"Various" is not a category, and "object" is anything

Accession and Category: encoding or collections division

Each of these 3,000 objects of Mexican Folk Art need - and have - a category.Thanks to Aleida Garcia for the picture.  www.imasonline.org

Each of these 3,000 objects of Mexican Folk Art needs -and has- a category. Thanks to Aleida García for the picture.  www.imasonline.org

In the work of a museum collections registrar, finding accession encodings and a category for each object in your collection is indispensable. They are more than one number, for themselves carry a large amount of information, or open the door to more details.

These codes are a “QR” avant la lettre. Their use in software management and control of collections allows that they become starting points for numerous computerized search criteria; search fields of the software may include all numbering and terminology that contain these encodings.

The code or accession number is used universal and indispensable, the category seems to be less appropriate for some museums. However, I give more attention to this second part. While the code or accession number usually refers to the year in which an item entered the collection, sequentially for each calendar year [for example 2012.0034], the category defines object type, purpose and meaning. The category should be not an encoding that is used for aesthetic concerns or some supposed superiority or natural value, cultural or naturalcultural (artistic, scientific, technological, religious, etc.). A categorization can or should include as many subcategories as necessary. OBJECT TYPES, for example:

[PAINTings / ABStracts-0148];

[FURniture / CONsole-0025];

[VEHicles / AUTOmotives / TRUcks-0012];

[TOOLs / HAMmer-1135];



[PRINt / POSter-1128];

[CLOTHing / SHIrt / MALe / AFRican-0089];

[LITURgical / CHAlice / GREEk / ORTHOdox / CHURch-0051];

[MUSic / INSTRuments / WIND instruments / HEBrew-0129];

[MACHine TOOls / PERCussive / DRIll-0023]…

I refer here only to cultural and technological objects, due to my lack of knowledge about the natural areas, biological or mineral.

I typed in uppercase “OBJECT TYPES” because that little word, when used improperly, generates false information, vague and too generic, which is unacceptable for a museum collection. The same goes for the little word “VARIOUS” (Miscellaneous). Every object, of whatever type (natural, cultural, technological or naturalcultural) has a name and belongs to a genre, type, species, family, etc. This applies even when it comes to intangible cultural heritage or intangible natural heritage. This holds true for everything in the registrar’s universe, which means that he / she should be well aware of this fact and give indeep thought to the classification of every object he / she has in the collection. This means that the regsitrar should cooperate closely with curators and researchers, or even manufacturers, who know more of that object and possible categorizations than the registrar. In codings per category should always be an appropriate term for categorization or division. And if the existing categories in the collection don’t have a place for this type of object: create one! A good collection management software allows and encourages, as a good manager, a good healer and a good registrar.

In my work as a logger I never categorized an object as “Various”, but corrected and relocate some existing cases that were filed as such. Same goes with the truism category “objects”. Obviously, everything is an object! (at least until you create the “Museum of Thoughts and Feelings” … The recorder is in trouble there …).

I have seen cases, for example in a museum of Latin America, in which part of its collection (which appears on their website) is categorized as “Objects”. Even almost a year ago I made some comments and suggestions, but until now I got no response.

The correct title or generic name of an item are a must: I found a case in which an item was called “Armchair with two armrest” … A quick check in books reassured me that a chair that has two armrest is called Armchair … And a bit of reasoning helped me reconfirm that skateboards have rolls, because…

Registrars in museum collections can and should be able to open their schemes and reasoning in order to do their job properly, efficiently and creatively, adapting to the circumstances and type (Category) of the object that needs to be accessioned and documented in the collection. A good registrar must remain critical!


4 thoughts on “"Various" is not a category, and "object" is anything”

  1. Hallo Herr Selmer,

    vielen Dank für dieses Hinweis. Im Spanischen bin ich überfragt (aus diesem Sprachraum stammt das Beispiel), aber im Englischen ist mit “armchair with two armrests” die Tautologie offensichtlich. Es ist eine der Herausforderungen dieses Blogs, die konkreten Beispiele, die Kollegen aus aller Welt aus der Praxis beitragen, so zu übersetzen, dass sie auch in den anderen Sprachen stimmig sind.

    Sie finden ein solches Beispiel nur wenige Zeilen später. Im spanischen Original heißt es hier:
    “Y un poco de razonamiento me ayudó a reconfirmar que los carros ruedan porque tienen ruedas…”
    Und es hat uns schon einiges Kopfzerbrechen bereitet, die Doppelung, die sich im spanischen Wort für fahren “ruedan” und Reifen “ruedas” findet, passend ins Englische und Deutsche zu übertragen, was nur dadurch gelang, dass man das Auto durch das Rollbrett ersetzt wurde.

    Wenn Ihnen also ein stimmigeres Beispiel für unseren “Sessel” einfällt, nur zu, wir tauschen es dann aus. Es geht hier darum, Grundprobleme aus der Praxis zu diskutieren, und wenn das mit dem Beispiel aus der einen Sprache nicht geht, dann muss man eben in der anderen Sprache etwas anderes finden. Das ist die eigentliche Herausforderung – nicht nur dieses Blogs an sich, sondern generell jeder internationalen Zusammenarbeit.

    Ebenso würde es mich freuen, wenn Sie ein paar entsprechende Beispiele aus dem deutschsprachigen Raum beizutragen hätten, denn das Original stammt, wie gesagt, aus dem lateinamerikanischen Sprach- und Museumsraum und ein paar deutsche Fehlleistungen würden sicher die Südamerikanischen Kollegen ebenfalls interessieren.

    1. English translation of Angela’s reply to the comment of Jan Selmer (by Angela):

      Dear Mr. Selmer,

      Thank you very much for the hint. I don’t know about the Spanish term (the example derives from this language area), but in English “armchair with two armrests” is obviously a tautology. It’s one of the challenges of this blog to translate the practical examples from colleagues around the world into other languages without losing context and meaning.

      You can see an example of this a few lines later. The Spanish original says:
      “Y un poco de razonamiento me ayudó a reconfirmar que los carros ruedan porque tienen ruedas…”
      It caused us quite a headache to get this into English and German and the only possibility to transfer the duplication that lies in “ruedan” for wheels and “ruedas” for driving was to exchange the car against the skateboard.

      So, if a better example for our German “Sessel” crosses your mind, please submit it and we will exchange it. It is our goal to discuss issues that occur in our everyday work. If an example of one language doesn’t work in the other language, well, then we have to look for a better one in this language. This is the real challenge – not only with this blog, but also in every international collaboration.

      If you find German examples we will be glad to post them, for the Original is, like I said, from Latin America. I guess our colleagues from Latin America would love to see some German fails in object description.


      Traducción al español
      [por Fernando]

      Querido Sr. Selmer:

      Muchas gracias por la sugerencia. No conozco el término en español (el ejemplo es tomado de ese idioma), pero en inglés “armchair with two armrests” [“sillón con dos apoya-brazos”] es obviamente una tautología. Uno de los desafíos de este blog es traducir a otros idiomas los ejemplos prácticos de los colegas de todo el mundo, sin perder su contexto y significado.

      Ud. puede ver un ejemplo a continuación, en pocas líneas: “Y un poco de razonamiento me ayudó a reconfirmar que los carros ruedan porque tienen ruedas…”. Nos causó un dolor de cabeza poder traducir esto al inglés y al alemán, y tan solo traducir esa [aparente] reiteración implícita en “ruedan” [verbo en relación a las ruedas en movimiento] y “ruedas” [sustantivo para las ruedas en sí mismas] nos hizo comparar las funciones de un carro versus las de una patineta.

      Así que, si le pasa por su mente un mejor ejemplo para nuestro término alemán “Sessel”, por favor envíenoslo y haremos el cambio. Nuestra meta es discutir los asuntos que ocurren en el trabajo diario. Si un ejemplo en un determinado lenguaje no funciona en otro, bien, tendremos que buscar uno mejor. Ese es el desafío real -no solo con este blog sino también con cada colaboración internacional.

      Si ud. encuentra ejemplos en alemán nos encantará publicarlos acá, pero el original viene, como ya dije, de Latinoamérica. Considero que nuestros colegas latinoamericanos disfrutarán viendo algunas fallas en la descripción de los objetos en idioma alemán.

  2. Schlechtes Beispiel: Eine Sitzgelegenheit mit zwei Armlehnen kann z.B. auch ein Polsterstuhl sein und nicht jeder Sessel hat Armlehnen. Vgl. auch
    “IRI: 00001090 | approved
    Der Sessel ist im Gegensatz zum Polsterstuhl immer mit gepolsterter Sitzfläche und gepolsterter
    Rückenlehne und *zumeist* mit Armlehnen ausgestattet. Er ist einsitzig und hat meist eine geringere Sitzhöhe als ein Stuhl.”

    Insofern ist die Bezeichnung “Sessel mit zwei Armlehnen” durchaus korrekt.

    Beispiele für schlechte Objektbeschreibungen lassen sich übrigens zuhauf in den diversen online stehenden Objektdatenbanken der deutschen musealen Einrichtungen finden, man braucht nicht in Übersee danach zu suchen 😉

    1. English Translation of the comment of Jan Selmer (by Angela):
      Bad example: A seating with two armrests can also be a padded chair for example and not every “Sessel” (German word for armchair, we have a translation problem here for the German definitions and English wording are not congruent – annotation of the translator) has two armrests. See http://museum.zib.de/museumsvokabular/documents/systematik-moebel.pdf (German vocabulary on furniture).
      “IRI: 00001090 | approved
      A “Sessel” is, opposed to the “Polsterstuhl”, always featured with a padded seat and padded backrest and has – most of the time – armrests. It is single-seated and has most of the time a lower seat height than a chair.”

      Taking this description “Sessel mit zwei Armlehnen” is correct.

      By the way, examples for bad object descriptions can be found in great numbers in online databases of German museal institutions, one is not forced to look for them overseas 😉


      Traducción al Español
      [por Fernando]

      Ejemplo incorrecto: Un asiento con dos apoya-brazos puede igualmente ser una silla acolchonada, por ejemplo, y no toda “Sessel” (palabra alemana para designar a un Sillón; tenemos aquí un problema de traducción, pues estas definiciones en Inglés y Alemán no son congruentes -Nota de la traductora) tiene dos apoya-brazos. Vea:
      http://museum.zib.de/museumsvokabular/documents/systematik-moebel.pdf (Diccionario alemán para mobiliarios).
      “IRI: 00001090 | approved
      Un “Sessel” está, al contrario de “Polsterstuhl”, siempre caracterizado por un asiento y un respaldo acolchonados y tiene -la mayoría de las veces- apoya-brazos. Es una silla individual y es generalmente un asiento de poca altura más que una silla”.

      Tomando en cuenta esta descripción, “Sessel mit zwei Armlehnen” [“Sillón con dos apoya-brazos”] es correcta.

      Por cierto, ejemplos de descripciones erradas pueden encontrarse en gran número de bases de datos on line de instituciones museísticas alemanas, y uno no se ve obligado a buscar allende la mar. 😉

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