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Organizing and Preserving Collections
part 1: The First Steps

I was inspired to research this topic for selfish reasons. The older I get, the further I find myself sinking under the rising tide of personal and family “stuff”. Moves, rummaging and time constraints have disrupted my rudimentary organizational systems, leaving my collections in semi-chaotic states. Not that there’s anything wrong with chaos… but it is very hard to preserve things when you don’t know exactly what you have or exactly where it is. "Preservation through Organization" is my new motto.

Collection Policy - what is your mandate? Every manageable collection has a raison d’être. Without one you are stuck with saving every pretty shiny thing that crosses your path. Clarifying the theme(s) of your collection(s) allows you to focus on what is important, unique and interesting to you, and to jettison the rest. In my own case, I came up with the following subject mandates: Family History and Personal Interests. The subjects are broad, but they give me a place to start, I can always fine-tune things later. Others will have different or additional mandates; there are no right or wrong answers.

Organize the “many” into smaller grouped collections When museums, art galleries and archives receive or purchase groups of related items, they usually try to retain the original organization of these items in what is called “natural collections.” As you look around your own possessions, you will likely find that they are already grouped into natural collections, or can be easily organized into one. If items have been grouped by a previous owner, the original order is kept whenever possible as it may give important context to the collection. In some cases a collection will consist of a single item.

Registration Once you have identified or created a collection, it is assigned a number and recorded in a ledger or software program. Following established registration methodology, the number starts with the year in which the collection is registered, e.g., 2010. The next number is the collection number, starting with 1. Individual items in the collection are then numbered, e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc., and in the case of items which have more than one part, each part is identified by a letter, e.g., a, b, c, etc. Suppose, for example, the first collection I registered this year was my grandmother’s china and I started with her teapot. The body would be numbered 2010.1.1.a, and the lid 2010.1.1.b. A platter in the same collection would be 2010.1.2. In each subsequent year, the numbering process starts anew: the first item in the first collection registered in 2011 will be assigned the number 2011.1.1.

Cataloguing The registration number allows for all the needful information associated with each item to be gathered in one place and systematically filed. Photograph, creator, materials, provenance, dimensions, condition, location - this is just some of the information that you may want to include in your catalogue sheet or software program. Collection Management is an ongoing process and is never really finished. It does, however, give you a structure to help you keep on top of things, and makes sure that your valuables are identified and given context for the next caretaker.

by Rebecca Pavitt -

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Source: http://http://www.preview-art.com/Conservators/11-2010/conservation.html


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Renay Conlin , General & Artistic Director , Toledo Opera
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