The Collections and Archives team* may be working remotely these days, but collections care doesn’t stop for a pandemic. Caring for and preserving the diverse array of historical materials at the Museum is a big job and an ongoing task as part of the Museum’s stewardship responsibilities. To help in these efforts, we recruited our team mascot, Hans, to share some of these tasks and explain why they are a priority in our work. Our staff is helping to oversee Hans’s work from afar…
Katie, the Museum’s Collections Cataloger has been coaching Hans on processing and rehousing collections materials. She has to make sure he doesn’t get ahead of himself in the process. Here’s how he’s helping her stay on track with her work.
- Although the inventory of our cultural collection has been put on hold while we work from home, Hans has been eager to help! Working systematically from drawer to drawer, we were in the midst of conducting the physical inventory of our Americana collection. This process involves examining each object and recording information like object ID, location, description, and condition.
- After completing the initial data capture and data entry phase, we will turn to records reconciliation – matching paper records (such as catalog cards and accession files) to their related objects. This process will allow us to compile all the information pertaining to a single object into one, complete record.
Once the inventory of our Americana Collection is complete, we’ll proceed to our sizable Native American Collection, and then it’s on to the rest of the world! The inventory is a big project, but the benefits will be immense!
- The process of rehousing helps to ensure the safety, security, and accessibility of objects. As part of the inventory and general collections care, we have been identifying storage areas that may have become overcrowded or need archival materials for better preservation.
- Padding objects with foam or separating objects into boxes helps to protect the artifacts, as they may shift when storage drawers are opened and closed.
- Artifact boxes, like those shown, are one way that we rehouse some of our smaller objects – things like shells, rocks, and eggs in our natural history collection, and dollhouse accessories and miniatures in our cultural collection.
- With the Museum currently closed, Hans is able to check on the display cases without the risks of being trampled on or being put into a child’s mouth! After Hans does his rounds to make sure that the objects in the cases are still safe and secure, he can’t help but engage in a little play! Play is valuable to everyone, and we hope that you, like Hans, find a way to fit some play into your day too!
As if that wasn’t enough, Archives Coordinator, Caroline, also has Hans processing archival materials. Hans may be small but no task is too big.
- The Museum Archives collect, preserve, and make accessible materials about the history of the Museum. Hans is there every step of the way, from bringing in new materials from staff or off-site storage, processing them to take out excessive duplicates and organize the materials into searchable series, and then creating finding aids that describe and list contents of different archival collections.
- Hans loves making the archival materials more discoverable and sharing his favorite stories from the Museum’s past, whether it’s adding content to our website, writing blog posts, or sharing content on Digital Commonwealth.
- Hans loves being behind the camera! He takes photos of many objects in our collection. We add these images to the objects database record as a reference of what they are and what their condition is, and we share them with others so that they can enjoy the collection from home.
- Hans also scans physical images from the archives to help preserve them and to share them with others!
- Some items, like glass lantern slides, can be a little tricky to digitize, and are a little too delicate for Hans to handle. Luckily, many slides were sent to Digital Commonwealth this past year to be professionally scanned and uploaded to https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org. Now, people can browse through historical images of Boston Children’s Museum online.
While Caroline and Katie have been focused on processing the collection, our Curator Rachel is a stickler for capturing information. Catalog records, correspondence and other documentation is regularly being added to the database. She also loves a good spreadsheet, so Hans has been tasked with tracking climate data too.
- While physical processing is one part of the job, capturing metadata is the real star of what makes the catalog of collection and archives materials usable, searchable, and accessible.
- Metadata often includes object and accession numbers, location, description, donor and provenance information, dimensions, exhibit history, any known dates, materials, country of origin, and, really, any other information that describes or provides context for the items.
- Some items have very little known background information. We’re always excited when researchers, staff, and visitors can help us fill in the details to add to the metadata.
- Keeping track of what’s happening with climate in storage is an essential task. Some institutions have high tech sensors for remote tracking. We have Hans!
- Storage walk-throughs include integrated pest management and temperature and humidity monitoring. We also keep an eye out for any leaks or water damage, lights that are out, or potential safety issues like oversized items that could block emergency exits.
- Collections materials can be quite tasty, so we’re always on the lookout for bugs, especially moths.
- In our old warehouse building, we see climate fluctuate with the seasons, so we monitor for big changes in short time spans. (We can work with gradual shifts.)
- While Rachel has largely been able to manage the team remotely, Hans has been having some trouble logging in to Zoom.
- Here they’re going over tasks for the coming week and Hans is sharing updates on the climate readings.
- Thanks to his work, we were able to note that the temperature was getting too high for our comfort and work with facilities to mitigate the problem.
There is always more to do, but that’s enough to keep everyone busy, for now. Hans, thanks for “working from home” in the Museum so that we can all safely work from home. We’ll see you soon! Keep up the good work!
*The Collections and Archives team is comprised of three full time staff and one or two interns each semester: Curator of Collections, Rachel Farkas; Archives Coordinator, Caroline Turner; and Cataloger, Katie Golojuch. This spring, Gloria Shin, Growdon Intern, was our first remote intern, spending half of the semester in the office and half working from home. We’re looking forward to welcoming two summer interns, hopefully back on site. Together we coordinate the use of materials in exhibits and programs, respond to internal and external inquiries, and work to make the collection more fully accessible. You can find us on Instagram @bcmcollections, where, with the help of Hans, we share the quirks and joy of working with collections and archives in a children’s museum.)
(We’d like to thank our facilities team for supporting our work while working from home. We have been able to continue on-site walk throughs on regular basis, including HVAC work and integrated pest management. And we’re reassured by facilities ongoing monitoring of the building to alert us if there are any immediate concerns. It takes a team and we’re grateful for their commitment to keeping the whole building safe and secure at this time.)