Paper Records Practices
October 1, 2016 at 5:32 pm #135052
We are exploring the possibility of keeping paper records as a backup for our digital catalog. What are some of your institutions’ practices regarding keeping both digital and paper catalogs? Do both catalogs capture the same information, or are there differences?
What is the physical format of your paper records (ie. a ledger vs. individual sheets for each object)? So much of digital catalogs can be hidden away in tabs, so directly printing out object records doesn’t seem like the best solution. How are your paper records stored (binders, books, filing cabinets)?
Is there any miscellaneous information about paper records we should take into consideration?
October 4, 2016 at 10:41 am #135053EvelynParticipant
We have both paper records and digital and most have the same information but we sometimes update the digital without updating the paper. We have a separate file for each collection and if there are more than 100 records, we place 100 into each file. We had a accessions ledger until 2008 and then we went digital and are now digitizing past years. We will have copies of research reports, articles, gift agreements and appraisal forms as well as anything relating to that collection in the paper file. We summarize the information for the database records.
October 31, 2016 at 1:57 pm #135103
Thanks Evelyn, I appreciate your information.
November 2, 2016 at 10:25 am #135114
I do not have experience in managing records such as you discuss and will reach out to an expert or two who do have that experience. This is a timely question and I’m sure you are not the only one wondering how much is enough or too much!
November 7, 2016 at 11:20 am #135131
I have consulted with one of our experts in preservation and organizing operations within
preservation. She suggested you speak with someone in technical services at your organization
because this is such a big question, encompassing many concerns.
Best of luck with it.
November 7, 2016 at 11:32 am #135132
Thanks, April! Unfortunately I don’t exactly have anyone at my institution to talk to–we are quite small and I am effectively the “technical services” person (as well as curator and many other things!). I appreciate that you took the time to ask around, though.
November 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm #135134
If you have contacts at other, larger, institutions, with separate technical services departments, perhaps you could also speak with them. I am checking with one other expert in this field for you and will keep you posted.
November 8, 2016 at 11:18 am #135135
I have heard from the other expert I contacted but she is unable to post her response. I have copied and pasted it from her email to me. I hope this helps–let me know if you have other questions.
“I don’t know what kind of collection Leslie has, but I can say that it is absolutely standard in museums to maintain both paper and digital records. In my experience, museums keep a variety of paper documents.
It is standard to keep paper copies of all documentation regarding acquisition of the object, such as deeds of gift, receipts, bills of sale, copies of wills in the case of bequests, etc. It is also common to keep paper copies of information regarding 1. conservation examinations and treatments, 2. exhibitions in which the piece has been shown, 3. publications and permissions for reproduction of the piece, 4. licensing agreements, 5. provenance research, and 6. any other research that has been done on the piece. These are usually stored in filing cabinets, usually by accession number. The filing cabinets should be secured by either locking the cabinets or the room in which they are stored at the end of every business day.
It is also normal (and I hope standard) to keep a ledger listing the works in the collection. This can be a hand written ledger or lists can be generated from digital files, printed out, and bound into a book on a regular basis. It is important that the pages be bound in such a manner that it would be difficult to remove or alter them. This ledger should also be stored in a secure location.
My museum (and every other museum in which I’ve worked) also keeps a card catalog of the collection. All basic information is printed onto two 8-1/2 x 11 cards which are then filed numerically by accession number and alphabetically by artist. We used to print our four copies and also file them by donor or source and location, but the database has proven to be a more useful way to capture that information.
Digital records are important, but should be seen as a backup to the paper documents, not a replacement for them. As some of those who survived the Hurricane Katrina floods shared with me, their digital files were inaccessible for months after the flooding. They relied on their paper documentation for processing insurance claims until their electronic records were again available. There is also the very real issue of longevity. We know how to take care of paper so that records can be accessed for hundreds of years. Electronic records must be migrated to new formats on a regular basis and, without continual monitoring, can easily become lost or corrupted.
I am perhaps old school on this, but I still believe paper records cannot be entirely supplanted by electronic records.”
November 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm #135136EvelynParticipant
I 100 percent agree with the above. We don’t do index cards but have in the past and are helpful for older collections. We also digitize our collections ledgers with photographs.
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