7 October 2015




Welcome to the first Collections Corner blog post of the 2015/16 year! I don't know about you, but I'm excited. I mean, what can be better than talking about museums, archives, and libraries and their amazingly stupendous collections? But, as in every field, there are certainly ups and downs. Here are the top 5 thoughts of a collections manager on a regular basis:

1. Wait, what is this?

Ah, mystery objects. Most collections managers in every type of cultural institution will experience this frustration at one time or another. This particular anxiety often comes in the form of a mystery donation left on the doorstep (as is the case in smaller institutions), or a random object found in the collections (in the case of larger institutions). Sometimes the objects will have writing on them, others will be unmarked. But no one seems to know where it came from or who it belonged to – which is just peachy when it comes time to writing the accession form, or updating the catalogue record. These mystery objects just require some extra research to understand their history fully. Take a cue from other museums and blog about it!

What the heck am I supposed to do with this?  Source

2. Didn't I fixed this once already?

When you encounter a collection that is so riddled with cataloguing and recording errors, it seems impossible to achieve any sort of work. From minor typos to wildly incorrect collections documentation, collections mangers and registrars have quite a lot of information to deal with. And do not get me started on catalogue cards where the item # simply read “missing.” True story. Sometimes the best solution is to correct the misinformation as it becomes apparent. That being said, records for many objects consist of their original catalogue cards which may include terms and descriptions that are unacceptable or offensive today. Despite the urge to cringe, these should not be altered since they illustrate the information that originally accompanied the objects. So in the end, perhaps we should accept the consistency of inconsistencies?

On the scale of 1 to Even, I can't.  Source

3. Put down the object carefully and step away! 

This particular thought is usually accompanied with some sort of audible sound, like a gasp of horror or a squeak of surprise. Oh, the horrors of thoughtless handling! There is a very good reason why proper object care and handling is important: it is essential to preservation. Even the most innocent of touches can cause damage. And if that’s not stressful enough, each object presents an individual challenge when it comes to its specific care and handling procedures (to glove, or not to glove, that is the question”). Only training, supervision, and practice will prevent avoidable and unnecessary loss. But even after the collections manager has given care and handling training a million times over, they will still occasionally catch themselves lifting an object by its handle. Whoops…?

Sigh, you are supposed to wear gloves when handling ceramics. And use a padded carrying tray next time, please?  Source

4. Um, I'm sorry, I just hallucinated...you did what?!?

Sometimes conservation should be left to the trained professionals. To be clear, there is a difference between conservation activities such as preservation and restoration. When it comes to looking after a collection, the emphasis should be on preservation (i.e. storing a ceramic teacup in acid-free inert materials), not trying to rebuild a broken object. Even so, reassembling a broken handle on a teacup is perfectly acceptable…provided the appropriate collections authorities were notified, the proper types of materials are used, and the repair treatments are reversible. The last thing a collections manager wants to hear is that some member of their staff squirted Krazy Glue over 3300 years of history.

The non-conservators' secret weapon: duct tape.  Source

5. Nothing can scare me at this point…

This statement came to mind when I was cleaning out a collections storage facility...and then saw a deer mouse. Hantavirus came into my head unbidden. Needless to say I lit on out of there very quickly with my junior staff before returning with better dust masks. The truth is collections staff will have to deal with all manner of collections storage facilities in some state or another: from teeny, tiny broom closets to Indiana Jones-style warehouses. Your best weapon of defense is proper supervision and cleaning equipment, as well as the CCI Notes on the museum environment.

And then there were no more spiders....  Source

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