Re: Cleaning museum storage room

Ramona Duncan-Huse

These are all great comments, I have created an outline of an activity plan based on all of these comments and some from my own experience that may prove useful.

• SCENARIO: We (two staff members and a group of volunteers) are planning to clean our museum storage room next month. It is packed to the rafters with artifacts of all sorts, and very little of it is organized by item. Some items have accession numbers and some don’t. We have boxes of donated items that have never been gone through. Has anyone tackled a project like this? Any ideas for organizing my volunteer helpers? I’m worried we’ll have 10 people standing over a box, wondering what to do with the contents. C2C July 17, 2012
ACTIVITY PLAN based on comments:
1. Assemble volunteers who will commit to the project over a number of months for consistent and reliable help. Use their individual strengths throughout the project. Some may be good at physical handling and base-line cleaning, tagging and storing, others good at research (looking up records, computer entry, etc.)
2. Assemble equipment you will need: HEPA vacuum with adjustable suction, ladders, carts, padded tables or other work surfaces, good light source, digital camera, computers, pencils, papers for notes, etc.
3. Designate a work area for base-line cleaning (vacuuming) and temporary storage.
4. Think about what you have in the way of a collections numbering system. Are there several systems that were used over the years? Develop some guidelines that take your particular situation into account. If there are items or boxes without any identification it may be good to first start with accessioned items to help establish for everyone the kind of information that has been gathered in the past, whether more info is needed (a signed donor form, for instance). Create a form that will best assist your fact finding process and document the item at the same time.
5. Set up guidelines in advance or after you look at a few things, like: accessioned material on one shelf, materials that you own but don’t have numbers, on another, and a separate space for more recent donations that you’re not sure you want to keep.
6. After you work for a couple of hours, perhaps, stop sorting and deal with each group separately – take digital photos of the un-numbered pieces and put temporary numbers in the photos so you don’t have to keep referring to the objects.
7. Make sure you don’t accession donations until you are sure they really belong in your collection. Once you have some items that you have questions about, write down the questions and try to set guidelines to make decision consistent: what are the alternatives, who shares the decision-making, etc. You want to group things so that you can make decisions for a whole group of things at once rather than making them one at a time.
8. Workings with accessioned items first;
 make a list of what was in each container (drawer/box), adding accession numbers if known.
 Maintain coordinated lists and create a numbered copy.
 Match up the items to their cards & to donors.
 If accession numbers differ over the years, try to incorporate the previous accession number into whatever newer accession number format you decide to use. That way the information that corresponds to the former number can be carried over to your official accession file.
9. Carefully vacuum the items in the numbered group but assess the label; if it could be damaged by simple handling make a hangtag from acid-free card stock and carefully loop the tag in place. If many small parts are present, consider numbering the batch and place the batch inside a safe, temporary storage container. Consider taking a photo of the item or group of items that are numbered. Include the temporary number in the photograph, and label the photo file with that temporary number. Update the file once all of the donor research is complete.
10. Save the problem boxes for last, (no accession number, no donor info, etc.) perhaps giving them a cursory look, and assigning a volunteer to research the kind of collection it is, or the donors to come up with a match.
11. Develop storage areas as you go if space is an issue – but take format and type of material into account. Large items will need adequate space for safe storage, but also safe retrieval.
12. As information is compiled, enter it into a collections software program such as Past Perfect. You don’t need to fill out absolutely every aspect of the form to complete an entry; just recording what you know is important: establish an accession number, a donor when known, material type, any aspect of provenance (date, when used, by whom, etc.) an photograph.
This list was established by referencing the comments from C2C website stated for the scenario stated above: