessary for museum accreditation.)
Chris acknowledges that first-timers may find the questions a bit intimidating, and that's okay. What most lenders want to see is that an institution took the report seriously and worked diligently to fill in the gaps. Transparency is important. This is not the place where "I don't recall" is an appropriate response. If you're truly unable to come up with answers, there is help out there. The AAM hosts a great list-serv, where folks can ask just about any question and receive a number of varied, erudite solutions from registrar's who know what's what. Chris also cites a fantastic AAM-sponsored mentoring program that matches museum neophytes with seasoned professionals willing to lend a hand.
For larger institutions that have already completed a standard facilities report, you'll notice a few additional questions in the new version, helping to increase the level of understanding between lenders and borrowers. Don't roll your eyes. The minutia is important. The ultimate goal is to raise the level of professionalism and provide the best care for our treasured objects. When all the gray areas become black-and-white, there's much less room for errors and misunderstandings.
Want to get a copy of the new "General Facility Report"? Visit Chris at her AAM session this Sunday in Denver at 2:15 p.m. The report will also be available from the AAM's bookstore.