By Rebecca Johnson, Preservation Technician and Offsite Coordinator
Almost every museum has offsite storage. As museum collections continue to grow, more spaces are needed to store all of the artifacts; this usually means finding a second, third or fourth location. In Washington, DC where real estate for storage is extremely expensive, some of the Postal Museum’s storage facilities are often miles away from the museum in industrial areas where square footage is more affordable; this is when it’s called “offsite storage”. With a collection containing items such as large, motorized vehicles and heavy industrial machinery, it’s easy to run out of space quickly. All of the objects stored in these offsite locations are treated with the same standard of care as those stored at the museum. We even have space for staff to work at these offsite storage facilities where they monitor, maintain and improve storage conditions. Offsite storage is managed by the preservation department, but all collections staff and curators have full access to the spaces and artifacts.
On any given day, you can find Postal Museum staff hard at work, protecting the artifacts at our offsite storage facilities. With the help of grants, we have been able to crate almost all of our oversized objects for their long term preservation. We also work on building micro-environments for some of the small objects for preservation purposes. The staff works out there to update the museum database and take photographs of all objects stored offsite. Offsite is also a great place for some of our larger donations to be processed (surveyed, cleaned, rehoused, and photographed) because of the sheer quantity of objects, without being in the way of other staff members.
Other random projects that have been known to happen at one of these many offsite storage spaces include picking the lock on a safe to see if anything is inside, and repairing a flat tire on a bicycle. The Postal Museum staff has also opened up old crates from previous decades to check on the objects and sometimes rehouse the objects if necessary. There are regular inventories of offsite storage spaces to make sure every object is accounted for in the museum’s database. We are grateful that these storage facilities allow us to keep acquiring additional artifacts to interpret philatelic themes and the history of U.S. postal operations.