The hidden treasures of museums | Cultural Heritage. Goverment of Catalonia.


The hidden treasures of museums

RE-ORG, a method for the reorganization of museum reserves

Museum reserves, a world to discover... and RE-ORGanize

Less than ten percent of museum collections are on public display. Therefore, the heritage that these guard is infinitely greater than what we see when we visit them. Moreover, this heritage is continually growing, through donations and new acquisitions.
This huge amount of objects, which is not shown in permanent or temporary exhibitions, is kept in reserves, where access is restricted and controlled.
The poetic and widely-held notion that reserves are a kind of dark maze where you do not know what is there does not correspond to reality. In a museum, collections must be inventoried, well preserved and must be made accessible to the public.
But this intention comes up against certain difficulties. Daily needs, as well as lack of time and resources, both human and financial, mean that sometimes, and little by little, the reserve spaces are not in the best conditions.

Preventive conservation, a tool of the present and the future

To maintain and preserve  our heritage, preventive conservation is an indispensable tool.Systematically controlling and minimizing the risks that can jeopardize collections is fundamental. Temperature and humidity control, or protection, transport and storage systems, among other measures, are part of the preventive conservation strategy.
To be effective, preventive conservation cannot neglect the space where the bulk of the  collection accumulates: the reserve.
In 2011, a study by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), carried out in collaboration with UNESCO, concluded that the status of the reserves was of concern to many museums around the world.
Among other shortcomings, the survey found that one in two museums did not have enough storage space, that one in three did not have a designated person responsible for reserves, and that one in four had a poor system for documentation and organization of collections.

In Catalonia, in most of the registered museums, the situation is not very worrying. But, as happens in the rest of the world, there is also room for improvement. For this reason, the 2030 Museum Plan highlights preventive conservation and improvement of reserve spaces as one of the main axes of action.
Currently, Catalan museums hold around seven and a half million pieces.
Until now, each museum has acted autonomously and according to the criteria of its directors.

A global problem, a global solution: the RE-ORG method

In order to help museums reorganise their reserves and keep them orderly in an efficient manner according to common criteria, ICCROM launched the RE-ORG method in 2011. And in 2017 it was updated in collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Conservation.It is a method applicable to any museum, regardless of the collections it holds and the space it has.
Currently, the RE-ORG method has been successfully applied to more than eighty museums in twenty-seven countries. The Department of Culture has signed an agreement with ICCROM to use it as part of the Museum Plan as a key tool for reorganizing collections.
RE-ORG is carried out in four phases. The first three are planning: creation of a work team; evaluation and analysis of the collection, spaces and furniture; and design of the new organization proposal. The fourth, which can only be undertaken when the first three have been completed, is the physical reorganization of reserves.

Objective: 3 minutes!

Locating a piece in less than three minutes, whatever it is and wherever it is, is possible with the RE-ORG method.
The aim is to optimize the space and regroup collections, facilitating accessibility in the broadest sense of the concept.
Reserves are organized based on criteria of quality:
  • A qualified staff member is responsible
  • Only objects which form part of the collection can be in the reserve
  • No object can be directly on the floor
  • Every object has a specific location and can be located in less than three minutes
  • An object must be able to be retrieved by moving a maximum of two more objects.
The RE-ORG method systematizes a methodology that allows professionals to speak the same language and, therefore, understand the dynamics of any reserve where it has been applied.

Gaël de Guichen, “father” of RE-ORG, explains its secrets

A chemical engineer by profession, Gaël de Guichen, one of the creators of the RE-ORG method, has dedicated his entire professional career to the preventive conservation of cultural heritage.
This world-renowned expert has worked on more than 700 asset recovery and conservation projects. He has also conducted many courses to teach the RE-ORG method to technicians and managers of numerous museums around the world. He has proven beyond doubt that the method of organizing reserves is efficient.
De Guichen is clear that, if the collections are kept in good condition, the benefits are many: they are localized, available to be studied or to be exhibited, and also ready to be enjoyed by the public at any time.

A sustainable method based on teamwork

Museums also have the social function of promoting sustainability, included in the 2030 Agenda designed by the United Nations.
In the same way that environmental sustainability criteria are applied on a day-to-day basis and in exhibitions, RE-ORG promotes the re-use of available resources and promotes the efficiency of not only the collections, but also the already existing furniture, the building and the space.
Working with these parameters reduces expenses and has an impact on another important aspect: economic sustainability.
Increasingly, museums work in a multidisciplinary and transversal way. Each from its own field of action, but sharing the same strategy.
In this sense, the learning and application of the RE-ORG method is proposed with the participation of the available staff. It therefore encourages and stimulates teamwork. A value which is becoming more and more essential.

The Victor Balaguer Library Museum, host of the first RE-ORG course in Catalonia

The Department of Culture, through the Centre for the Restoration of Movable Property of Catalonia, and ICCROM, have signed an agreement to implement the RE-ORG method in Catalan museums that want to improve the status of their reserves.
The aim is that all museums in Catalonia that wish to do so, can apply this methodology. As a starting point, the Victor Balaguer Library Museum in Vilanova and Geltrú hosted the first RE-ORG training course to prepare some of the professionals in charge of supporting its development. The Victor Balaguer Library Museum exhibits about 900 pieces, and holds more than 10,000 in the reserves.
The course, led by Gaël de Guichen, suffered the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. During 2019, the training and preparation sessions were carried out. In December 2021, the fourth phase of the method, physical reorganization of spaces and collections, was successfully carried out.

Museums... with method

After the Victor Balaguer Library Museum, four more Catalan museums have begun to implement RE-ORG: the Palamós Fishing Museum, the Diocesan Museum of Solsona, the Tomás Balvey Museum-Archive of Cardedeu, and the Museum of Reus.
The intention is that, in a few years, more museums will incorporate this method, meaning that more teams and professionals manage collections with this methodology. This will facilitate professional exchanges and research and investigation tasks.

Citizens will also benefit from it. With reserves that are well-organized and in good condition, collections that were not previously accessible will be made available to the public.

Museums in Catalonia now have a very useful tool to continue carrying out their role: researching, preserving and disseminating a diverse, immense and extraordinary heritage.