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Managing Cultural Resources with GIS: Museum Collections

Intermountain Support Office
Matthew Wilson
Museum collection management, including proper storage of collections not on exhibit, comprises one of the fundamental responsibilities of all parks in the National Park Service (NPS). The increasing numbers of museum collections and management facilities proposed in the Intermountain Region (IMR) in these tight budget times has prompted an analysis of how best to meet the Region’s museum collection storage needs and determine the related facility, staffing, and maintenance costs. Sustainability of these highly complex and large scale facilities must be included in any analysis. Such facilities must meet professional and NPS standards for preservation, care and access.

As part of the development of a regional strategy for the identification and prioritization for the construction of new museum storage facilities in the Intermountain Region, the Curation and GIS Program collaborated on a “mapping” project. The goal of the project was to produce a series of maps documenting the size and location of NPS museum collections, including archival materials, found at parks, centers, and non-NPS repositories. It was known that the region’s 84 sites,(78units with museum collections) werelocated in 8 states, and included collections numberingover 23 million items (25% of the servicewide total as of FY2001). Collection facilitieswere scattered throughout the region, and on loan throughout nationand overseas; however a graphic display of this data had never been attempted. Documenting the various locations, points-of-contact, type of collections (i.e., archeology, archives, biology, ethnography, geology, history, & paleontology), and the number of items/specimens within each discipline for all known collections comprisedthe data included in spreadsheets used to create the maps. A series of more than 165 related pie graphs and bar charts showing other collections related data were also created to accompany the maps.

The maps themselves were used by an interdisciplinary team, assembled from parks, centers, Support Offices, and partners to develop a DRAFT Regional Strategy to meet the goal of Regional Director Karen Wade’s Task Directive.Technical expertise from museum curators, as well as, architects, engineers, archivists, archeologists, natural resource managers and others, including partners from outside the NPS were involved to ensure a quality product and an deliver an objective opinion.Data to be reviewed included: collections scope, adequacy of facilities, accessibility of collections, existing staff devoted to collections management tasks, preservation of the collection and a comparison of the cost effectiveness of the various types of museum storage facilities currently in use in the region. Four pertinent models were developed:

1. Manage a park’s collections on-site in an existing structure or in a new structure

2. Manage a park’s collections off-site but within close proximity to the park

3. Manage a park’s collections in a NPS multi-park facility or a collections facility shared with a park partner

4. Loan a park’s collection to a federal on non-federal repository

A functional analysis of the collection management processes, followed by a Value Analysis process of the various types of facilities was used to test the models and select the preferred strategy alternative.

Using an existing map of the Intermountain Region, an overlay was created that identified the individual parks with museum and archival collections, and noted their location and the relative size using a color coded key. Data for this map was drawn from the FY2000 Collection Management Reports (CMR), which aresubmitted annually by all parks to the Museum Management Program, Washington Office (MMP-WASO). CMR data documents the size, type, growth, accessioning/cataloging rates, cataloged vs. backlogged collection levels, research use, anddeaccession/repatriation actionsrelated to each park and/or center collection over the course of the past fiscal year.This primary regional map showed NPS individual and/or multi-park sites, as well as, NPS centers within the region, such as the Western Archeological and Conservation Center (WACC) in Tucson, AZ, and centers outside the region, but containing IMR collections, such as the Midwest Archeological Center (MWAC) in Lincoln, NE.

A second map, showing theUnited States was created to show the location of collectionsfrom IMR parksstored and documented at non-NPS repositories.
Note: a large number of NPS collections, primarily natural history collections, archeology and archives are located at non-NPS repositories, but documentation is lacking, and their existence is sometimesunknown to parks. Incomplete data for this map was taken from the only servicewide surveyof such data known to exist, developed by the MMP-WASO in 1994, and sent to all potential repositories containing NPS collections. Response to this survey was voluntary and the submittal return rate was less than 100%. Therefore, additional data was collected from the park’s FY00 CMRs. The mapping data indicatedIMR collections were located in more than 19 states, scattered across the continental United States, from California to Rhode Island.

Athird map created for IMR collections located at International Repositories demonstrated that regional collections were also on loanto institutions overseas for research and storage in locations as far away as Japan, Russia and Germany. From the maps it became clear that many national and international repositories had collections from more than one IMR park, and several had collections from 35 or more parks in a single location. One IMR park has collection items located at 15 separate repositories. The data clearly demonstrates that research activities, both from within and outside the service, and loaned NPS collections from the parks and centers of the IMR are both active and widespread.

A second series of GIS maps identifying the locations for selected museum storage facilities for individual IMR parks, multi-park facilities, centers and non-NPS repositories are currently being developed from the DRAFT Strategy with input from parks, centers, and partners.

Copies of the DRAFT IMR Museum Facilities Strategy, including the above maps, and the related pie graphs and bar charts are located on the following websites:

For more information please contact:

Matthew P. Wilson, Museum Curator
National Park Service
Intermountain Region, Support Office - Denver
12795 W. Alameda Parkway
Denver, CO 80225-0287
(303) 987-6690 FAX 987-6675
April 08, 2004