Archive for Angela

Build Your Own Data Logger – We Want Fahrenheit!

Okay, so far this tutorial was quite European based. But you might want to have your data in Fahrenheit. There are two ways of doing this: In the arduino software or in the spreadsheet software. Because I left you with the spreadsheet software Calc in the last post, we will first do it this way. The formula to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit is to multiply the temperature in Celsius by 1.8 and then add 32.

In our spreadsheet software we add a new column and write the formula “=D1*1.8 + 32” for the first of our temperature values in D1:

The formula for converting Celsius into Fahrenheit.

The formula for converting Celsius into Fahrenheit.

Like last time we want a formula to apply for all our data so we write the first and the last cell into our address field, this time it’s “C1:C8484”:

For which cells the formula should apply.

For which cells the formula should apply.

Don’t forget to hit the enter/return key after you wrote this. Now we choose again the “fill–>down” option from our “edit” menu:

Filling the formula into all other fields of this column.

Filling the formula into all other fields of this column.

But our graph is still in Celsius? Don’t worry, we will fix that now. We double-click our diagramm and then go to our “format” menu to choose “data range”.

Changing the data range

Changing the data range

Here we can choose to add and remove columns. If we want to ditch the Celsius, we click on the column D and change the D into a C in the formula:

Changing column D to C.

Changing column D to C.

Changing column D to C.

Changing column D to C.

We see that the column D is now displayed as column C and in the graph we have the Fahrenheit values instead of the Celsius values. If we want to add the Celsius values to the graph again, we choose the Y-values, then “add” and change the “unknown data” to the column with the Celsius values:

Add a column.

Add a column.

Change added column to column D.

Change added column to column D.

By the way, if the color of our graph bothers us, we can change that by double-clicking the line and change the color to whatever we like:

Changing the color of a line.

Changing the color of a line.

And if we want the Fahrenheit right from the start in our Arduino code? well, search for this line:

And change it to:

What? That simple? Yep, the “true” tells the library that you want the temperature values in Fahrenheit. If this value isn’t set or you write dht.readTemperature(false) it shows the value in Celsius. Easy!

Even if you change it in the software, you might like to keep the two conversion formulas in the back of your mind in case you are exchanging temperature data with partners in the U.S. or in other parts of the world:

degree Fahrenheit (°F) = degree Celsius (°C) × 1,8 + 32
degree Celsius (°C) = (degree Fahrenheit (°F) − 32) / 1,8

In the next part we will do some more awesome things with our data, so stay tuned.
Keep your climate lines straight!

Weitere Beiträge zu diesem Projekt:


Build Your Own Data Logger – Processing Data With Microsoft Excel

In the last post I recommended OpenOffice Calc by Apache ( to use as the go-to spreadsheet software, but for those of you who might have the Microsoft Office Suite anyway, here we have the same in Excel:

Instead of opening our “MyLogger.csv” (which would mess up the data pretty badly), we first create a new spreadsheet. Then we choose the “Data” panel and “from text”. We choose our file and hit “import”. We choose the option that we have “separated” values. Then we hit “next”.

Our csv file in the preview window.

Our csv file in the preview window.

The next window allows us to specify how our values are separated. In our case they are separated by a comma.


As we choose “comma” the preview window shows us how it separates the values.

After we hit next, we got the option to choose a format for our values. Easy to screw your data if you choose the wrong one. In most cases, you can leave it set to “standard”.

You can choose the format of the data in all the columns seperately.

You can choose the format of the data in all the columns seperately.

There is a special trick to shoot yourself in the foot if you are working with another language package than the English one. In German, the seperator for decimals is the comma, not the point. In the German language package Excel won’t recognize your decimals as decimals if you leave the “.” from the original software and do all kinds of funny things with them, like forgetting everything after the point or not interpreting your numbers as numbers. You have to choose the decimal separator for each column in the “Options…” field.

Tweak for decimals in foreign languages.

Tweak decimals in foreign languages.

When you hit finish you get another dialog where you just hit “ok”. Now you do have the data in your spreadsheet. We proceed much like we did in Calc. We will add a new column at the beginning for our timestamp. We create the time stamp by joining our data in the right format: We put our cursor in A1 and type “=” which indicates the beginning of a formula. Then we type in the first field “D1”, place an “&”to join it with the next piece we need, which is a “/”. We type that in quotation marks because otherwise our software will interprete the / as a division. We add the next field, which is E1, with & and so on. After 6 fields, two “/”s, a blank and two “:” we have:
=D1&”/”&E1&”/”&F1&” “&G1&”:”&H1&”:”&I1
When we hit enter, we should see a nice, clean timestamp in A1:

Our first timestamp.

Creating a timestamp from data in columns D to I.

Now we want this in our whole A column. We look how many rows of data we have, which in this case is 8484 rows, yours might differ. We now go to the address field, write “A1:A8484” and hit enter. This tells Excel that we want to do something in all A fields from A1 to A8484. That’s why these are marked now. Next up we go to the “start” menu and choose the “fill” option on the far right of our screen. There we choose “down”. Now all our data sets have a nice timestamp made from columns D to I.

We select all our A fields in the address field and choose the fill option.

We select all our A fields in the address field and choose the fill option.

Ready to have a nice diagramm? Okay, here we go. You first mark the colums A to C which hold all the data we want to see in our graph. Then we choose the diagramm option from the “Insert” menu. You can either go to “recommended diagramms” or directly choose “lines”.

Choose your diagramm options.

Choose your diagramm options.

If you hit “lines” your graph will be generated on the spot, otherwise you can look at the recommendations and play around with them:

Diagramm options.

Diagramm options.

Now we have a nice diagramm to enhance, rename and play around with:

Climate graph ready.

Climate graph ready.

So, now Calc and Excel users are on the same page, so next up we can do some nice things with our data…

Read the other posts for this project:


Build Your Own Data Logger – Processing Data with OpenOffice Calc

Collecting data is nice, but not a value in itself. We collect data with our logger to actually do something with it. To process our data further I will use OpenOffice Calc by Apache ( Why Calc and not Excel? Various reasons: it’s free, it’s open source, it’s available for Windows, Linux and Mac and, most important, it is very user friendly for processing data. It beats Excel on many fields, at least in my opinion (I will follow up with an Excel part of this, though).

So, now we have made a software that saved our climate data as “MyLogger.csv” on our SD card. Next up we will save it from the SD card to our computer and open it with OpenOffice Calc. You should get something that looks like this:

Window when you open a csv-file directly with Calc

Window when you open a csv-file directly with Calc

Yours might be in English, though. Basically the program suggests to make a spreadsheet out of your comma separated values using the comma as marker for the columns – which is exactly what we need. If you used different separators, you can adjust this in this dialogue. Once you are satisfied with how the preview looks you hit “OK”.

Your raw data spreadsheet.

Your raw data spreadsheet.

While we could make a graph for temperature and humidity right there and then, it’s probably better to have our date and time in a format we can use. We could have fixed this in our software already – but nobody is perfect, we just note this for our improvements. For now, we just add another column to our spreadsheet: we mark our column A and choose “Insert”–>Column. A new column A appears on the left of our original column, which is now “B”.

Our new empty column A.

Our new empty column A.

Now we will make a nice, new date and time out of this snipplets we got in column D to I. We want our timestamp to look like this: “2017/4/1 0:1:22″To do that, we combine the data from the colums with a formula, which means we put our cursor in A1 and type “=” which indicates the beginning of a formula. Then we type in the first field “D1”, place an “&”to join it with the next piece we need, which is a “/”. We type that in quotation marks because otherwise our software will interprete the / as a division. We add the next field, which is E1, with & and so on. After 6 fields, two “/”s, a blank and two “:” we have:
=D1&”/”&E1&”/”&F1&” “&G1&”:”&H1&”:”&I1
When we hit enter, we should see a nice, clean time stamp in A1:

The formula entered and executed.

The formula entered and executed.

We want this in all our A columns, right? But we first have to see how many rows of data we have, so we look into our last row, which is in this case the 8484, yours might be different. We now go to the address field, write “A1:A8484” and hit enter. This tells our Calc that we want to do something in all A fields from A1 to A8484. That’s why these are marked now.

We select all our A fields in the address field.

We select all our A fields in the address field.

Now comes the trick. From the “Edit” menu we choose the “fill” option and choose “down”. Now all our data sets have a nice time stamp made from columns D to I.

From the "edit" menu, choose "fill" and then "down".

From the “edit” menu, choose “fill” and then “down”.

Ready to have a nice diagramm? Okay, here we go. You first mark the colums A to C which hold all the data we want to see in our graph. Then we choose the diagramm option from the “Insert” menu:

Choose the "diagramm..." option from the "Insert" menu.

Choose the “diagramm…” option from the “Insert” menu.

For the diagramm type we choose “lines”. In the background we already get an idea of how our graph will look like.

We choose the lines for a type.

We choose the lines for a type.

We can now hit “finish” or do some adjustments like giving our diagramm a title. As soon as we hit “finish” we have a graph that we can drag around, enhance and even cut out and paste in a new spreadsheet, just as we please.

The finished graph.

The finished graph.

There, we have a nicely enhanced graph in an added spreadsheet.

There, we have a nicely enhanced graph in an added spreadsheet.

With all the Calc knowledge we gained now, we will next up tweak our data the way we want it. Like: Those temperatures are in Celsius and we want them in Fahrenheit. But first, we will do the same in Microsoft Excel, for those who feel more comfortable with this…

Read the other posts for this project:


Itsy-bitsy climate engineer

Our education department does some activities on weather and climate this summer and asked us if we could spare a logger. Of course we could… but we also could built them a special one that measures barometric pressure, too. Who doesn’t love to learn how to do a little weather forecast by looking at the barometer? But, but, don’t we need an engineer who keeps care of that logger while it does its duty? There, we fixed it:

plastic spider on data logger

Our itsy-bitsy sensor engineer keeps quite a few eyes open…

This text is also available in Italian, translated by Silvia Telmon.


Build Your Own Data Logger – The Software, Telling the Logger to Log

790px-Kaffeetasse_Milchkaffee_Cafe-au-Lait_CoffeeOkay, with the arduino, shield, wiring and sensor complete, we’ve got our stuff together and can get our logger to log. To do that, we need to tell the arduino what it has to do. This is done with the arduino coding language. Now, what’s that and why do we need it?

As we have seen in the last part, an arduino itself is not very intelligent. To every ordinary person you can say “Would you be so kind and fetch me a cup of coffee?” and he or she will be able to execute that task without further ado, given he or she knows where the kitchen is and all necessary tools are available. If you want the same thing from a machine, you have to speak its language (or have a translator, which is called a “compiler”) and you have to think about the task you give it in a way as if that thing doesn’t know anything about this world. Which is, in fact, true for any machine. So, to stay in the example, to code a machine you have to say:

When hearing the command “Would you be so kind and fetch me a cup of coffee?” do the following:

1. Go to the kitchen
2. If the door is locked, open it to go into the kitchen
3. Go to cupboard
4. Open door of cupboard
5. Take out 1 cup
6. Close door of cupboard
7. Put cup under the coffee machine
8. Press first button
9. Wait until fluid has filled cup
10. Take cup in an upright position
11. Bring cup to person who spoke command

Silly, isn’t it? You would go mad with an assistant asking for such precise commands. That’s why some people find it hard to code – it’s very complicated to think so basic. But, anyway, we want our logger to log, so let’s take a look at the necessary code step by step (the complete code can be copied from our Quick Start Guide):

The part that is introduced by /* and ended by */ is a comment, something that is written for humans to read, not for the arduino to understand. Think of it like spelling out certain words so the kids don’t understand. Well, we never can be sure with kids and spelling, but we can be quite sure with /* */ and arduino.

You use this comments to make sure that another human being is able to understand what you wanted to achieve with a section of code. Chances are that human being is you because after some time you won’t remember why you coded some things that way. Comments are a part of good documentation, something we collections folk like, right?

Next up we have a couple of so called “libraries” we include in our code.

We have seen what an arduino mind needs to fetch you some coffee. Well, someone has already defined all the steps beginning with “1. Go to the kitchen…” in a library, so if you want your specific arduino assistant to be able to fetch coffee for you, you just have to write “#include <coffee.h>” at the beginning of your code and whenever you write “Would you be so kind and fetch me a cup of coffee?”, your assistant will be able to do all the necessary steps to bring you a nice, hot cup of coffee. It will also include what to do if the coffee machine is turned off, the water tank is empty, there is no coffee…

Now, I have to admit that I don’t understand all those libraries that are included here, of some I only know as much as that I do need them, and I know that I need them because I saw that they were used in some example codes. I think of it like when we need a conservator – of course we have to know which specific conservator we need, but we don’t have to fully understand what she or he does. Although, of course, the better we understand what she or he does, the more effectively we can cooperate.

For our logger we have included some libraries so it:

  • understands some functions you might need from the programming language C (stdlib.h)
  • knows how to handle time, that is, knowing that there are seconds, minutes, hours, days… (Time.h)
  • knows how to read the Real Time Clock on the logger board (DS1307RTC.h)
  • knows how to communicate with I2Cs (Wire.h)
  • understands what our sensor tells it (DHT.h)
  • knows how to communicate with peripheral devices like the SD card reader (SPI.h)
  • knows how to read from and write to a SD card (SD.h).

Next up we have to define where our sensor is and what type of sensor we use. The DHT library we included is able to handle DHT11, DHT21 and DHT22, so we have to specify that we connected a DHT22 and we connected it to our pin 9. The notations behind the “//” are again comments to be read by humans, not the arduino:

Next our sensor gets a name so we can order it to do something.

To keep things simple, we called it just “dht” in small letters, but we also could have called it “Walter”, “Gretchen” or “sensor1”. It’s only important that it is named consistently and that we are careful in using upper and lower case. For an arduino “Gretchen” is something other than “gretchen”, so the program won’t run if you make a mistake here.

The next line makes sure that we can communicate with the SD-Card although we used a logger shield. In the library, pin 4 is defined for a certain action, but this is already taken by the shield, so the arduino should use pin 10 instead.

So far, we have just made sure that our arduino knows what it needs to know. Next up we enter the “setup”. Think of it as your new assistant walking through the door. Before you can order her/him to do anything for you, you have to show her/him around. Where is the toilet? Where is the kitchen? Where is the coffee machine… This all will happen in the curly brackets after “void setup”.

Actually, the very first thing we do is we tell our imaginary assistant how s/he should communicate with us. Our arduino will be able to tell us what it does when it is connected to a computer using a thing called “serial communication”. It will be able to send information via the USB cable which we can read in the Serial Monitor of our arduino software. The line Serial.begin(9600) is like telling our assistant that s/he should communicate with us in English.

Next up, we tell our arduino that it should use pin 7 and 8 as output. This is where our two LEDs are connected, but our arduino only knows this if we tell it so. There are two possibilities for a pin: it can be an output or an input. If we define it as an output we can send signals to it that will do something with the thing that is connected to said pin. In our case, if we send that pin a “HIGH” signal it will switch the LED on, if we send it a “LOW” signal, it will turn it off.
If we define a pin as an input our arduino will “listen” to what happens on said pin instead. If the arduino receives a signal there, it can do something according to that signal. But in this case, we only need an output for our LEDs.

Next up, we do a couple of checks to see if our SD card works properly. It prints “Initializing SD card…” to the serial monitor so we can see it.
There is again a pin, pin 10, we define as an output, because our SD-Card-Reader needs this (we know this from the example code).

Now, the arduino checks if it can read the SD-Card. If it can’t read it, it sends a message to the serial monitor saying “Card failed, or not present”.
But “in the field” we won’t have an USB cable connected to a computer, only the logger itself. So we use our red LED on pin 7 to send us the same message. If the arduino doesn’t find the SD card reader or the SD card, it switches the red LED on for 5 seconds. In the arduino language this time span is given in milliseconds. So you see that we send the LED a “HIGH” signal, then wait (delay) for 5000 milliseconds until we send it a “LOW” signal to turn it off.
This is a mission for the Q-Tip: If the red light indicates that the SD card is missing or not properly inserted, you can put your SD card in the slot and press the q-tip, which reaches to the reset button inside the case to restart your arduino and try again.

If the arduino can read the SD-Card it will send the message “card initialized.” to the serial monitor. Next it sends “DHTxx test!”. Again, we have no idea if it can read the SD card, so if this is the case, we switch the green LED on pin 8 on for 5 seconds.

With the simple statement “dht.begin();” we tell our sensor that it should start reading.

Now our setup is finished, we can now tell our assistant what s/he shall do all day long. We do this in a function that is called “loop”. This function will repeat itself forever, if we don’t code anything that make it stop (or the plug is pulled).

What we want to do repeatedly is to read how high the humidty and the temperature in our room is, right? To read from our sensor, we call “dht.readHumidity” for the humidity and “dht.readTemperature” for the temperature.
If we want to use these values repeatedly in our code we use a thing called “variables”. A variable is something like a bag. We can store a value in it and carry it around. In our case we call our variables “h” for humidity and “t” for temperature. Bags come in all sorts and sizes, so do variables. You would choose your small, black handbag for a dinner invitation and your rucksack for your day trip so you always got the bag that fits your storage needs. Our sensor readings will come in a form like 14.5 or 34.8, they come as floating point numbers. So we choose the variable type “float” for it. There are a lot of other variable types, but for now, we just learn that “float” is the right type for our sensor values.
To sum up, the following lines of code store our sensor readings in the variables “h” and “t”. Whenever we call those variables in the fllowing parts of the code, they will repeat the sensor values.

But what will happen when the sensor returns something that isn’t a valid value for humidity or temperature? The next part of our code checks exactly this and reacts accordingly.

If either the value for humidity which we stored in “h” or temperature which we stored in “t” is not a number, the arduino will inform us by writing “Failed to read from DHT sensor!” on the serial monitor. The expression for something not being a valid number is called “isnan” (for IS Not A Number. Instead of writing “or” between the conditions, we have to use wording the arduino understands, which are the two upright strokes || (there are a few of these, like “and” which is &&, “greater than” which is > or “smaller than” which is < ).

Again, with a free standing logger we won’t see a message on our computer, so we let our red LED blink frantically if the sensor values are nonsense. There might be more elegant ways to code this, but I’m just a collections manager, not an IT professional.

Next up we print our values to the serial monitor for check, in case we have a computer connected. Right now you should be able to understand what happens:

Now, we need the time that comes from our Real Time Clock. Note that to use the Real Time Clock properly, you have to set it to the correct time first, using the example provided with the RTC library. Basically here we say “look at the clock and remember anything you saw in a variable called “tm”). We will be able to call the specific day, month, hour, minute, second… that way later in the code.

What follows next is perhaps a little weird to explain and to look at. We want to store our data on the SD card later, in a form that each data point is separated by a comma. That way, we can use any old spreadsheet software, import the data in a form that is called “comma separated values” (CSV) and process it further. The thing is, our data are numbers. You remember how we defined our sensor readings to be floats? Yep.

What we need to process it further is charcaters, in other words, we need a string. To be more exact, we need a string that incorporates all the data we want to be stored when we read our sensor. We want to have something that looks like this:
“34.8, 14.5, 2017, 04, 14, 2, 45, 23,” that we can have in our spreadsheet software to process a reading of 34.8 % relative humidity, 14.5 degrees Celsius on the 14th of April 2017 at 2:45 p.m (and 23 seconds).

To achieve this, we first open up an new bag called “dataString” to store our values in. I must admit I don’t get what line 116 really does, but it has something to do with defining the size that is available for our values.

What happens next is that we put all our values that we want to store into our “bag” called “dataString”. We do this one by one, as if we open up our bag, put the tape measure in, put the gloves in, put the lipstick in… The tricky thing is that whatever we take, we first need to convert something that is a number into a string. Hmmm… perhaps like if you want to put a fluid into your bag. You first have to put it into a container. Well, perhaps not exactly so, but along these lines.

So, we put our humidity value into a container. We call this container “stringH”. The function “dtostrf” does this with our variable h, which is, as we know a float number of our relative humidity reading. Then we put our container “stringH” into our bag “dataString”:

We said we wanted to have comma separated values in the end, so what we do have to do now is to add a comma. We take our “dataString” bag and put a comma in, useing “+=” as the order to do so. Here we go:

The same goes with our temperature reading:

What does our bag now contain? Something that looks like that: “34.8, 14.5, “. You can make sure by ordering your code to let you know on the serial monitor by adding this line:

We didn’t do that here. Instead we are putting in our bag one by one the values for the day, month, year, hour, minute and second of the reading, each separated by a comma. Note: I later discovered that I wouldn’t have had to separate them all with a comma, but we will discuss this later in the series. For now, we just know it works.

Whew, that’s a lot of code. Our “bag” dataString now looks like that: “34.8, 14.5, 2017, 04, 14, 2, 45, 23,”. Next up, we want to write it to our SD card. To do that, we have to open the file the string should be written to:

If the arduino finds the file called “Mylogger.csv” on the card, it openes it, writes the content of dataString to it (at the end of all other data that is already stored there) and closes the file again. Mission accomplished!

What’s great about this is that if there is no file called “Mylogger.csv” on the SD card, the arduino will automatically create it. Only in the occasions where there is such a file, but it can’t be opened or if the SD card is missing, we will need an error coding which informs us on the serial monitor and lights up the red LED until the next loop:

Finally, we have to define how long the arduino should wait between measurements. The more often you read, the more data you get, which is a plus in detail, but also needs more storage space. In our example, we wait 5 minutes between readings, which are 300000 milliseconds. For 10 minutes, set it to 600000 milliseconds and so forth.

That’s it, that’s the whole code. There is, of course, room for improvements, for example if you need the temperature in Fahrenheit or want to calculate the dew point. But this will be another part of the series…

Read the other posts for this project:


Just one of the small, hidden, big hazards

Last week our electrical devices were checked.

One of the power cables taken out of service due to the check...

One of the power cables taken out of service due to the check…

This happens regularily as safety regulations in Germany require that all equipment is safe to work with. soldered itself to a three way adapter, the connection was nearly inseparable.

…it soldered itself to a three way adapter, the connection was nearly inseparable.

That’s a good thing, because you certainly don’t want to be electrocuted by a defect device, nor do you want your storage burning down because of a malfunctioning power supply. So, if this isn’t a requirement in your country, it’s maybe a good idea to let them check, anyway…


Mostly Underwhelming – A Registrar’s Month

I didn’t come to post on this blog for a whole month, mainly because I was teaching a course on Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections for Museum Study which was simply eating up all the spare time I am willing to give to museum topics while not on clock. So, I was looking back at the work I did last month.
At first, I found it disappointing. I didn’t save the world. I didn’t save the big opening. I didn’t negotiate that one important contract. Heck, I didn’t even have that one genius idea that freed up more space than expected.
Instead, it was business as usual. But then I thought, maybe that’s well worth a post. Because it is the business as usual that, in a way, is the stepping stone for others to do magnificent things. So, here we go:


Radios and other home entertainment equipment selected for the move.

We are uniting our newly aquired collection of radio and broadcasting equipment with the collection we already have. This means we select what will go to a new storage space and what stays where it is.


Packing cases folded, labeled and ready for packing.

The selection is packed, correctly labeled and the objects and boxes are tracked in the database. Note: the “real work” is done by two young emerging museum professionals. I’m just the database and logistics consultant, box provider and forklift truck driver.

Boxes packed, ready for transport.

Boxes packed, ready for transport.

I’m often smiled upon or even challenged because I insist on documenting every move of an object, even if it’s “just” from one offsite storage to another or the museum. But just this month it happened that I accidentally found an object which was missing for quite a while and suspected to be stolen. It didn’t leave its box ever. If the location of this box was correctly documented, no one would have wasted his/her precious time searching it. Seems no one ever has the 30 seconds for changing a location, but always the hours for searching.

Radios still to be processed.

Radios still to be processed.

It seems useless to bring all the radios together in one place. In the end, what is a database there for? But having them together has a lot of advantages: similar object groups have similar storage needs and are endangered by the same kind of pests. Some radios are duplicates, bringing them together at one place will help us to decide if we really need a second or third one or if we just keep the best. Finally, it’s much easier to prepare loans and exhibitions on this topic if we don’t have to go to different locations for it.

Several small bike related labels and pins.

Several small bike related labels and pins.

Our bicycle exhibition is open and doing fine, but there remained a lot of artifacts which were in the first selection but didn’t make it in the final selection. When putting them back to their original location I check the database entries and fill in what is missing. Measures, descriptions, conditions… some I sent off to our photographer to have their mugshots taken, so to speak. When preparing an exhibition there is never enough time to do this. You can only do it for the things that really go on display. By doing it now, future curators will have better data and more time for other duties.
Assmann psychrometer on a tripod.

Assmann psychrometer on a tripod.

I checked the calibration of our dataloggers with an Assmann psychrometer.
I also checked the reliability of our sensors against two different salt solutions. That way we know our climate data is reliable for the moment. We will check them again every 6 months.

Roll of polyethylene tube for packing maps.

Roll of polyethylene tube for packing maps.

Together with the responsible curator I packed about 200 rolled maps. They always gave me headaches because I found no good way to store them. Then the curator took over a large collection of maps along with a wall rack designed to hang them. Because there are more hanging spaces than maps we can now store all our maps hanging.
A pallet of bagged maps.

A pallet of bagged maps.

This means that we have to bag them all and apply a hanging system for those who have no hook.
Because we will hang them high above the ground this will create free space where they were stored previously, which is great. But I can’t claim this success, as it was the idea of the curator.
Empty shelves, ready to be filled again.

Empty shelves, ready to be filled again.

So, this month passed by. Of course there were many more things to do, each underwhelming in itself, but important in the big picture.
So, as you are all struggeling with your daily underwhelming tasks, never forget that you might not save the world, but doing major improvements in the way you eat an elephant: one piece at a time.

Keep up the good work!



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”:

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: ) 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:

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!



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


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!