Making time and policy for inventory
December 8, 2016 at 6:21 pm #135231
I am lead for a team developing a collections management policy for an institution that has never had one before. I put standard language about inventory procedures into the policy, and am getting major kickback that we can’t say we will do regular inventory–even spot checks–because we don’t have the time or staff. Have any other institutions dealt with managing to do some level of inventory even if it was impossible to do a full inventory? Do I need to insist that regular inventory is best practices and needs to be in our policy? Will it be an issue if we have it in the policy that we intend to do it, but aren’t actually able to conduct regular inventories? I am the only one in the institution with formal museum training and experience working under curators at a larger institution, and I was hired in part to bring the collections care up to higher standards, but I think sometimes the other team members consider me an annoyance because they were perfectly happy with how they were doing things.
December 9, 2016 at 10:44 am #135233Louise Stewart BeckParticipant
This is a tricky question, because what is best practice isn’t always practical, especially depending on the size of your collections. I’ve reached out to someone with better knowledge of inventory practices and procedures, I will keep you updated when they respond!
December 11, 2016 at 3:43 pm #135240Anne SchafferParticipant
I wonder if you’ve seen the recent Connecting to Collections Care webinar on Inventories? The section on building institutional support may be of particular interest.
December 12, 2016 at 3:24 pm #135241
Thank you SO MUCH, Anne. I hadn’t noticed this webinar. Looks like it will be very useful.
December 12, 2016 at 4:09 pm #135242Louise Stewart BeckParticipant
We’ve received an excellent response from one of our experts, Suzanne Quigley:
“Not an uncommon problem, but maybe the person could say more to the Board than ‘good practice’. If she hasn’t told them why an inventory is important, I can understand why they feel it is a waste of time. But it is not. The reasons for doing an inventory are clearly laid out in Malero, A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections, 2nd ed., SI Press, pp.409-411.
I wonder if these pieces were ever even accessioned, assigned a unique identifier, labeled with that number, locations recorded? I am assuming there is no database, but perhaps a ledger? Get that info recorded in an excel file for starters – it can eventually be mapped over to a proper system. Once an electronic file has been started for each object it is easy to sort by location (or add a location column, as the case may be)
I gather this is a very small museum. Four hours a day should be carved out to do a location by location inventory – interns are a wonderful and eager resource for this – retired volunteers as well. But someone needs to be with them for handling.
Another option is to do an annual high value inventory. Begin with the 100 highest value works and make sure you know where they are and what condition they are in.
As far as doing an inventory – it can actually go very quickly depending upon the depth of information gathered. I recommend the data captured should be just the bare essentials:
• the location (room, cabinet shelf – and of course each shelf is labeled with its number).
• the accession number
• title or type of object
• a condition code (1= exhibitable, 2= needs minor attention prior to exhibition, 3 = active deterioration).
• image (check mark = yes. Take a snap of the number and then a snap of the work)
Each sheet can be done on what looks like an excel file, columns up and down and across – 20-25 objects per sheet. Each sheet is numbered in advance, then dated and intitialed by the inventory taker as she or he proceeds. Data entry proceeds from here.
As far as spot checks go, ten randomly generated items each month is not too hard to do to verify locations/existence!).
I hope this helps. The very first step is to educate the questioners’s ‘powers that be’ on the importance of this task. Complete comprehensive inventories need not take forever. And they need not include detailed cataloging. That is another task altogether.”
Suzanne also had some comments on your original post – namely, that one of our jobs is to keep the board in the clear (legally), and that the board has a responsibility to make sure inventories are done, especially if you will be applying for grants. Different types of inventory are acceptable (location by location, by object type, high value, etc) and should be done every 5-7 years.
Best of luck, Carolyn! It can be a sticky issue, I hope this gives you some tools to get the rest of your organization on-board.
December 12, 2016 at 4:21 pm #135244
Excellent advice from Suzanne. Items actually are catalogued in PastPerfect, but not quite to the level of location detail that is usual. I had also reviewed Legal Primer and pointed out the information to my boss. So I think the need will be clear, and she is backing me up. What is really going to be useful, I think, are the additional inventory tips to make it go quicker and smoother.
December 31, 2016 at 8:57 am #135351EvelynParticipant
Regular inventories are difficult. I am required to do them yearly in some locations as they are accessible to the public (we are also a living history village). I only do location updates. I print an inventory list of numbers and locations from our database and then check them off and update.
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