Published: Sept. 13, 2012

Behind the scenes with MSU Museum collections

Contact(s): Lora Helou MSU Museum office: (517) 432-3357, Alex Mitchell Office of Communications and Brand Strategy

Some visitors of the Michigan State University Museum might be impressed by the amount of items it has on display, but what is on the museum floor only scratches the surface of the museum's collection.

“All museums have a large part of their collections in storage at any one time, and that’s especially true if you have natural history collections - which tend to be very numerous - and archaeological collections as we do - which are very numerous,” said Gary Morgan, director of the MSU Museum.

Morgan said having such a large collection allows the museum to rotate the items on display so that nothing is displayed for too long.

“That’s part of the churn, the dynamic, so that when people come into the museum one month and come back three months later, things are different,” Morgan said.

The museum’s collection is so extensive that there are items stored in four different buildings across campus with multiple floors of items in each.

“Our collections are quite wide-ranging, all cultures and all time periods,” said Val Berryman, curator of history for the MSU Museum. “They are really quite extensive considering that more than 90 percent of them were donated; either one item at a time or a whole collection of things.”

The items are stored in cabinetry specially designed to preserve and maintain items in case they need to be taken out for display or used by a researcher.

“They are museum-quality cabinets,” said Lynne Swanson, collections manager for cultural collections at the MSU Museum. “They protect the items from dust, light and pests.”

Morgan said he is fortunate to work at a museum with such a wide-ranging collection since it allows for new items from across the globe to be consistently displayed.

“A lot of people don’t appreciate just how international our collections are and just how rich they are as objects for display,” he said.


Different members of MSU Museum discuss the museum's collections in storage and explain why museums collect.

Different members of MSU Museum discuss the museum's collections in storage and explain why museums collect.

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