Something I’ve been doing in one of my volunteer positions lately is working on the collections database to upload photographs of the objects. Besides the artefacts, the database of artefacts is basically the most important thing in a museum.
The first use of a collections catalogue is documentation. You start by writing a number code on the piece (called an accession number) which is then added to the database, along with an accurate description of the piece (including its size, materials, uses, age and condition). If you have the information, it’s also useful to add who donated the piece and any story that came with it.
Once it’s part of the system, it’s now possible to keep track of where the items are going or staying. For example, an item might have its home location on a certain shelf, but if you find it’s not there you can then check the database to see that it’s been lent to another museum. Having all of the objects recorded with material type, age or genre (e.g. farming, WWI) makes it simple to account for all objects of that subject for if you were to want to do an exhibition on, say, the Romans or shoes or what have you.
Working on databases for so long, you would think it would end up boring (and sometimes it can be) but actually, while updating the photos I’ve been able to see parts of the collection I never knew we had before. There are broken bombs, half empty medicine bottles with hand written labels saying “not to be taken”, old fossils and sea shells and a weird amount of mint boxes.
Like, why, who donated these?