Archive for Book: Unmanaged Collections

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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Ooops- Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections is already out!

Yesterday, I was taken by surprise when our library sent me a mail that they had just received their copy of “Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections” and were about to catalog it. Two hours later I received an email from my dear colleague Susanne Nickel with congratulations as she received her copy. Throughout the whole day, while I was desperately waiting for an important transport to arrive at our museum, the mails from contributors saying “just received my copy” hit my inbox. It seemed like literally EVERYBODY had my book in hand before me.

When I finally came home my heart missed a beat when I saw a parcel sitting in my backyard – soaking wet in the pouring rain. But fortunately, when I opened it, all was well:

P1020449 (2)

The best news is: My publisher, Rowman & Littelfield has provided a special perk for you, our faithful readers: you can get 30% off the list price if you order it directly from them, see this flyer for details (unfortunately, this is only valid for U.S. orders):

Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections Flyer

Now, with one day delay I finally managed to inform you all. Thank you so much for the support and I’m about to produce a more thoughtful celebration post. 🙂

Cheers,
Angela

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Marzia Loddo and in Russian translated by Helena Tomashevskaya.

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Unmanaged Collections – Final Adjustments

desk

Maybe you wonder how the book project about managing unmanaged collections is going. Well, last week I got the proofs from the production editor so at the moment I spend much of my free time proof reading. I contacted all the contributors so they can check their real-world examples and photo attributions and add their corrections.

In addition I’m creating the index which is not as easy as I thought. My assumption was that I more of less type a search term, let the computer scan the document, note the pages where the search term does appear and that’s that. Now I realized it doesn’t work that way. My experience with museum documentation could have told me that it doesn’t work that way… Here’s why:

Let’s say someone wonders if there is something about “deaccessioning” in the book. Well, there are a lot of pages where I talk about making decisions what to keep in the collection and what not, but chances are I did not use the term “deaccessioning” on those pages. Of course, the computer would skip those pages. So, as I read through the page proofs I take notes of keywords I think would make sense in an index and write down the page numbers.

I do this on outdated business cards, which I haven’t thrown away because you never know when you need a set of small but sturdy cards of the same size. Well, now, about 10 years after they became outdated they finally found their new purpose. I sort the keywords in alphabetical order so when I come across a term I already noted I can find it quick and add the next page number. I decided to collect broad, write down whatever I think might be helpful instead of being too restrictive. I will decide on the terms that will finally make it to the index at the end of the process. While “deaccessioning”, “collections policy” or “cataloging” will definitely make it to the final index, I’m not that sure about “Grandmother’s Fixes“, “upper management, dealing with” or “numbers, spellbound by”.

What is really interesting is that these cards even now show somehing like a topography of that book. “Hazards” seems to be the most important topic, with 12 mentionings thus far and I’m only half way through. Well, let’s see if it will stay that way. Onward! I have to meet that deadline so this book can be out in May.

Angela

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

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Unmanaged Collections – With a Little Help from my Friends

Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections - Book CoverAt the beginning of this year I asked you all if you were willing to join me in the journey of writing a book about managing previously unmanaged collections. And you did. Many of you were willing to support the project with stories, photos, comments, thoughts and encouraging remarks.
So today, I can proudly announce that I have handed in the manuscript and you can already find the book announced in the ”Essential New Books for Museum Professionals“ by Rowman & Littlefield on page 7.
Last week our colleagues in the U.S. celebrated Thanksgiving and in Germany we have a similar tradition of saying thank you at the end of the harvesting season, celebrating the ”Erntedankfest“. Today, it is my time to say thank you to all of you who contributed to the project! Thank you for investing your time, your knowledge and your thoughts!
Especially, I want to take the opportunity to thank my personal ”board of advisers“. If you are writing a book, you have to be aware of many pitfalls. But even if you aware of them in general, you sometimes need a second pair of eyes to spot them.

Pitfall #1: I know what I’m writing about!

Of course you know what you are writing about, otherwise you wouldn’t write the book. But your writing is shaped by your personal experience. You need someone who is as deep into your profession as yourself to help you see where you are missing important points or where your advise to the reader could backfire, given special circumstances you haven’t thought about. And you need this someone to discuss conundrums and definition questions with, because not everything is as clear and logical as you think it is, a fact that you only realize when you start writing about it.
For my book, my friend and colleague Darlene Bialowski, Principal of Darlene Bialowski Art Services, and a former Chair of the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums, who herself has seen a great many unmanaged collections, took this very time consuming job. She really read every chapter at least twice, sometimes more often, made suggestions and we discussed many aspects via email. Until today I don’t know how she crammed all of this into her already tight schedule, but I’m eternally grateful that she did. Thank you so much, Darlene!

Pitfall #2: A registrar’s way is not necessarily the best way!

If you are working in a profession you become extremely focused on the aspects that are most important in your everyday work. This lets you miss some aspects which are equally important if you look at the big picture. To help you see them, you need someone from a profession closely related to your own profession, but not from the same profession.
I’m grateful that Susan L. Maltby, Conservator at Maltby & Associates Inc., took the responsibility to read the manuscript from a conservator’s perspective and enriched it with many practical ideas as well as pointing me to some parts of the text where I missed either that artifacts could be damaged or health hazards I hadn’t thought about. Thank you so much, Sue!

Pitfall #3: What are you talking about?

My book is aimed at those who have never dealt with an unmanaged collection. Preferably people who have had a basic training in collections care and preventive conservation, but I also wanted the book to be usable as a guide for those who have never been in touch with the collections profession. But how could I be sure that someone who never cared for a collection understands what I’m writing about? I needed someone with no connection to the whole field of collections care who had the imaginative ability to put him- or herself into the shoes of someone who is confronted with the task of managing an unmanaged collection the first time.
Well, it turns out I have a friend who has the imaginative power to put himself in the shoes of a 19th century firemen on a steamship or a soldier fighting at Bull Run in the Civil War, so I asked Paul N. Pallansch of Up-Close Realism, Silver Spring, if he was willing to put himself into the shoes of a newly minted collections manager confronted with a chaotic unmanaged collection and only my book to help him. I’m glad he said yes, and I was quite relived when he wrote back that he had his doubts when he read my original question but now, after he read it, he thinks he could do it if he looks all the things up he doesn’t know about collections care. That’s exactly what I wanted the reader to think and feel like after reading. Thank you so much, Paul.

The manuscript goes now through the editing process now and I’ll keep you posted on the further progress of this project. As it looks now, ”Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections – A Practical Guide for Museums“ (Link to publisher’s catalog with pre-order option) will be available early next year.

Best wishes
Angela

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What are those objects and where do they come from?

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

By Ashley Burke

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

Saving the Heritage of Anna Maria Island

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

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

Cataloging – Assembly Line Style

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

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

Making The Collection Accessible Online

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

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

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

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

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Unmanaged Collections: Grandmother’s Fixes

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

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

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

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

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

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Unmanaged Collections: Worst First Impressions

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

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

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

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Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections –
Will you join me in this journey?

Dear Readers of this Registrar Trek Blog,

For the last three years we’ve seen a growing number of faithful readers who not only read, but also contribute by sharing the articles, writing comments and sparking conversation with their peers. Some even wrote stories and articles for this blog. That’s great!

Today, I want to share with you a new project I’m working on and I ask you to join.

In my working life I’ve stumbled upon one conundrum of our profession time and again: there are really great books and online resources about best practice in collections management – the wonderful 5th Edition of Museum Registration Methods readily comes to mind, but of course there are much more. You read what is best for the artifacts, how to treat them, document them, store them… These books are written from the perspective of ”best practices“ and as we all strive to reach the best for our collections, that’s a good thing. Only that the starting position is often all but ”best practice“. Take Antony Aristovoulou ‘s story ”Match-ball for the Registrar“ as a prime example: being contracted for relocating and registering a collection of tennis artifacts and discover that all is stored in one giant shipping container and you have to start from scratch, including sourcing locations and material.

hhAll too often, especially for small and middle sized museums with historical, agricultural and/or science and technology collections there is a gap between what is written in books and the real world. Reading about best practices is great and necessary, but standing in an old shed with a leaking roof and heaps of rusty things that were euphemistically called an agricultural collection in your contract you are miles away from taking your acid-free cardboard and start building a custom box for a single artifact.

To make a long story short: I’m about to write a practical guide to manage previously unmanaged collections. This book will be written with the worst case scenario in mind, starting with nothing than a collection in peril and working step-by-step towards improving the situation 1. It will be written for the practitioner in the field who has to deal with all possible and impossible circumstances while trying to get her/his collection managed. Especially it will be written for people who are thrown into this situation without having it done before – may it be job starters or colleagues who have only worked in larger and/or well organized institutions so far.

DSCF0373This is where you, the readers, come in. This book will be much better and encouraging with real world examples. Sure, everyone loves to be the best practice example but what I’ll need here are examples of how difficulties were tackled and how issues were resolved. How collections that were in peril were brought to a better stage. Maybe still far away from being ”best practice“ but still much better than before. I’m collecting all kinds of worst case examples, brought in from veteran museum professionals young and old who have encountered unbelievable situations in collections management (I’ve seen a main sewage pipe right above the shelves of an archive, so, the possibilities are endless…).

Every now and then I will present you some aspects I’m writing about here on this blog and will ask for your experiences and thoughts. It would be great if you would be willing to share them. I promise that I won’t abuse your willingness to share and will always check if the way I want to use some of those examples in the book is acceptable for the original author and her/his institution.

Thanks for reading and best wishes

Angela

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

  1. Janice Klein and I have written a short article about ”Tackling Uncatalogued Collections“ in the March/April 2015 edition of the ”museum“ magazine of the American Alliance of Museums (p. 59-63), here you will find some additional ideas and the general direction of this project, although being uncatalogued is just one of the issues of an unmanaged collection.
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