This is a long overdue review of a great little book that came out in 2016, Managing Costume Collections: An essential primer, by Louise Coffey-Webb. This book provides nothing less than a personal course in collection management. Written to apply most directly to costume collections of museums and rental agencies, it has much to offer those of us with even a modest collection of textile items. It’s full of step-wise advice addressing all aspects of handling, storing, and keeping track of what you have, to keep your collections in good condition, accessible, and safe.
Importantly for many small organizations, which often have limited professional staff, this book tells you where and how to get started organizing and managing a collection. Louise’s book tells you what you need to consider, in the order in which you need to consider it. Everything from how to take an inventory (and what important things you can accomplish while doing one), to record keeping methods and collection policies. For instance, Louise suggests smart ways to ensure that information about associated items and ephemera are not lost, and that they remain linked together. She illustrates her points with real-world examples from her own career managing significant costume collections, and helpful photos supplement the text. Her many examples will keep you from forgetting to prepare for important “what if” situations that you may never have thought of.
This book provides quite a bit of important conservation advice for collectors and managers, on topics like celluloid degradation and its sticky consequences, and offers clever suggestions to minimize the costs associated with using archival materials. There is lots of useful info on pest management, vitally important in any textile collection. Louise points the reader to other useful sources in books and online, while providing good advice about the reliability (or lack thereof) of online sources for accurate information.
Lastly, Louise’s book provides handy samples of labels, worksheets, and other organizational tools to get you started, a useful glossary, and a list of suppliers. Any institution or individual with more than a handful of textiles in their collection would be well advised to pick up a copy, either through Louise directly, via Amazon, or elsewhere. I’m very happy to have mine!