A shout out to our colleagues in Poland!

Polish flag via pixaby.com

We are delighted to learn that in April this year the Polskie Stowarzyszenie Inwentaryzatorów Muzealnych, Polish Museum Registrars Association, was founded. They have a blog (http://inwentaryzatorzy.blogspot.de/) and already translated two of our articles into Polish:
CIDOC 2016 – W dokumentacji kluczowi są ludzie (“CIDOC 2016 – Documentation is about people” by Angela Kipp) – translated by Marcin Mondzelewski
Rola inwentaryzatora muzealnego w procesie wypożyczania zbiorów (“The Museum Registrar as Loans……” by Derek R. Swallow) – translated by Natalia Ładyka

We wish our Polish colleagues best of luck with their work!

This post is also available in Italian translated by Marzia Loddo.

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A Registrar’s Harvesting Season

Labels: Rhubarb-Vanilla 2016.1, Rhubarb-Orange 2016.1, Rhubarb-Orange 2016.1 and Cucumber 2016.1

Labels: Rhubarb-Vanilla 2016.1, Rhubarb-Orange 2016.1, Rhubarb-Orange 2016.2 and Cucumber 2016.1

This post is also available in Italian translated by Marzia Loddo.

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Free Webinar Series:
Management 101: Getting a Grip on Collections Management

There’s a great series of free webinars coming up, organized by the Connecting to Collections Care Online Community (http://www.connectingtocollections.org/). The topics are different aspects of collections management, the webinars run always 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (time zone of New York):

shoes

September 15, Webinar 1: Basic Condition Reporting


Deborah Rose Van Horn

Basic Condition Reporting

artifact-morgue_edit

September 22, Webinar 2: Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections: A Survival Guide for Messes Great and Small


Angela Kipp

Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections: A Survival Guide for Messes Great and Small

files

September 29, Webinar 3: There’s a Form for That: Documenting Your Collections


Beverly Balger Sutley

There’s a Form for That: Documenting Your Collections

russian-dolls_edit

October 4, Webinar 4: A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place: Conducting (and Maintaining!) a Collection Inventory


Maureen McCormick

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place: Conducting (and Maintaining!) a Collection Inventory

You can either register for each individual webinar on the webinar’s page or you can register for all four webinars here (and earn a Credly badge if you attend them all):

Management 101: Getting a Grip on Collections Management

Of course, I feel especially honored to be part of a series where the other sessions are held by people I’ve been looking up to for years.

Hope to ”see“ some of you there!

Angela

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Packing Shoes for Conferences and Other Somewhat Serious Thoughts on Professional Footwear

by Janice Klein, Executive Director, Museum Association of Arizona on June 08, 2016, originally published on the AASLH Blog

I just spent five days in Washington, D.C., at the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and, while I am sure there were many things I should have been doing to prepare myself for the intensity of the information and social overload that was ahead, I found myself focusing on shoes as I prepared for the conference.

Here’s the thing about women’s shoes and conferences. You really can’t wear daytime “business” shoes for two days in a row since they are just not designed for all the walking and standing you need to do. So if you’re going to a two-day conference you need two different pairs of daytime shoes. You also need a pair of comfortable walking-around/traveling shoes, and if you’ve got an evening party you also want a pair of dressy shoes. We’re now up to four pairs of shoes for two days. Stupid, right?

shoes7To be honest there are comfortable business shoes for women, but they can be prohibitively expensive and frankly, don’t tend to be very fashionable. And yes, you can wear comfortable shoes, but no matter what color they are, they pretty much always look like comfortable shoes.

Flats in a variety of styles and colors are increasingly available, and generally are better for the walking around part (although still may not give enough support for standing for long periods of time), but when you’re only five feet tall like me, at least a little bit of heel is required to hold your own with taller colleagues.

And here’s another thing. I, like many other women—and lots of men, too—really, really like shoes. I’m sure there’s a sociological, if not psychological doctoral dissertation to be written here, but it is undeniable that shoes are fun. Honestly, would Sex and the City really have been so popular if they were all wearing running shoes the way women actually do in New York City?

shoes11For the most part my male colleagues can manage with one, or maybe two pairs of shoes, no matter how long a conference lasts. To be fair, I have noticed that men are beginning to wear comfortable shoes, too, but then again, who looks at men’s shoes? And while we’re on the subject of men’s and women’s clothing, most conference spaces set their temperature controls to be comfortable for men in suits and ties. That means the rest of us get to wear a variety of sweaters, jackets and the ever-indispensable shawl. My guess is that it is conference-going women who are responsible for the continued success of the pashmina.

Ruby-Slippers-pin-e1464901309781I have now developed the habit of laying out all the possible shoes I could wear and then slowly narrowing down my choices to a mere three or four (and the outfits that would go with them). Several years ago, when I was doing some last minute shoe-shopping I hit upon one possible solution. When asked by the eager young salesman what I was looking for, I almost said “the Ruby Slippers.” And then I realized, that was exactly what I needed. They fit Dorothy perfectly, they went with everything (although she never actually changed her clothes), were obviously comfortable enough to walk long distances and even dance in, ensured everyone’s success, and got her home safely. I never found the shoes, but I do have a Ruby Slippers pin that I wear often at conferences.

When I told people I was writing about women’ shoes and conferences, I didn’t know whether this was going to be funny, angry or satirical. So many women – and men – I talked to had their own shoe stories that I realized what I have to say is clearly affirming for me and my colleagues. So, no, it is not stupid to pack four pairs of shoes—or more—for a two-day conference. Unless, of course, you do happen to own the Ruby Slippers.

[Editor’s note: The author has provided supporting evidence in the form of pictures of AAM attendees’ feet. These can be seen below.]

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CIDOC 2016 – Documentation is About People

As I was sorting my notes from the CIDOC conference in Milano1 I discovered that, unlike my notes from other conferences, it was hard to separate the sessions from one another and to separate my personal conversations with colleagues from the presentations and discussions at the conference. So, I gave up on summarizing the different sessions I attended and took a look at the big picture. Was there a leading theme, something that played a part in all sessions and discussions? Well, yes, there was, and, a little bit to my surprise it wasn’t something like “we need to contextualize our data more” or “we need better standards” or “we need to do more marketing for our profession”. The leading theme – at least for me – was: “Good documentation starts with people doing it and is only good if it is useful for people.”

Colleagues enjoying the opening ceremony of ICOM 2016 Milano at Castello Sforzesco.

Colleagues enjoying the opening ceremony of ICOM 2016 Milano at Castello Sforzesco.

Take the presentation of Alexandre Matos about implementing standards in some museums in São Paulo: the translation of the SPECTRUM standard into Portuguese, the localization of it for the local needs and the implementation of some of the standards in three museums was made possible by people doing it – included, and maybe the most important of all, by people in the State Secretary who were convinced that having standards in museum documentation is a good and necessary thing. How many good projects towards professionalization in our sector are blocked because officials don’t deem them necessary?

It’s the same with other projects like developing a combined and enhanced textile thesaurus out of the diverse ones that already exist at the HTW in Berlin, or the “International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF)” (http://iiif.io/) developed in Yale to support the work of researchers, or the experiences from automating processes in a museum library in Zambia. It all comes down to people who take the initiative to improve existing processes or to develop new ones – and not simply for the joy of doing it, but with their audiences and colleagues in mind.

Presentation ”Spreading the word: explaining what Museum Documentation is - and why it is important“ (photo via @CIDOCevents)

Presentation ”Spreading the word: explaining what Museum Documentation is – and why it is important“ (photo via @CIDOCevents)

As a collections manager among documentalists I halfway expected that I would feel strange. After all, while I use our database often, my job is more about taking an object out of the location it tells me than about thinking about thesauri and definitions. But I discovered that the topics discussed where highly relevant to my own work. Maybe it struck me most in the presentation “Mind the gaps: missing connections in museum documentation” given by Michael Jones. He described the issue that in research there are often missing links because you either search for something in the archives or in the object database or in the picture archive, but you don’t find the relations between the items found. So, while you might find the diary of an expedition in the archives, you might miss that there are specimen found during this expedition in the storage area and pictures of the crew in the picture archive. It struck me, because it’s one thing we do often in our own database in the TECHNOSEUM. Whenever I find a connection between two artifacts I will document this connection in our database. When we have archival material about an object or it is mentioned in a book it is often already referenced in the object catalog entry. If an object was shown in a special exhibition, you will find the label text in our database. I always took this high amount of interlinking done for granted, nothing I gave a second thought. It was only here, at the CIDOC conference, that I learned that this isn’t something that goes without saying. And again, the reason that it is available are people. People working in documentation at the TECHNOSEUM who chose a database software that was able to provide such linking between different categories of material and who created field sets and implemented processes that make it easy for everybody to make such connections.

A project that immediately grabbed my attention and fascinated me was the “Encyclopaedia of Museum Practice” (http://cidoc-dswg.org/ ) that was initialized by Jonathan Whitson-Cloud. It is a project aimed at developing a multilingual wiki on museum terminology so everybody working in the field all over the world can look up terms and understand what they mean. We had a fruitful discussion about the project and some hands-on tries on the software. I shared some of the experiences we had at Registrar Trek with working multilingual. Again, this project is highly dependent on people just taking a heart and start adding terms and providing translations, so here I want to encourage you, the reader, to create a user account and start filling the “Encyclopaedia” with content!

Marzia Loddo and I at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci"

Marzia Loddo and I at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”

Maybe what I will remember most about the trip to Milan is the people I met and the conversations I had. And again, the topics of documentation played a role. When you are meeting with an art historian like Rupert Shepherd at the “Porta Nuova” in Milan you might learn that for a renaissance researcher this place is somewhere else than for the common tourist collections manager. Yes, terminology is important but we managed to find each other and fellow documentalist Susanne Nickel to enjoy a good Italian dinner together! Of course, there’s nothing better than swapping documentation horror stories with fellow documentalists and I did so with many colleagues I had never met so far or knew only via the internet – and with people I haven’t seen for quite a while. It’s funny that you might work next town for years but you need to go to Italy to see each other and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine together. And I learned that nothing stops a Registrar Trekker! Marzia Loddo, one of our Italian translators, and I managed to meet each other although a couple of incidents including a broken washing machine tried to hinder us!

It was great fun, thank you Milan and maybe we meet each other while working on the “Encyclopaedia”?

Best wishes
Angela

This post is also available in Polish, translated by Marcin Mondzelewski, the translation originally appeared on the blog of the Polish Museum Registrar Association http://inwentaryzatorzy.blogspot.de/.

  1. You might like to take a look at the hashtag #CIDOC2016 on twitter to find what people found noteworthy while attending the conference.
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New Unknown Pest Detected – Have Your IPM in Place!

Last week there were several sightings of a new pest. Colleagues especially from the U.S. and Germany reported having spotted unknown species in their galleries and storage areas. Even the administrator of this page was not spared, see the picture.

The odd thing is that this new pest seems to be only detectable by using smartphones or tablets. They seem to pass sticky traps unhindered. So far, museumpests.net has not listed them.

Pokemon in the admin's storage area

Pokemon in the admin’s storage area1

As the senior and mid-career museum colleagues were clueless, some younger colleagues stepped up and offered help. They were able to catch some specimen and pointed to resources like this one to find out what was caught. It seems that they all belong to a family called “Pokémon” with a whole range of different species. The one depicted here seems to be called a “Pidgey”.

So far there was no immediate damage to collections reported. However, as registrars and collections managers we stand on guard. Some interns and student assistants pointed out that these pests can be trained and become much stronger, which doesn’t sound good. But they also pointed out that the real problem might be the trainers who want to catch more “pokémon” and therefore tend to ignore their own safety and the safety of their surroundings.

Being aware that we still do not know the extend of this new infestation, nor if it causes damage to collections, we at Registrar Trek have collected some recommendations on an new IPM – Integrated Pokémon Management:

  • The trainers catching these “pokémon” might not be fully aware of their surroundings – remind them in an appropriate and polite way that they have to follow your house rules and respect the safekeeping measurements for your objects and fellow visitors.
  • If there are serious issues with a gathering place of those creatures (“pokestops”) or places where trainers meet for challenges (“gyms”), you can report them on this website: https://support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com/hc/en-us/articles/221968408-Reporting-Pok%C3%A9Stop-or-Gym-Issues, i.e. you can ask for having them removed from the game.
  • As there are now a couple of people in the vicinity of your museum that might not be the typical visitors but maybe an audience you like to involve more – how about talking to them, learning what they are interested in and inviting them inside? How about a reduced entrance fee for pokémon trainers that are first time visitors? (unlike pokémon, you don’t have to catch them all, but attracting a few would be an idea…).

We keep watching this new phenomenon and might inform you on further ideas for Integrated Pokémon Management.

Angela

  1. Note that some of the boxes in the picture are positioned directly on the ground, which is NOT how you should store them. Unfortunately, the pokémon decided to pop up where we were preparing some objects for transportation, so you can see a collections management fail at the same time. Always level your boxes above ground, so they won’t be damaged by water or feet, folks!
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Build Your Own Data Logger – The Sensor, Heart of the Logger

The first thing that can do things that actually DOES things for the TECHNOSEUM: A data logger that records the climate in a certain area of our museum.

The “Q-Tip-Logger”, a simple logger that writes temperature and humidity to a SD card

Quite to my surprise the last post about building a data logger caused quite a discussion. As I mentioned, this is not concurring with professional solutions. It’s an alternative for people who like to build things or who are searching for ideas for projects when cooperating with schools and STEM classes. For someone who isn’t keen on learning something new, maybe a bit unusual and building something, this project is not interesting. For someone who has a sufficient collections care budget to buy professional loggers and send them in for calibration regularly it might be interesting anyway to compare the professional loggers with the DIY versions. For someone with a collections management budget next to zero who sees a chance to find sponsors for buying the parts if he or she initializes a cooperation project with a school group, it opens up the possibility to have an alternative to the cheap loggers from the hardware store and spark interest for collections care in young people at the same time.

The critical questions – which I really appreciated – made me switch the order of this guide: instead of starting with the main parts, the arduino and the data logger shield, I start with the very heart of the logger: the sensor.

The sensor is the part that decides how good or bad the logger is suited for its purpose. No matter how careful you are building your project, if the sensor is bad, the results will not be satisfying. On the other hand, good sensors have their price. Like often it’s up to you to weigh the pro’s and con’s and decide how good your sensor has to be for your purpose. What helped me a lot were the tests conducted by Robert Smith with the most used sensors in the hobbyist sector, the DHT11, DHT22 and SHT71: http://www.kandrsmith.org/RJS/Misc/Hygrometers/calib_dht22_dht11_sht71.html. This comparison, together with his previous analysis of six DHT22 sensors made me use the DHT22/AM2302 which measures temperature and relative humidity for my projects.

Der DHT22, auch unter der Bezeichnung AM2302 zu finden.

The DHT22, also named AM2302.

Under real testing conditions it doesn’t reach the +/- 2% accuracy in measuring relative humidity mentioned in the data sheet on page 3 (which would have been a real surprise as only really high-prized loggers reach that accuracy in real life) but they bring good enough value for the money invested in my opinion. It can be found in electronic stores, in the adafruit store or on ebay and is easy to integrate into a project.

Sensors are generally not built for eternity. That’s why you have to send in the professional loggers for calibration. Fortunately, there is a method for testing loggers for accuracy by using saturated salt solutions described by Samantha Alderson and Rachael Perkins on the website of Connecting to Collections Care: http://www.connectingtocollections.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Calibration-using-saturated-salt-solutions.pdf
That’s what you should do with your homebrew loggers, too. You can even built a little testing device so you only have to expose the sensors to the test, not the whole logger.

Before you let your logger log the first time you should check it against a reliable professional device. In two occasions I found linear differences between my own logger and the other device (for example one was always 1% below the reference device), which I could correct in the software. Then it’s important like I already mentioned to check your sensor regularly. If the sensor is not reliable anymore you should replace it. That’s where the price of about 9 USD comes in handy.

So much for the sensor. The next part will be about the arduino and the logger shield.

Angela Kipp

More Posts on this topic:
A thing that can do things – Taking a look at the Arduino from the perspective of a collections specialist
Build Your Own Data Logger – Quick Start Guide

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Increasing Accessibility for Visitors Who Are Visually Impaired: Simple Solutions for Small Museums

by Janice Klein and Chuck Dean on April 05, 2016, originally published on the AASLH Blog

The 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has provided museums and museum associations the opportunity to review and reflect on the ways in which visitors with disabilities can be provided with improved access to museums. Recent professional development workshops, webinars and magazine articles have shown how a number of museums have created programs that provide imaginative new ways for their visitors with disabilities to experience museums. Unfortunately, many of these ideas provide access to only one exhibit or require extensive time or money to implement.

 Chuck Dean demonstrates the use of the KNFB Reader app on his iPhone at the Scottsdale Historical Society Museum.


Chuck Dean demonstrates the use of the KNFB Reader app on his iPhone at the Scottsdale Historical Society Museum.

This article focuses on visitors with visual disabilities for two main reasons. First, there are more than 800 diseases of the eye and they present themselves differently in different people. Some people who are visually impaired can read large text or Braille; some can’t read either. Some see better in bright light, and for some bright light totally obscures or fractures what they see. Basically there is no “one thing” that works for everyone.

Secondly, the development of smart phone apps has revolutionized the way that people who are visually impaired go about their daily lives, from travel using individualized GPS directions to access to a wide range of published materials via screen-reader and OCR apps. 1 Museums are just beginning to explore how they can use these relatively inexpensive technological advances to make themselves more accessible.

The very best way for people who are visually impaired to experience a museum is a docent tour. Of course that can be difficult for most museums to provide for every exhibit space throughout the entire building. There are, however, three very simple things that all museums can do to make their exhibits more accessible to visitors who are visually impaired:

  1. Put your label text (and any other written materials you have, like gallery guides) on your website in a format that can be downloaded. You’ve written it all out anyhow. People who are visually impaired can access that information in the way they find most useful. They can print it out at home as large text or Braille and take that with them on their visit to your museum. At the museum they can read it directly off the website with their smart phone using a screen-reader app.
  2. Use QR codes as part of your exhibit label to provide links to the information on your website. While QR codes haven’t been as successful for marketing as people hoped (to put it mildly), they are perfect for this purpose. In fact, in our opinion if museums were to do one thing to be more accessible, it would be to add QR codes to labels. A visitor with a smart phone can scan the code and hear the text (again using a screen-reader app). There are also smart phone apps that will scan the label itself and read it to the user. Some will even tell the user when the phone is “square” to the label and translate into one of over 200 languages. (BTW make sure your security guards know to allow visitors to “take pictures” of the label for this purpose).
  3. To make your labels and QR codes really useful, be consistent about where you place them (e.g., lower right corner of the case; 3 feet high and one foot to the right of the painting) so that they are easy to find. Using a separate standard sized frame for the QR codes would also be helpful. Ideally, all museums would agree on the same location for QR codes, but at least you can tell your visitors where to find yours.

None of these solutions is difficult or expensive, but would make all the difference in your museum being accessible.

About the Authors

Janice Klein is the Executive Director of the Museum Association of Arizona. She has worked in the museum field for more than 30 years and has served as Chair of AAM’s Small Museum Administrators Committee and on the AASLH Small Museum Committee.

Chuck Dean worked as a tool and die maker until he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease (juvenile macular degeneration) in his early 30’s. Since becoming legally blind he has managed his own business as a licensed massage therapist. He is an avid technology-user and has been using smart phone apps to assist in his travels (and museum going) for more than 10 years. He is a regular contributor to the Apple Vis Website and ViPhone Discussion list.

  1. *Standard screen-reader apps are TalkBack on Android phones and VoiceOver on all Apple products. OCR apps include ABBYYTextGrabber and KNFB Reader.
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Build Your Own Data Logger – Quick Start Guide

The first thing that can do things that actually DOES things for the TECHNOSEUM: A data logger that records the climate in a certain area of our museum.

The “Q-Tip-Logger”, a simple data logger that logs temperature and humidity to a SD card.

Like I promised before, here I show you how to build a data logger with the arduino. I want to do this step-by-step so you can follow the development and considerations that led to “our” logger. Many considerations had to do with the necessities of everyday museum work and so they might be of interest even if you don’t plan to build your own logger but want to hand the project over to your STEM group or your museum’s DIY club. For the impatient reader who has already did some building or raises a technology nerd, here comes the parts list, wiring scheme and code and some considerations for a good head start.

First of all: of course there are commercial products for this task and I don’t want to concur with those. But often I see that colleagues can’t afford the professinal solutions and therefore buy cheaper loggers that are not suitable for the task. Here, building it yourself can be an interesting alternative. Because it’s you who decides on which components to use you are the one who decides on the quality. And because you built it yourself you can maintain and repair it yourself.

Another remark: Wiring and code worked well in our setup but I can’t take responsibility for any damage that is done because you built your logger according to this guide.

What the device does:
This logger logs the current temperature in degrees Celsius and the relative humidity in percentage, then writes this data along with the date and the time as comma separated values to the file MyLogger.csv. This file can be imported into a spreadsheet software for further processing.

Needed Components:

  • 1 Arduino Uno
  • 1 Logging Recorder Shield with SD-Card reader and clock
  • 1 Temperature and humidity sensor (used here DHT 22 / AM 2302)
  • 1 Minibreadboard
  • 1 LED red
  • 1 LED green
  • 1 resistor 200 ohm
  • 1 resistor 100 ohm
  • 1 resistor 10 kiloohm
  • Breadboard cables
  • 1 SD-Card (because only small data is stored this is quite deliberate, I used a 2 GB card)
  • 1 power adapter (230 V AC to 9 V DC)
  • Case according to personal preferences

Wiring scheme:

logger

Arduino Code:

The code is based mainly on examples provided with the libraries used. It might be that I have drawn certain solutions from the web and haven’t noted the source. Should someone discover his/her code used here, please drop me a line so I can give propper credit.

The Casing:
Unleash your creativity here. I used a cardboard box that was roughly the right size and cut openings for the cables and the SD Card into it with a cutter. The only really important thing is that you can operate the reset button on the shield. You can spare it in the casing, we used a q-tip with a broad plastic peg on one end so the reset button is pressed reliably.

Improvements:
By looking close you realize that this project was an emergency response, designed to be quickly available. So, there is room for a couple of improvements.
Instead of the mini breadboard it is logical to solder the components to the logger shield wihich has already a built in prototype board. The only thing to think about is that the sensor has to be outside of the casing because the outside climate should be monitored.
Then, the logger remains comparably numb. To know about your climate, you have to read the SD card or plug in your laptop ans see what the serial monitor tells you. A LCD shield would be a comfortable solution to this issue – and you could skip the LEDs and print the error messages on that LCD monitor.
Last but not least a LAN or WiFi shield could send the data to the web.

Have fun experimenting!
Angela Kipp

More posts on this topic:
A thing that can do things – Taking a look at the Arduino from the perspective of a collections specialist
Build Your Own Data Logger – The Sensor, Heart of the Logger

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Spreading the word: explaining what Museum Documentation is – and why it’s important

Co-authored with Rupert Shepherd, a talk delivered on 4 July 2016 at the 2016 CIDOC conference, held within ICOM Milano 2016.


Spreading the word title slide

Title slide from ‘Spreading the word’

Rupert: In December 2013 I visited a major museum in London. There, I saw a box for donations which gave a choice: did I want my money to be used for conservation, or education? But why couldn’t I choose documentation? As we all know, a museum cannot function without it.

But documentation, like other aspects of collections management, usually takes place behind the scenes, hidden from the public. So I came up with a simple idea: that people working in documentation should try and tweet, every day, what they were doing and, crucially, why it was important, using a specific hashtag: #MuseumDocumentation.

Since then, the hashtag has taken off: in one month recently, it saw more than 500 tweets from over 200 contributors, reaching more than 150,000 accounts in a single week. People have used it in many different ways. Some have been reminding us of the importance of good documentation as a whole.

https://twitter.com/KatieAliceHobbs/status/736643500947693568

Others have been doing that classic Twitter thing, and tweeting about what they’re doing.

The hashtag has been used to send out requests for help; or to announce events for documentalists – on Twitter or in the physical world.

We use it to share good practice or documentation skill, and to share things that might have been done better.

And of course, it’s been used to tell some of the stories that we find every day in museums’ documentation.

Sharing things that spark our interest, the #MuseumDocumentation hashtag has given me a feeling of community, shared effort, and mutual support. But has it influenced the museum sector more widely? Here I’m less certain. In March this year, a group of national organisations representing museums in the UK ran a survey. One question listed 16 different kinds of work that museum staff could be doing – and documentation didn’t feature at all; neither did collections management.

2016 UK musuem workforce survey screengrab

Screengrab of question 11 from 2016 UK museum workforce survey run in March 2016 by Arts Council England, Museums and Galleries Scotland, The Museums Association, and The Association of Independent Museums

Of course, conservation and education were there: nothing seemed to have changed since I saw that collecting box in December 2013.

Angela: When I saw this survey, I was stumped. Since we started Registrar Trek in 2013 a handful of authors and a whole bunch of translators from around the world have tried to make the work of registrars and collections managers more visible to the public. Seeing neither collections management nor documentation on that survey was sobering, and I worried that we’d been doing something wrong.

On reflection, I think that we didn’t do enough. Decision makers and the public have still not recognized that our work is important.

But couldn’t we just put our job title in the ‘other’ field and go back to the stores? Why don’t we forget about the social media stuff and mind our own business?

Because this would be a very dangerous thing to do. The internet and social media have changed the world. Today, if you don’t speak about what you do, no one believes it’s important! In the days before Twitter, when the train was late we complained to our fellow travellers. Today, you will tweet the train company to tell them that their service is rubbish, and hopefully they will tweet you back with apologies and information.

There is active communication going on, and even if the explanation for the delay sounds flimsy, you can see that work’s being done behind the scenes. If they don’t get back to you, well, you assume that there isn’t anybody working, apparently not even the train driver.

This is why it is so dangerous that our professions didn’t appear in the survey. As well as the public, they are hidden from museums’ most senior managers, governing bodies, and funders. At best, the people who decide on where the money goes don’t know about the documentation work that is being done in a museum; and at worst, they may think it is not important.

Rupert: So, what can we do to make our voices heard? One way is to keep using the #MuseumDocumentation hashtag, but try more often to follow my original intentions and say why our work is important. This isn’t always easy: it can be quite difficult finding a new way of saying for the tenth time why tidying a spreadsheet for import into a database is important.

So even I’ve not been managing a daily tweet about what I’ve been doing.

Angela: But it’s still worthwhile in more ways than one. Using this hashtag challenges you to think about what you did all day.

Nika Novak cataloguing at the TECHNOSEUM

Nika Novak cataloguing an item in the TECHNOSEUM’s newly-acquired broadcasting collection in 2015. TECHNOSEUM, Foto Hans Bleh

Documentation: cataloguing, maintaining database, writing a report template to generate display labels from the database, streamlining a procedure, tidying a spreadsheet for data import, updating an authority list, writing training materials…

Angela Kipp scanning a barcode at the TECHNOSEUM

Angela Kipp scanning a barcode whilst recording a radio’s change in location at the TECHNOSEUM. TECHNOSEUM, Foto Hans Bleh

Collections management: packing, tidying, preparing a loan, reporting an accident, checking moth traps, ordering archival material, updating location entries, correcting measurements in the database, defining the location name for a new shelf…

Most of the time, collections managers and documentalists are so caught up in multiple tasks that at the end of the day it’s really hard to say what you did, and you might even feel that you got nothing done. But when you think about it, you did a lot of things that were important, interesting, challenging or simply funny. Now your challenge is to say this in just 140 characters, 20 already taken by the hashtag. It might seem impossible at first, but with a little practice it’s quite fun. Take a look at the hashtag on Twitter to see how other colleagues have done it.

If this feels like too much, then, at least to begin with, anything tweeted using the hashtag will help.

But let’s think more broadly: as documentalists, registrars or collections managers we are working in a goldmine – of good content. Whenever I go through our database, I encounter things that ‘wow’ me: things I didn’t know, or interesting stories. For example: did you know that there exists an electrical household appliance for heating your beer to your preferred drinking temperature? Or that the TECHNOSEUM has 473 soldering irons which helped win a world record? And when it comes to cat content, rest assured that we’ve got that one covered…

A tin for gramophne needles, decorated with a picture of a cat playing with the needles

A tin for storing gramophone needles, advertising the Herold brand of needle, Nuremberg, Nürnberger-Schwabacher Nadelfabrik GmBH, 1920-1925, museum number EVZ:1989/0804-001. TECHNOSEUM, Mannheim, via the TECHNOSEUM online catalogue.

It’s time to share that gold. If your institution has a social media manager, show them those interesting things: remember that they are not as close to the objects and the documentation as you are, so won’t find those facts on their own! You will enrich the content the museum shares with the public, and show your colleagues that if they need interesting facts, stories or pictures, it’s best to contact your documentalist or collections manager. You will have raised the profile of museum documentation.

Rupert: If there is no social media manager or press officer, well, it’s time for you to share those things yourself. The Horniman Museum’s Tumblr account was placed in the hands of documentation and collections assistants – and won a Museums and the Web ‘Best of the Web’ award in 2014.

The Social Media Best of the Web Award won by the Collections People Stories review team on the mantelpiece at the SCC

The Social Media Best of the Web Award won by the Collections People Stories review team for their In the Horniman Tumblr blog, on the mantelpiece at the Horniman’s Study Collections Centre. Horniman Museum, London.

So:

  • Tweet under the hashtag #MuseumDocumentation what you did and why it is important
  • If you see a tweet that was made possible because of documentation, retweet it and comment with the hashtag

  • Write a story or an article about what you did or what you discovered for Registrar Trek or a similar blog
  • Use a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram or whatever you like best to make your work more visible

Who knows – you might be asked to put on a display about your work.

Norsk Folkemuseum collections management display

A collections management display at the Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo, in October 2018. Photo: Rupert Shepherd.

Norwich Castle Museum's documentation display

A documentation display at Norwich Castle Museum, photographed in January 2016. Photo: Rupert Shepherd.

Norwich Castle Museum's MODES display

A MODES display at Norwich Castle Museum, photographed in January 2016. Photo: Rupert Shepherd.

Certainly, the more documentalists and collections managers are visible on the internet, the harder it will become to forget about our professions!

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