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Inventory – the Spectrum standard

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You should 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, in deciding your policy you will most likely need to consider these questions:

  • Where is key inventory information held in your documentation system?
  • Does your numbering system meet the minimum requirements of this procedure?
  • 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 should 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, but however you do it, your own procedure should meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important
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, or for a box containing many pot sherds.
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 they came to be in your care (eg acquired, on loan). You can contact the owners of objects due to be returned.

You have no ‘orphan objects’ whose ownership is unclear.

If you have more than one type of collection (eg accessioned objects and a handling collection) you know which collection an object belongs to. You can make appropriate decisions about how to use objects.
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 can meet the minimum standard of accountability for the objects in its care.


Date created: 2017

Publisher: Collections Trust