Unlocking the potential of our collections

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Today is International Museum Day, which in 2021 invites us to “reimagine” cultural institutions as a leading force for post-pandemic recovery and change. It is an occasion to share big ideas and reflect on how our immediate actions can help shape the world now and into the future.

Such thinking underpins our work at ICCROM, where we continue to envision a renewed role for museums in addressing the urgent challenges faced by society. It therefore feels timely to highlight an exciting new initiative that aims to realise the full potential of heritage collections and empower the organizations that care for them to maximize their positive impact.      

Our Collections Matter (OCM) puts the spotlight on sustainable development in the cultural sector, recognising this as an important aspiration and responsibility among museums and other collections-based organizations globally. The programme aligns with the goals set out in the UN 2030 Agenda and embodies the same determination to make this decade one of concerted action and transformation, during which no one is left behind.

At its heart, OCM serves to reframe the activities of collection-based organizations in terms of their contribution to the UN’s overarching sustainable development goals and their respective targets, which deal with environmental, social, and economic imperatives. On a practical level, dedicated tools and training will be made available to support organizations in their efforts.     

The programme builds on ICCROM’s reputation as a leader in the field of preventive conservation for over 40 years, with proven strategies and approaches for ensuring collections remain fit-for-purpose and accessible to their communities of users. At the same time, OCM will promote more sustainable conservation practices to help organizations reduce any negative impacts from their operations.

To mark International Museum Day, we are unveiling the OCM online toolkit, which has been developed by ICCROM in collaboration with our partners: Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria; Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI); Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN);Centre for Global Heritage and Development, The Netherlands; International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA); National Library of New Zealand; Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Belgium; Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO SPAFA); Universidad de los Andes, Colombia; and Universitat de València, Spain.

The toolkit brings together an extensive collection of practical resources aimed at enabling collections-based organizations to make concrete contributions towards sustainable development. It is also an ideal starting point for organizations seeking information, instruction or simply inspiration.

Over time, the toolkit will evolve as new resources are identified and developed, and as we learn more about the needs of users and the opportunities within the heritage sector and beyond. We invite all museums and other collections-based organizations to join us in this collective journey by contacting the OCM team at collectionsmatter@iccrom.org

Last year, I emphasised ICCROM’s commitment to safeguarding museum collections for present and future generations through conservation and sustainable use. With the launch of OCM, we push this commitment further still. The programme can undoubtedly benefit traditional museums, libraries, and archives, but its resources are accessible to any organization managing any type of collection of any size – community-owned, religious, seed or biobank, even virtual.

What unites all these organizations is the potential of their collections to be valued not only as a means for people to understand and celebrate their cultural heritage – to say nothing of our dependence on collections for education, lifelong learning, research, tourism, and the creative economy – but equally as linchpins in the drive towards a sustainable and thriving future.

Webber Ndoro