“Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.”

The tools for storing ‘precious data’ need to be robust.  Having already introduced the concept of a documentation backlog (and how to combat it) in a previous post, I am going to go a little deeper.  First, by explaining what an accession register actually is.  It is the official administrative system used by the museum which lists all objects in a collection, typically in chronological order of accession number.

  • It proves that the objects within its pages belong to the museum.
  • It is the foundation for the museum’s documentation system.
  • Essentially, it is the museum’s memory.
  • It is a bound, hardback book with numbered pages.

As you can see from the images, the information is arranged in columns.  The descriptions in the register should match the electronic system and contain as much data as is known about the objects.  It is the most comprehensive record of the collection (accession number, date, type of donation, type of object, species name, era, origin, collector/donor information, etc. – as applicable).

There are cards that stay with the objects themselves which contain the basic information (such as accession number).  We also have record cards (also pictured) that are duplicated and contain a variety of information (but rarely as much as the accession register).

The policy is to never amend or delete information.  If (for whatever reason) objects in a collection get new accession numbers, these are added to the cards; they do not replace the old ones.  Although this might sound confusing, it is better to have a trail of numbers because you never know what scrap of paper or random letter you will discover that cites a redundant accession number.

In the register, and then on the electronic system, as much information is recorded.  This includes any distinguishing marks or differences.  The eggs are a good way to illustrate this.  Sometimes one clutch has an accession number, but contain five individual eggs, all with different marks or notes on them.  These can then be recorded individually under one accession number: 2011.141/1, 2011.141/2, etc.  Each entry then details these differences.  The idea is that if the labels or records cards are lost or destroyed, we can refer to the accession register and identify the individual eggs (for example).

I hope this explains the thinking behind some of the rigorous practises of museums.

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