Holy Crap – Something’s in There!

Objects Containing Ingredients in Collections

Recently I stumbled upon this article on Piero Manzoni’s work “Artist’s Shit”: https://www.sartle.com/artwork/artists-shit-no-014-piero-manzoni

It reminded me of a problem that hits every collections manager at least once in his or her career. The object that contains something. Not always the content is as debatable as canned crap, but from arsenic to zwieback there is an endless list of ingredients that can give you headaches for various reason. Now, what does the responsible collections manager do in those cases? It sure doesn’t come as a surprise that he or she is asking a variety of questions before he or she decides what to do.

Does it fit into the collection?

The can reads “no shit” in German, thus avoiding copyright infringement. “Kein Scheiß” in Germany means both  “no shit” and “I am not kidding you”.

The can reads “no shit” in German, thus avoiding copyright infringement. “Kein Scheiß” in Germany means both “no shit” and “I am not kidding you”.

This is – or should be – of course the first question with every object that is presented to a collecting institution like a museum. The question here is whether the object supports the mission and fits into the collections policy. But isn’t this the same thing? As far as we all know a collections policy should always elaborate on an institution’s mission statement. Yes, but a collections policy might limit what you collect anyway.

Your mission might say that you are collecting Italian art from 1960 to 1970, so Piero Manzoni’s work might well fit in there. But your collections policy might limit this down to paintings and works on paper for the reason that your storage is only suitable for these materials and you don’t have the capacity to store sculptures or other three dimensional objects. In this case, a can of artist’s you-know-what is luckily none of your business.

 
 

What’s important? The container, its ingredient or both?

If you come so far that the object fits into your collection, the next question is if this holds true for all of it.

If you are a museum for industrial design chances are you want to preserve the container. If the can held meat extract instead of this artist’s… product… you would probably have no problem with carefully opening and emptying the can in the least invasive form possible to preserve the original design of the container.

If you are a museum whose mission is to educate people about feces (nope, I so totally didn’t make this up: https://www.poomuseum.org/ ) and therefore you preserve that stuff, you might likely be more interested in preserving the ingredient than the container. In real collections life, this often means that you have to remove the content from the original container to store it in a more appropriate container for long-term preservation. Now, I haven’t done any research on this concerning human feces, but my gut feeling tells me that a tin can is probably not the best container for their long-term storage.

Then, there are the cases where both, ingredient and container are worth preserving. I think we are safe to say that this is the case with “Artist’s Shit”. The age long questioning if Piero Manzoni really did it, if the can really contains what is said on its label is a strong evidence. A container just saying “Artist’s Shit” but obviously being empty would be somehow pointless. So would be preserving Mr. Manzoni’s feces, I guess. Although I’m not completely sure about this. Some future art historian might be interested in having it analyzed in a lab to find out about the artist’s lifestyle habits. After further consideration: it MIGHT be worth preserving it, as long as it fits into your collections policy and you solved the issue of long-term preservation.

But in this case, both, content and container form the artwork, so we certainly want to preserve both. And for that matter, we can’t separate the container from its ingredient, even if feces might demand other storage conditions than tin cans. We would alter the original condition of the artwork, which we strive to avoid as museum professionals. As a side note: countless collections managers have missed the chance to become artists themselves by leaving Manzoni’s work untouched – someone did open a can and it is now an artwork itself: http://beachpackagingdesign.com/boxvox/opening-can-boite-ou%C2%ADver%C2%ADte-de-pie%C2%ADro-man%C2%ADzo%C2%ADni

Is it hazardous?

It’s one of the key questions for every collections manager. The question goes different ways: is it harmful for itself and the other collections items and is it harmful for those working with the collection? On a sad note, I never, ever encountered a collections manager who is asking these questions in a different sequence, although, really, we should!

The question if it is harmful for itself is one that also plays a role when deciding on whether or not separating the ingredient from the container. Some things can destroy themselves if locked in an air-tight container. I’m sure every museum with a collection of celluloid items has a story about it. Concerning feces I would consider this risk rather low. However, I’m not an expert.

Whether or not the object is a threat to the rest of the collection is a key question before accepting an object. As there is quite a bandwidth of dangers that range from highly dangerous to mostly harmless under most conditions this kind of risk analysis can keep a collections manager up all night.

In the case of Manzoni’s artwork… well, there is a certain possibility that the feces inside (if they are inside) start fermenting, especially if it is too hot in the storage. There is a certain likeliness of the artwork becoming a fragmentation bomb under these circumstances. This could be avoided when stored properly.

The hazard for people handling it goes into the same direction. However, the risk is not so high that it would justify denying the acquisition (like it would probably be if someone offers the museum some live chemical agent). There should be a written procedure for the handling, for example containing that staff should check the can regularly for swelling. It should also be noted that there is a potential biohazard as we don’t know if there are real feces inside and we can’t be completely sure that Manzoni was in the best of health when he… safety first, right?

Summing up

After the collection manager knows

  • if the object fits into the collection,
  • if the content and its container are worth preserving,
  • if they can be separated of have to stay together unaltered, and
  • if they are hazardous and what these hazards are,

the collections manager will

  • advise on whether or not to acquire the object,
  • store the container and its ingredients in the most appropriate way,
  • label hazardous objects if necessary, and
  • write handling procedures for future colleagues.

I desperately tried to find a closing sentence for this article that is not a bad pun or for other reasons inappropriate. I failed. So I just write: Stay safe!

Angela

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How Should Museums Equip Themselves For Rapid Response Collecting?

by Kathleen Lawther

by Liz Lemon via flickr (CC0)Following the Women’s March on Washington and the marches which took place around the world in solidarity on Saturday 21st January, I began to see posts popping up on Twitter and from the Museums Association in the UK highlighting the fact that museums wanted to collect protest signs, pink pussy hats and other artefacts relating to the marches. It’s great that museums want to document this moment and this movement, but I wonder if by the time museums have put out the message that they were collecting, it is already too late? Do people commonly bring their signs home with them? I didn’t personally attend a women’s march on the 21st but I have been to demonstrations before and I certainly didn’t lug any cumbersome signs home with me at the end of the day. They are not objects which are meant to last longer than a day or serve a purpose other than getting a specific message across at the specific time. This does not mean museums should not be collecting them, museums have always collected and preserved things which their makers never intended to last. But it does make the business of physically collecting them that much harder.

By Mobilus In Mobili via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)One of my concerns about museums putting a call out for signs after the fact is that the available signs are limited not only by the amount of people who will have bothered to take their signs home with them after the march, but by the amount of these people who will see these call outs and volunteer to donate their signs. This reduces the amount of available material to a tiny proportion of the millions of signs created for the day. It is therefore unlikely that museums will be able to pick and choose acquisitions which reflect the diversity of signs on the marches, from funny, light-hearted but pointed attacks on the new administration to signs highlighting the importance of intersectionality and making links to other movements such as black lives matter and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights. You cannot encapsulate the breadth of these events in a pink pussy hat. Again, collecting specific items which stand for themes and events and using them to reflect on those themes is part of the everyday work in museums, but doing so at speed makes the process much harder. Social media also means that the people all over the world have already seen and shared images of the most thought-provoking, powerful and funny signs from the day, so if a museum is only able to collect a couple of items that don’t measure up to what has already been shared from the marches, people will know that what has been collected is not a true reflection of the protest.

by Liz Lemon via flickr CC0What is the solution to this? To be able to collect the best and most relevant objects from a protest, museum staff would need to be there at the event, either physically taking in objects on the spot, or at least handing out flyers with contact details and information about how to donate. Both of these approaches have their practical problems. To take in items there and then, museum staff would need to have entry forms on them, take the time to explain the donation procedure to protesters, and get them to sign the forms, all of which is taking up time in the day of someone who is there to take action, not record that action for posterity. By just handing out information, you place the burden on donors to take their sign home, keep it safe, and then bring it to the museum on a later date. A further option could be an alternative entry form designed for rapid response collecting, something quicker and easier to administer on the spot, which would allow museums to take in items with the minimum of fuss for donors and collectors, while upholding good documentation practice.

by  AnubisAbyss via flickr  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) That is just the practical side of things. First a museum has to make a decision that an upcoming event will be significant enough to warrant on the spot collecting. It’s easy to say in hindsight that the Women’s March was significant and that items from the march should be preserved. But in the current climate protests are happening all the time, in quick reaction to new events. On 28th January people flooded the terminals of several US airports in protest at the executive order banning refugees, the following day spontaneous protests also happened in US cities. How can a museum as an institution react quick enough to be on the ground collecting at protests that erupt in multiple locations on a Saturday night? An individual member of staff could, perhaps, but would they be able to represent their museum in these circumstances without approval from their institution?

by Liz Lemon via flickr CC0The other question this raises for me is whether it is ethical for a museum, or the representative of a museum, to attend a protest just to collect donations? A relevant parallel might be that of journalists and photographers, who attend protests as observers and recorders. In reacting to current events museums may have to act more like journalists, covering events with a detached eye. But museum staff and established museum practices for collecting are not prepared for this type of fieldwork. The protesters being asked to donate may be sceptical of museum workers being there in this context, especially if they believe the museum to be at odds with their cause, or taking a neutral and unhelpful stance on whatever they are protesting. There is something uncomfortable for me in the idea of a museum taking up space, and taking up people’s energy and time at a protest if the museum is ultimately only there to serve its own interests. Perhaps this will change in time if museums do take up a more active social role, as opposed to their more traditional role of collecting and recording.

by Liz Lemon via flickr CC0The answers to at least some of these questions come down to individual museums having a clear mission and a collecting policy which supports it, as well as robust collections management and documentation processes which can meet the needs of rapid response collecting. Museums have traditionally been reactive and they need to find ways to be more proactive. This might mean the staff who are usually responsible for approving new acquisitions taking the time to look ahead to upcoming local events which have the potential to produce interesting ephemera or other objects worth collecting, and assigning someone to go out and actively seek donations. It definitely means museums putting targeted policies and processes, like an on the spot temporary entry form, in place now if they want to be equipped to act quickly to what is happening around them. Like so many things it comes down to good collections management: museums really knowing their collections, and knowing what they want their collections to achieve.

Kathleen Lawther is keeper of local history & archives at Hastings Museum & Art Gallery in South East England, and a freelance museum consultant with an interest in collections management, learning and engagement and the places where they intersect. She has worked in a range of organisations in the U.K. from small local authority museums to a national museum. She writes a personal blog about current issues in museums as acidfreeblog.com

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FAUX Real – Happy New Year Trekkers

Matthew C. Leininger

Matthew C. Leininger

My fellow Trekkers, it has been a while and I wanted to take the time to wish you all a Happy New Year and wish all the best for 2017!

I received Angela’s inspiring email regarding our fourth year and found it only right as a co-founder to jump back in. I will still title my blog entries FAUX Real as I always have. As you know I have been out of the museum realm for quite some time now and sometimes wonder what new issues, policies or protocols have changed insofar as Registrar role in the last five years. If I were to go back into the profession, would I be able to pick up where I left off after being let go by the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2011? Or would I be a greenhorn in registration practices and have to learn all over again?

I truly have to say that I have strong feelings and a love for the art and museum world. I however will contribute in some manner my abilities and experience to the arts but still to this day have no desire to work in the art field. No grudges no hard feelings still after all this time. It is hard to fathom working in another nine to five job in any profession. I have been with Amazon Fulfillment now for four years and continue to move up and grow with the company. Still looking back on my days as a young and aspiring Registrar thinking it was my life time career, man days and times change and you need to be ready. One needs to own their situation and press on hard. I personally thank those in the trenches in the museum realm. Not the directors, trustees nor donors. The registrars, preparators, curators, secrurity etc., make the museums thrive and stay in it for the public trust.

My wish for you all this year is to stay the course, own your situation and stay true to yourself and your beliefs whether you agree or not. Agree to disagree and then have backbone and commit yourself. Only then will you continue to grow and excel. May 2017 bring success and improvements on failure.

Talk Soon,
Matt

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Happy 4th Birthday, Registrar Trek!

shrubbery2I can’t believe it’s 2017 already! Seems like yesterday that we celebrated the third birthday of our project.

2016 was a strange year after all. For me personally it was highly successful, but in the big picture, it was terrible. Terrorist attacks, wars, conflicts, mockeries of elections,… you name it, we could all have done without that. And then, in our own sector, we saw again budget cuts, museums closing, people poorly paid and people with high creativity and potential been let go. Again, we could have done without that.

So, is there any way to have a positive outlook into this new year?

Yes, there is.

We see that many museums and museum professionals work towards the goal of making museums safe spaces for all. We see more and more museum professionals speak up against things that go wrong in this sector, here, let me mention #MuseumWorkerSpeak as an example. And, we see more and more museum professionals finding the courage to speak up against things that go wrong in their communities and in politics. This gives me hope for the New Year.

Now, when we look at this project Registrar Trek, what does the future hold? My past predictions were all more or less off the mark, as all predictions have a tendency to be. But I do hope, that in the new year we will encourage more contributions in forms and articles and stories from around the world. Too be honest, there was a little bit too much “Angela Kipp” stuff on this blog recently. As much as I like my projects like the book and the logger (a new generation of them were installed just before Christmas for a serious test under real-life conditions), this was never the intention of the blog. So here is my wish for this our fourth birthday:

That many, many of you find the courage to sit down to write an article, an observation, a story or a thought for us.

Read you soon!

Angela

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‘Tis the Season to be Busy…

via pixabay, OpenClipart-Vectors

via pixabay, OpenClipart-Vectors

The advent is probably a stressful time everywhere – opposed to what its original intention was. And sometimes you hear from colleagues working in other fields of the museum: “You registrars are lucky. The exhibition opening was in November and you don’t have to organize all those Christmas events…” Oh, if only it were so…

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Christmas decoration is beautiful. But it also holds a lot of potential conflict. Of course, the decoration should not be dangerous for artifacts. Freshly cut trees from the woods can be the home of various pests, glitter has a tendency to be everywhere, especially where it’s not intended to be, and if you are watching out which materials are used in the vicinity of objects all year you are naturally suspicious about artificial snow from a spray can… It’s plain to see that the registrar is not the most loved colleague when organizing a Christmas party for the patrons of the museum.

All I want for Christmas is you (or a tax deduction)

Just before Christmas many people realize that the tax declaration for this year will be due next year. If you want a tax deduction valid for this year all the paperwork and the physical transfer of this object must be done this year. And that’s why many people want to do something good for the museum in December. The attic and grandma’s cabinet hold a large amount of valuable artifacts, that’s what the noble donor thinks. So, the registrar has to do a lot of checking, organizing transports and issuing deeds of gift.

I saw three ships on Christmas Day

Longterm loans often are issued with an end date of December 31. Now, no one wants to work on New Year’s Eve, so it’s now time for the decision if the loan period should be prolonged or if the object is returned. If it is returned, it’s naturally returned this December. If it stays where it is, the loan contract has to be prolonged. In either case it’s a job for the registrar.

Oh the weather outside is frightful…

The previous two points show that there is much transportation going on around this time of year. Unfortunately, it’s also the time when it’s winter on the Northern hemisphere. Snow, frost, wind, dead leaves… All those things that point towards leaving doors and gates shut. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. So the registrar keeps watching the weather reports to choose good days for transport. And he or she keeps a close eye on doors and gates to make sure they are not kept open longer than absolutely necessary – which annoys his or her colleagues who have to bring in the Christmas decoration and chairs for the Christmas party.

Christmas Lights

The days before Christmas you get together, drink some tea and eat Christmas cookies. To make it more comfortable you light a few candles – and get into trouble with your registrar who sees this as a fire hazard. Rightly so as statistics show that around Christmas the number of damages due to fire increase about 40% (in Germany, source). Pro tip: Use LED lights instead of real candles and calm the nerves of your fellow registrar with some cookies.

Along these lines I wish all colleagues a joyful pre-Christmas period despite of all the work!

Angela

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

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Two Questions For Registrars/Collections Managers

Dear colleagues,

I sure would like to be warned if humidity rises from 27 % to 43 % within 10 minutes!

I sure would like to be warned if humidity rises from 27 % to 43 % within 10 minutes!

I like to pick your brains, experience, gut feelings… It has to do with the data loggers I’m currently building and testing.
We all have our set temperatures and humidity levels we don’t want the values to drop beyond or go above. We sure want to know if the humidity level in our storage for metal objects exceeds 55% or the temperature drops beyond 11 °C (51.8 °C). So it’s quite logical that we want our device to send us a warning when this happens.

But there is something other we sure would like to know about: we all know that the most harm is done to objects by sudden change in the climate. Sudden drops or rises in temperature and/or humidity. Those changes might stay well between our given ranges but happen so fast we sure want to hear about as soon as it happens. On the other hand: if we get warnings too often we will grow numb towards them. So, I try to find a good middle ground and that’s why I’m asking you to state your opinion:

Imagine you had a device that warns you about sudden climate changes within a 10 minutes time span on your prefered channel (email, twitter, cell phone), what would you pick as trigger value?

What would you choose as a trigger value for relative humidity change within 10 minutes in your storage?

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What would you choose as a trigger value for temperature change within 10 minutes in your storage?

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Build Your Own Data Logger – Arduino, the Datalogger-Shield and the Wiring

Sorry for the delay continuing this series. Actually, part of the delay had to do with developing an hands-on for explaining how gears work on a bicycle together with a colleague, using an arduino…

So, the basis of the logger is an arduino, which we presented lately as the “thing that can do things“. There are several arduino platforms depending on what you want to do. For our project we chose an arduino uno:
Photo by Clic17 via Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 4.0Photo by Clic17 via Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Now, an arduino uno can do much more than just reading sensor data like we want to do, but it’s rather easy to make projects real without having to solder anything, it comes with a quite easy to understand coding language and there is a broad international community experimenting with it, so you probably find answers to your questions at the official arduino forum https://forum.arduino.cc/ or somewhere else on the web.

To work with an arduino you will connect the sensor and other devices you need to the ports of the arduino. You got digital ports (0 to 13), analog ports (A0 to A5) and some ports for connecting to power (marked 3.3 V, 5 V and GND). We take a close look on what we connect how later on.

First, we need another useful device, a data logger shield. So, what is a shield you ask? Well, as your arduino comes out of the box, it is a generalist. It can do anything, from showing the bike speed to logging your climate data. You connect it to all the parts you need for your specific project. Depending on the project, this can be a lot of wires, resistors, capacitors, switches… So, for some specific tasks you need for certain projects some fine people have developed boards that have everything you need on them and which you can connect to the arduino by simply “clicking” it on. So, the shield sits on the arduino like a backpack, is ready to perform certain tasks and you still have a reasonable amount of ports for your specific task, although some ports are now used for the connection.

And what is a data logger shield? Well, look here:

Taken from Adafruit website https://www.adafruit.com/product/1141

Taken from Adafruit website https://www.adafruit.com/product/1141


A data logger shield has two very useful devices: a SD card reader to log your data for further use and a real time clock (RTC). We need a real time clock because an arduino is incredibly dumb. When we tell it what time it is, it just remembers it as long as it got power. When we disconnect it from the power source it immediately assumes that it’s 0 o’ clock. The RTC has a small battery on board that safeguards the arduino remembers the time even when disconnected.

When we clicked the data logger shield to the arduino we can start wiring our logger. We can do that by soldering the wires directly to the shield, which comes with a convenient hole matrix for this task, or we can use a little breadboard and breadboard cables to do the wiring like in our example. For long-term use, I’d prefer soldering because it is less vulnerable to bad contacts. You can see the exact wiring in this scheme:

logger

The data pin of the sensor is connected to digital port 9, the green LED over a 100 Ohm resistor to digital port 8, the red LED over a 200 Ohm resistor to digital port 7. The “buckled (short) legs” of the LEDs, which are the minus pole, and the ground pin of the DHT22 are connected to the GND port. The power pin of the DHT22 and the data pin over a 10 K Ohm resistor are connected to the 5 V power port.

For our logger, we mounted the breadboard with the sensor and the two LEDs on the outside of the casing, while arduino and shield are inside of the casing. You can see the breadboard wires being connected from the inside to the outside:

DatLog_2

Finally, we need something that allows us to push the reset button in case we want to restart the arduino. In our case we used a q-tip with a broad plastic peg on one end.

Next up, we will take a look at the coding for our logger.

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
Build Your Own Data Logger – The Sensor, Heart of the Logger

This post is also available in Russian translated by Helena Tomashevskaya.

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The Mountains And The Shrubbery – A Reflection on ICOM Milano 2016

shrubbery2When I was traveling back from the ICOM conference in Milan to Germany through the majestic landscape of the Alps I made an observation: While I was able to admire the calm beauty of the mountains with mansions and small farm houses I was unable to capture this silent beauty on camera. My camera, doing what it is specialized to do, captured everything that was there, including the shrubbery close to the train tracks that at times blocked the view of the landscape. I must admit that I wasn’t really aware of this shrubbery before I tried to capture the mountain view on camera.

It occurred to me that this observation in many ways reflected some of my thoughts and concerns with the large ICOM conference in Milano. There were over 40 specialized working groups, including my own, CIDOC. There were the specialists for textile collections, the specialists for glass museums, the specialists for money museums,… I know this specialization is really helpful to discuss the special issues that arise with special collections and special tasks in the museum and I love those conferences where I meet fellow specialists to swap ideas and horror stories. However, in the context of this meeting, it felt odd. Here, where all the specialists were together, there would have been room to discuss across professions about the big picture, about issues and challenges that might need a broader approach across professions. Instead, each specialized group clogged together to do their own thing. Each kept focusing on the shrubbery before their eyes instead of seeing the mountains.

Maybe it bothered me because the CIDOC group is the one that was initialized in the 1950’s to care for everything concerning information in museums. So, a rather broad approach was intended, which resounds well with the fact that documentalists and registrars are often the information hub in their institutions. Improving work-flow and gathering, structuring and providing all kinds of knowledge is natural to us. However, there we are, sitting and discussing specialized documentation frameworks and definitions while next door specialists in collections management, education or small museum administration struggle with issues we don’t know of – and where we might have ideas on how to help. On the other hand, the fresh pairs of eyes from colleagues outside our own profession could help us see if we still have the right focus on what we do or if we are missing important developments. As specialists we, like the camera, are probably focusing automatically on the shrubbery right before our eyes. However, unlike the camera, as human beings we are able to refocus on things that are farther away – but we might need someone who points us to the mountains and all the other details that are in the distance.

shrubbery1

I wish we could have more discussions at these conferences about the most pressing issues of each profession. I know that some working groups with closely related topics are already doing this, but I’m thinking of a broader collaboration. I was glad to have the chance to talk with quite a few colleagues outside my own profession (I was especially glad to meet Linda Norris from the Uncataloged Museum in person!) and so many issues needing a common approach arose that I will touch just a few to provoke your own thoughts:

When educators are thinking about how to tell difficult stories let us think about how we can retrieve information to help them in our databases. If museums are places that focused for too long on just a small well-off part of society, chances are that our documentation is equally biased – we need help to develop methodologies to improve it. If part of our history is vanishing because we only have it on magnetic tape let us think about how we can save it – not as a task for specialized conservators but as a common task for all to think about which information should be saved first and how we can make sure that we focus on long-term stability in saving our data in the future. If Social Media has become an important branch of interaction with our communities – how can we document and use this input and how can we provide information in a way that our community can find and use it?

Let us think about how we can foster more exchange across professions – at the large conferences as well as in our own institutions.

Angela

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UPDATE: All Webinars of the Management 101 Series now available on the C2CC Website

A short follow-up to our announcement in September:

Now all recordings of the “Getting a Grip on Collections Management” webinar series are available to listen to on the Connecting to Collections Care website, together with the slides and additional materials for download:

shoes

Webinar 1: Basic Condition Reporting


Deborah Rose Van Horn

Basic Condition Reporting

artifact-morgue_edit

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

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

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

And there are many, many more helpful and free resources to be discovered in the Connecting to Collections Care Archives: http://www.connectingtocollections.org/archives/

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Collections Put to The Test – New German Resource on Audits

Audits in collections – the opportunity to make a clean sweep, to correct old sins in documentation and look for the condition of our treasures. But where to begin and how to keep the project going? Lina Lassak did her bachelor thesis on this topic. And because there is no recent German resource about it, she made a handbook out of it, which she made available for free on Zenodo, a platform for publishing scientific texts https://zenodo.org/record/157342#.V-u2gslo2tc. I asked her about the development of this project:

handbuchThe origins where my field-related internship in the fifth semester, which I did in the winter 2014/15 at the Ägyptische Museum Berlin (Egyptian Museum of Berlin). This internship is integral part of the Museumskunde (museum studies) course plan to graduate as a bachelor at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin (university of applied sciences in technology and economy). During this time I learned how audits are done by the staff at the Egyptian Museum. During my studies I already realized how much fun I had working with a database and in a museum storage area and that’s probably why the audit suited me especially fine. I helped taking photos and measurements as well as cross-checking data with the old paperwork. While I did some research for my internship report I realized that there was no recent literature on this topic. So the topic of my bachelor thesis was set.

While I researched for my thesis I continued helping with the audit at the Ägyptische Museum and found two guidelines for the process: There was Hans-H. Clemens: “Inventur im Museum. Rekonstruktion und Modernisierung traditioneller Sammlungsverwaltung – ein Praxisleitfaden” (Inventory in the museum. Reconstruction and modernisation of traditional collections management – a guideline for the practice) and then there was “Spectrum 3.1 Sonderheft 5″ (Spectrum 3.1 Special Issue 5” by the Institut für Museumsforschung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Institute for Museum Research of the Berlin State Museums – Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation). But the first one is a bit outdated because it barely mentions digitization and the second just describes the process. What I also discovered was that there was a whole bunch of different terms for the same process and that nearly every state in Germany had some kind of directive for audits in place, but staffers didn’t know exactly how to put it into practice.

After graduating as a bachelor both supervisors of my thesis, Prof. Dr. Kähler and Dr. Zorn, suggested to develop a handbook out of it. That is what I did in the past year, supported by Dr. Zorn, and now I was able to publish it on Zenodo.

This handbook is no directive on how to do a proper audit, but a basic guide that helps to develop a handbook for the own audition project, tailored to the needs of each individual collection, as well as for the actual audit. That’s why it doesn’t focus only on archaeological objects but also includes examples of other artifacts. MuseumPlus is used as the example for the Collections Management System, but the data fields should be easy to transfer to every other system. The Ägyptische Museum is used as a detailed example because that’s where my experience comes from and because the colleagues there have developed and modified their own handbook for years. The steps can be transferred to all kinds of collections. I am trying to provide some assistance and help feeling confident when using a software.

Lina Lassak

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