A Semester Well Spent: My Experience as a Collections Intern at the National Postal Museum
By Emily Conforto, National Postal Museum Intern
As a graduate student pursuing a career in the museum world, I was searching for hands-on experience working directly with museum collections. Fortunately, I was offered a collections management internship with the Preservation department of the National Postal Museum (NPM) for the fall 2015 semester. The skills NPM staff have helped me develop over the past four months are invaluable, and my experience at the museum has been nothing short of incredible.
Throughout my tenure, NPM staff ensured that I was exposed to as many different aspects of collections management as possible. I visited off-site collections storage units to evaluate the condition of specific items and learned how to properly care for and clean objects. I engaged with the public through our 10 Agents of Deterioration Game, where visitors match images of damaged objects to the types of deterioration that caused them. This game teaches visitors how to preserve their own collections at home, whether they collect stamps or other items such as family photographs.
I also had the privilege of working on the Rapid Capture Pilot Project where staff digitized 3,600 items in our permanent collection in just one week. In addition to these opportunities, I was responsible for long-term projects focused on re-housing and creating database records for various objects.
I rehoused three different collections throughout my internship: historic glass plate negatives, glassine hinges, and the remainder of the Sidney N. Shure collection of stamps and covers from Palestine. Rehousing is an important integral part of collections management. It is crucial that objects are not stored in or near materials that could be potentially harmful. For the collection of glass plate negatives, I created custom four flaps out of non-buffered folder stock. It is important that the folders perfectly match the size of the plates, because too much space allows for movement, maximizing the risk of cracking. I wore gloves while handling objects and only touched the plates around the edges. The emulsion on many of the plates are fragile, so taking these precautions minimized the chance of emulsion flaking off. I then stored the plates vertically in archival boxes. For the glassine hinge and Shure collections, I removed the objects from their current albums, and replaced them in archival binders with custom album pages made from acid-free material. I reattached the objects to the new album pages using archival quality photo corners and mylar sleeves. I placed interleaving tissue between each album page to add extra protection.
As I rehoused objects, it was important to make sure that their records were also updated. The museum uses a collections database called The Museum System (TMS) to create records for each item. Records contain information such as descriptions, dates, condition, location, provenance, and images. I inputted the information for the entire glassine hinge collection, and for part of the Shure collection. I scanned many of the objects and edited the images using Photoshop, then uploaded the images to TMS. I made each record as full and complete as possible.
There was never a dull moment throughout my internship. I was exposed to a variety of tasks, and learned about different aspects of collections management. However, it was rewarding to work on long term projects, some of which I was able to complete, seeing them through from beginning to end. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, and I will certainly never forget the people who mentored me throughout this experience.