Exploring the Collection

by Lindsay Zaborowski

Only a small fraction of a museum’s collection is on exhibit at any one time. The Museum of Flight is no exception to this rule – although the aircraft are always on display, they are only a small part of the entire collection. The collection is the foundation upon which the entire Museum is built, and the deep well of materials available to internal and external patrons has been an essential part of the success of The Museum of Flight over the past 50 years.

How does the Museum use its collection?

The collection is used for a variety of purposes, with exhibits being the primary example known to most visitors. The items on display include both aircraft and a variety of small objects and archival materials that give context to the aircraft and the people who built, maintained, and flew them. In addition, the collection serves as a major source of material for other departments across the Museum, including Education, Public Programs, and Marketing. Another key aspect of our work is helping external researchers. Much of the processing and cataloging work that we do is done with these end users in mind. Being able to easily access collections and artifacts and to share information about them with patrons is a major overarching goal for the department. Collection materials are available for research in the Dahlberg Reading Room. In recent years we have made our library catalog available online and continue to work towards making more collection information available via the internet.

Collection Department Projects

The Collections Department looks after all aspects of the collection, including the library, archival materials, and small objects. The staff of the collections department complete a wide range of tasks, from working with donors to creating inventories to rehousing to preservation to cataloging. All of these tasks require a specific skillset, both technological and otherwise. The current staff has a wealth of education, training, and practical experience which have prepared them for all the challenges of working with this collection. The staff is currently embarking on a major reorganization of the collection as we also work towards making necessary improvements to our building. The first phases of the Inspiration Begins Here! campaign have already helped us accomplish some of these improvements. New storm drains for the collections building and the removal of the trees and shrubbery from the perimeter were completed earlier this year. We were also able to level the floor and install the base and tracks for compact shelving in the Serials Bay. Upcoming projects include the acquisition of compact shelving and other specialized storage for the collection. We know boxes, shelves, and sleeves are not exciting in and of themselves, but they are essential to preserving the precious pieces of aviation history we hold in The Museum of Flight collection. We have accomplished a lot in 2015 and look forward to carrying on the work into 2016.

George Abbey Collection

This collection is over 100 cubic feet and includes a variety of materials related to the NASA career of George Abbey. Abbey had a long career which included serving as Director of the Johnson Space Center, and was an integral part of all of the manned missions to space. This collection has been rehoused, but needs additional processing as well as enhancements to the finding aid. We have high hopes of bringing an intern on board to assist with the project, such as we had with the project to process and catalog the Jeppesen Collection (see the July/August 2015 Aloft for more information).

House Organs

The House Organs are what we call an ‘artificial collection,’ which means it has been assembled over time, as opposed to being donated in one piece by a person or group. The House Organs include internal and external publications produced by aviation companies, aircraft manufacturers, and airlines. The collection is well inventoried, but needs rehousing and for the inventory to be checked against the physical collection. This check will be used to verify accuracy and to make note of excessive duplication of materials.

Gordon S. Williams Collection

The Gordon S. Williams Collection includes thousands of photographs from the personal collection of Boeing photographer Gordon S. Williams. Williams was a friend and colleague of Peter M. Bowers, whose large photograph collection is also housed by the Museum. Thanks to a generous donation from Gordon Williams’ widow, we have recently hired a Project Archivist, Ashley Mead, to complete work on the collection.

Manuals Collection

The Museum of Flight’s Manuals Collection consists of over 14,000 manuals for aircraft, operations, parts, and maintenance. The collection is in major need of cataloging and re-housing, and the Museum’s Librarian, Meredith Lowe Prather, was able to secure a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help with these needs. The work is ongoing and the Library welcomes anyone with knowledge of library cataloging to volunteer for work on the project. The collection will eventually be fully searchable via the Museum’s online library catalog.

Stine Model Rocket Collection

G. Harry Stine is often considered one of the founding fathers of model rocketry. In 2013, the Museum received his collection including archival, library, and small objects components. The Museum’s Collections Specialist, Allison Loveland, has been working with four volunteers from the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) to catalog the extensive collection of model rockets. To date, the volunteers have completed cataloging for over 600 of the models and Allison has been rehousing them using archival materials.

For reference questions or more information, contact curator@museumofflight.org.