Archive for Stories

Talking Museum Documentation Right Meow

For all of us working on the task to improve documentation in our museums it is often hard to get the point across to the colleagues who are not so deeply involved in the discussions about standards and long-term preservation. Maybe we are too deeply involved to make the concept clear. Maybe we have to take a different approach. Maybe we have to tell the story from a different angle. Let’s try it this way:

Who wouldn’t like to care for such a fluffy old lady?

This summer I was taking care of an elderly lady. She’s 17 years old. Well, that’s quite an age for a cat, it’s well over 80 in human years! Her owner went on vacation for two weeks, so our local catsitter association was taking over, making sure the cat could stay in her own home. Mau was a very distinguished, lovely, elderly lady, but as it inevitably comes with age, she had some medical issues. She had to take some drugs every day. Which can be a challenge already if you care for a human being. If your nursing case is a cat it can be a daunting task. And, due to some liver and kidney issues, it was very important to monitor if she was eating properly. When she refused to eat for 24 hours, it was a warning signal. Something had to be done to convince her, like opening a box of tuna. If she refused to eat for more than 48 hours, it was an emergency which needed special medication and maybe the vet.
As the owner loved his cat, he wrote down a few pages of “instruction manual” including all of the cat’s needs. It stated what drugs, how many, when and how needed to find their way inside the cat. It also stated some tricks that went well in the past, like hiding pills inside a special kind of sausage. He also held a training session before he left so we could practice the application under his supervision.

The “instruction manual” for the cat

When another catsitter and I took over, we realized from the start that we would need some way to monitor cat issues, like: has the cat taken her drugs and has she eaten properly? As one would look for the cat in the morning and one in the evening we wouldn’t see each other. As we both were working and had busy schedules, phoning was not an option. Mailing or texting seemed cumbersome and not completely reliable. So, we placed a sheet of paper in the kitchen where we could monitor the “state of cat” every day. We wrote down things like “application of kidney medication went well, but she refused to take red pill” or: “food bowl was still full”. We also used this “diary” to share some observations like “loves being brushed” and tricks like “If you hide the pill in a treat she won’t take the treat. But if you throw to her a few treats without pills and she starts eating them you can smuggle a pill into the next treat.”

The diary

As you can imagine, all went well, and we could hand over a happy, well medicated cat when the owner returned.

What does this story have to do with documentation?

Well, the underlying concept here is care. All people involved did what they did because they cared. Now, the objects in our collections are not living, purring creatures. But as we care for them, we do something very similar with documentation:

  • We make sure that everything that is important to know about our collection is stored in a central document or documents, quite like the “instruction manual” for the cat. They state what, why, when and how things have to be done. These are mainly our handling instructions and some of it might be found in our collections policy.
  • We also make sure that these documents are accessible to everybody who is involved in caring for our collections.
    In our story the “instruction manual” was stored on the kitchen table so everybody could turn to it as a reference in case of doubt. It would not have been a good solution if the owner just had handed it to both catsitters: in case one catsitter fell ill, a replacement would not have had access to the document.
  • We create possibilities to document what happened to our objects. We make sure that everybody can learn what happened when to an object, no matter if she or he works with the object in one hour or in 20 years. That’s why we take down object related information like damages, location changes, loans or conservation treatment in our object’s records, just like we did with the “diary” for the cat.
  • We use clear language and avoid slang so no matter who is reading our documentation in the future is able to understand what we mean.
  • Finally, we don’t rely on documents alone. We also hold training sessions about how to update an object record correctly and how to handle our objects.

So, next time a colleague fails to report a location change or damage, maybe don’t bore her or him with a lecture on the importance of documentation. Instead you might like to tell a story of a lovely, elderly, purring little cat.

Angela

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Registrar’s Shoes – More Thoughts on Professional Footwear

Working as a registrar might require unexpected skills: Like being all dressed up for the big opening and still be able to deliver a cart of desperately needed tools to the mount-maker.

Working as a registrar might require unexpected skills: Like being all dressed up for the big opening and still be able to deliver a cart of desperately needed tools to the mount-maker.
Thanks to Lisa Kay Adam for the picture.

Three things happened in the last four weeks:

1. I changed offices and decided t get rid of my very first safety boots.
2. My current summer safety boots died the usual unpleasant death that awaits all my safety boots.
3. I re-read the piece about shoes at conferences by Janice Klein.

It inspired me to write a piece about a registrar’s working shoes. It’s the same problem like with shoes for conferences, only worse. As a registrar in a small museum you need to be one moment on the top of the ladder, exchanging the light bulb, at the next moment guiding a group of students and yet the next moment shake hands with the president of your university.

As a registrar in a larger museum, you are not really better off: You have to walk miles in the gallery spaces, again climb ladders and if you enter visitor’s spaces you should look halfway presentable.

Each task requires different clothing and it is likely that you have several working outfits in your locker. Along with them there is an army of different working shoes, from rubber boots for the annual springtime water leak in the cellar to high-heels that fit your evening dress for events. A male registrar’s arsenal might be slightly smaller, but I don’t know a single registrar who can work with just one pair of shoes.

There are some advantages of being a collections manager at a science and technology museum.

There are some advantages of being a collections manager at a science and technology museum.

As a collection manager in a science & technology museum with the history of working conditions in its mission, I’m slightly better off. I decided a long time ago that I’m a living representation of working conditions and therefore usually wear working attire no matter what (with a few exceptions, like opening ceremonies and lectures). However, this comes with a downside:

Because I wear my safety boots almost every time at work they tend to die an unpleasant death within a timespan of about a year to a year and a half. This is a problem because a the same time it’s incredibly hard to find safety boots in size 37 (U.S. size 6 1/2). My very first safety boots – the ones I ditched and which are still under consideration to be accessioned for our collection of working clothes – were 36 (5 1/2) because I couldn’t find safety boots my size on the market. The first two years of my career I worked in boots that were too small. In fact, according to a friend, they were the “cutest little safety boots I ever saw”. So, everytime a pair of boots start to show signs of weakness, I search frantically for new ones my size. An exhausting race against time.

Fortunately, this time I’m spared: my niece has exactly the same shoe size and gave me the safety boots she got for her summer job. As she graduated to become an elementary school teacher last year, she doesn’t need them anymore.

Always keep your feet on the ground!
Angela

And for your amusement: A gallery of shoes that were killed in action:

light summer safety shoe

Light summer safety shoe, bought 2015. The seam that tied the leather to the sole snapped and the leather ripped. Probably due to the stress imposed on this part of the shoe by standing on my toes frequently. To make matters worse, I often need the fine feeling of my toes to give the forklift truck the exactly right dose of gas when handling a delicate load. A former more sturdy all-year safety boot, I think it was the 2007/2008 one, died exactly the same way.

sole of a safety boot

The most common way my safety boots die is however that the sole becomes so thin that they start to leak. You usually realize this when you are standing in a puddle of water. If it’s a dry season, you realize it when you suddenly feel every stone you walk over like you walk barefoot.

hiking boot without sole

This is the shoe that died the most spectacular way. These were pretty good light hiking shoes I loved to wear when there were no heavy duty jobs that require safety boots, only light work that requires a lot of walking. In the middle of an exhibit installation in 2011 parts of the sole literally fell off.

Got boots that died a similar – or more spectacular -way? Share your photos and send them along with their story to story@museumsprojekte.de!

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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.

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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.

...it 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…

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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:

20170223_135124

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.

20170214_120147

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.
20170214_120213
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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Unknown Pest Detected – Have Your IPM in Place!

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

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

Pokemon in the admin's storage area

Pokemon in the admin’s storage area1

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

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

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

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

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

Angela

  1. Note that some of the boxes in the picture are positioned directly on the ground, which is NOT how you should store them. Unfortunately, the pokémon decided to pop up where we were preparing some objects for transportation, so you can see a collections management fail at the same time. Always level your boxes above ground, so they won’t be damaged by water or feet, folks!
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Nomenclature 17.2 – A Registrar’s Vision

CC0 - by Master Tux via pixabayOkay, I have a vision flashing in front of my eyes as I go through the database cropping photographs and renaming artifacts. Like the toasting fork that had been catalogued as a Pan, Roasting. My vision is of the future of the ungainly, poorly bound green book that tells me what I am and am not allowed to call these objects. Some of these things are difficult for a child of the mid twentieth century to identify. So I am seeing a future digital version of Nomenclature, and if you are willing to fork out the extra bucks, you get a version like Leafsnap where you photograph the item on your portable device and show it to the Nomenclature 17.2 program and it says, aha! And you say eureka! Because the device tells you what to call the item. How cool is that?

Anne T. Lane

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Unmanaged Collections is here – We celebrate with “The Outtakes”

As you know, I was taken a little by surprise by the publishing of “Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections”. Now, after I recovered, I’d like to celebrate with you, the readers of this blog and faithful supporters. I thought I’d compile a couple of “outtakes”, things and stories that didn’t make it into the book.

The Cover
ManagingC1-1oldI received a few compliments for the cover. Thanks a lot. Actually, the first cover looked a little different, as you can see in the picture.
As much as I loved the idea of having something shabby and chaotic and something clean and well-ordered on the cover I thought it didn’t convey the message clear enough, besides the fact that one could assume the bottles were emptied while writing the book…
I experimented with alternative pictures when Bernd, my colleague and significant other said “You know what? I think we can do it better!” A couple of hours later we were equipped with a collection of old toy cars, archival materials and camera equipment. We experimented with different setups which, quite to our surprise, revealed that a bunch of cars bagged and labeled looked a lot more chaotic than a line of cars without labels. So we ended up with the “parking lot of toy cars” you now see on the cover.
For those who desperately tried to match the cars of the picture below the title with the ones above: sorry, the upper ones are German while the lower ones are probably from the U.S. – and they never met each other.

More Stories!

There were a lot of awesome stories about unmanaged collections I heard along the way and I would have loved to publish them all. However, it didn’t always work out. Sometimes there was a change in upper management and people didn’t get permission, sometimes the work contracts ran out before the submission was approved, sometimes life just got in the way in some other form. I hope that I can publish some of these stories here on the blog some time in the future.
However, there was one story that always brought a smile on my face when I thought about it, but one I couldn’t use because… well, I somehow managed to delete that email and that way couldn’t get back to this person to ask permission. And even if I had the mail, I’m not sure if it would have been appropriate to publish it in the book. However, I think here is the time and place to share my smiles:
This person was interviewing for a position to manage an unmanaged collection. When they showed him/her the collection that was, as far as I recall, a shack crammed with objects from roof to floor he/she exclaimed “What the f**k??” Out loud in front of the people responsible for hiring. And got the job.

Curious Corrections!

My dear friend and colleague Darlene Bialowski certaily spent a crazy amount of time on this book project, helping me with corrections and conundrums. More than one time those corrections were not only helpful, but also hilarious. Like, when I discovered that yes, there is such a thing as too much documentation or when I asked her for the correct American term for the German “Sägebock”, sending a picture, and she answered: “‘the best assistant of the non-human variety’ tool I adore is called a ‘sawhorse’.” I don’t know how often I passed this phrase along since then…
When the final proofs came she realized that in one real-world example I used the term “tin can” and until she saw the picture of what it really was she always thought of it as, well, a can in which food is preserved. Only when she saw the picture she realized that it was actually a coffee pot. To correct this ambiguity I nearly ran out of correction signs:
correction oddity1

More Pictures!

When I was negotiating the contract the editor told me they would like to have pictures. I was so convinced that no one would be willing to share the crammed shacks of objects that I insisted on no pictures in the contract. To be honest, at this point I wasn’t even sure I could talk anyone into sharing real-world examples in written form…
Then, as I was collecting real-life stories I found many colleagues actually had pictures. Unfortunately now I already told some contributors that I don’t need pictures… I did what I always do when in doubt: I sent a mail to the RC-AAM listserv. I asked if anyone was willing to share their before/after pictures from their collections. I was delighted to receive a whole bunch of awesome unmanaged collections that became managed and most of them made it in the book.
One, however, I received after the deadline. It is Alicia Woods’ favorite picture of the place you will find in the book under the title “Artifact Morgue”:
Artifacat Morgue
That mannequin leg sticking out from between the shelves says all about unmanaged collections doesn’t it?

Cheers,
Angela

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

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