I was hired through a grant to inventory and cross check with the online records all the objects at a small county museum with about 7,400 objects. Part of the collection is a shed full of agricultural equipment that is very unorganized. Its all accessioned, but mostly just stuffed and piled in a corner. There is also a room we call the "warehouse" that serves as collections storage for our larger artifacts. This room is also accessioned and somewhat organized, but still a mess. We want to reorganize the agricultural building so that the items are nicely arranged and so that their is room to bring visitors. We also want to rearrange our 'warehouse' so it is easier to access the objects as well as maybe add more room for future donations.
Anyway, I seeking advice to ask if anyone knows of any books, publications, leaflets, webinars, etc.; that could provide some guidance and/or best practice to approach this process? Any advice would be very appreciated.
I have gone through several very similar projects and there is no textbook approach. You pretty much have to pull everything out, sort out the material that should go away (de-accessions), clean, re-label/number and photograph everything, and then put it back in an orderly fashion. Heavy steel shelving might help organize the smaller implements. Good luck! Hopefully you don't have Brown Recluse spiders that far north.
Run, do not walk, to Amazon and buy Managing Previously Unmanaged Collections by Angela Kipp: http://www.amazon.com/Managing-Previously-Unmanaged-Collections-Practical/dp/1442263482
It is brand new and is written by a collections professional who deals with exactly what you have. It is amazing and should be on everyone's bookshelf who has ever had to (or will have to) deal with a "Warehouse".
I agree with David Beard's approach; this is your opportunity to really wrap your hands and your brain around the collection. A full inventory, though it will be tedious will be a great boon to the institution and to your career. Also this is your time to do a baseline inventory with photographs and basic descriptions, and tagging (even if it doesn't have an obvious accession number, I tag items to track them as a Found in Collection (FIC) number). If it's not done already storage units should be numbered in a simple system so that you can track movements and placement of items. Our system is based on the acronym BRUSS (Building/Room/Unit/Section/Shelf) to create a 5 digit location code; it seems a bit much at times, but we also have 11 storage buildings. Create a simple Excel spreadsheet database to track the items -- even paper worksheets to use if you can't bring computers into the storage areas.
Take your time and keep the staff updated as much as possible.
I agree with all the excellent advice you already got (and thank you Janice, for the plug for my book :-) ).
There will also be a free Connecting to Collections Care Webinar in September about this topic, but of course you have to start now.
I wanted to add that whatever you do, remember in the first step to take more photos and touch less things, so you can always get back to those photos if there are parts lost or re-appearing and you need to find out to which machinery they belong. Along with the value as a working tool the photos will be very helpful for showing your progress to higher-ups.
Whatever you do, don't let anybody hasten your actions. This is a marathon, not a sprint and working steps carefully planned beforehand will safe you a lot of time in the long run.
Personal note: my faithful security boots with steel toe protection and sole saved my feet more than once when working with agricultural collections. And leather gloves come in handy if you encounter an agressive rodent down there in the piles.
Best of luck!
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