Once every ten years, collections staff at The Sixth Floor Museum conduct something called a “wall-to-wall inventory” – it’s a way for staff to account for every item in the Museum’s permanent collection. In 2016, the Museum received a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help fund such an inventory. Intended to be a three-year project, the Museum started its latest inventory project in October 2016. Our Curator of Collections, Lindsey Richardson, oversees the project. Her first step was to hire two full-time Inventory Technicians – Anne Hanisch and Jennifer Browder. This is the team that will carry our project through from start to finish.
A wall-to-wall inventory is just what it says: a count of every single collections item in the Museum’s storage spaces. “Inventory is an important standard in museum collections management because it helps maintain intellectual control over collections,” says Lindsey.
“The collection is already really well-organized. There are at least 50,000 items, and we expect that number to increase as we go. This year alone, we have inventoried 15,000 items,” adds Anne.
Caption: Anne Hanisch (left) and Jen Browder (right) inventory items at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
Lindsey explains, “It’s important that we know exactly what we have, where it is, and if there are any storage issues that need to be addressed. In general, the standard has been for museums to conduct a complete wall-to-wall inventory on a regular, cyclical basis – in our case, every 10 years.” Thanks to the IMLS grant, The Sixth Floor Museum can add a few extra steps to the usual inventory procedures. “Instead of just counting everything and matching to existing data, we are also processing unnumbered items.” Lindsey goes on, “So, at the end of the inventory, every item in our collections should have both a number (that will make tracking and finding it much easier) and a basic record in the database (which makes searching the contents of our collections infinitely easier).”
Jen explains further. “For example, one of the items we’ve come across is a board game – it didn’t have a number. Since the board game is an item, it gets an object number. Each little part that comes with the board game, such as the dice, cards and tokens, also needs to be accounted for, so each is assigned a part number. That way they are still connected to the game as a whole but are also accounted for as individual items in our collection.”
Caption: This board game from the 1960s comes with many parts such as dice, cards and playing pieces. Jen and Anne inventoried every single part associated with the object.
Jen also points out the care and attention to detail they and other members of collections staff practice in order to preserve, document and store objects in the collection: “We house every single object in archival materials so that they’ll be preserved for as long as possible. Hopefully, these 50+-year-old objects will remain in good shape so that multiple generations after us can still access them and learn from the stories and history they represent.”
This type of detail-oriented work can be difficult, but Anne and Jen are up to the challenge. The goal for the three-year project is to account for every item in The Sixth Floor Museum’s collection at every location where collections are stored. The team has already made great progress and other members of the collections department are happy to see the connections made between collections items and the improved quality of data for items already inventoried.
Both Jen and Anne are familiar faces at The Sixth Floor Museum. Anne previously worked in the Museum Store + Café, and Jen interned at the Museum while she was in high school. They both knew that they wanted to end up working in collections, and their degrees in history and museum studies have prepared them for the work they are doing at the Museum. They’re happy that the work they’re doing over the course of this three-year grant will have such a large impact.
“I think people need to understand how large a museum’s collection is. What you see on the surface, or what you see on display at the museum, is the tip of the iceberg. Since the museum wants to preserve and make accessible everything in collections, the things on display are the most obvious form of access. The rest, all the other collection items we have in storage, are hidden from view,” says Anne, “Because that’s the best way to ensure their preservation.”
Caption: Anne examines documents from The Sixth Floor Museum’s collection.
For the next two years, Jen and Anne will continue to work toward ensuring our collection is completely inventoried, with accurate data and archival, well-organized storage. And if you’re wondering about all the interesting objects they get to inventory, they love that part of their job, too.
“The coolest part about our job is we will get to handle every single one of those objects. So, it’s a large task, but it’s a very important task,” says Jen. Anne says it’s super-exciting to be working on an IMLS grant, especially for self-proclaimed history nerds like themselves. They wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services MA30-16-0215-16.
The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
by Amy Yen, Marketing Manager, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Employee Spotlight: Megan Bryant
Title: Director of Collections and Interpretation
Worked at the Museum: 20 years this month(!)
Hometown: Evanston, Illinois
1) Congrats on reaching 20 years at the Museum! Did you think when you started here, that you’d be here that long?
No, not at all. It doesn’t seem possible! I was 26 years old when I started here, or 7 days removed from my 27th birthday, very early in my career, and I thought, five years – tops. I wasn’t from Texas and it was just my second professional museum job after a short-term position in Illinois. I thought, I’ll be there five years, then I’ll move on. And 20 years later…
2) How did you get your start here?
The Museum had only been open seven years when I started here, so still relatively new. At that time, I’d been working as a temporary project curator at a small museum in Illinois, and I was looking for something more permanent in museum collections. The Sixth Floor Museum at the time was looking for their first museum registrar, and so I applied. As registrar, I oversaw the Museum’s collections management systems and practices and developed policies and procedures for the care and documentation of the collections. In simple terms, I kept track of the collection—physically, intellectually and legally.
3) What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since you’ve been here?
It’s a completely different place. The Museum has grown and evolved so much since I’ve been here. There were 20 people working here when I started—today, we have more than 50. We didn’t have the offices we’re in now. Most of us were in the basement of the Visitors Center. We had a collection of about 15,000—it’s up to more than 50,000 today, and we’re still growing! The Museum was so young when I started, so of course there’s growth and development, and it’s been pretty cool to witness that.
4) What’s your fondest memory?
I remember in 2008, when we developed an exhibit about Bob Jackson called A Photographer’s Story. It was very shortly after I was promoted to Director of Collections, and it was the first exhibit we’d put together with me in that position. We completely developed that exhibit in house, and it was a project I oversaw. When it was finally done, it was a great feeling of accomplishment. I remain very proud of that exhibit and the work our team did to put it together.
Similarly, when we did the updates on the Sixth Floor for the 50th anniversary in 2013. Even though it involved a week of overnight work because the Museum would be open during the day, so we could only work on the updates at night. We had some late nights and even two all-nighters. It was difficult and a challenge, but it was great when it was all done.
5) What’s your favorite object in the collection?
My favorite object in the collection is this little medal commemorative coin from a company called The Southern Rock Island Plow Company. They were the first business that was in the building at 411 Elm Street. The original building was built in 1898 and it was a five-story building, and it was occupied by the Southern Rock Island Plow Company. The building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1901, and the building that came to be known as the Texas School Book Depository was built on its foundation, as a seven-story building. This little medallion has an engraving of the five-story building on it. It’s the oldest item in our collection, and every time I see it, I think about, if that building hadn’t burned down, there only would have been a five-story building here. It’s possible a company called the Texas School Book Depository could have still been there in 1963, but what might have been different, if there were no sixth floor? I love that it’s the oldest item in the collection—it’s even older than the building!
6) If you could say something to your younger self of 20 years ago when you first started here, what would you say?
You have no idea what you’re in for! And who are you kidding that you’re only going to be there for 5 years? Dallas will become your home. You’ll meet some great people. You’re going to be part of the growth of an incredible museum. Brace yourself, it’s going to be an interesting ride.
Congrats to Megan on 20 amazing years at The Sixth Floor Museum! Want to join Megan’s team? We’re hiring! Check out JFK.org/careers for open positions.
Employee Spotlight: Jan Masterson
Title: Collections Cataloguer
Worked at the Museum: 3 years
Hometown: Nashville, TN
1) You recently changed positions from our Guest Services team to Collections. Tell me a little about how that happened.
My background is actually in Collections. That’s what I worked in in other museums and that’s what I went to grad school for. We moved here for my husband’s job a few years ago and I was actually hired as seasonal staff during the 50th Anniversary, and then I got hired on to the Guest Services team permanently. But when the Collections position came up, it was perfect for me.
2) Tell me about your new position.
I’m working on cataloguing different parts of our collections. For example, I was working on some photographs of President Kennedy a week before the assassination when he was visiting a U.S. Navy ship in Florida. Right now, I’m working on some magazines from the 1960s and even one from 1995 when Rose Kennedy passed away.
3) What is cataloguing all about & why is it important?
Cataloguing is about capturing all the pertinent data about the item. The date, description of the item, donor information and the historical significance of an item. We also either scan & photograph it to have a visual record in the database. We try to get as much information as possible about the item, so that they can be searched for and found by researchers on our website. We have only catalogued about half of the more than 50,000 items in our collections. It takes a lot of time to catalogue, so we just have to slowly work our way through it.
4) What’s your favorite part about your new position and working at the Museum?
I love getting to handle the objects and investigating their significance. For example, yesterday I was working on a copy of a job application turned in by Lee Harvey Oswald from October 1963, and there was this handwritten note on the back from the interviewer about what a former employer told him. Basically, he was not recommended for the job. It’s just cool to see this little insight into what was happening in the past.
My favorite part about working at the Museum is the people I get to work with. It’s not such an enormous staff that you don’t know who people are. I enjoy that this is such a pivotal moment in U.S. history and getting to help tell that story.
5) What’s something cool that’s happened to you since you started working here?
A couple of weeks ago, I was working Admissions and I met this man who was a former Dallas police officer and he told me he was on the force in 1963, although he was not in Dealey Plaza when the assassination happened. But he was close to J.D. Tippit, so I immediately thought it would be great to ask him to participate in our Oral History Project. So I got his information and hopefully we’ll be able to capture his story. It’s pretty cool to get to meet people who have a connection with this place and what happened here.
6) Secret hobby/passion?
I knit! I keep a project with me everywhere. I keep one in the car in case I get stuck in traffic. I always have one with me and three sitting on my couch in the midst of being completed. I’m working on a skirt for my cousin’s 7 year old daughter and I’m working on two baby hats. And I’m making a turtle!
7) If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
To fly. It’d be cool to go wherever you want, whenever you want. Plus, you can skip traffic!