Collections Management

What’s in a “Collection”?
We collect objects of particular significance to the history of aviation and spaceflight. The collection, preservation, and interpretation of these objects is one of the primary ways we achieve our mission.

It is important to understand what we mean when we speak about the “collection”. The Museum’s collection generally refers to everything the Museum holds in trust, including objects, artwork, archival photographs, documents, and more. A collection of objects can refer to a small subset of objects within the entire collection, typically organized by a topic, a program, or where the collection originated.

Who Works with Collections?
Curators are staff within the Museum who are responsible for collecting, studying, and interpreting the objects and records in our overall collection. Archives staff are responsible for the care of archival collections (photographs, documents, etc.) and Collections staff are responsible for the care, movement, preservation, and restoration of objects. All of these staff do original research in the course of carrying out their work with the collection.

Primary Sources
When doing research, Historians use primary sources to support their statements. Primary sources are a first-hand, original account, record, or evidence about a person, place, object, or event. Oral histories, objects, photographs, and documents such as newspapers, ledgers, census records, diaries, journals, and inventories are primary sources. An excellent reference guide to working with primary sources is available from the National Museum of American History.

How Do We Decide What to Collect?
We use several criteria when determining whether items should be acquired, including:

  1. The object is consistent with the Museum’s goals.
  2. It is appropriate for exhibition purposes and proves useful as an educational tool within an exhibit.
  3. The object was associated with a notable, historical event related to military, aviation, spaceflight and/or depicts such an event.
  4. The object has significant intrinsic value because it is the best of its type or one of a kind.
  5. The object will contribute to research and scholarship in disciplines related to the history of military, aviation and/or spaceflight.