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Use this procedure to check you have the basic information to be accountable for the objects in your care. If your museum has always met the minimum requirements for the other primary procedures, the answer will be yes and you should just keep up the good work. If no, this procedure will help you tackle the backlog.
The core inventory information you need for each object (or group of objects) is:
- A unique number.
- An object name.
- A brief description (or image), including the number of objects if a group.
- An up-to-date location.
- A record of who owns it (and, if you do, where it came from).
You will know when it makes sense to group your objects together. An example might be a cabinet of pinned insect specimens acquired as a single accession. For inventory purposes, you might record the whole cabinet and note how many specimens are in each drawer.
This procedure is about being able to list all your objects if and when you need to. If your collection has been well documented from the start, the information will be spread between accession registers, catalogue records, object entry forms, loan forms and other records. It might never get brought together into a single list, but it could be without too much difficulty.
If your collection has not been well documented, and you do not have this minimum information (even for groups of objects where appropriate), you should read the guidance below and develop a policy and procedure appropriate to your own museum. Your governing body should aim to achieve the minimum standard for this procedure within an agreed time period, and do all it can to make this happen.
[Subject to approval by the Accreditation partners, it is proposed that Inventory should replace Retrospective documentation as a Spectrum primary procedure. The latter, renamed Documentation planning, would deal more broadly with how to tackle any kind of documentation backlog. So far as Accreditation is concerned, the end result is the same: museums have an acceptable inventory of their collections.]
The Spectrum standard
You must have a policy on how you maintain inventory information for all the objects in your care. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, you should include answers to these questions:
- Where is key inventory information held in your documentation system?
- How will you make sure this information is kept up-to-date?
- How will you audit inventory information?
- If you do not meet the minimum requirement, how will you achieve it within the next five years?
- How will the governing body enable this to happen?
You must also have a written procedure that explains either how you will keep your existing inventory information up to date or how you will tackle your inventory backlog. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, and is available as a workflow diagram or as a text file you can edit. However you do it, you must meet the following minimum requirements:
|Minimum requirement||Why this is important||See (cross-references to be added in final version)|
|You have met the minimum requirements for all other primary procedures.||You are not creating a new backlog of objects without basic information.|
|From the various records in your system you could, if required, produce a complete list of every object (or group of objects) in your care.||You can account for every object you are responsible for, including your own collections, loans and items temporarily left with you.|
|Every object (or group of objects) has a unique number securely associated with it, linking your records to the physical items they describe.||You can identify the object you are looking for among a shelf of similar objects.|
|If a unique number refers to a group of objects, or one object with several parts, you record the number of individual items.||You can quickly make one inventory record for a drawer containing many insect specimens, for a box containing many pottery shards.|
|Every object (or group of objects) has a recorded name and brief description (or image).||You know broadly what each object is (eg ‘pot’, ‘postcard’, ‘drawer of butterflies’) even if it has not been catalogued in more detail.|
|You know the current location of every object (or group of objects) and when it was noted there.||You are able to find objects when you need them.
You could produce an accurate list of the objects in a location if needed for an audit or insurance claim.
|You know who owns each object (or group of objects) in your care, and how your objects were acquired.||You can contact the owners of objects due to be returned.
You have no ‘orphan objects’ whose ownership is unclear.
|If you do not currently meet the above requirements, you have an appropriate plan to do so within an agreed time period.||Your governing body is not meeting the minimum standard of accountability for the objects in its care.|