Active Collections: How to Create a Leaner Collection for Greater Impact

Looking to explore options of what it means to steward leaner, more sustainable collections with greater impact? Join Elee Wood, Rainey Tisdale, and Trevor Jones for a lively interactive discussion of ideas and action items on innovative and possibly unconventional ideas for collections stewardship and management. Topics will include new approaches to collections development, cataloging, policy, deaccessioning.  Participants will gain practical strategies and tools to shape your collection for greater impact.

Register

Details:

Date: November 7, 2017

Time: 3pm Eastern/2pm Central/1pm Mountain/12pm Pacific/10am Hawaii/4pm Atlantic

Cost: $40 members/$65 nonmembers

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact mitchell@aaslh.org for more information.

Register

About the Speakers:

Trevor Jones is Director and CEO of the Nebraska State Historical Society. He believes that museum collections have the power to tell amazing stories, and has helped museums of all sizes rethink how artifact collections support their mission. Trevor holds BA degrees in history and German from Grinnell College, an MA degree in history and Certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute.

 

 

Rainey Tisdale is an independent curator who leads for change on field-wide issues including place-based interpretation, collections stewardship, creative practice, and museums & well-being. She has held curatorial positions at the AFL-CIO’s museum, the US Senate’s Office of Senate Curator, and the Bostonian Society; she was a Fulbright Scholar in Helsinki, Finland and a community fellow at Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities; and taught in the Museum Studies Program at Tufts University. She is an international expert on city museums and a co-founder of the Active Collections Project. With Linda Norris, she co-authored Creativity in Museum Practice.

 

 

Elee Wood is professor of museum studies, and public scholar of museums, families, and learning in the Museum Studies Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and Associate Dean of Student Affairs in the School of Liberal Arts. Wood’s research includes the study of visitor-object experiences in museums, object-based learning, critical museum pedagogy, and evaluation capacity building. She is co-author of The Objects of Experience: Transforming Visitor-Object Encounters in Museums with Kiersten F. Latham (Routledge, 2014) and joined the Active Collections Project in 2014.

Register

Workshop: Collections Management and Practices

Learn about your institution’s responsibility toward its collection, necessary policies and procedures, and the best practices of collection management.

Details:

Date: June 5-6, 2017

Location:  Maine Historical Society, Portland, ME

Cost: $280 AASLH members/$405 nonmembers
*Get $40 off registration if you book by May 1, 2017!*

Register

Workshop Description:

Learn about your institution’s responsibility toward its collection, necessary policies and procedures, and the best practices of collection management. Through lively group discussions and hands-on activities, you will become familiar with current issues and trends to better understand how collections fit within the context of history organizations. The workshop will also explore the role of collections in exhibition and interpretation, the basic steps of collections management from acquisition to disposal, professional standards and ethics, conservation on a shoe-string budget, and the many resources available for collections preservation.

Who Should Attend:

This workshop is targeted to new professionals and dedicated volunteers with responsibility for collections.

About the Faculty:

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaa3aaaajdq1ywi5mtqwltllmtktndmxzi05mdq3lwriy2m4zdjlndewyq

 

 

Samantha Forsko is a Preservation Specialist at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.

 

 

 

bethany-hawkins-chief-of-operations

 

 

Bethany L. Hawkins is the Chief of Operations for the American Association for State and Local History.Prior to her work with AASLH, she was the director of a small historic house museum and oversaw all aspects of collections care from accessioning to cleaning to protecting from the raccoons. She has been at AASLH for ten years.

 

Register

Online Course: Collections Management

This course is full. Please look at our calendar for upcoming Collections Management courses.

This eight week course will introduce participants to the professional principles and practices in the management of museum collections. Topics will include collections development, registration and record keeping with an emphasis on the development of Collection Policies and Procedures and what it means to be intellectually and physically responsible for museum objects.

Details:

March 20-May 15, 2017

Cost: $195 AASLH Members/ $295 Nonmembers

Registration limited to 30 people

Full Online Course Description:
This eight week course will introduce participants to the professional principles and practices in the management of museum collections. Topics will include collections development, registration and record keeping with an emphasis on the development of Collection Policies and Procedures and what it means to be intellectually and physically responsible for museum objects.By the end of the course, participants will:

-Develop a detailed draft of a Collections Policy
-Develop of identify a collection of objects
-Develop a standardized set of registration records and forms including inventory, catalog, accession, and loans
-Learn about various registration numbering systems and how to mark objects appropriately
-Discuss issues related to collections strategies, mission, purpose, and scope of collections
-Develop a broader understanding of legal and ethical concerns of managing collections

Who Should Attend:

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with collections management. This course requires participants have access to museum collections to successfully complete this course, either as a staff member, volunteer, or intern.
Required text: Daniel B. Reibel. Registration Methods for the Small Museum, Fourth Edition, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2008 (Paperback ISBN 978-0-7591-1131-8) (About $32.00).
 
Optional Resource: John E. Simmons, Things Great and Small: Collections Management Policies, Washington, DC: American Alliance of Museums, 2006 (ISBN 10:1-933253-03-07)
Instructor:
dyani-307-159-sDyani Feige, Director of Preservation Services at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA), works with libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural organizations to conduct needs assessments and risk assessments, assists in emergency preparedness, and helps develop policy and planning documents and long-term preservation plans. She also helps develop and present preservation-related educational programs, and has taught programs on archival management, policy development, and emergency preparedness. Before joining CCAHA, Feige worked for the Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives, the New York Public Library’s Preservation Division, the Conference Board, New York University’s Bobst Library, and Kent State University’s Special Collections & Archives.  She received her Master of Science in Library and Information Science with an Archives Certificate from Pratt Institute.
Small Museum Pro:
Successful completion of this course will earn one credit toward the Small Museum Pro certificate from AASLH.

Nomenclature Query: Classifying a "Permanent Machine"

We received a query from Diane Kester at the Wayne County Historical Association & Museum in Goldsboro, North Carolina:

What do you suggest for old permanent machine? Here's what we have.

  perm1perm2

Paul Bourcier, editor of Nomenclature 3.0 and Nomenclature 4.0 answered:

That would fall under Machine, Permanent Wave – a primary term under the sub-class, Hair Care Objects (see Nomenclature 4.0, p. 118).


How to Choose an Object Name for Cataloging an Abstract of Title

Lynne Sylvester of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation in Florida has posed this question:

I have to catalog an Abstract of Title and do not know what the correct object name is.  Can you please help me or provide guidance on where I could find the correct terms?

abstract

Paul Bourcier, editor of Nomenclature 4.0 and chair of the AASLH Nomenclature Task Force has answered Lynne:

In a general sense, an abstract of title is a summary, as is any abstract.  However, Nomenclature 3.0 and 4.0 organize the term “Abstract” under Literary Works, suggesting that the context of a generic abstract is that of a creative work, and I don’t think that can be said for an abstract of title. 

Although an abstract of title is not itself a legal document, it is a summary of legal documents and would best be organized in that sub-class, since Nomenclature’s hierarchy is based on functional context.

I would suggest the term “Abstract of Title,” organized as a new primary term under the sub-class “Legal Documents,” to be considered by the Nomenclature Task Force for the next edition. 

I encourage you to please make this suggestion in our online submissions form at http://community.aaslh.org/nomenclature-submissions.

 

 


Nomenclature 4.0 – What Makes This Edition Great

Nomenclature 4.0 is the most up-to-date print edition of one of North America’s most popular controlled vocabularies for classifying and naming objects in historical museums.  Building on professional standards and a hierarchical structure introduced in the last edition, Nomenclature 4.0 features expanded coverage and revision by reflecting new research and contributions by museum professionals throughout the United States and Canada.

For over 35 years, Nomenclature has offered a practical, flexible framework to ensure museum documentation, retrieval and data sharing is more consistent. This system remains a standard cataloging tool for thousands of museums and historical organizations. Nomenclature serves museums by providing a system designed to consistently name objects and facilitate sharing information with staff and researchers, other institutions, and the public.

The release of Nomenclature 3.0 brought forth many improvements to meet the needs of its users and to reflect changing museum standards. Likewise, Nomenclature 4.0 is a product of the continual need to improve and maintain collections data standards.

This edition is great for a multitude of reasons –

  • The content has been updated to accommodate cultural changes and evolving collections, making it easier to describe contemporary material culture as well as more traditional items.
  • Access to this up-to-date terminology ensures consistency of cataloged records and vastly improves the facilitation of sharing and retrieval of data.
  • This edition incorporates many new terms in direct response to recommendations made and needs expressed by colleagues “in the trenches” of collections and collection records management.
  • An expanded and reorganized section on water transportation as well as expanded coverage of exchange media, digital collections, electronic devices, archaeological and ethnographic objects, and more!
  • The introduction provides an updated user guide with tips and advice!

 To Order Nomenclature 4.0 For Museum Cataloging: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442250987

Order Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging directly through Rowman & Littlefield
Order Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging directly through Rowman & Littlefield

Continue to Connect with Us!


The Value of the Lexicon and the Quest for Museum Documentation

museumdocumentation-web

Every object has a story. When an object is acquired by a museum and the accession process is underway, the quest for documenting the object is set in motion. On an ideal day, the object can be easily identified and the provenance is substantially documented to create a catalog record. More often than not, there are objects lacking documentation and in dire need of research.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed tweets with hashtag  #museumdocumentation.  It is inspiring to see colleagues discussing their daily efforts and the importance of documentation. The pictures which accompany the tweets illustrate colleagues working to ensure objects have proper documentation. The tweets reveal excitement as well as frustration and interns learning experiences in the museum field. As I read these tweets, it reinforces how vital it is to have museum documentation and prompted an idea to write this blog  -- envisioning catalogers on a “quest for museum documentation.”

Why stress the importance of museum documentation? We may cringe at the mere thought of anyone questioning its importance – ‘Isn’t it just a Chair?’ Those tasked with cataloging objects undoubtedly know that it is more than just a chair. A long list of questions regarding the chair may come to mind. What type of chair is it? Function of the chair? What style and era? What type of material was used to make it? In what context was the chair used? Who did it belong to? Where was the owner’s house located? And the list goes on…

Luckily, today we live in an era where online tools are assisting us in the documentation process. Newspapers are becoming digitized and searchable. Genealogy websites provide access to city directories, census, vital and other records help in locating information at a faster rate than years past. Dictionaries, controlled vocabularies and other reference tools abound!

One of the most valuable tools is the use of my museum’s lexicon in conjunction with my collections management software.  When I can turn to a reference tools like Nomenclature 3.0 (soon Nomenclature 4.0 - counting down the days until the new book arrives!), it provides object terms to hierarchically categorize and organize the objects within the collection.  Often times, I will start with one object term to identify an object, and after some research I realize that the object was used in different context which changes its function. The flexible nature of the lexicon allows for including an additional term or possibly adding a specialized term if it is appropriate for my museum’s needs.

Each step of the documentation process from identifying the appropriate object term to including provenance provides a basis for a stronger catalog record. All of the tedious tasks of scanning, photographing, data entry are an important part of the documentation process. Undoubtedly, the information in a catalog record provides the history of an object as well as the means to create great exhibits!

The reality of daily schedules and multiple projects can sometimes discourage our efforts in our quest to include all the information possible. Despite our need to be thorough, a catalog record may only end up with the source, object term, basic description, dimensions, material, circa date, picture, etc.  Balancing time for meetings, multiple projects and exhibitions, and wearing multiple hats sometimes become road blocks on the quest for documentation.

Whether you have to put the extra documentation research to the side for another day or continue on with the task at hand – Carry on in your quest for museum documentation! #museumdocumentation

 


Making the Most of Collections Queries

One of the newer (and upward trending) tasks I’ve acquired is the use of collections through social media. Queries are ranging from weather, throwbacks of local events and reminiscent objects, as well as national and fun holidays such as National Pancake Day. What I have encountered in completing this task, is that sometimes these searches require a heightened level of creativity and thought than I have done in the past when preparing for a typical exhibit. Let’s be honest, regardless of what you might be searching for queries can often end in frustration.

I had a very therapeutic laugh after reading Ron Kley’s blog post “I Remember When Part – 8.” If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend that you read it. It serves as a great reminder that collections information data can only produce what the end user directs it to do and “the thinking has to be done by the user!”

Courtesy of Smoky Hill Museum, Salina, Kansas
Courtesy of Smoky Hill Museum, Salina, Kansas

I’ve recently encountered similar scenarios when keying in my search parameters. I had my mind set on searching for anything related to jam jars that were not specifically Pot, Jam. I had already utilized Nomenclature by locating objects assigned with terms such as Pot, Jam; Jar, Preserving; and more generally speaking the term Jar listed under Containers. My hope was to find everything from merchandising objects, signs, photographs and other archival material related to jam.

My first query was largely unsuccessful, because I forgot to select “contains exact match” and left the setting on “contains text” of the word jam. As I scrolled through the list of results, I found a King James Bible, a container with Jamaica ginger, a pair of pink pajamas and not to mention the countless objects related to people with the first names of James and Benjamin. Luckily, I was able to find a pamphlet on “How to Make Jellies, Jams and Preserves at Home.”

Courtesy of Smoky Hill Museum, Salina, Kansas
Courtesy of Smoky Hill Museum, Salina, Kansas

I followed up this query with the word preserve, but this time I was going to remember to select “contains exact match” so that I would get a better result. Though my results yielded objects such as a patches and banners containing images of life preservers as well as the actual life saving preservers. I found a merchandise receipt that noted on the side "Please preserve this Bill, as a none other will be made." I also came across a record where the description noted the condition of a book was “well preserved.”

Often times, the reality sets in that sometimes despite our best efforts, the information we are seeking may simply not be there. Either the object is not in the collection, or -- if the object is in the museum’s collection, depending on how it was cataloged the record may be lacking the descriptor keyword(s) or the subjects that have not been tagged. It is important to remember that each individual cataloger thinks differently. For instance, the descriptive word floral might be used rather than flowers or vice versa when referring to a design on a plate.

So, here are a few tips that I use to save time and lessen frustration when preparing for my queries:
Make a List. Ask yourself what is it you are specifically trying to find. Take a few minutes to brainstorm everything associated with the object’s subject. Remember to think outside the box, because not every cataloger thinks the same way. If there is another staff member or intern in your office, ask them to make a list. Compare lists, chances are the lists may have overlapping similarities, but will be differ. Combined the lists may make query searches more productive.
Start with Nomenclature. Utilize tools such as controlled vocabularies to find the object terms by searching by term, class, sub-class, etc. These tools can help narrow down specific objects that are grouped by classifications and function. For instance, you may be looking for something to share on social media to align with the National Nutrition Month. You may start by looking at the objects in the collection classified under Food Processing & Preparation T & E.
Selecting Search Parameters. Remember the computer program will do what it is you ask it to do. Setting the search parameters is vital to the outcome of the search. Identify the fields and areas such as subjects that need to be searched by also remembering that searching singular or multiple fields will either narrow or widen search results. For instance, you may want to specifically search the description and inscription fields for words like “natural,” “health,” or “food.”

If you have additional ideas on how to make the best use of searching for information in your collection, please share them. Connecting with colleagues through AASLH and other associations is a great way to share resources and learn new ideas!


I Remember When – Part 8

Outwitting a Computer
It’s important to remember that a computer, despite all its power, speed and capability, is really a dumb plastic and/or metal box filled with equally dumb electronic widgets. It can do what it’s been told to do, but it can’t think. The thinking has to be done by the user.

The need for such thinking is often apparent in searching a collection database for a particular descriptive word among hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of entries.
I recall an instance, not very long ago, when I wanted to find a photograph of a pair of brick gatepost columns in a collection of some 23,000 artifacts, photographs and documents.
Not knowing whether the description of this photograph might have referred to “gatepost,” “gateposts,” “gate post” or “gate posts,” I cleverly (so I thought) ran a search query for “gate” with the expectation that this would cover all the possibilities I had envisioned.

To my surprise, the machine delivered far more “hits” than I had expected – and far more than the number of gates, or pictures of gates, that could possibly be in the collection. The computer hadn’t delivered the information that I wanted, but it had done exactly what I asked of it. The collection, as it turned out, included quite a few objects whose shape had been described as “elongate.” There were several “gate valves” among a small lot of antique plumbing fixtures. There was a bottle of patent medicine whose label claimed its ability to “mitigate” the discomfort of Catarrh; a printed card designed to help a Latin student “conjugate” verbs; a letter asking whether acceptance of a corporate grant would “obligate” an institution to display a corporate logo in its announcement of the grant-supported program; a newspaper clipping concerning a court trial and identifying the opposing attorneys who would “litigate” the case; and several items relating to Harvard College commencement exercises and identifying the times and places where various participating groups were to “congregate.”

“Oh $#%^&” I thought, as I set about to outwit the machine. This time I’ll search for “ gate” – i.e., the string I want, preceded by a blank space. This would weed out the spurious “elongate,” “mitigate,” “conjugate,” “litigate,” “obligate” and “congregate.” The “gate valves” would still be found, but I could easily ignore them. I had won -- this time!

That’s just one example that might be cited of the occasional need to work one’s way around the sometimes frustrating literal-mindedness of a computer that insists on doing exactly what you asked it to do, when that may not have been exactly what you wanted it to do. It’s often useful, before undertaking a database query, to think about how the machine (which has not a scintilla of common sense) will process the task you’ve assigned to it. That can help to avoid many “Oh $#%^&” moments, and the time required to conceive and process revised queries.

 

Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum
Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum

I Remember When - Part 7

Production Line Cataloging

I recall the experience of working with the volunteer staff of a shire (county) museum in Western Australia back around 1990, and training them to use a newly-installed collection management software system. The ladies had worked diligently and meticulously to tackle a large backlog of previously uncataloged collection items, and I congratulated them on their thoroughness. But I then pointed out that they had spent an entire afternoon to generate just four catalog records.

At that rate, and even if they were to work all day, every day, it would be many years before the backlog could be eliminated. In the meantime, their computer would “know,” and be able to search for and find, only the small proportion of the entire collection for which data had been entered.

I suggested an alternate strategy, one that I’ve advocated and used in a great many similar situations. Enter only very skeletal records, just very basic identification, more like “what is it / where is it” inventory data, until a first pass has been completed and there is at least a basic record in the computer for every object in the museum’s collection.

Ideally, it’s to be hoped that once that initial task is completed there will be enough staff energy and institutional priority remaining to undertake a more detailed in-depth expansion of the basic data originally entered. Cataloging, after all, is always a work in progress, with data being added or modified as new information comes to light.

I haven’t been privileged to revisit that shire museum since that training day decades ago, but I’ve offered the same advice to many other organizations, and have followed it myself in approaching major cataloging projects. It works. I’ve even put together some guidelines that I’ll be happy to share regarding what I’ve referred to as “Production Line Cataloging” and will send a copy as an e-mail attachment if you’ll contact me via the Nomenclature Community at nomenclature@aaslh.org.

Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum
Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum