Head of the Library, Theatermuseum + Filmmuseum Düsseldorf

As one of the institutions housed under The Culture Department of the City of Düsseldorf, the Theatermuseum has a storied history. Founded in 1947 after a donation by Gustav Lindemann, the Theatermuseum originated as an archive inside a private theatre. Today, the museum collects and exhibits objects from regional German theater history, with an added focus on educational programs that teach the history of theatre, and the diversity of practical and creative skills found in theatre.

The Filmmuseum, another Düsseldorf institution, opened in 1993 to showcase the history of film dating back to 1895. Today, the Filmmuseum strives to protect and share films and the history of film through their exhibitions, archives, educational programs, and screenings at the Black Box cinema.

Gallery Systems caught up with Margret Schild, Head of the Library at the Theatermuseum and Filmmuseum Düsseldorf, about her work and challenges, the role technology plays at the institutions, and her favorite historic artifacts from the time based media and film archives.

What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?

For us, the biggest challenge is managing a large collection of performing arts, theatre, and film, with a minimal number of staff. We do not simply collect and exhibit objects, our collections have stories that need to be told. We’re focused on sharing the history of theatre and film, in addition to contemporary productions. To support this, we present theatrical productions and film screenings at the museum. We also produce an educational program that develops creative and artistic skills, media literacy, and inspires the participants to collaborate, and think critically, in addition to other important skills. Our visitor’s expectations are still growing, and we’re expanding our exhibitions and tasks to meet their expectations. Cultural learning and inclusion thrive in the Performing Arts, which are seen as one important field.

How do you see the use of technology evolving at your institution?

Audio and audiovisual media both play an important role in the performing arts. These technologies can be treated as mediums, or as objects, as equipment can be included in the collection for documentation purposes. Further, technology can be used to inform, display, to digitize and preserve content, or to manage our collections and make objects more accessible for the public. Additionally, we use technology to connect with our visitors or neighboring institutions. Technology is very important because it’s a critical part of performance art, as well as a tool to help us manage and present that art.

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What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?

Joining d:kult (Digital Archive of Art and History at Düsseldorf) as a pilot institute had a big impact on collections management in our museum. We were heavily involved in the decision process for choosing a new database system, which resulted in the selection of TMS. We helped to build the d:kult network, develop and implement workflow and collaborative processes for the involved institutions, regulate the use of standards and authority files, and develop controlled vocabularies to improve the quality of our work. We were really able to preserve the existing data and knowledge by using our new database as tool to archive and document the results of our daily tasks.

Networking and collaborating enable small organizations like us to be part of the digital community and present our collection and services to the public, and particular groups such as scholars, students, and scientists in the field of arts and humanities.

If you were given $100,000 to spend on management of your collection or department, how would you use it?

I would use the money for two main things:

  1. I would use a small portion to create a professional development program that connects our institution with neighbouring institutions through tours and visits, so we can learn and be inspired from each other’s experiences.
  2. With the rest of the money, I would implement digitization and cataloguing projects. For digitization strategy, I would prioritize our objects based on their preservation and restoration status, for example, starting with items like video tapes, and items of high relevance to the collection. For cataloguing, in addition to updating the new digitized objects, we would compile a listing of theater performances in Düsseldorf and the surrounding region, and compare the information provided by local theaters to the information in our database to ensure our records are complete.

Do you have a favorite book, event, or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?

The resource I’ve found most motivating is collaboration within my network. Within the cultural department as well as in the participating institutions we manage a varied set of collaborative initiatives in the field of libraries, collection management, and cultural education, and the opportunities for professional development are very important to me.

In Germany there are different professional development associations and programs for different fields, such as the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Kunst- und Museumsbibliotheken for scientific libraries in the field of museum and art libraries, the Fachgruppe Dokumentation for collections management, and other groups in the arts and humanities, like the Working Group of Film Libraries. Internationally, we participate in SIBMAS (International Society of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts), FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives), and CIDOC (International Committee of Documentation within ICOM – International Council of Museums).

Additionally, the collaboration and exchange between TMS users has been very useful, both locally and internationally with programs like Collective Imagination. Users of TMS organize conferences and workshops in order to keep members informed, support collaboration, and inspire the development of new ideas and projects.

What is one of the most interesting projects or exhibitions organized by your institution and why?

Kom(m)ödchen cabaret

Photo courtesy of Theatermuseum Düsseldorf

I’ve been very interested in our projects relating to the play, Hamlet. The story is important world-wide, has been presented in a multitude of ways, and has many different interpretations. We’ve presented two exhibitions on the diversity of the play, one on the history of performances in Düsseldorf, in 2012, and one on the history of performances in Germany, in 2014. The second exhibit was in collaboration with the Deutsches Theaterrmuseum München (German Theatre Museum at Munich).

I’m always amazed at the level of fascination, participation, and fun in our educational programming. Developing a story, creating and performing, presenting the results on the stage or on the screen shows how theatre and film work while raising interest in the topics of theatre and film. Some of our participants even discover their ability to work professionally in this field as actors, directors, or playwrights.

If you were allowed to take home one item from your collection, what would it be and why?

If I could take home one item from our collection, it would be “Kom(m)ödchen,” a small commode symbolizing the name of the literary-political cabaret founded in 1947 by Kay and Lore Lorentz in Düsseldorf. The cabaret was one of several German programs after World War II that criticized politicians and tried to influence political public opinion. The cabaret represented Germany’s political history through performance art including songs, short sequences, and sometimes texts and/or lyrics. The archive of “Kom(m)ödchen” was donated to our institution by the son of the cabaret’s founders, who still manages the cabaret, adapting the traditions of performance to today’s standards. For me, it is a symbol of the democratic society, the freedom of opinion, broad-mindedness, and the discussion and presentation of human behaviour in German society.