Inventorying Ins and Outs

Collections inventories are essential to harness both intellectual and physical control of an institution’s collections. Accurate information on a collection’s size and scope is a crucial element in discussions of an institution’s significance. The qualitative and quantitative data an inventory generates is especially useful when working with potential grantors, donors, and other stakeholders.

How often should an inventory occur? Appropriate intervals depend upon the size of an institution’s collection and the capacity of its staff: National Park Service standards include a random sample inventory each year to ensure the maintenance of good records and a 100% annual inventory if a site has fewer than 250 accessioned items or has a backlog of uncataloged objects. Some institutions have an inventory system that provides for the verification of records for a section or percentage of the collection each year. For especially large collections, a full inventory may be completed in 10-year cycles.

What is the best time of year to conduct an inventory? The answer depends on when your institution’s lowest visitation levels occur. For some institutions, winter may be the slow season, but for others, fewer field trips leave summer more open.

Intern Meredith Jones hard at work during OCHM’s summer collection inventory

The Orange County Historical Museum staff is currently inventorying its collections. For OCHM, summer not only made sense as a result of fewer school field trips, but also because graduate students from local museum studies programs are more available to help with the project. Director Brandie Fields estimates that the museum houses 3,000 objects, including archival materials. The museum formally accessioned its holdings in the 1980s but the all-volunteer staff stopped keeping records in the mid-1990s. Over the last decade since the organization hired its first director, record-keeping has been spotty. Fields began in her position a year ago and gaining a more detailed understanding of the collection’s size and scope is one of her big goals for the inventory project.

A close second after the goal of intellectual control (knowing what you have) is physical control (being able to access it). Fields intends to establish accurate location records for each object in order to be able to find artifacts and fulfill various requests. A tertiary goal is to assess condition problems and flag artifact groups for future re-housing projects. Additionally, Fields and her staff have made small storage improvements as they proceed with the inventory. In some cases, they have been able to unwrap objects within boxes and create dividers between each one out of tissue and/ or archival board. This allows for increased visual access, less future handling, and more cushioning between each artifact.

How often does your institution conduct inventories? Can you recommend any inventorying techniques that may be helpful to others working in North Carolina cultural heritage collections?

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on July 10, 2012, in collections access, collections care, collections management, museums, storage and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I would definitely recommend planning ahead for your paperwork. Before my interns came in for the summer I tested the paperwork I created and was able to make it more user friendly. I also have a system for entering the paperwork into digital files, making copies for my files and then attaching originals to the shelving/storage units.

    This way no matter what, the inventory will be accessible in the future. If you’re interested in seeing the forms, let me know.

  2. Inventory is a big headache for me as the collection is large (70 000 artefacts), many numbers are missing or partially missing and have a backlog of data entry. We also have a staff of one, me, I do what I can when I can.

  1. Pingback: Summer 2012 Reflection « OrangeNCHistory

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