Re: How long did your collection inventory take?

Judy Knight

As a volunteer, I’m coordinating an inventory project at our modest historic house and community museum. Another volunteer and I have been working 4 afternoons a week on scanning and inventorying our 15,000 photographs and we are only up to 1998 accessions! A 9-month student intern worked 2 mornings a week and finished one storage area of about 20 shelving units, each with 7 shelves. We had an IMLS grant in 2007 for $22,000 that photographed, inventoried and did detailed condition reports on 1,500 high priority textiles. That took a conservator consultant and about 15 volunteers about 21 days of consultant’s time to do the condition reports. Prior to that, 9 volunteers spent the previous 6 months to do the initial inventory list, comparing what we found in boxes and drawers to what our database said we had and determining what was “high priority”. It has taken 2 volunteers working on average one morning a week since then to enter all the data on the computer and we still have about 50 items to go. The latter were all saved until last because of various issues with the accession numbers. This is something that turns up all the time — donors names are missing, numbers on items are missing or illegible or transcribed wrong, even when the number is on the item, its not on the database, etc. Its a huge job. And very necessary for a number of reasons including Disaster Response — you need to know what you have and where it is.

Best advice I can give: do the easy things first, do paperwork on the others to deal with later–don’t let the pesky things bog you down. Develop an inventory form if you can’t enter data directly into your computerized database. We are using Past Perfect, which is excellent once you have all the data entered, but entering location and condition and the fact that you inventoried the item takes about 15 minutes per item, and 20 minutes if you can upload a photo, which is what we are doing. If you can take a laptop into the collection exhibit and storage area and enter data directly, it would speed things up considerably to avoid the paper stage. However, I’d be happy to provide our paper forms for inventorying various types of items, Textiles, Native American and Artwork are the best ones we have developed using input from lots of museum sources. Having a checklist form makes it much easier to enter data on condition at the same time as doing the inventory.