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.
Many visitors express curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, and this new series, “The Sixth Floor Museum: Behind the Scenes,” was created to answer those questions. It takes a lot of hard work and daily attention to every detail to protect and preserve the 50,000+ objects in our collection. From a multitude newspaper clippings to the recognizable Hertz sign formerly atop the Texas School Book Depository, there’s a myriad of exciting, interesting and unique items. The care of these objects is varied as well, and our Collections staff is up for the challenge of looking after a large array of objects. A number of items are on loan to the Museum, and the staff cares for these objects just as if they were our own. One such object is the FBI model, on display on the sixth floor.
Owned by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the FBI Model is on long-term loan to The Sixth Floor Museum, where it has been on display since 1995. The model was built by the FBI in 1964 to help investigate the Kennedy assassination and was also later used by the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations when they conducted their investigations. There are very strict conditions, especially regarding lighting, for this special object and the Museum is diligent about ensuring these conditions are met.
Recently, Abigail Aldrich, Exhibits Conservator at NARA, stopped by to assess the condition of the model. Aldrich says that one of the most interesting things about the FBI Model is that because it was developed specifically to assist with a criminal investigation, it was not built to last forever. For example, the shrubs and trees in the model are made with natural sponge, which is very fragile. Over time, tiny pieces might start to come off. Aldrich says this can’t be totally avoided, but meticulous care can help slow the aging process.
As a part of her assessment, Aldrich performed what is known as a “condition check” on the FBI Model. To do this, she compared the model’s current state to what was previously noted by NARA, checked for areas of concern and ran numerous tests. Light levels, temperature and humidity are monitored to make sure that those levels meet the exacting standards NARA sets in place for all objects on loan. Aldrich says that though she expected there to be significant change since the last time NARA checked the object, she was impressed by its overall condition.
The FBI Model is encased in special UV-filtered glass that keeps as much light as possible out of its case without obstructing one’s view of the model. To help prevent damage from light, the Collections department monitors surrounding light levels with both an environmental monitor and a light reader installed inside the FBI model case. If testing reveals that levels are incorrect, staff adjusts the model’s exposure to light sources. Sometimes, this means removing or rearranging light around the case.
Very little about the model’s condition has changed since the last time it was inspected by NARA. That’s a testament to The Sixth Floor Museum’s commitment to preservation and to the strong working relationship between NARA and our Collections staff.
Your guide to getting the most out of your visit to the Museum
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza welcomes many visitors from all over the globe during the summer months. However, as Dallas locals know, summer is not our most forgiving season, since temperatures sometimes reach triple-digits. We have compiled a list of tips that will help you enjoy your trip to the Museum this summer, no matter how high the heat index.
Wear comfortable clothes
Summers in Dallas are H-O-T! Out-of-towners are often surprised that while the temperature may only be 93, the heat index makes it feel much warmer outside. Thankfully, The Sixth Floor Museum is indoors and air conditioned, but we still recommend dressing for the sweltering heat outside. Comfortable walking shoes, breathable shirts and shorts are recommended.
Buy tickets online
Sometimes the Museum sells out. Summer is a busy time of year and we want to ensure your visit is a special one! You can buy timed tickets online a minimum of two hours in advance at www.jfk.org. Often, buying tickets online helps you better plan your trip and it might minimize your wait time to get into the Museum.
Take note of museum hours
Unlike many museums that are closed on Mondays, The Sixth Floor Museum is open daily. Admission hours are Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Mondays 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, if you do arrive early on a Monday, have no fear! The Museum Store + Café is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Located across the street from the Museum at 501 Elm street, it’s situated on the corner of N. Houston Street and Elm. Early birds can enjoy coffee from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters and snack on pastries from Rush Patisserie and sandwiches from Bolsa while they wait.
Visit Museum Store + Café
We strongly recommend a visit to the Museum Store + Café after you view the exhibit as well. In addition to the delectable assortment of edibles listed above, the Café also sells Henry’s Ice Cream, a delicious North Texas treat. The merchandise is eclectic, including a wide range of books, collectibles, jewelry and gifts. You’ll find items pertaining to President Kennedy’s campaign, assassination and legacy. The Museum Store + Café also carries jewelry, books and gifts that evoke Jackie Kennedy’s famous personal style, as well as items that center around rich culture of Texas and downtown Dallas.
Get the most out of your day in Big D
Did you know that when you park in The Sixth Floor Museum’s parking lot during the day, your parking is valid until 7 p.m.? In addition to visiting the Museum, we recommend getting the most out of your day in Dallas by visiting other nearby institutions or eating a meal at one of the great restaurants in the West End. For this, you will also want to wear comfortable shoes! Many exciting attractions and food destinations are just a 10-15 minute walk away.
Regardless of how you plan your trip around a visit to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, our goal is to ensure your time in the Museum will be a profound experience with lasting memories. We hope to see you soon at The Sixth Floor Museum!
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.