Archive for Toolbox

Storage Solutions: Alternative Button Storage

Recently we posted the button storage solution of the MJH. But what if you don’t have a skilled preparator and no time on your hands for such a solution? Well, there’s the approach the Curator of Collections Management of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Jenny Yearous, sent us.

oject in bag

She told us how they do it:

card cut to take pinAcid Free card stock cut smaller than the zippered bag. Small slits are cut in the card stock to accept the pin mechanism. The artifact is labeled with the catalog number, the card is labeled with the number and the outside of the bag is labeled with the number. If/when the artifact goes on exhibit, it can always be reunited with the packaging later. While this artifact is not barcoded yet, the barcode is also be placed on the outside of the bag.

The bags are stored vertically in a drawer or box numerically by catalog number. Because they are in the bags, they can be handled without worry about gloves. Under the right supervision, researchers can easily look at them too.

This is a very easy method, it is inexpensive and can be done relatively quickly with very little training. I will often have pieces of card stock cut ahead to fit the zippered bags sizes that I use.”

Thanks for this storage solution!

Remember: if you have seen a great storage solution, please inform us by commenting or sending a mail to

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Mazia Loddo and in French, translated by Marine Martineau.


Storage Solutions: Button Storage at MJH

Storing buttons can be tricky. You can’t put them with others into one ziplock bag because they will rub against each other. You can place them each in its own small ziplock bag but then the bags slide in the box and a single button is not easy to retrieve. Recently I stumbled upon a great button storage solution from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York:

Button storage at MJH

Button storage at MJH

They published it on the twitter account of their registrars @MJHReg (sure worth a follow, great stuff and pics!) and I contacted them to ask if we were allowed to re-publish it on Registrar Trek. Associate Registrar Jennifer Roberts replied immediately and gave us the permission. She also sent additional pictures…

Button storage in the process

Building the button storage

…and explained how it was made:

“For this particular collection, our Preparator is making custom trays out of blue board and archival paper hinging tape that will stack inside a standard archival box. Making custom trays has allowed us to fit approx. 350 buttons per box while keeping the buttons stable and easily accessible. The buttons are arranged by size to help save space, and we are currently digitizing the collection so we will have reference images to help us locate individual buttons in the future.”


Isn’t it lovely? Got to try this…

This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau and in Italian, translated by Mazia Loddo.


Give it a Rest – Thoughts on Exhibiting Light-sensitive Objects

matt2It is common for museums to include in their collections management policies a schedule for the exhibition of light-sensitive objects such as works on paper and textiles. Frequently these policies include recommendations for light levels, and specify the length of time an object can be exhibited before it is returned to storage for a “rest.” The length of the exhibit period and of the rest time are actually purely arbitrary – in reality, all light-sensitive objects have a finite life span. Think of it as each object having a bank account from which you can make withdrawals, but to which you cannot make deposits. Each amount of time on exhibit is a withdrawal. The “rest” period is not a period in which the object recovers from its exhibit time, because – all together now – light damage is cumulative and irreversible. Once the account is gone, it’s gone. You simply have to tell anyone who asks you to shorten the rest time or lengthen the exhibition time that they are really asking you to spend the object’s life faster. Or, to look at it slightly differently, you can display the object frequently now, or you can display it seldom so that your great-great grandchildren might get a chance to see it.

As for how long this lifespan may be, that depends on many factors – your storage environment, the amount of light and other environmental factors in your exhibit space, and the fibers, dyes, inks and what have you that make up the object itself. Along with time spent on exhibit, these factors, both those you control and those you can’t control, will determine how long that bank account will last.

Anne T. Lane
Mountain Heritage Center
Western Carolina University

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


A Dictionary American Registrars – International Registrars

dictionaryEvery occupation has its codes, acronyms and abbreviations. As a radio ham I say things like “I’m QRV at 1900 UTC for a QSO on 40 meters, 73!” without even thinking about how odd this must sound to an outsider. While those codes are international and standardized to reduce language barriers, in our registrar’s realm that’s a different story. My English is quite okay but I often stumble on acronyms and abbreviations that are common in the U.S. museum field but I don’t understand. To make international collaboration easier, I started putting together a collection of these with the help of the fine people that contribute to the RC-AAM listserv. Some of the terms are common in the whole USA, others are used regional or only in certain museums. The list occasionally will be updated when I stumble upon another code I am not familiar with or someone contributes a new term.

Dictionary American Registrars – International Registrars print-out version

AP = “Abandoned Property”, poor object left behind by its owner. Under what circumstances an object becomes AP is defined by law and varies in the U.S. from state to state.

AR = “Artifact Receipt”

BOL = “Bill Of Lading”, paperwork from shippers.

CCMS = “Collections Cataloging and Management System”, a data base.

CMS = either “Collections Management System”, a data base or “Content Management System”, a data base used to manage and publish content i.e. for websites.

COA = “Certificate of Authenticity”, proof of authenticity and ownership of a work – must accompany the work at all times. Especially common in contemporary pieces and editioned works.

COI = “Certificate of Insurance”, proof of insurance coverage on loans and consignments.

CR = either “Custody Receipt”, “Condition Report” or document for TC (see TC).

DAMS = “Digital Asset Management System”, a data base for managing digital content.

Del = “deliver”.

DOG = it doesn’t bark, it’s a “Deed Of Gift”, a document that confirms that an object was donated; a legal instrument proving that ownership was transferred to the museum.

DOR = “Dead On the Road” term used in natural history museums, in particular zoology, for specimen documentation (personally, I think that’s a bit flat *SCNR*).

D/O = “drop-off” or delivery of shipment.

FCL = “Full Container Load”, a full container is needed or a full container is booked for exclusive shipment even if not the whole space is needed. See also FTL.

FIC = “Found In Collection” and object that appears when working with collections and has no accession number on it or any other sign that tells the registrar where it came from. Researching FICs can be annoying, but finding the original accession number through research is one of the most satisfying moments in a registrar’s life. See also FITS and FOP.

FITS = “Found In the Stacks”, kind of FIC for documents.

FOP = “Found On Property/Premises”, see FIC.

FR = “Facilities Report/Facility Report”, document asked from borrowers that states certain information about the museum building, climate, security measures…

FTC = “Foot Candles”, a measurement for light. One foot-candle is equivalent to 10.76 lux.

FTL = “Full Trailer Load”, a full truck or exclusive shipment, see FCL.

GFR = “General Facilities Report”, revised by the RC-AAM and published by the AAM in 2008. This current 30+ page document is an expanded version of its predecessor, it includes more topics now examined by the insurance industry in the wake of catastrophic events which had occurred since the early 2000’s as well as updates within the profession itself. Essential to complete if intending to borrow and also used as a tool for having all information about an institution in one gathered document to be used for any construction or renovation projects. The former title, “Standard Facility Report” (SFR) was changed at this revision because too many thought it meant that the document contained the standards and best practices for the areas covered in the report.

IL = “Incoming Loan”.

IPM = “Integrated Pest Management”, term that sums up all efforts taken to protect the collection from pests – active and preventive.

LOFO = “Last On, First Off”, a term that applies to shipping procedures, for example a lender can request that his objects are the last that are picked up and so are the first that are unloaded at the borrower’s museum. That way these objects are handled the least and are on the truck for the shortest amount of time.

LTL = “Less Than Trailer Load”, generally means a freight job that is less than the full truck or trailer load.

NAC = “Non-accessioned collection”, collection still to be accessioned or not intended to be aquired (i.e. a collection that is temporarily taken into custody for another museum).

OL = “Outgoing Loan”.

PBS = “Packed By Shipper”.

PO = “Purchase Order”.

POA = “Power Of Attorney”, a document stating that someone is legally entitled to act on another’s behalf.

PR = “Payment Request”.

PTL = “Proposed Temporary Loan”.

PU = “Pick Up”.

P/U = “pick-up point” or origination of shipment.

R = “Recto”, face of a document, painting, coin or graphic. Also, the “right” or more important side of two-sided objects; in a book it designates the right-hand page.

RA = “Related Accessory”, a part belonging to an object.

RFP = “Request for Proposal”, if a museum has a project, i.e. designing a new travelling
exhibition, they will define a set of guidelines or criteria they want to have met and ask firms
or designers to submit their proposals for these tasks.

RFQ = “Request for Quote/Quotation”, if a museum has a task to perform (i.e. building a special crate or shipping something to XY) they might ask a company or a number of companies for a bid.

ROD = “Receipt Of Delivery”.

RTD = “Return To Depositor”, returning an object to its owner, for example a lender after the end of an exhibition.

SFR = “Standard Facilities Report”. The predecessor of the GFR; published in 1989 and revised in 1998 it put on the same page the larger art museums which were borrowing and lending often. Sections include questions about staff structure, loan history, security procedures of the institution, environmental controls and the building facilities and more. A borrower’s capabilities to handle a loan were measured by responses to these and many other questions.

SOP = “Standard Operating Procedures”, how things have to be done.

SOW = “Statement Of Work”, document which defines how something needs to be done (i.e. by a designer or company).

TC = “Temporary Custody”, object taken into custody for a certain time span, for example for a certain exhibition.

TIN = “Temporary Inventory Number”.

TL = “Temporary Loan”.

TLC = “Tender Loving Care” is what every museum object needs, but especially used for objects that need intensive care.

TR = “Temporary Receipt”.

V = “Verso”, back side of a document, painting coin or graphic. Also, the “wrong” or reverse side of a two-sided object; in a book it designates the left-hand page.

VIC = “Very Important Cargo”, the VIP among the shipped artifacts.


And a special look on common abbreviations in condition reports:


BC = “Bottom center”, also used: LC

BLC = “Bottom left corner”, also used: LLC

BRC = “Bottom right corner”, also used: LRC

LC = “Lower center”, also used: BC

LLC = “Lower left corner”, also used: BLC

LRC = “Lower right corner”, also used: BRC

N/C = “No changes”

PR = “proper right”, helpful relative direction. For example: if you do a condition report of a painting that shows a woman and there is damage on the hand on the left in the image as you are looking at it, this is noted as proper right (you are looking at the hand on the left, but on her person it is her right hand).

PL = “proper left”, see PR, only with her “proper left hand”, obviously.

UC = “Upper center”

ULC = “Upper left corner”

URC = “Upper right corner”



Terms and abbreviations also used in everyday American English

ASAP = “as soon as possible”, normally every document, loan agreement, insurance contract,… is needed ASAP – at best one day before asking.

brb = “be right back”

etc. = “et cetera”, Latin term that means “and other things”, or “and so forth.” For example, “My storage room is full of boxes, crates, etc.”

g2g = “got to go”

misc. = “miscellaneous”, a word that most registrars dislike, because it is so vague. It means “stuff” and is often used (by non-registrars) to label files or contents of boxes when the contents are too varied to be described properly (or one is too lazy to write down all the things that are really in the file or box).

OMG = “Oh My God”

SCNR = “Sorry, could not resist”

VM = “Voice Mail”


Names of products and organizations:

AAM = “American Alliance of Museums”

ARCS = “Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists”

ARC = “Australasian Registrars Committee” or “Austrian Registrars Committee”, so be careful to look up the location.

RCAAM = “Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums”

TMS = “The Museum System”, a data base software.

This post is also available in French translated by Aurore Tisserand.


A Survey on Journals, Magazines and Newsletters for Registrars

I recently started a survey on journals, magazines and newsletters for conservators. The aim was and is to gather a comprehensive list of information sources world wide.
Until today there doesn‘t seem to exist anything alike and I believe that it will contribute to better information and networking among museum professionals.

Since registrars are gaining importance and taking over duties that where formerly carried out by conservators I believe it’s interesting and important to collect sources for registrars too, broaden the horizon and interlink both groups alike.

There are, at the time I’m writing these lines, 46 journals listed in a database that I made available online. Only a handful of them are covering topics that are interresting for registrars.
You can make the difference! Please help me to collect online and ofline resources for registrars.

The datbase is available online:
> Login as Guest “Gastkonto” to browse and search the entries.
> Login as “Editor” and use “contribute” as passphrase to add or edit entries.
> You may also write me a mail (a.franz[at]divisual[dot]net) with your suggestions and recommendations.

Thank you very much!
Andreas Franz, dipl. Conservator FH/SKR


A registrar’s toolkit

springcleaningA registrar needs a whole bunch of materials to work with. They may vary from museum type to museum type and from working setup to working setup, but in 2013 a brainstorming among registrars on the RC-AAM listserv put together a list of useful tools and supplies that covers the needs for many registrar’s duties. The Registrar Trekkers (authors and translators of this blog) had a look at this list and added some more items. After we finished our brainstorming we give the list to you, our readers. Feel free to add what is missing in the comments section and we will update the list from time to time.


Working setup:

Lightweight Toolbox
LED Flashlight
Extra batteries
Small Notebook or Tablet PC
A good computer software! We don’t normally think of software as a “tool,” but without it, cataloging is impractical and making the catalog available to others is impractical to impossible.
Plastic plank or board for support of notebook or paper


Personal setup:

Apron (or lab coat)
Nitrile Gloves
Cotton Gloves
Dust mask
Fisherman’s vest (with multiple pockets)
Optivisor (2x)



Inspection Set (Telescoping, includes magnetitic pick-up, LED mini light, alligator clip, LEXan mirror, magnifier)
Pencil Sharpener
Fine Sewing Needle
Curved needle
Measuring Calipers
Fabric Tape Measure
Metal tape measure
Anti-static brush
Paint Brushes (3 size)
Blower Brush (Small)
Blower Brush (Med)
Cotton Swabs
Tweezers (5 pc Basic Set)
Bone Folder
Photo Scale (Set of 2)
A smallish self-healing cutting mat
A cork-back stainless steel ruler.
high-quality snap-blade knife, knife with exchangeable blades (i.e. X-Acto, Olfa…)
high-quality all-around scissors (i.e. Dahle…)
Embroidery scissors
Fabric Scissors (is there a difference to am embroidery scissor?)
scissor to cut sticky tape


Consumable Supply:

White Viynl Eraser
2H Pencils (12 ct)
All-Stabilo Pencil White
All-Stabilo Pencil Black
Tyvek Tags (2″x3″) 100 ct
Acid-Free Artifact Tags (1.5″ x 3.5 “) 100 ct
Spunbonded Reemay (25 ct.)
Twill Tape (1/2”) 36 Yard
Mercerized white cotton and black cotton thread
Cotton Balls
Knife Blades (5 ct)
B-72 Base Coat (Fluid)
Wash Bottle (For Dis. H2O)
Methyl Cellulose (1.5 oz) (some people prefer other adhesives)
Jar, Specimen (Mix Methyl Cellulose)
Plastic Bags
Velcro brand hook-and-loop fastening – non-adhesive (can be cut to size)


Lazy Dad – understanding the behavior of acid gases in buffered paper enclosures

The problem of how acid gases behave with buffered paper enclosures is interesting and not quite what we might expect. Most of us, even industry scientists working on stability issues, have learned that buffered paper reacts with acid gases and therefore prevents them from passing right through. Some of later heard that maybe buffered paper enclosures won’t necessarily protect the object inside from external acidic gases, but buffering will at least protect the enclosure and make it last longer (and as a physically protective armor, this should be good for the object as well.)

Well, the first problem is to sort out what this buffer is. The Oxford Concise Science Dictionary defines a buffer as “A solution that resists change in pH when an acid or alkali is added or when the solution is diluted.” Since we need to keep our paper enclosures relatively dry, a buffer in paper doesn’t fit the scientific definition of the term. ISO 18902 Imaging materials – Processed imaging materials – Albums, framing and storage materials, uses the term “alkali reserve” instead of “buffer”.

Certainly the typical things that we expect to find as buffers in paper are all “alkalis” by definition. These may include alkaline earth carbonates such as calcium and magnesium carbonate or some metal oxides such as zinc oxide. If we add an alkali like sodium hydroxide (lye) or sodium carbonate or borax, to the pulp solution, they’ll dissolve in solution and disperse into the paper. Much of it would come out with the water being drained from the pulp and the rest just affects the pH of the paper. Generally, as acids entered the paper, the pH of the paper would simply go down. So while these substances are alkalis, they aren’t reserves of alkali. The reserve aspect is accomplished by using alkalis of low solubility so they have a minimal impact on the pH of the paper, but are still available to react with acids. For example, if we start with pure water at 25 degrees C, we should be able to dissolve 0.007 grams of calcium carbonate into a liter of water. Just as a reference, the paper industry says that they produce common office photocopy paper with the intent that it leaves the mill with a water content of 5% by weight so a typical sheet of this paper contains about 0.2 grams of water, enough water to dissolve 0.000001 grams of calcium carbonate.

So rather than being dispersed through the paper, the alkali reserve exists as discrete particles in the paper at a rate of typically 2% or 3% by weight.

The final piece of the problem consists of the acid vapor molecules and how they move. Gas molecules move randomly so we have no idea what any individual molecule is doing at any particular time (unless we specifically watch it). Fortunately there are statistical rules that allow us to predict the behaviour of a large number of gas molecules. However, we’re interested in individual molecules. Buffer particles have no attractive force pulling acid gas molecules towards themselves so whether or not an acid gas molecule happens to run into a buffer particle is completely a result of random chance. There are a very large number of random paths through the buffered paper that don’t end at a particle of the buffering agent and as a result, acid gases can pass right through the paper. In addition, acids and buffer particles can co-exist in the paper.

We first observed this back in the 1990s following a nitrogen dioxide fuming experiments with photographs in buffered paper envelopes. In the presence of water, nitrogen dioxide forms nitric and nitrous acids with the nitrous acid decomposing into nitric acid and nitric oxide. Much to our surprise, the paper envelope had both a high acidity and a high alkali reserve together. Years later, the same thing was observed in experiments with deteriorating acetate film with buffered paper envelopes: high acidity and high buffer content coexisting in the same envelope paper.

After explaining how a system with static buffer particles and randomly moving acid gas molecules could produce this situation, a colleague suddenly exclaimed, “It’s lazy dad!”

As my colleague explained, lazy dad is sitting in front of the television and doesn’t want to miss a minute of the game. (Fill in your favorite sporting event here.) Lazy dad, the buffer particle, isn’t going to move unless the house burns down. Meanwhile, the kids, the acid gas molecules, are running wild through the house. They don’t particularly care where they’re running, they just want to run around. Nothing is going to change this system unless a child happens to run too close to dad who will then scoop the child up (react) and tell the child to “knock it off and stop running in the house.” There are many random paths for the children to run that don’t happen to go near dad and they aren’t going to stop unless they run into (react) Lazy dad. Lazy dad isn’t going to chase the children so Lazy dad and the running children can co-exist in the same house (paper.)

Note that other solid additive in paper have the same limitations. For example, we filter our air in certain labs using activated charcoal supported on pleated paper and the filters more or less obey the same physical laws, although there are a few differences. The filters have fans blowing large volumes of air through the filters so molecular motion isn’t limited to strictly random movement and the loading of charcoal is much higher than a few percent. The filters are pretty black with charcoal. However, at a lower loading rate and without the fan, these filters would be limited by the same physical laws as buffering in buffered paper.

So buffered paper envelopes don’t quite do what we expect them to and it’s because of the laws of nature rather than a design failure of the product.


Douglas Nishimura

Image Permanence Institute

Rochester Institute of Technology