How long did your collection inventory take?

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    • #133119
      Kathie Gow
      Participant

      Hi all. I asked this question in today’s webinar on Colls. Care but there wasn’t time to get into it. We started an inventory of our historical society museum in November (we use Frostbow Collection Mgr. 3), and I was misguided to think it would go faster than it is. The more I get into it, the more I feel like it’s going to take years. I got a grant to start it this year, and have applied for Year 2. But how do I convince the granting org. to keep funding it? How long do inventory projects typically take? Again, we don’t really know, but I’m guessing we have upwards of 8,000 artifacts:paper, textiles, furniture, housewares, ceramics, paintings, and on and on. Have any of you completed an inventory, or been involved in one, and can tell me how long it took (for how many artifacts, or size of collection), and any tips or specific examples of how HAVING the inventory has made a difference? (I know the reasons myself, and have told them — the 2 primary ones being knowing what you have and where to find it, AND knowing the condition of items so you can monitor the condition over time.) Thanks for any help!

    • #133134
      Ronald Heroux
      Participant

      Hey, Kathie. Similarly, I am inventorying our historical society’s museum collection. Like you I expect it to take several years, though I am an unpaid volunteer. Initially I looked for old inventory efforts. Having found a few I try to reconcile those with my current project, using Museum Archive software http://www.musarch.com/, accessioning items as I go. Having an inventory can help in 2 ways, at least (probably more): a) if someone is looking for something you can check your inventory (computerized?); b) if anything is stolen (we had a break-in in 1984) it can help identify and possibly locate stolen articles for either insurance purposes or potential recovery. I plan a printed copy of each accession record in case electronic efforts fail someday due either to hardware/software or future user inaccessibility.

    • #133133

      Dealing with museum collections is always complex, but it follows natural law: everything is more complicated than you thought at first, and EVERYTHING takes longer than you thought. I believe it’s a Darwinian trait – if we knew in advance how difficult various projects are going to be, we’d all still be living in caves.

    • #133132
      Beryl Gabel
      Member

      I started an inventory of my museum’s archive a couple years ago and I would say 80% is finished. It took me a year and a half working on it one afternoon a week. I had to put it on hold when my volunteer could no longer come in regularly. It is one of my goals to finish the project, but I know that inventories always take longer than you anticipate. It is important to set an overall goal, gain intellectual control, and then have a plan for when the inventory is finished. This really helped motivate me and keep me motivated to finish the inventory. I also found that when I was working on research requests, I would often find that I needed to update the PastPerfect record or move the location of the item. It will always be an ongoing process.

    • #133131
      Janean Van Beckum
      Participant

      It really depends on the size of the collection and the time you have to spend on it. I have been working on our collection for about 3 years, but not consistently. I take one section at a time when I know I will have the time to complete one area of storage. We have about 80,000 artifacts/photos/archival documents and I have 2-3 volunteers helping me regularly. I say we are only about 1/4 finished.

    • #133130
      Betty Seifert
      Participant

      We have two collections – a historical farm and local history collection and a historic house collection. We started inventorying the historical collection, completing a 2000 object section 3 years ago. Then we started the farm section of 3400 accessions, doing a condition assessment. We are nearing completion. For the historic house we completed inventory of 3600 objects or groups of objects, and in some cases housing in archival materials,in 4 years. After a hiatus, we have begun work on the remaining 4 rooms of a 3 story house plus basement with storerooms. It has all taken longer than first estimated.

    • #133129
      Betty Seifert
      Participant

      We have two collections – a historical farm and local history collection and a historic house collection. We started inventorying the historical collection, completing a 2000 object section 3 years ago. Then we started the farm section of 3400 accessions, doing a condition assessment. We are nearing completion. For the historic house we completed inventory of 3600 objects or groups of objects, and in some cases housing in archival materials,in 4 years. After a hiatus, we have begun work on the remaining 4 rooms of a 3 story house plus basement with storerooms. It has all taken longer than first estimated.

    • #133128
      Judy Knight
      Participant

      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.

    • #133127
      Kathie Gow
      Participant

      Thanks, everyone. All of that helps a lot. I will take these stories to the granting board at the end of the month, so they can see this is just the time it takes. It is so necessary. Every day I am finding items with rusty paperclips or that need to be separated from other (non-deteriorating items), or items we’d lost track of a few years ago and were afraid had been stolen. And yes, Judy, though we have a standard paper accession form we use for all artifacts before they get entered into the database, I’d love to get a copy of your paper forms for textiles , artwork and Native American artifacts. My email is:
      kagow@comcast.net

      For those of you who live in Mass., our grant for doing the inventory is through the Community Preservation Act. If you go to their website and search on inventory or collections mgt., you’ll find a bunch of examples. I got the idea from the Hanover Historical Society, which had posted a job description for someone to do theirs, using CPA funds, and I thought, that’s what I do already. It was a granting group that I hadn’t previously considered.

      Would still love to hear more examples of how long your inventory has taken (how big a collection, how many people, how much time, etc…), if anyone still wants to reply. Thanks again!

    • #133126
      Ron Kley
      Participant

      Working as an experienced two-person team and generating “skeletal catalog” records that are substantially more substantive than typical inventory records, my contracting partner and I typically average 100 records per working day — sometimes a good deal more than that when the objects to be processed are similar or closely related rather than randomly diverse.

      Having done this sort of thing for many years, we’ve developed some “production line” techniques that we’re very willing to share with others. If interested, please contact us off-list(regispeople@juno.com)and we’ll happily send along our “secret formula” at no charge.

    • #133125

      Our musuem is still mostly in the “paper-age,” but we are moving to a home-grown collection management software tool. We had a spreadsheet with about 4,000 line items, but it was 12 years out of date. Scanning all acquisition documents and adding the past 12 years has taken about 65 man-hours so far and we are about 2/3rds done.

      I’m looking beyond the basic purpose of inventory management (item’s description, location, history, condition, and information about its donor). I hope it provides other benefit beyond this basic function;
      1 – Enhanced Inventory management
      a. View a photo of the item (to make it easier find it since not everyone knows what an item is by its description)
      b. View the original acquisition document
      c. Enable the Curator to easily search the collection for specific items to place in seasonal exhibits.
      d. Track movement of the item within the museum (vault, to display, back to vault, etc.)
      e. When offered items for acquisition, the Curator could quickly determine if other similar items are already in the collection, and make a decision to reject or acquire the offered item.
      2) Reacquisition
      a. Noteworthy items previously loaned to the museum and returned could be reacquired for seasonal exhibits or permanent gifts.
      3) Recruitment
      a. Knowing who has donated (or loaned items) to the collection will allow contact with their family and descendants. This contact may lead to new patrons, members or volunteers.
      4) More knowledgeable docents & public
      a. Able to give visitor’s (especially descendants) personalized insight to the collection.
      b. Give Docents, volunteers and visitors opportunities to explore the collection in a much easier fashion.

    • #133124
      Kathie Gow
      Participant

      Patrick, we are doing similar “enhanced” inventory management, though we don’t currently include tracking the movement of an artifact — that would be good to add, especially if something still gets “misplaced.” Knowing where it came from and where it was going to may help find it, for those who come later (or just for me, as I can’t remember everything!) Thanks so much, — you’ve identified many more reasons why having this sort of inventory, easily searchable, is important for the mission of the museum.

    • #133123
      Melody Marshall
      Participant

      All the posts have been very interesting and informative! Our small history size museum is starting an inventory in preparation to move the majority of our collections which include artifacts, archival material and photos into a separate storage area (former museum buiding) from our central museum storage area. Our storage room off the museum had too many activities going on in it, our Paleo department, exhibit storage and kitchen facilities.

      I am starting the inventory and I need to figure out an organized plan for some volunteers to help me. I am using the accession records out of our PastPerfect database and our paper file donation forms and comparing them to past Historical Society newsletters where the donations were always listed for the years and past acession reports. It has really helped because the early years did not go by the year something was donated and accessioned, an object was given a number from the previous year or the year after.

      I agree with and aspire to the goals Patrick posted. I would also like to prepare a searchable database in Mirocsoft Access for staff, volunteers and patrons alike to use to search our archival and photo collections for research.

      Judy, I too would like to aquire a copy of the inventory sheets you created. I think they would help me. I have already come across several items with donation forms but they are not in database, file or past accession reports or items that have no paperwork. My email is mymarshall@yahoo.com. Thanks.

      Melody Marshall

    • #133122
      Ron Kley
      Participant

      Several years ago (2006-7, I believe) the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, inventoried, packed, relocated, unpacked, re-shelved and re-inventoried a collection of about 7,000 objects in a bit more than 6 months, using approximately 3 FTE of combined staff and contractual personnel. Inventory data was deliberately minimized to meet stringent time constraints (storage building had been sold and had to be vacated by a fixed deadline). Data fields included only object number, object name, location, and a very brief reference to any obvious damage. Additional data could have been recorded, but the fixed deadline would not have been met within the available budget.

    • #133121
      Kathie Gow
      Participant

      It’s funny that you two should have started this discussion up again — I’m still working on our historical museum’s inventory project (we’re mostly doing books and paper artifacts in this phase) and I was just having my husband help me go over our process and inventory sheet to see where I could cut stuff out to speed up the process. (Your tips have helped, Ron, I’ve stopped doing research at least!) Clearly, I’m adding too much information — yet we definitely want a photo, and any inscription or provenance info. But maybe I cut out dimensions, or give rougher dimensions, and don’t give such detailed condition reports…

      So here’s a question for y’all — has recording the dimension of each artifact had any practical use for you? Would you really miss it if it wasn’t there?

    • #133120
      Ron Kley
      Participant

      I’d never argue that dimensions aren’t useful, but I think that their value needs to be weighed against the time and effort required for data capture purposes. If you’re routinely photographing objects, and you include a standard scale in each photo, there’s not much practical need for additional measurement.
      When measurements become quite critical (e.g., in deciding whether an object can be accommodated in a given display or storage space) I would want to go back to the object and take measurements with that specific need in mind rather then relying upon somebody else’s (or my own) previous measurement that might be off by just enough to make a critical difference. Remember that all measurements are approximate. There can be variations depending upon whether the measuring ruler or tape measure is divided into inches, quarter inches, sixteenths, millimeters, etc., or according to how straight the ruler/tape is held, and the precise angle between the measurer’s eye and the surface of the ruler/tape.
      If I’m working for a client that wants measurements, I’ll be happy to take and record them, but I’ll point out these considerations…and the fact that measurement does involve an increment of time which, however brief, can multiply when you’re dealing with large numbers of objects.

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