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  Managing Archeological Collections Access and Use Distance Learning


(photo) Researcher examining artifacts under a microscope.
Examining artifacts under a microscope. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Archaeology, City of Alexandria, Virginia.

Access to and use of collections is an essential aspect of doing both archeology and collections management, as well as conducting interpretation and heritage-oriented activities. Repository staff must have easy access to collections to implement basic management activities discussed in previous sections, as well as to use them for research, interpretation, and developing exhibits and public programs. Archeologists and other scholars, interpreters, educators, culturally affiliated groups, and members of the public need access to collections for:

  • research, such as background study to develop a project proposal, regional or thematic synthetic works, conservation studies, and materials analysis
  • publications, such as books, articles, films, video, multimedia, and Internet products
  • exhibitions, such as exhibits of objects and documents, visible storage, and multimedia exhibits on the Internet or CD-ROM
  • education and interpretation, such as demonstrations in the field for the local community where a project was undertaken, classroom and repository educational programs (especially in academic repositories for instruction and class projects), and long distance learning on the Internet
  • heritage-related activities, such as sacred and religious rites
  • reproductions, such as reproductions for sale, as well as preservation and security copies provided as alternatives to the original for use
  • derivative works, such as posters, T-shirts, tote bags, postcards, toys, and coloring books

Although 36 CFR 79 mandates access to federal collections for their use and many state, tribal, and local curation policies have similar mandates, there are few policies or standardized procedures on how much and what kinds of access are appropriate for archeological collections. There are different issues that pertain to access and use of different kinds of collections, types of material remains, and types of associated records, as well as to different types of repositories. These issues mainly involve striking a balance between preservation and use.

The benefits of increased access and use include reaching a wider audience, advancing science, promoting research and interpretation, and sharing public resources. The disadvantages include the need for increased security, careful consideration of the conservation risks to the objects and records, and possible infringements on intellectual property rights if copyright and privacy considerations are not properly handled. As well, there is often a need for more funding and staffing to handle access and use activities.

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