Creative Crate Recycling

Some say museum people are natural hunter-gatherers. While this may be true, it’s also true that museums always lack storage space. That’s especially a tough one for the collections manager: while the thrifty side of his or her personality wants to keep everything in case it is needed someday in the future, the logistic side tells him or her that you just can’t keep everything because you will run out of moving space, soon.

A common issue are special built crates. Made for a special purpose, i.e. letting a certain object or set of objects travel to a distant location, they are clogging space after completion of this task. Too bulky or unsuitable for longterm storage and no matter how hard you try, it seems that there is never a travel request for an object with exactly those dimensions…

There are many possibilities what can be done with used crates. Offer them to other museums is a great one, for example. Here’s another that is quite comfy: A bench made from a crate originally built for a couple of model ships.





What are those objects and where do they come from?

Making The Collection of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society (AMIHS) accessible

By Ashley Burke

Throughout the country, there are local communities concerned with preserving their historic heritage. As a result, small historical societies and museums are created to help preserve this history. Many of these organizations are volunteer run and often they do not have proper museum training, especially in regards to the management of museum collections. These museums often hold collections with minimal information and as a consequence can create difficulties in future research and development.

Saving the Heritage of Anna Maria Island

AMIHS on eHiveThe AMIHS was one of those museums. It was created in 1992 by community members concerned with their changing community. Many of the long time residents were moving away or passing on and rapid redevelopment of the island had begun to take place. AMIHS set out to capture this history before it disappeared and in 1997 also started collecting historical artifacts to help tell these stories. Over the next 18 years they amassed over 1300 objects, a historic 1920s cottage and many more archives and scrapbooks still being processed.

Many years later in 2014 on one hot Florida summer day, an unknown museum person visited the collection and commented to the volunteer on duty that the museum was not being a good steward to their collections. From this moment, the museum began thinking about its collections differently and initiated a relationship with a local museum consultant (this author). The consultant was initially brought in to perform a site evaluation to outline the preservation concerns and recommendations for implementation. One of the major recommendations was to complete a full inventory and cataloging of the collections. Based on the recommendations and the evaluation, the museum chose to move forward with the cataloging project.

Cataloging – Assembly Line Style

The museum decided to close for a month and a half (during the slowest part of the year for tourism) to allow the consultant full access to the museum unheeded by volunteers and patrons. The consultant set up an assembly line type process and went room by room numbering, photographing and taking notes in a spreadsheet, as well as adding buffers and other preservation tools to better protect the objects on display. Over time, the process became streamlined and focused on the photography. A large set of objects would be laid out, then all of them numbered followed by photography and then put back on display. During the photography, the consultant would first photograph the number of the object and then photograph the object. Once the images were uploaded to the computer, the images were all renumbered to reflect the object number. This method allowed the consultant to do most of the cataloging work off site. Armed with high-resolution images of the collection, the consultant could easily add nomenclature 3.0 vocabularies and perform some web-based research.

After the collection was fully numbered and cataloged (in the end, estimated time per object came to 7 minutes), the archives and local newspaper records were consulted for any possible donor information. Since the consultant knew the collection very well at the end of the cataloging, it was easier to match up donor information to objects.

Making The Collection Accessible Online

At the end of the cataloging project, the museum was fully cataloged, numbered, and photographed, but now what should be done with all the information? A hard copy was provided to the museum for easy access, but the museum needed a computer solution that was more than just an excel spreadsheet. The museum, however, had a number of hurdles, the main one was that there was only one computer on site and it spent most of its life in the closet. There was no server and no real tech support available. The museum needed an inexpensive, cloud, web-based solution. With this information, the consultant set about researching all the available open-source and web-based collections management software solutions.

Attached is the initial report on the various systems that were analyzed (includes the cost, and a list of pros and cons). With this report and lengthy conversations with the museum, the choice was narrowed down to two choices—eHive and OMEKA. Collections items were added to both solutions and then showcased to the board of the museum. Armed with all the information, the museum choose eHive.

Once the collections management software was chosen, the museum and the consultant worked with the database company to map the data into the collections database. The AMIHS now has a useable, searchable museum collections database—one they can easily point researchers to, as well as to actively add new accessions, and add the archival data into the database.

Ashley Burke is the collections manager at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs, Florida and a museum consultant for Burke Museum Services. She has over a decade of experience in museums with a variety of types of collections from fine arts to decorative arts to natural history to archeology to medical collections (including wet tissue). She has a passion for all things museum related, Florida history and is a part-time metalsmith. She makes museum inspired jewelry in her free time.

Off the Shelf: Pair o’ Docs

Communication about objects, no matter what they are, is made easier if all parties know exactly what is meant by the names of those objects. I offer to you the following scenario:

flowerThe Extremely Amateur Garden Club is having its annual meeting and plant swap. A group of members is gathered around a robust pot of something green and lacy and hairy covered with deep purple flowers. Mrs. Soapwort exclaims, “Why, I remember those from my grandmother’s garden. That’s a Hairy Purplecup!” Mr. Thymus rubs his jaw and grumbles, “No, no, my brother used to raise those commercially. They’re Lake Lucy Laceleafs, anybody knows that!” “Laceleaves,” mutters his wife, who used to teach English. “Actually, when I was a kid, my mother made tea out of the leaves and called it False Chamomile.” At that point, they all decide to consult Dr. Plantaverde, the University extension agent. “You’re all right,” he says. “Those are all common names for jargonius confusus, or Common Aliasleaf. It probably has other names in other parts of the world, and some of those names could easily refer to more than one plant. However, if you wanted to specify this particular plant anywhere in the world, its two part scientific name would identify it unmistakably.”

The expert was using a type of controlled vocabulary; in this case, the system of binomial nomenclature we all learned about in high school science classes. It allows scientists all over the world, no matter what language they speak, to know exactly what type of plant of animal is meant by jargonius confusus. Let’s go now to our museum. A donor has given us a collection of furniture, bottles and instruments from a doctor’s office. I have no idea what a lot of these things are called. Fortunately, our family doctor is also a long time friend. I call him in to provide proper medical terminology instead of the “chrome-plated thingy with a long wire sticking out of it with a little ball on the end” that is all I know to call it. He brings with him a retired doctor friend who practiced with just the types of instruments that came with this donation. The two have a great time examining the collection. I notice that, sometimes, one of them calls an item by one name and the other calls it something different. Usually they come to some sort of agreement, so I’m reasonably sure that the term I am writing down in the inventory is the equivalent of the scientific name for our potted purplecup.

That’s not the end of it, though. Most museums, in order to facilitate communication about artifacts, make use of their own controlled vocabularies. In the case of museums that collect man made objects, many use a book called Nomenclature1, in which the author has classified artifacts according to the way they are used. There are ten categories, such as Furnishings or Tools and Equipment for Communication, under which are numerous sub-categories such as Bedding and Floor Coverings, or Written Communication Tools & Equipment. If you look under each of these sub-categories, you will find a list of words. These are the names that you are allowed to use for artifacts in this sub-category. In this way, if I call up a museum and ask to borrow a dining chair, they will know not to send me a hall chair. If I ask for a sofa, they will know not to send me something that only has an arm at one end. However, problems arise when the only name you know to call something isn’t in the book. Sometimes you have to find the closest approximation and then put the name you want to use in the description. Now, in the best of all possible worlds, Nomenclature would come with definitions. Since it doesn’t, I often have to resort to a dictionary, or to the Getty’s Art & Architecture Thesaurus2, a wonderful on-line vocabulary that includes definitions. Or, in a pinch, I can rely on my pair o’ docs.

Anne T. Lane

  1. Nomenclature is a controlled vocabulary for the classification of cultural objects invented and first published by Robert G. Chenhall in 1978. Refined ever since it is a standard work for classifying cultural artifacts in U.S. museums. Version 4.0 was published recently:
    Paul Bourcier, Heather Dunn and The Nomenclature Task Force (ed.): Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging, Robert G. Chenhall’s System for Classifying Cultural Objects, 4th Edition, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers /AASLH 2015
  2. The Getty Vocabularies including the Art & Architecture Thesaurus can be found and used free of charge here:


I was quite surprised when I realized that Rupert Shepherd (@rgs1510 ) nominated our project (or its English twitter branch @RegistrarTrek) in the #TwitteratiChallenge. Reading his blog post about it I learned that he was as surprised by his own nomination like I am now. Once recovered from the shock, Helen (@crazymuseumlady) nominated us in the same challenge.

Now, what’s the trouble? Registrar Trek is a project that is alive because of its various contributors, the authors as well as the translators and the readers who read, comment, like, share and tweet about it. So, seriously, who is entitled to say: “challenge accepted” in this case?

As @RegistrarTrek was nominated and I, Angela Kipp, am taking care of the English twitter account at the moment, it seems legit that I take the challenge. But that’s just where the trouble starts. My own educator days, when I explained how the Enigma worked or how coffee is made are long over. I work in the background, far away from the challenges my educating colleagues at the front-house face every day. And the ones I would first turn to when I need an educational advice are actively interacting with visitors, school children, adults, students, toddlers, questioners and vandals. I may find them doing a #tweetup but most of them and most of the time they are out there inspiring people face-to-face, not on twitter. So, I will broaden the scope of this challenge and nominate people who do great stuff and who can be found – among loads of other places – on Twitter:

My nominees

First of all I nominate @ceciliapeartree. She’s an active collections and documentation professional who keeps pace of new developments and doesn’t shy away from pondering new technologies in collections management. Besides she writes mystery novels. A lot of them. And she even brought a little drone to her session at @ERC2014. I would love to nominate her “Coolest Collections Professional Ever” (CCPE), but as this price doesn’t exist, she’s my first in the #TwitteratiChallenge.

Then, @MarkBSchlemmer who invented #ITweetMuseums a hashtag used mainly by museum professionals who visit other museums and share what they see. A whole new way of experiencing museum visits (you may also follow @ITweetMuseums).

Linda Norris @lindanorris does amazing projects around the world, writes books, has a great blog called (Brace yourself, fellow registrars and documentalists!) “The Uncataloged Museum” and a joint blog with German and Russian colleagues called “Museum, Politics and Power” which was designed for the ICOM conference 2014 but has many interesting thoughts.

My next nominees are two museum professionals who are active and inspiring tweeters: Alli Rico @alli_rico, a young emerging museum professional whom I had some inspiring collections based discussions with and who has her own blog called Alli’s Adventures in Museums and Suzy Morgan (@Kw33n5uzicus) who is a conservator, editor of the Multilingual Bookbinding and Conservation Dictionary and always fun to tweet with.

What to do?

  • Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely on or go to for support and challenge. It might be a good idea to check that they are happy to be challenged so that the #TwitterChallenge chain doesn’t break down.
  • Record a video announcing your acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chosen) drink over a glass of ice. Then, the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before nominating your five educators to participate in the challenge. (This is optional for the technically challenged).
  • Write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days nominating your chosen participants who then become part of #TwitteratiChallenge. If you do not have your own blog, try @Staffrm.
  • The educator that is now newly nominated has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go to educators are.
  • It’s optional to make a donation to your chosen charity but if you do you may want to identify one or two charities that may be of interest to others. For example, Debra Kidd’s highlighted the World Wide Education Project as a great charity to support or Nepal needs all the help it can get after the devastating earthquake.

The rules

There are only three rules:

  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge. I realise this will get more complex over time.
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost, the rules and what to do information into your own blog post.

Wait, what about that video thing?

Okay, here you go:

  1. print out this picture
  2. cut along the white lines to get separate glass, beer and bottle opener
  3. open cut-out bottle with cut-out opener
  4. take cut-out glass
  5. pour imaginary beer
  6. say “cheers”
  7. say “I nominate @ceciliapeartree, @MarkBSchlemmer, @lindanorris, @alli_rico and @Kw33n5uzicus.”
  8. imagine me doing it on video

In the spirit of Nigel Lashbrook: inspiring people to challenge existing rules should be an integral part of education. Kudos to the educators who do!

Unmanaged Collections: Grandmother’s Fixes

Picture by Mimirebelle via pixabayWhen working with an unmanaged collection you are usually confronted with a number of issues that harm your collection: climate conditions, pests, leaking roofs, dripping water pipes, cracks in the wall… While those issues should be top priority on your list of things that need to be fixed professionally it will take some time to get the funding. In the meanwhile your collection suffers every day. That’s the time and the place for something I call ”Grandmother’s Fixes“.

We all know that grandmothers are great at fixing problems, may it be a broken vase, finger or heart. Grandmothers have gained a lot of experience in carrying a family through rough times of scarce resources. The “Grandmother’s Fixes” are about improving things right there and then with your own hands and with stuff that is available and costs little to no money. Of course, you shouldn’t try to fix a broken vase with superglue like your real grandmother would. The grandmother I have in mind is an ideal grandmother, an easy to imagine superhero with the superpowers of common sense and creativity. Very old, very wise and very caring. ”Grandmother“ with a capital ”G“ on her apron, that’s her.

My favorite “Grandmother’s Fix” was done for a collection stored in a huge industrial hall. About 50% of the roof consisted of windows which made it a bright place to work but also very unsuitable for collection storage. A note made with pen on paper faded so much that it was unreadable after only 6 months in this hall! The “Grandmother’s Fix” to that was incredibly simple: the windows were painted over. This was done in just a few days, cost only a few buckets of paint and reduced light levels significantly. The long-term solution was moving the collection to a more suitable storage area a few years later, but the fix reduced stress imposed on the collection immediately.

What was your favorite “Grandmother’s Fix” in collections care?

What took you so long?

A week in the life of a collections manager

One of the delicate glass slides

One of the delicate glass slides

I love my job, really. To be responsible that every artifact is at the right place, at the right time when it is needed is a wonderful duty, so is the challenge to keep them safe for future generations. However, there’s one thing that bothers me and I know bothers many colleagues in the field of collections care, may they be collections managers, registrars, curators, conservators, documentalists or data base managers. It’s the question “Why does this take so long?” or “Why isn’t that task finished, yet?” It bothers me so much that I swore to myself if I run into a good example, I’ll write a blog post about it. Well, last week was a very good example.

Glass slides wrapped in acid-free tissue

Glass slides wrapped in acid-free tissue

One of the very first things I discovered on this early Monday morning was a very heavy box, roughly the size of a shoebox. Inside were dozens of glass slides like they were used for a ”Laterna Magica“ or magic lantern back in the 19th century. Some were in their original boxes, some piled on one another without any support. Some of the slides already suffered damage because of the poor storage conditions. Repacking them was inevitable. I spent the rest of my Monday doing some research and inventing a better storage for them.

Fitting ethafoam block with cut in supports

Fitting ethafoam block with cut in supports

I figured out that wrapping them in acid-free tissue paper was a good start. However, to store them they should have a home where they couldn’t move and get damaged. It should be easy to find the slide one is looking for and take it out without having to touch other slides. I took an ethafoam block, cut it the size of an archival box and cut into it supports for the slides. That way the slides can be carried around safely, can’t slip inside the box and everyone can find a needed slide fast.

Every support has written what slide you'll find inside

Every support has written what slide you’ll find inside

I assigned the task of building boxes for the remaining slides to my student assistant on Tuesday. First of all because I had other things to do and secondly because I’m not a good box builder while she does awesome artifact homes (see ”Storage Solutions: A Home for the Barcode Scanner“). I focused on finding a place for the slides. They should find a home where our collection of photography and camera equipment is stored. But, like many other museums, we have space issues. With the new packaging the slides would need the place of six archival boxes which I didn’t have in this row of shelves. Finally I figured out if I repacked the collection of narrow film cameras into archival boxes so I could stack them I could gain about 3 free shelf boards.

Shelves with repacked narrow film cameras and the six boxes with glass slides (marked red). You can also catch a glimpse of the now empty shelf boards.

Shelves with repacked narrow film cameras and the six boxes with glass slides (marked red). You can also catch a glimpse of the now empty shelf boards.

Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. We are changing our location tracking system from pure manual to barcoding. To push the project forward we established the policy that every item we have in hand gets its new object label with barcode. This is especially a good policy because many of our old objects labels have polyvinyl chloride sleeves we want to get rid of.
I got 118 narrow film cameras to repack, so I printed out 118 new object labels, cut them, folded them and assigned them to their respective camera. Of course, every new archival box needed a label so we know what’s inside. They had to be printed, cut and attached as well. Sitting on another shelf means getting a new location entry in the data base – and of course the archival boxes got new distinct identifiers that needed to be in the data base, too.

So, you can easily imagine what I did Tuesday to Friday. Of course I performed some other tasks, too (read Anne T. Lane’s ”Off the Shelf – A Day in the Life of a Collections Manager“ for more) and after the six boxes with glass slides were located I still had two and a half shelf boards of newly created space for the next camera equipment that comes in. But if you don’t look at the bigger picture you could sum my working week up to: I relocated a box of glass slides.

Angela Kipp

Rembrandt on the Forklift

Originally published on March 25, 2015, in German on the TECHNOblog of the TECHNOSEUM

The forklift is indispensible in our storage facility.

The forklift is indispensible in our storage facility.

Admittedly, when colleagues from art museums take in collections, you could go green with envy. Rembrandt, Goya, Cranach… While our AEG K2 Magnetophon is rarer than a Blue Mauritius, there aren’t many people who get really excited about it. And whether the Mona Lisa or our “Eschenau” steam locomotive brings a gleam to more children’s eyes is debatable. Technology fans must confess, though, that the names of technical devices are often short on glamour.

From Berlin to Mannheim

The delivery of the objects from the Deutsche Rundfunk (German Broadcasting) archives has made up for some of that. In recent weeks, we unloaded about 1,500 devices from the former German Broadcasting Museum from various trucks and moved them to our collections storage facility. Of course we had to confirm that everything that came from Berlin had safely made it to Mannheim. During the verification process, we suddenly felt a little like our colleagues at the art museums—or maybe more like tour operators and recording officials.

A Rembrandt of Our Own

Our colleagues in the storage facility know exactly where each television is located.

Our colleagues in the storage facility know exactly where each television is located 1.

Sachsenwerk and Rafena in Radeberg gave their television sets artistic names such as Rembrandt, Dürer, and Cranach. Philips, on the other hand, stuck with cryptic designations like “23TD321A,” but their nicknames read like a “Who’s Who?” of art history: Raffael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Tizian, Bellini, Goya, and another Rembrandt, though this one from 1962. Blaupunkt imagined itself in southern vacation paradises, with names like “Toskana” (Tuscany) and “Sevilla” (Seville). Graetz went all noble with “Landgraf” (Landgrave) and “Markgraf” (Margrave). Nordmende sent a “Diplomat” into the field, Philips a “Mediator,” and the marketing team at Loewe even decided on an “Optimat.” VEB Fernsehgerätewerke Staßfurt (Stassfurt Television Works) struck out on a different path, where Ines, Marion, and Sibylle provide good sound and picture quality. And if they don’t, who could seriously hold it against an appliance with such a pretty name?

Those of us in the Collections Department cannot allow ourselves to be taken in by the fancy names, however. In the upcoming months, our task will be to examine, sort, and register the collection. Then we’ll have to pack the objects in such a way manner that they come to no harm for the next few decades yet are still available at any time: the “Zauberspiegel” (Magic Mirror) as well as the “Bildmeister” (Image Master), “Lady,” and her “Kornett” (Cornet)—and a “Rembrandt” or two, of course.

Angela Kipp

Translated from German into English by Cindy Opitz.

  1. Disclaimer: Neither I nor the other colleagues are responsible for the stacking of up to three TV sets, the paletts arrived that way. We put it in order immediately.

Unmanaged Collections: Worst First Impressions

alttext As I announced recently I’m looking for real world examples for my book about managing unmanaged collections. The first chapters will have much to do with the process of getting an overview of what items the collection consists of, defining priorities and developing a strategy to tackle them.

I think maybe the worst moment is the first time you see the collection. It’s the moment you get the first idea of how much work it will be and how many issues you will have to face. What was your worst first impression? I think mine was a collection of vintage cars and agricultural machinery crammed into a shed in a way you could barely walk and sometimes had to crawl over a few things to get deeper into the collection. All the objects were rusty, a considerable amount of windshields were smashed and the fact that this place was inhabited by mice, martens and pigeons was sadly all too obvious. To make matters worse, there were some more delicate objects carelessly crammed in between the bigger objects and I found something that turned out to be a lady’s dress under a plow.

What was your worst first impression when you worked with an unmanaged collection?

Off the shelf – Put a lid on it

lotus_closedLet’s say you buy a widget that comes in a box. This protective container might have on it colorful pictures of what is inside, instructions for setup and use, and barcodes by which the manufacturer, the shipper and the store keep track of inventory and price. Once the box’s usefulness is over, you flatten it and send it to the recyclers.

Think ahead, say, fifty years. You give the widget that was in the box to a museum. What does the museum do? Put it in a box. This box serves purposes very similar to the original one, and sometimes even has the ubiquitous barcode on it. There are important differences, however, between the original packaging and the new housing. The old box might have served as short-term physical protection to save the widget from damage during shipping and storage, but it was almost certainly made of materials that would have done long-term damage to the poor widget. Acidic paper and cardboard, foam that offgasses harmful chemicals, perhaps plastics that deteriorate and form sticky films that mar the finish. Adhesives that break down and migrate from tapes and seams onto the contents.

lotus_adviceThe new box is made of specially manufactured acid-free cardboard, buffered against acid migration. It is made without adhesives. Internal trays or supports may be made of inert foams, undyed and unprocessed cotton or polyester fabrics or fibers, or crumpled acid-free tissue paper. The box is labeled with the widget’s number and description, sometimes even a digital photograph of the it so you don’t have to open the box to see what’s inside. If necessary, instructions for opening up the box and taking the widget out safely are included.

lotus_open1Many objects in the museum’s collection are able simply to sit on shelves or in drawers, and a great many others are put into commercially available acid-free boxes with minimal padding or support. Some items, though, are too fragile, or odd-shaped, to fit in ready-made housing. That’s where the box-maker comes in. I use simple tools – a knife and cutting mat and a glue gun. My arsenal of materials includes acid-free cardboard and card stock, foam in sheets and blocks and rods, archival double-sided tape, muslin and cotton tying tape, as well as the acid-free tissue.

lotus_open2Laying out a box involves measuring the object and figuring out the best way for it to sit, working out how much extra space to include for padding and supports, and figuring out how to get it into and out of the box with the least amount of handling. Sometimes the item is nestled into a cushion of polyester fiberfill, sometimes it is tied to its supports, sometimes it is blocked in with removable foam blocks, complete with numbers and instructions. How do you figure out what to use? Experience, and for me, an ability to imagine myself as the object, able to detect any stresses or weak points that need to be taken care of.

The box illustrated here is of the type known as a lotus box. It has four drop-down sides, allowing the Native American jar to be seen without lifting it out. The lid holds the sides together when the box is closed up. I am currently involved in designing a similar type of box for an artifact belonging to the Levine Museum. It will have a tray and only one drop-down side, with internal foam blocks that will allow two objects to travel safely one inside the other. I have also been asked to teach a box-making workshop this summer for the North Carolina Preservation Consortium.

lotus_open3Containers have fascinated me since I was a kid. I always have saved boxes and tins and bottles. I used to sit in geometry class and design tiny fold-up boxes on my graph paper. Graduating to designing housing for museum objects was a very natural progression, and this is still my favorite part of the job of Collections Manager.

Storage Solutions: A Home For The Barcode Scanner

Motivated by the experiences of Sheila Perry (See “If it moves, barcode it“) we are at the moment in the process of implementing barcoding in our collections management at the TECHNOSEUM. We need the scanners portable and protected from all the dangers the storage of a science museum hold. We bought standard aluminium cases in red, so we can easily spot them in the storage (the color already proved useful for clipboards and cutters). Then I handed the task to think of a good protection for scanner and accessoires to my student assistant, Linda. Here is the first beauty she created:


The material is a black polypropylene foam we use for creating mounts in exhibitions. Can you see she even carved little fingerholes so one can remove all the acccesoires like the USB stick easily? Definitely the best housed tool we have at the moment! Now, Linda entered serial production as we have some more scanners…