Museum Storage – Somebody’s Gotta Organize It!

27 Jun

Before I start in on what I am doing and what my project goals are, I think an introduction is in order. My name is Amanda Qualls, and I am a volunteer and former employee of the IMA. In 2006 I was a freshman at Butler University, and I had the pleasure of working at the Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center. I transferred to a different university my sophomore year, and so did not return to this position in 2007. In 2009 the Dutton Center was closed and items within it were redistributed to the Stout Reference Library and Audience Engagement Department.

Though the items taken over by both departments have been cared for and in use since 2009, the objects acquired by Audience Engagement were placed into storage at the time of the closure and have not undergone any sort of organization or inventory since – this is the project I have undertaken! This summer, the Dutton Collection will be organized, inventoried, and new proposals for use will be made.

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The Dutton Collection was moved into a storage room at the time of the Center’s closure. This storage room, while not completely dedicated to the Dutton Collection, is comprised mostly of former Dutton Center objects (about 80% of the room’s space is dedicated to Dutton). One of my first, and perhaps my largest, tasks as a volunteer charged with reorganizing and re-purposing the Dutton Collection is to organize this space and the objects within it. Some areas of the room were more organized than others when I began, but object placement was entirely inconsistent, with African, Asian, North and South American, Oceanic, and European objects sharing shelves throughout the room.

In order to organize the collection I removed groupings of objects from shelves and sorted by continent. Once this was completed, like items were moved to consolidated areas within the storage space. Following this, items were organized by box size and type (such as container or costume). I am currently in the final stages of the organization process – the creation of a collection map. This map will be displayed on the shelves directly in front of the door to the room, giving clear information to users of the items about the contents of the different aisles and shelves within the space.

I am also in the midst of the item inventory, with around 90% of the items now accounted for. The inventory of docent carts is expected to account for the final 10%. The next steps in the project will be to create policies for use and conservation of the collection, and propose ideas for future use. There are a lot of great objects in this collection, and Audience Engagement is excited to finally extract their full potential!

Collections Alive: The Changing State of the Dutton Collection

20 Jun

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The Dutton Collection, so named because it was once housed in the Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center (JSDERC) which was financially underwritten by Jane and Ben Dutton, has undergone many changes in the past several decades. It has been moved, merged, and re-purposed many times, and it is undergoing one of those changes currently. The Dutton Collection is today comprised of individual artifacts, which are authentic or reproduction items not considered to be of museum quality, and other teaching materials (such as teacher packets or kits). Items in the collection exemplify Asian, Oceanic, African, American, and European art and artifacts. The collection is strongest in African art, which comprises over 50% of the items.

Dutton items were originally collected, stored, and administered by staff in the Education Department at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The items under the direction of the Education Department consisted of individual objects as well as museum kits, which consisted of objects, books, lesson plans, and other items that supported a theme. These items were available for loan both within and outside of the museum, often to area educators, who would use these objects as in-class aids. In parallel with the items for loan by the Education Department a slide library also existed from 1970 onward under various departments and differing lines of administrative reporting. The slide library initially loaned slides to staff and the public, and eventually expanded to collect and lend teaching packets.

In order to check out items from the Education Department in the years before 1997 staff or patrons made an appointment to accompany an Education Department employee to the Dutton Collection (though not so named at the time) storage area, which was in a non-public section of the museum. At the storage room staff or patrons would select and check-out items, and be granted the necessary permissions for use and transportation of the items. The slide library was also lending items, but unlike the education items, the slide library was in a public area of the museum and had defined open hours. Patrons or staff need not schedule a meeting in order to view and check-out materials.

Having these two lending programs running parallel was cumbersome and inefficient, and by 1994 the leaders of the Education Department identified the need to consolidate their lending program into one location. They undertook the planning for this, and in 1996 were able to secure funding for a new lending resources center from Jane and Ben Dutton. Jane Dutton was a 5th and 6th grade teacher, a Sustaining Life Trustee of the IMA, and a longtime member of the museum’s volunteer organization. The following year the Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center opened to the public, now offering all objects available for loan in one convenient location. In 2001 the Center was moved into a newly renovated space, the result of a major renovation of the entire museum.

In February 2009 the Dutton Center was dissolved and items were relocated to a storage area out of public view. While there were multiple reasons behind the closure, the waning use of slides played no small part in the closure. The assessment and preservation, conversion, or disposal of slides and video resources (often in VHS format) is an ongoing project by the library. The Dutton Collection artifacts are currently undergoing reorganization, inventory, and proposals for future use. Many of the Dutton Collection items can be regularly seen on Docent carts, and new uses and possibilities for the items are forthcoming. More coming on this in the coming weeks!


  • 1970 – Slide library is established in the Education Department.
  • 1979 – Slide library is re-positioned under the  Department of Visual Resources and Services.
  • 1987 – The Department of Visual Resources and Services is dissolved, however a Coordinator of Visual Resources and Services and a Visual Resources Assistant continue to staff the library.
  • 1988 – The Stout Reference Library is moved into the Education Department from the Curatorial Division, and the slide library isreorganized to report to the head librarian.
  • 1994 – The first teaching packets are purchased by the slide library.
  • 1994 through 1996 – Education Department leadership identifies the need consolidate lending services into one location, and undetrakes the organization of this new space.
  • 1996 – The museum receives a grant from Jane and Ben Dutton to establish an educational resource center.
  • 1997 – The circulating collections are consolidated in the newly created Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center. Artifacts and museum kits that had been circulated by education, and slide, video, and teacher packets that had been circulated by the slide library were brought together.
  • 2001 – A new space for the Dutton Center  is planned and executed to go along with the major renovation of the museum.
  • 2009 – The Dutton Center was dissolved and its collections dispersed to various locations. Videos and slides from the center were taken on by the Library, while the Audience Engagement (Education) Department took control of the objects and museum kits, effectively returning the collection to the same organization it had been in before 1997.
  • 2012 – Artifacts (or realia) from the Center (known as the Dutton Collection) are reorganized and re-purposed to find new life within the new museum structure.

The  history of the Dutton Center was partially adapted from Joan M. Benedetti’s 2007 book Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press), in which Jane Ferger, then Visual Resources Librarian of JSDERC, wrote a chapter on the Dutton Center.