Collections, Collaboration and Community at the inaugural C3 Conference

A box on a closet shelf may be enough for you to protect your own precious collection of matchbooks or state spoons, but caring for 155 million objects ranging from mosquitoes to mammoth bones is a bit more daunting. The inaugural C3 conference aims to share our collective wisdom about collections.

C3 Conference Graphic

Collections staff at the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and galleries, National Zoo, archives, and libraries are responsible for more than 155 million items, 162,300 cubic feet of archival material, and some 2.1 million library volumes. The size and breadth of our collections is unprecedented—as are the issues presented in caring and preserving these incredibly diverse materials. Last October, the National Collections Program and Collections Advisory Committee hosted the inaugural Collections Collaboration Community Conference, or C3, to provide a forum for collections concerns to be expressed and collaborative solutions developed.

Audience listens to unseen speaker

Participants listening to opening remarks at the inaugural 2018 C3 Conference. (Photo by Michael Barnes)

The C3 Conference was organized to bring pan-Institutional collections topics to the forefront and encourage discussion. An earlier series of C3 Brown Bag lectures and a Collections Share Fair, helped identify specific issues that our collections professionals wanted to discuss, including deaccessioning, object safety, open access, sharing loan and documentation strategies, and sustainability in collections management and preservation practices.

Some 168 staff participated in the C3 conference at the Dillon S. Ripley Center, representing not only collections staff, but security, facilities and other units who participate in the care of our collections.   The conference opened with remarks from Samantha Snell and Director Bill Tompkins of NCP, followed by an informal discussion with Secretary David J. Skorton; Deputy Undersecretary for Smithsonian Collections and Interdisciplinary Studies Scott Miller; Ellen Stofan, director of the National Air and Space Museum; Stephanie Stebich, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Dr. Skorton led the discussion on the challenges of collections care before participants formed break-out groups to the issues in more intimate groups.

Speakers on stage at C3 Conference

From left, Ellen Stofan, director of the National Air and Space Museum; Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton; Deputy Under Secretary Scott Miller; and Smithsonian American Art Museum director Stephanie Stebich discuss different issues and concerns about collections at the Smithsonian. Photo by Michael Barnes)

One of the main goals of the conference was to provide a venue for staff to come together, share  thoughts, experiences, and concerns; and lay a foundation for relationships between staff who may have never had an opportunity to meet before. Topic-focused breakout groups provided an opportunity for attendees to participate in lively discussions and share their ideas about collections issues and solutions.

The discussions surrounding the five topics of the conference – deaccessioning, object safety, open access, sharing loan and documentation strategies, and sustainability – will continue with further programs and collaborative opportunities organized by the Collections Professional Development Subcommittee, C3 Conference session leaders, and the NCP.

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Object Safety session participants get to know their groups with the guidance of their leaders, Cathy Hawks (NMNH) and Sarah Stauderman (HMSG). (Photo by Michael Barnes

Two women place post-it notes on white board

Open Access session co-leader Rebecca Snyder (NMNH) and scribe Katie Wagner (SL) organize their thoughts visually at the front of the classroom. (Photo by Michael Barnes)

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Attendees at the Sharing Documentation and Loan Strategies session offer their perspectives perspectives to session leaders Kelly McHugh (NMAI) and Raj Solanki (HMSG). (Photo by Michael Barnes)

“I am so proud that the National Collections Program was able to provide an opportunity for folks to come together and talk about collections topics that touch each of us in different ways,” said Collections Management Specialist Sam Snell. “Having so many staff members participate from across the Smithsonian really made this inaugural event a success. What an honor it was to be part of an event that gave us a chance to learn from and with each other.”

In 2019, you can expect more opportunities for these valuable Collections conversations to take place with the upcoming Brown Bag lecture and webinar series, an object-handling workshop, the annual Collections Share Fair, and of course, the 2019 C3 Conference.

Group photo of NCP team

The National Collections Program team. From left, Shannon Nortz (Intern), Melissa Miller (Intern), Samantha Snell (Collections Management Specialist), Bill Tompkins (Director), Amelia Kile (Collections Program Specialist), Allaire Stritzinger (Intern), and Steven Trinh (Intern). (Photo by Michael Barnes)

Shannon Nortz is currently an intern with the National Collections Program focusing on the Professional Development initiative. She holds a master’s degree in Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies and bachelor’s degrees in History and Art History from Florida State University.

Posted: 8 March 2019
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