COLLECTIONS - Ahh - now we are getting to the good "stuff"...
When first thinking of starting a museum, everyone immediately thinks of collecting
artifacts (affectionately referred to as "stuff" in the professional museum biz).
Actually it has been my experience that the "stuff" is the easy part. The minute
you announce to the world you are starting a fire museum, basements, garages, and
attics open up and old fire stuff comes pouring your way, (especially large stuff
- like fire apparatus).
Before you start accepting items into your collection
you should have some basic groundwork established. You should have a
mission statement, and a
collection policy. These two documents help you establish goals,. and limits
to your collection. They also dictate how you do and do not aquire objects, and
what you can and can not do with them once you've got them in hand. As part of your
collections policy, you should establish your collections procedure. Develop donor
"deed-of-gift" forms, develop a numbering and cataloging system, and start keeping
As for collections policies and forms - you probably
know that there is no one "correct form" It is more important that you have one
than what it looks like.
See also -
page with sample museum forms
Okay- now the big question - inventory
I've worked with a variety of numbering systems and again
contrary to popular opinion it is better just to have one than to worry about having
the correct one.
If you don't have a collection yet - this may be a blessing
- you can start from scratch.
If you have a collection with or without some
numbers, and you want to implement a new system, it can be done in two ways. You
can try and reconstruct the donations (figuring out the donor, the year and so-forth)
or you could accession the entire collection as being donated to your
museum in this year (or last year).
If you have any old numbers you should
save those and somehow work them into your system. It is not good to have two different
numbers/numbering systems on the same artifact - yet it is NOT recommended that
you remove any old numbers because you never know where or when that old number
may be recorded or referred to?!
As for the actual numbering system, Some
institutions have two separate collections - a permanent collection
used for displays and kept safe and carefully preserved and an educational
collection which often has duplicate items or even reproductions of items.
Items in the educational collection may be brought out and used during
tours or demonstrations, or they may be considered for loan to other museums.
It has been my experience that it is not practical to differentiate between
these two collections when numbering an artifact. What if an item is deemed in the permanent
collection but you suddenly get five more of the same item and your original
then gets relegated to the educational collection - do you want to renumber
that item?? (I'd think not)
Some institutions have do try and differentiate
between artifacts, library items, photographs, etc... That is a bit more practical,
(once a book always a book, once a photo always a photo). I happened on a numbering
style developed by the Wisconsin State Museum Association. It is about 25 years
old now, but I still like it, it still works, and IF the Aurora fire museum were
ever going to renumber, this is the system I would choose to use. It is your basic
three-part numbering system but it has a letter at the beginning designating one
of four collections. It uses the acronym "L.A.M.P" for easy remembering.
"L = Library items"
"A = Artifacts"
"M = Manuscripts
"P = Photographs"
See also -
Museums and non profit managment resources and links
As for actually "numbering" objects, most museums use a permanent
- but reversible system. It entails painting a thin stripe of a clear base-coat
lacquer, painting a thin stripe of a white paint over this lacquer,
marking the number using a thin permanent marker of India ink, and then painting
another thin stripe of a clear base-coat lacquer over the top of it all. This creates
a lacquer sandwich and the lacquers that are used are nondestructive,
and easily removed using a lacquer solvent. (WARNING - Only use an archival museum
quality lacquer purchased from an archival museum products distributor, or use a
good brand of clear nail-polish as an alternative.)
Do not use this method
on books, paper items, it is best to simply number them in pencil. Fabrics should
be number on a tag which is carefully stitched into an inconspicuous place.