At the end of 2014, the National Military Museum Netherlands opened its doors at the former Soesterberg air base near Utrecht. Senior Conservation Officer Walter Castelijns (62) was responsible for the design of the repository and also manages the collection. Below he explains the background to the move and some of the challenges the archivists and conservators faced in creating the new museum repository.
“The success of the National Military Museum has exceeded all our expectations. We were expecting 200,000 visitors each year, but we have already reached that number in the four months since opening. The NMM has quickly become a top attraction. The downside is that processing such a rush of visitors takes up all the attention of the organization. You cannot believe how tiring people can be! Gradually we’ve managed more time and space for the establishment of the storage and management of the collection.” “The NMM was created from a merger between the Army Museum in Delft and the Military Aviation Museum in Soesterberg, two very different museums. While the Army Museum tells a story based on the collection, the Military Aviation Museum revolves mainly around the technique of flying. As repository administrators, we face the task of blending the two different collections together.”
98 percent of the collection accommodated in the repository “With approximately 300,000 items, the collection is not only large in size, but also in volume. From military medals to airplanes, from hand grenades to sabres, from field flasks to uniforms, from paintings to topographic maps. The exhibition in the museum consists of approximately 3,800 items. The rest, 98 percent, needs to be accommodated in the repository.” “The repository consists of a modified helicopter hangar to which a section has been added. We have approximately 6,000 square meters at our disposal, of which 1,500 square meters is a room with climate control. That’s where the most vulnerable part of the collection is stored, including books, maps, paintings and uniforms. We have reduced the oxygen level to 17 percent to prevent fire and to protect the collection from pests.”
The best use of the available space “The equipping of the climate repository was awarded to Bruynzeel based on a European tender. Personally I’m happy with that, because I have always had good experiences with Bruynzeel in the past when I was with the Army Museum. This time I was not disappointed either. Even though we have chosen a standard system, we are also partly dependent on customization because of our special collection. Bruynzeel’s input in that regard was excellent.” “In the climate repository there are ninety rows of ninety cabinets that are six meters tall each. Halfway, an extra floor with a metal grate has been added, which makes the upper shelves easily accessible. In this way we can make the best use of the available space. The depth of the shelves vary from a small thirty centimeters to approximately eighty centimeters.” How to store all these different items efficiently? “We also have painting racks, tray cabinets and special racks for, as an example, our collection of pole arms and military shovels. We have also made a special storage system in the armory. We developed and fabricated a lot of it ourselves, often with support from Bruynzeel.” “The diversity of our collection sometimes causes headaches. Large and small, tall and wide, long and narrow: how to store all these different items efficiently? To find the right answer, we had a computer program developed that does the calculations for us based on the input parameters. In this way we gained at least 20 percent in additional space savings.” To store the entire collection in a responsible manner “We have now stored the first part of the collection in the repository, but much remains to be done. For example, many objects are still in boxes because of the move. We still have to see how to solve that, but eventually we will be able to store the entire collection in a responsible manner. We will probably also keep some room for future growth. In any event, in the next few years we will have our hands full sorting out our repository.”