“A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.”

Most museums have a documentation backlog. In order to be accredited, museums have to have a system in place to tackle that backlog. In Hereford’s case, for example, there are areas of the natural history collection (among others) that have not been accessioned or inventoried; these have to be done systematically, slowly ensuring that the entire collection (in an ideal world) will eventually be documented.

Documentation and database systems vary between museums (although there are broad themes and conventions that run throughout). When at the NHM we learned a bit about their collection database, KEMU; in Ludlow we use Adlib; Hereford uses MicroMusee. It’s useful to become familiar with different ones so that we can adapt and learn quickly (new jobs will require knowledge of different systems or, more realistically, experience of using one or more systems and the ability to learn about new ones).

As part of learning about Hereford’s system I joined my line manager, Sarah, and our colleague, David, when they were accessioning some of the egg collection. Some of them had been accessioned but not databased; whereas others had to be documented from scratch.

All entries are put into the accession register first. All the relevant information available with the specimen is included and then this same information is entered into the database, along with more detailed data, such as appearance and condition. In the case of the eggs, some of them were given accession numbers which had to be written on the labels with the specimens as well as on the specimens themselves. This is a delicate job and requires a very steady hand. Using a fine-nib ink pen, Sarah wrote the numbers over a thin layer of paraloid that she had painted on seconds before. This allows the ink to sit on top of it. The paraloid is then used to cover the number, sealing it in. Be sure to wait for the ink to dry: otherwise paraloid will wipe the ink away.

There is a large backlog and most museums will have a lot of material yet to document fully. Here are some images from when we did the eggs.

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