Breathing Room

The Anthropology Collections storage area recently completed an incredible makeover thanks to the residents of Tulsa’s voting for the Improve Our Tulsa initiative in 2013. The previous storage facility was over capacity with no room for growth for the densely packed objects. Museum staff, volunteers and visiting scholars and students shared a workspace that consisted of a single six-by-four-foot table that was just six feet from the rows of shelving holding the archaeological collection. The collection and the people who use it had vastly outgrown the space, and change was desperately needed.

Today we have a state-of-the-art work space and storage area. The work space includes three labs specific for object handling, a photography studio and office space. It also includes compact shelving and special units such as saddle racks and large drawers for items with unique storage needs. This is a far cry from the original single six-by-four-foot table.

However, the move was neither quick nor easy. In 2014, we began to work with architects and a storage company to design the new storage space and the high density compact shelving. With the relocation of the library and archives to the Helmerich Center for American Research, the Anthropology Department expanded its footprint into that vacated space. This offered the opportunity for a larger workspace as well as an expanded and improved storage area.

To prepare for the construction, Anthropology Collections staff and volunteers had to move the entire collection to a temporary storage area on site. This involved rehousing many objects to better stabilize and support them, and re-inventorying and tracking the collection and its movement. As rows of objects were moved, we would disassemble the old shelving and reassemble it in the temporary area so we had space to move the next round of items. This process took approximately eight months.

With these upgrades, we can now optimize many of the objects’ needs for housing to meet best practices and help better preserve them for research and display for generations to come. Additionally, this move has allowed the team to reorganize much of the collection, thus making it more useful and accessible to staff, tribal members, scholars and students. There is no doubt the new Anthropology Collection storage is a vast improvement and one that will be felt museum-wide as we are able to better preserve, share and study our priceless collection.