|MANAGING ARCHEOLOGICAL COLLECTIONS||8. COLLECTIONS MANAGEMENT|
Cataloging glass sherds at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Photo courtesy of Museum Management Program, National Park Service.
A repository depends on collections management activities to ensure the long-term care, preservation, and protection of its accessioned collections. The material remains and associated records, including digital data, of an archeological collection must be cataloged, then labeled, to make them accessible for a variety of uses. There are some differences in the steps and issues involved in cataloging material remains as opposed to associated records, which are presented below.
Cataloging is the process of recording all primary information about an object. With archeological collections, it also involves assigning a catalog number to an object that is specifically related to its archeological context or provenience and is often related to its accession number. While an accession number is usually applied to one collection or group of objects, the catalog number is specific to an object or a lot of like objects. The key purposes of cataloging are to record information that is useful for identification, organizing whole collections, and providing information to researchers and staff who want to use them.
While there are no absolute standards for cataloging archeological collections used by all repositories, there are some common categories used by many. Some federal (e.g., National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers) and state agencies catalog standardized information. As well, many repositories provide guidance on cataloging information they require. Typical cataloging information for objects include:
Additional categories for archeological objects should include:
The information collected during cataloging then goes into a catalog list or catalog file that includes information on all the objects in a collection. This information is valuable for grouping objects, and provides another link between objects, lots, associated records, and digital data in a project collection. Some of this information is sensitive, especially UTM coordinates of a site and excavation unit, and should not be accessible to the public. Therefore, it may be kept in the original accession file and linked to the catalog file by the numbers assigned.
Now, many repositories use computerized catalog systems. This allows for easier, quicker, and more complex sorting, grouping, and identification of objects for a number of uses. It also facilitates updating the data.
Archival Processing and Cataloging Associated Records
Document appraisal activities at the Stabilization Laboratory of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District's Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
The process of cataloging associated records involves some key steps and considerations before cataloging can begin. One is an initial assessment of the collection, which focuses on identifying the range of document types, condition, any legal issues involved, and further processing and preservation needs. It also involves providing basic care to individual items, particularly segregating those that require special treatments (e.g., folded oversized maps) and conducting minor conservation treatments. The latter may include dry cleaning, mending small tears with archival mending tissue tape, or humidification and flattening.
Another key step is archival processing of the records in a collection. During processing, the archivist researches and records the provenance of the collection, including information on its origin and history, and successive transfers of ownership and custody. Archival processing is based on the principle of original order, the arrangement of a collection of records as established by the creator. Within the original order, series and sub-series are identified, which function as natural sub-divisions rather like chapters in books, for long-term management. Common series and sub-series arrangements are chronological, topical, numerical, or alphabetical. During archival processing, archivists also weed out unnecessary duplicate records that have low value.
Following arrangement, archivists develop finding aids to the collection. This entails creating an archival records description and management system that is detailed enough to provide researchers and others with quick and easy access to the records they need. The level or detail of description for a record usually depends on its research value and anticipated use or needs -- the greater the value and anticipated use, the greater the detail. Finding aids are useful tools for organizing and finding description information. They generally include information on: creator or project; box, series, folder and/or item listings; volume of materials; type of record (paper, photographs, maps, etc.); intellectual contents and arrangement; condition; and any limitations on use or access. The archival profession has recently finalized a standard for archival finding aids in both paper and Web-encoded form called Encoded Archival Description (EAD.)
Archival cataloging itself follows a standard called Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) and focuses on the collection, not the individual item. However, an archival collection may be composed of a number of components that were donated or acquired over a period of time in a series of accessions. In these cases, the components are still cataloged as one collection. Sometimes cataloged at a lower level than the collection, such as series, are individual items that are in an exhibit or on long-term loan, are at risk due to condition or value, or are restricted due to copyright, privacy constraints, donor restrictions, or federal statute, such as the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. Individually cataloged items with sensitive or restricted data usually are separated from the collection, replaced by a separation sheet on acid-free paper that provides the new location, and are placed in a restricted storage location.
The catalog record for each archival collection and occasional individual item should contain standardized information, at a minimum, on:
Ceramic labeled in an inappropriate place on its broken edge. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Archaeology, City of Alexandria, Virginia.
Once a catalog number has been assigned to an object or lot of objects, that number must be attached to the object(s) for identification purposes. Every item should be labeled in the most permanent method applicable to its material and status in the collection, yet be reversible if the label must be removed or changed.
The method used to label an object depends on a variety of factors. These include: physical stability of its surface, its surface roughness, its porosity, its physical strength, and its flexibility. It is important to use methods and materials that are appropriate to the object and do not harm it in any way or, in other words, are chemically stable. The label number should be placed in an area that does not impact important diagnostic or aesthetic parts of the object, and minimizes the handling needed to view the number.
Directly marking an object is the preferred method because the identification number is less likely to be lost. The most common method for directly labeling objects involves a "sandwich" technique. Steps for this method are:
It is possible to remove a label if it is incorrect or applied in the wrong location. If a base coat and inked label have been applied, the ink may be removed with a cotton swab slightly moistened with water. This will not affect the lacquer base coat for the application of a new number. If all three layers have been applied, the lacquer and ink may be removed with careful application of the solvent acetone.
Some objects cannot be labeled directly. They may be too small or have unstable surfaces. Most paper, basketry, leather, textiles, and wood should not be marked directly. Acid-free tags may be attached to these objects by tying or sewing. Or, they can be placed in the sealed container with the object or on the housing of the container. When attaching labels, use materials compatible with the object and its storage location. In general, string or thread should be softer than the artifact's surface, should not cut through or into the object, should not be attached too tightly, and should not be colored or dyed.
Proper labeling of associated records, including photographs, audiovisual materials, and digitized data, is also essential. It provides a means to relate one or more record to specific objects or collections in order to obtain key provenience information about particular material remains or other analytical information. Again, labeling techniques, as well as the amount of information on the label, depend on the media.
It is best to place paper records in acid-free folders and label the folders. The labels may be handwritten in carbon ink or pencil, typed, or computer generated on archival adhesive labels (though these may eventually fall off). If paper documents must be labeled directly, preferably in the same location on each sheet such as on a reverse edge. If using pencil, such as a #4 graphite (2H), apply very little pressure and write very small. Critical information on the label should include: collection name and/or number, box number, and file number. Accession number, unique file title, and date may also be included.
Labeling photographic materials begins with proper handling. It is always wise to wear gloves (cotton or natrile) since the acid on fingers may cause permanent damage. Each image (negative, slide or print) should be stored in its own envelope or sleeve made of inert plastic or unbuffered paper with a neutral pH, high alpha cellulose, and lignin free, since buffer can damage photographs. Each image must be labeled with a unique identifying number. Photographic prints, slides and negatives should be labeled on the file, sleeve, or on unbuffered paper with a neutral pH, high alpha cellulose, and lignin free inserted in the sleeve. Prints also may be labeled directly in the border area of the reverse side, using indelible or permanent ink. Care should be taken to minimize the pressure applied when writing since it can cause the emulsion to crack. Negatives should never be directly labeled. The most critical information on photograph labels is: collection name and/or number and unique identifying number.
Typed or computer generated archival adhesive labels should be used for audiovisual materials on tape or reel and for electronic diskettes. These labels should contain collection name and/or number, accession number, unique identifying number, and a brief description of the contents. Diskette labels should also include the software, version, size and type of file(s), and date.
Below is a list of some materials that may be used for labeling and some that should be avoided. A conservator should be consulted on any questions about labeling. Whatever method is chosen, it is important to document all materials and methods used for both the objects and records.
Not only are archeological collections sometimes stored in inappropriate facilities, but these materials may suffer further from compression damage, water damage, and pest infestation. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
Proper packing and storage of objects and associated records is essential for their long-term preservation. Poor storage, involving the containers, shelving, and storage environment, has probably been the biggest factor in the deterioration of many archeological collections over the last hundred years.
In the field, the principal investigator and archeological staff should try to use stable and long-lived materials for initial packing of objects. Often these "temporary" containers house objects and records for years. Consequently, they should also be labeled immediately. Using containers of stable materials, especially those of archival quality, at the start of a project can save time and money that otherwise will have to be spent later on rehousing the collection.
In general, until it is assessed, stabilized, and prepared for permanent storage, an object should be kept in a storage environment that closely resembles its in situ conditions. Records should be kept in a storage environment that minimizes deterioration from significant fluctuations in temperature and humidity, water leakage, and pest infestations.
Once initial analysis and processing of an object, object lot, or group of records is complete, the item, lot, or group should be placed in appropriate long-term housing. For artifacts, an artifact container, such as a bag, box, or sleeve made of acid-free paper or plastic, is the receptacle that holds one object. For associated records, such a container is usually a file folder. A storage container, such as larger boxes, drawers, and cabinets, holds numerous artifact containers or record file folders.
The type of artifact, records, or storage container used is based on a number of criteria. These include:
The type of storage and/or artifact container used may also depend on funding and space limitations. Unfortunately, few repositories have the space or funds for ideal packaging and storage of all the material remains and associated records they manage. At the very least, it is important for all objects to be fully supported and have readily visible, proper provenience data on the containers. In some cases, objects and/or records should not touch each other (see above). For example, never store colored papers, ink, photos, or maps directly next to buffered paper.
Once a storage container is selected to house a number of objects or records and the packing is completed, it may become necessary to remove an item to rehouse it in another sized container. If this is done, it is important to carefully document the removal from the original container and identify the new location.
Below is a table of materials that should and should not be used for packing and storing material remains. In general, containers should be self-closing. Rubber bands, twist ties, tape, string, staples, or heat sealing should not be used to close containers.
Specific Notes on Associated Records
Inappropriate packaging of archeological associated records. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
The biggest challenges for associated records involve using the correct storage materials for particular types of records in association with a good storage environment (see also next sub-section).
Paper records should only be stored in archival quality housing, particularly paper, folders, and boxes with a neutral pH. Items should be unfolded and most paper records should be stored vertically in folders within storage boxes. Oversize items should be stored flat to avoid sagging.
Temperature and relative humidity (RH) should be kept within proper ranges in order to prevent mold or the embrittlement of paper. A good temperature range for paper records is between 60-75 °F and a good RH range is between 40-55%.
All metal fasteners (paper clips, staples), rubber bands, and adhesives (post-it notes, tape, adhesive labels) should be removed from individual records. Since the deterioration of such fasteners can leave residues on the records and cause further harm to the material, any damage and loss of information should be carefully recorded.
Different copying and printing processes also require special storage and conservation needs. Blueprints and newsprint should be stored separately from other paper because they are chemically unstable. Older copying processes, such as carbon copies or Photostats, deteriorate and fade rapidly. They should be copied onto archival quality materials. If a record is separated out for any reason, a separation sheet should be inserted that indicates the new storage location.
Acceptable storage system for photographic slides -- appropriately cataloged, labeled, and stored in a baked-enamel specialty cabinet constructed for slide storage. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
Packing and storing photographs, negatives, and slides differ somewhat from the methods and materials used for paper records. Photographs should be stored in individual sleeves that are non-buffered, have a neutral pH, and are made of archival quality paper or inert plastics, such as polyethylene. Vertical, supported storage containers should also be used.
Cold storage with a low RH are good for photographic materials that do not require frequent or regular access (no more than once a year) -- an RH between 20-50% and temperatures at 35-40°F. If photographs are placed in cold storage, the temperature and RH must be closely aligned in order to prevent condensation. Also, inert plastic sleeves should not be used to house individual photographs in cold storage.
More specific storage and conservation needs are dependent on the film processes used. Black and white pictures are much more stable than color. Older film, such as cellulose nitrate and cellulose ester films are highly unstable. Nitrate film can also be very combustible. Separate cold storage and copying of these materials is necessary. Badly deteriorated film should be disposed of since it poses health, safety, and fire risks.
The relatively recent widespread use of electronic and digital media, such as computer diskettes, magnetic tapes, and compact discs, have resulted in some interesting research concerning their preservation and storage. Guidelines for the life expectancy of these materials and how best to take care of them are now available. In general, electronic or digital media should be stored in a dust free environment and away from any magnetic fields. Storage in inert plastic containers and in a vertical position are usually the best. These materials are sensitive to temperature and RH fluctuation, especially excessive heat. (CDs are more prone to RH problems.) A range between 62-68 °F and 30-40% RH is acceptable. Tapes should be rewound and refreshed periodically to ensure viability. Magnetic media should be copied at least every five years. Digital media should be continuously migrated to newer file formats in order to be compatible with newer software and hardware.
As Eiteljorg (1998) emphasizes, however, archeological data in digital format may become relatively useless, despite migration and reformatting over time, if the creator of the data does not provide complete and timely supporting documentation about the data and its structure. This includes file names, relationships between files, data standards, the methods used to compile the data, and level of data accuracy. This supporting documentation, called metadata, must be stored with the digital data.
Rapid technological changes also affect digital records. Much electronic and digital archeological data created five-ten years ago are now in non-current formats that cannot be accessed by contemporary hardware and software. Time and funds now have to be spent on migrating data to new formats and purchasing or maintaining compatible hardware and software to read and use the data. When digital records and data are upgraded and transferred to new software or hardware specifications, they should be tested immediately for completeness of the transfer. For magnetic media, playback equipment must be kept in good condition. Because of their short use life and short conservation life span, it is advisable to make copies of magnetic and digital records on other media, such as paper or microfilm. Any copies made should be placed onto longer-lived media than the original.
Here is a table of materials that should and should not be used for packing and storing associated records.
High risk storage location (next to water valve). Photo courtesy of the Art Conservation Center @ Univ. of Denver (formerly RMCC), Denver, CO.
The overall storage environment is one of the most important variables in the long term preservation and conservation of objects and associated records. It encompasses both the physical area(s) where collections are kept, as well as the physical safety of the items. In general, the storage environment involves the spatial layout of the storage area(s), controls over the environment, and disaster planning.
Oversight of the storage environment is oriented towards mitigating the risks to collections, including: physical forces (e.g., flood, earthquake, tornado), fire, water, theft, pests, pollutants, light and radiation, incorrect temperature, incorrect relative humidity (RH), health of staff, and custodial neglect. Policies and procedures, such as a detailed risk management plan, should be in place to address controlling and minimizing these risks. Their negative effects can also be minimized through proper training, decreasing handling of objects and records, controlling access, and maintaining housekeeping procedures.
Layout and Equipment
The specific layout of a storage area depends on the types and number of materials in individual collections and in the repository overall. In general, the layout should minimize risks, while maximizing accessibility for repository staff.
The choice of what storage equipment to use is often complex. Some equipment that is safe for objects may also be very expensive. Closed storage cabinets are usually preferable because they keep out dust, minimize exposure to air and light, and can be locked. When open shelving is used to reduce costs, objects should be kept covered. For associated records, it is best to store them in neutral pH folders within archival flip-top boxes on open shelves to minimize costs while maximizing access and good storage practices.
Long-term storage should be separated from other activity space, such as exhibition, research, object preparation, conservation, and administration. Such physical separation enhances security and protection for objects and records. It also enables the use of storage environments that are beneficial to the collections, but may not be ideal for humans to work in on a day-to-day basis (e.g., lower temperature and humidity, low light levels, etc.). Some repositories use off-site storage facilities. There are advantages to these in terms of activity segregation and use of space, but there can be drawbacks when it comes to access, security, and monitoring.
Furthermore, environmental controls should be located in a repository to control the temperature, humidity, light levels, Ultraviolet (UV) rays, pests, and air pollution that may harm collections. Proper environmental controls are important for minimizing deterioration rates, extending object life, and decreasing conservation needs. While some controls need to be located amongst the collections, such as fire suppression systems and humidity monitoring, others need to be separated from the collections, such as the heating and cooling system, whenever possible.
Environmental monitoring at the Anasazi Heritage Center. From the photograph collection of the Bureau of Land Management, Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature and relative humidity (RH) are two of the most important aspects of the storage environment to control. Extreme levels and fluctuations of temperature and RH can be devastating to many materials, especially wood, leather, bone, paper, photographs, and electronic media. Temperature and humidity may be monitored through the use of a hygrothermograph or data logger. Acceptable ranges depend on the object or record material. In general, a good RH range is 40-60% (although this is too high for photographic materials) and a good temperature range is 68-72° F. It is always better to have a temperature and RH that are constant (within or slightly outside of the recommended range) than to have fluctuating levels.
Consistent levels can be accomplished in a number of ways. One is to create buffering zones and microclimates for the objects or records themselves. An artifact in a polyethylene bag, placed in a box, and stored in a cabinet is not as affected by outside environmental fluctuations. Another common method for buffering RH is the use of silica gel, an inert material that is usually used to absorb excess humidity. It may also be conditioned to maintain a constant RH.
Light and UV rays
Light and ultraviolet rays may be very damaging to many materials, especially textiles, paper, wood, and photographs. Light should be kept low in storage areas when work is taking place and off the rest of the time. Natural light should be avoided. Ultraviolet light (UV) should be filtered to block it out. Ideally, the storage area should contain no windows, lights should be turned off in areas not in use, and closed cabinets should be used when possible. Light levels may be monitored easily with a light meter. Levels should be kept between 50-300 lux, depending on the item, in exhibition spaces. The actual time an object or record spends in the light is also a factor in deterioration. A range of 96,000-576,000 total annual lux hours is the recommended range for most items (Read 1994).
Snake skin and dirt in the bottom of a collapsed artifact box. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Archaeology, City of Alexandria, Virginia.
Pests vary enormously from the smallest mite to the largest rodent. They can wreak major havoc on collections (as seen with our "mascot" -- a mouse that ate through a prehistoric basket in storage). Careful monitoring of pest activity in storage areas (and throughout the entire repository) is essential for the health of the collections. The most common approach to pest control in repositories today is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a systems approach that emphasizes prevention, use of the least toxic methods, and treatment of the building as one system.
Prevention entails consistent monitoring and inspection for pests and pest problems. Preventive measures can include locating and eliminating pest attractors, using sticky traps, and locating and eliminating pest entrances. When pest problems do arise they can be combated through the use of low or non-toxic procedures such as vacuuming, traps, freezing, and oxygen deprivation that pose little or no harm to humans and the collections. When these methods are not enough, experts should be consulted about applying more toxic methods, such as fumigants and pesticides.
There are a number of other materials that can put both the collections and the collections management staff at risk. Some of the principal ones are discussed here. All underscore the utility of an Integrated Pest Management program, as well as the need to perform periodic inventories, facilities inspections, and risk assessments in a repository.
Microorganisms, such as mold and mildew, may grow on the surface of organic matter (e.g., wood objects, paper) and may irritate human lungs or lead to disease, especially in the presence of dampness or decay. They produce irregular stains that may seriously damage museum items, including paper, leather, wood, and cloth. Low relative humidity (ideally between 45-55%, but below 65%) and lower temperatures help to reduce microorganism growth. Only extreme cold or heat destroys them.
A potentially more serious health risk to repository staff and others, as well as a contaminate of collections, is deteriorating asbestos. A popular building material used between 1940-1975, it can be found in the insulation, fireproofing and other components of a repository ceiling, walls, and floors, as well as in many other locations. Asbestos is activated when cut, crushed, scraped, or released from its binding materials in other ways. The tiny, abrasive fibers may then enter the human airways and lungs and lead to a variety of serious diseases. It is best not to work in pre-1975 areas with exposed insulation, damaged walls, ceilings, or floors, or where renovation or repair work is occurring. If work in asbestos contaminated areas cannot be avoided, protective clothing, gloves, and a respirator is essential.
Hantavirus is one of several serious respiratory diseases transmitted primarily as airborne particles. Hantavirus is caused by dried saliva or feces of deer mice. These and other rodents can get into museum collections. Therefore, in high risk areas of the American west, it is advisable to quickly process and rehouse newly received archeological collections, perform regular housekeeping procedures, and carefully assess and inventory collections in newly acquired, remote facilities.
Drawer storage system for archeological artifacts. Note system includes security bar to ensure drawers stay in place during seismic activity. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
Another health risk to repository staff, researchers, culturally affiliated groups, and other users of museum collections are the toxic residues from pesticides once used on old collections to kill insects. The residues from arsenic compounds, mercury salts, and various other toxic fumigants may lie on museum objects for years until stirred up by human activity. At that time, the toxins may penetrate a person and cause serious health problems. Conservators and scientists are researching ways to detect contaminated items, to identify the source and quantity of contamination, and to handle removal.
Security, Disaster, and Fire Protection
The archeological objects and associated records, including digital data, in a repository are irreplaceable. Security and protection from loss are therefore essential aspects of the storage environment. Big risks to the complete loss of individual items or whole collections are theft, natural disaster, and fire.
Security against theft can be achieved through practical methods or advanced security systems. Relatively inexpensive ways to increase security involve restricting access to collections in storage, as well as to different areas of the repository. Thus, all access to and use of collections should take place in a supervised research room with sign in and sign out procedures in place. There should also be a system of controls over who can use particular keys to specific rooms on what occasions. Regular and systematized inventory of the collections also helps to detect theft. More expensive and detailed procedures may include the use of locked storage or exhibition containers, security personnel, and electronic intruder or theft detection systems.
There are several possible natural disasters that could affect repository collections, especially flooding, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Repository managers need to evaluate the likelihood of any of these or other disasters in their geographical area. They should then create a disaster management plan that considers the site of the repository (e.g., it is in a flood plain), its physical layout and construction materials, and the nature of the collections it contains.
Protection from fire is also critical. Appropriate fire detection and suppression systems should be in place. Detection systems may monitor heat, smoke, or flames. Many repositories use sprinkler systems (wet or dry) for fire suppression. The use of fire-resistant storage and exhibit containers can also minimize risk to objects, especially for highly flammable items such as textiles, paper, and wood.
Fire protection for associated records involves a stable environment protected by a sprinkler system and a good smoke and fire alarm system. It may also include creating a safety copy, a record duplicate for access and use. Associated records are generally not housed in fire resistant file cabinets for several reasons. Due to their quantity, the weight could buckle most floors, the cost of the file cabinets would be prohibitive, and it would be very difficult to provide researcher access to records stored in cabinets as opposed to moveable boxes. Also, the fire-protective qualities of these cabinets may diminish over time.
Policies and procedures for the prevention of fire are also important. These may include identifying, monitoring, and eliminating fire hazards; the segregation of flammable materials; and training staff on emergency procedures.
Conservation and preservation
Conservator testing ethanol on a pot. Photo courtesy of the Art Conservation Center @ Univ. of Denver (formerly RMCC), Denver, CO.
The preservation and conservation of archeological objects and associated records is a continuing process. The goal is to maintain an item in a stable condition. All items have a limited life span and are never immune to agents of deterioration, no matter what measures are taken. Archeological materials face even more conservation and preservation problems because they are already old and deteriorated. Active conservation measures can be costly and decisions on proper care need to be considered carefully. This is one reason why conservation and preservation should be a collaborative effort between conservators, archeologists, curators, archivists, and registrars. As well, such considerations need to begin before a field project starts (see Sections V and VI).
One of the best approaches to conservation is prevention. It may take less time, less money, and less effort to slow down or prevent deterioration than it takes to repair or replace material remains or records after they have deteriorated. Prevention involves proper housing using long-lived and durable containers, storage, and handling. It also involves constant monitoring and control of both the physical environment and the collections themselves, many of the measures previously outlined for packing and storage. Condition reports are another essential element of the monitoring process. These may be prepared by collections management staff or conservators and need to be readily accessible in an accessions file or similar location.
A condition report is "an accurate and informative account of an object's state of preservation at a moment in time" (Demeroukas 1998:53). Archival materials also require a condition report, however. Condition reports may be used to:
A condition report for objects should include:
A condition report for associated records should include:
Buckskin jacket in humidification chamber. Photo courtesy of the Art Conservation Center @ Univ. of Denver (formerly RMCC), Denver, CO.
The documentation in a condition report may be textual notes, sketches, and/or photographs. It is important to maintain consistency in these reports. Items should be examined in a consistent manner and under consistent conditions. Consistent use of terms and qualifiers is also important (i.e., good, bad, scratched, abraded, etc.).
Establishing an item's or collection's condition may aid in the identification of further conservation needs. There are five basic types of conservation that may be applied (adapted from UKIC 1983 guidelines).
Specific conservation treatments vary for every item. Detailed conservation work should only be attempted by a trained conservator. An inferior conservation treatment often causes more harm than good.
Below is a chart of some basic cleaning and storage measures for common archeological materials, including associated records (Cronyn 1990; Sease 1994; Puglia 1999a). These are only generalizations. Specific courses of action depend on the item's archeological environment, state of deterioration, and expected use. Again, consult with a conservator before doing any active treatments. Regardless of the choice of conservation, every procedure and material used should be fully documented for future archeologists, conservators, archivists, and others.
Photographic processing and cataloging activities at the Stabilization Laboratory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District's Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
Collections inventories are an important aspect of good collections management. They are useful for updating location information on objects, updating location information on associated records at the collection level, identifying conservation needs, aiding in security, and helping researchers access particular items. Inventories can also be used as a basis for planning, budgeting and accountability. Similarly, archival collection level surveys are used to plan archival processing activities (arrangement, rehousing, producing finding aids, and cataloging.)
Inventories may take some considerable time and funding to complete and maintain. As a result, inventorying often has been an overlooked aspect of collections care with the result that many repositories, as well as federal, state, tribal and local agencies, have had little idea about the exact contents of their collections. The passage of NAGPRA and 36 CFR 79 has helped change that. NAGPRA required repositories to complete inventories of all Native American human remains and associated funerary objects by 1995. 36 CFR 79 requires repositories to conduct "periodic" inventories and inspections of any federal collections that they care for and manage.
For objects, inventories function as periodic checks to account for items in a collection and to update their accession and catalog records. There are three basic types of inventory used by repositories. A complete inventory accounts for every object. A sectional inventory involves the inventory of only one section of the storage area, one collection, or one type of object. Sometimes, depending on funds and staff, a repository might devise and implement a continuing schedule of sectional inventories to make up a complete inventory over a particular period of time. A spot inventory is the third type. It is very limited in scope and only involves checking a small part of the collection, often using a random sampling procedure. Spot inventories are useful for quickly checking the accuracy of records and location information.
The type and amount of inventory done usually depends on the repository's collection size, funding, types of materials housed, and mission. Regardless of how it is completed, all objects and associated records in the collections should be inventoried periodically, the more frequently the better. This includes not only items in storage but also those on exhibit, loan, or undergoing conservation. Archival collections, on the other hand, are usually inventoried upon acquisition by collection unit, not individual records. After archival processing (arrangement and description), the finding aids produced take the place of an inventory.
Planning and scheduling inventories is an important task due to the staff time and funds involved. Planning includes determining the minimum amount of critical information that needs to be recorded. Inventory information usually includes object number, name, location, and condition. Information collected during an inventory should then be reconciled with repository records to ensure that it is correct and up-to-date. Organization is the key to a smooth and fast inventory. If the storage containers, objects, and collections are well organized and labeled, the inventory process should not be difficult.
Time and energy spent on inventories also may be minimized with the use of computerized inventory and catalog systems. Computer programs manipulate, search, and retrieve data faster and more completely, thereby increasing the value and usefulness of inventory information. Computerized cataloging and labeling systems, such as barcodes and barcode scanners, are becoming more common in repositories and can noticeably facilitate the inventory process.
Records and data management
In general, a repository manages two types of records related to archeological projects -- the records generated by the repository during day-to-day operations and the associated records of an archeological project. The care and management of archeological associated records have been discussed in previous sections as an integral part of archeological collections management.
What has not been fully presented is the management of the repository records and the information they contain. Repository staff both create and manage numerous records, those that document day-to-day activities and those that record specific information about the objects, associated records, and collections themselves over time. Detailed and consistent management of these records is essential to ensure their long-term usefulness for repository staff, researchers, resource managers, and others. Records may be produced in a number of media, such as ink, toner, or pencil on paper; photographs and film; digital, audiovisual, and magnetic media; and microforms such as microfilm.
Given the broad range of records created and managed by a repository, it should have policies and procedures in place to handle the records management life cycle -- the phases of creation, maintenance and use, and disposition. Importantly, however, records management may be handled somewhat differently by the various types of repositories discussed in Section VII based on laws, regulations, directives by the Board of Directors, or other guidance for this activity. In particular, federal repositories must follow the requirements specified in the Federal Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and their accompanying regulations. Many states may have similar laws, including Sunshine laws, and policies that affect state repositories and archives. Private museums, academic repositories, tribal cultural centers, and historical society museums, however, may choose to follow standards set out by professional societies, such as the Society of American Archivists, the Academy of Certified Archivists, and the Association of Information Management Professionals.
In the life cycle of records management, the creation of records involves a number of considerations. These include:
The second phase of the records management life cycle is maintenance and use, which involves the organization, storage, access and retrieval of repository records and data. This is when filing systems (paper or digital) are used to separate repository records from other documentary materials, as well as to efficiently and effectively retrieve specific records. It also when security and backup measures are used to protect records from loss or damage by natural or human causes, unauthorized change or deletion, and leaking of confidential or sensitive material. Other considerations include:
The vast majority of the repository records discussed above remain in active use and should be stored and managed following standard archival procedures. Some records, on the other hand, may become candidates for disposition when the items they document are deaccessioned or transferred. At this third stage in the records management life cycle, the status of records change from active to inactive and, in some cases, to temporary. This is when the records schedule, a written guide for identifying how long to keep temporary records, how to dispose of them, and who should hold an organization's permanent records when they are inactive, comes into play.
Scheduling the disposition of records is complex. It may involve temporarily storing records for a specific period of time in an appropriate storage facility. For records of continuing value (e.g., they fit in the repository's scope of collections and mission), this may involve transferring their custody to a designated archive (the National Archives and Records Administration for federal records) where the records are arranged, rehoused, described in a finding aid, cataloged, and made accessible for use. The last means to dispose of records is to destroy them.
The bibliography for this section is very large. Therefore, we have grouped the citations by the sub-section titles, except for the first group that includes all general references to collections management.
American Association of Museums
1984 Caring for Collections: Strategies for Conservation, Maintenance, and Documentation. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Buck, Rebecca A., and Jean Allman Gilmore, eds.
1998 The New Museum Registration Methods. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Case, Mary, ed.
1988 Registrars on Record: Essays on Museum Collections Management. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Childs, S. Terry
2004 Our Collective Responsibility: The Ethics and Practice of Archaeological Collections Stewardship. Washington, DC: Society for American Archaeology.
Fahy, Anne, ed.
1995 Collections Management. New York: Routledge.
Griset, Suzanne and Marc Kodack
1999 Guidelines for the Field Collection of Archaeological Materials and Standard Operating Procedures for Curating Department of Defense Archaeological Collections. St. Louis, MO: Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
1998 "Preparation." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 121-124. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Lord, B. and G. Lord
1997 The Manual of Museum Management. London: The Stationary Office.
Magid, Barbara H.
1991 Buried in Storage: The Alexandria Archaeology Collections Management Project. Technical Leaflet #178. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History.
Malaro, Marie C.
1998 A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Neller, Angela J.
2004 "The Future Is in the Past: Native American Issues in Archaeological Collections Care and Management." Our Collective Responsibility: The Ethics and Practice of Archaeological Collections Stewardship, S.T. Childs, ed., pp. 123-135. Washington, DC: Society for American Archaeology.
Pearce, Susan M.
1996 Archaeological Curatorship. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
1998 "Contracts." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 215-223. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Odegaard, Nancy and Grace Katterman
1992 Guide to Handling Anthropological Museum Collections. Los Angeles: Western Association for Art Conservation.
1998 "Integrating Native Views into Museum Procedures: Hope and Practice at the National Museum of the American Indian." Museum Anthropology 22(1):33-42.
Society for Historical Archaeology
1993 Standards and Guidelines for the Curation of Archaeological Collections. Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter 26(4).
Sullivan, Lynne P.
1992 Managing Archaeological Resources from the Museum Perspective. Technical Brief No. 13. Washington, DC: Archeological Assistance Division, National Park Service, Dept. of the Interior.
Sullivan, Lynne P., and S. Terry Childs
2003 Curating Archaeological Collections: From the Field to the Repository. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Thompson, John M. A. (ed.)
1992 Manual of Curatorship: A Guide to Museum Practice, 2nd edition. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Cataloging." Museum Property Handbook, Volume II: Documentation of Museum Property, Chapter 3. Washington, DC: U.S Department of the Interior.
1993 "Estimating Cataloging Costs." Museum Property Handbook, Volume II: Documentation of Museum Property, Appendix B. Washington, DC: U.S Department of the Interior.
1993 "Lot Cataloging." Museum Property Handbook, Volume II: Documentation of Museum Property, Appendix E. Washington, DC: U.S Department of the Interior.
National Park Service
2000 "Cataloging." Museum Handbook, Part II, Museum Records, Chapter 3. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
2000 "Lot Cataloging." Museum Handbook, Part II, Museum Records, Appendix I. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Marking and Numbering Museum Property." Museum Property Handbook, Volume II: Documentation of Museum Property, Appendix J. Washington, DC: U.S Department of the Interior.
1998 "Marking." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 65-78. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Sullivan, Brigid and Donald R. Cumberland
1993 "Use of Acryloid B-72 Lacquer for Labeling Museum Objects." Conserve O Gram 1/4.
1993 " Storage Enclosures for Photographic Prints and Negatives." Conserve O Gram 14/2.
1993 "How to Flatten Folded or Rolled Paper Documents." Conserve O Gram 13/2.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Handling, Packing, and Shipping." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 8. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
Ford, Richard I.
1980 A Three Part System for Storage of Archaeological Collections. Curator 23(1):55-62.
1995 "Buffered and Unbuffered Storage Materials." Conserve O Gram 4/9.
National Park Service
1999 "Handling, Packing and Shipping Museum Objects." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Chapter 6. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
Rose, Carolyn L., Catherine A. Hawks, and Hugh H. Genoways,
1995 Storage of Natural History Collections: A Preventative Conservation Approach. Vol. 1, Washington, DC: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.
1994 "Working with Polyethylene Foam and Fluted Plastic Sheet." Technical Bulletin 14. Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute.
1991 Guide to Environmental Protection of Collections. Madison, CT: Soundview Press.
Breisch, Nancy L., and Albert Greene
1998 "Integrated Pest Management." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 255-266. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Cato, Paisley S.
1998 "Security and Fire Protection Systems." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 251-254. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Biological Infestations." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 6. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Museum Property Storage." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 9. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Museum Property Security and Fire Protection." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 11. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Museum Property Emergency Planning." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 12. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Monitoring the Environment." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Appendix F. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1998 "Hazards in the Workplace." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 341-347. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
1995 "Pest Management." In Storage of Natural History Collections: A Preventive Conservation Approach, C. Rose, C. Hawks and H. Genoways (eds.). Iowa City, IA.: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.
Knapp, Anthony M.
1995 "Hantavirus Disease Health and Safety Update." Conserve O Gram 2/8.
1993 "Mold and Mildew: Prevention of Microorganism Growth in Museum Collections." Conserve O Gram 3/4.
National Park Service
1996 "Museum Collections Security and Fire Protection." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Chapter 9. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
1999 "Museum Collections Environment." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Chapter 4. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
1999 "Museum Collections Storage." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Chapter 7. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
2000 "Museum Collections: Emergency Planning." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Chapter 10. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
1994 "An Insect Pest Control Procedure: The Freezing Process." Conserve O Gram 3/6.
Rose, Carolyn L. and Amparo R. de Torres, eds.
1995 Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions, Vol. 2. Washington, DC: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.
Suits, Linda N.
1998 "Hazardous Materials in Your Collections." Conserve O Gram 2/10.
1998 "Storage." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 109-119. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
1996 The Museum Environment, 2nd ed. London: Butterworths.
United Kingdom Institute for Conservation (UKIC)
1984 "Environmental Standards for the Permanent Storage of Excavated Material from Archaeological Sites." Conservation Guidelines, No. 3.
Conservation and Preservation
1992 Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Collectors and Curators. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Cronyn, Janey M.
1990 The Elements of Archaeological Conservation. New York: Routledge.
1998 "Condition Reporting." In The New Museum Registration Methods. Rebecca A. Buck and Jean Allman Gilmore (eds.), pp. 53-62. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Introduction to Museum Property Preservation." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 4. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Agents of Deterioration." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 5. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Conservation Treatment." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Chapter 10. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1993 "Documentation of Conservation Treatment." Museum Property Handbook, Volume I: Preservation and Protection of Museum Property, Appendix H. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
1996 Basic Methods of Conserving Underwater Archaeological Material. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, Legacy Resource Management Program.
1996 Managing Conservation in Museums. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.
1982 "The Selection, Conservation and Storage of Archaeological Finds." Museums Journal 82(2):115-116.
1986 "Archaeological Conservation Forum: 'This Is Not a Fixit Shop!'" Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter 19(2):33-36.
National Park Service
1990 "Museum Object Conservation Treatment." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Chapter 8. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
2000 "Curatorial Care of Archeological Objects." Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Collections, Appendix I. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
2000 Collections Conservation: Some Current Issues and Trends." CRM 23(5):38-41.
Pearson, Colin, ed.
1987 Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects. Boston: Butterworths.
1986 "Conservation and Storage: Archaeological Material." In Manual of Curatorship, pp. 203-238. London: Butterworths.
1988 Preventive Conservation. East Midlands Museums Service, (August 10, 1999).
1994 A Conservation Manual for the Field Archaeologist, 3rd edition. Archaeological Research Tools 4. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Institute of Archaeology.
United Kingdom Institute for Conservation (UKIC)
1983 Guidance for Conservation. London: UKIC.
1998 "Inventory." In The New Museum Registration Methods, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean A. Gilmore (eds.), p. 117-119. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Inventory and Other Special Instructions." Museum Property Handbook, Volume II: Documentation of Museum Property, Chapter 4. Washington, DC: U.S Department of the Interior.
National Park Service
2000 "Inventory and Other Special Instructions." Museum Handbook, Part II, Museum Records, Chapter 4. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
Records and Data Management
Chenhall, Robert and David Vance
1988 Museum Collections and Today's Computers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Department of the Interior
1993 "Accountability and Documentation." Museum Property Handbook, Volume II: Documentation of Museum Property, Chapter 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
Eiteljorg, Harrison II
1998 "Archiving Archeological Data in the Next Millenium." CRM 21(6):21-23.
Fowler, Donald and Douglas Givens
1995 "The Records of Archaeology." In Preserving the Anthropological Record, 2nd edition, Sydel Silverman and Nancy Parezo (eds.), pp. 97-106. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.
Fox, Lisa L., ed.
1996 Preservation Microfilming: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Ham, Gerald F.
1993 Selecting and Appraising Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists.
Kenworthy, Mary Anne, Elenor M. King, Mary Elizabeth
Ruwell, and Trudy Van Houten
1985 Preserving Field Records: Archival Techniques for Archaeologists. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, University Museum.
Miller, Frederic M.
1990 Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago, IL: Society for American Archivists.
National Park Service
1996 "Museum Archives and Manuscript Collections." Museum Handbook, Part II, Museum Records, Appendix D. Washington, DC: National Park Service.
1999 "Preserving Anthropology's Heritage: CoPAR, Anthropological Records, and the Archival Community." The American Archivist 62(2):271-306.
1998 "The Information Ecology of Archives." CRM 21(6):29-33.
1999a   "Creating Permanent and Durable Information: Physical Media and Storage Information." CRM 22(2):25-27.
1999b   "The Costs of Digital Imaging Projects." Research Libraries Group DigiNews 3(5).
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn
1993 Preserving Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists.
Ruwell, Mary Elizabeth
1995 The Physical Preservation of Anthropological Records. In Preserving the Anthropological Record, 2nd edition, Sydel Silverman and Nancy Parezo (eds.), pp. 97-106. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.
Silverman, Sydel, and Nancy J. Parezo, eds.
1995 Preserving the Anthropological Record, 2nd edition. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.
van der Reyden, Diane
1995 "Paper Documents". In Storage of Natural History Collections: A Preventative Conservation Approach, Carolyn L. Rose, Catherine A. Hawks, and Hugh H. Genoways (eds.) Vol. 1, pp. 327-353. Washington, DC: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.
Web version -- "Caring for Paper Artifacts"
Vogt O'Connor, Diane
1997 "Care of Archival Compact Discs." Conserve O Gram 19/19.
1997 "Caring for Photographs: General Guidelines." Conserve O Gram 14/4.
1998 "Caring for Photographs: Color Processes". Conserve O Gram 14/6.
1999 "Archives – A Primer for the 21st Century." CRM 22(2):4-8.
2000 "Care of Archival Digital and Magnetic Media." Conserve O Gram 19/20.
Vogt O'Connor, Diane and Dianne van der Reyden
1996 "Housing Archival Paper-Based Materials." Conserve O Gram 19/16.
1996 "Handling Archival Documents and Manuscripts." Conserve O Gram 19/17.
1990 Guidelines for the Preparation of Excavation Archives for Long-Term Storage. London: United Kingdom Institute for Conservation, Archaeology Section.
Warren, Susanne, ed.
1998 Introduction to Archival Organization and Description: Access to Cultural Heritage. Getty Information Institute.