Most museums with collections routinely keep up to 90% of their objects in storage at any given time. Considering the current trend of making museums more audience friendly, should museums then make their collections more accessible and open to the public? How can they do so in an engaging and exciting way?
I believe that museums must make their collections available to every and any one interested in them in order to successfully serve their communities. If most museums state in their mission that they desire to educate their audience, selectively granting access to their collections contrasts with this ideal. Restricting access to collections not only creates a barrier between the museum and its audience, but it also limits the spread of knowledge, therein weakening their purpose as a public trust.
With a little ingenuity, museums can overcome this barrier while keeping their objects and storage space secure. Some institutions have begun digitizing their collections. This method allows any one with internet access to browse and observe whichever objects are available. While this method typically only grants passive engagement, it does allow the visitor to examine and research objects they otherwise might not know exist. Other museums, such as the Connecticut Historical Society, offer behind the scenes tours of their collections or willingly offer to retrieve any artifact that a visitor is interested in viewing. The audience can then view the object while interacting with a human being and staff member.
While these approaches do limit the available context of an object, they are nevertheless an interesting beginning at incorporating collections into the concept of the audience-centered museum.