Nancy Drew and the Case of New Collections Management

5 Sep
Unknown artist, "Untitled" (Janus Head), whalebone is a recently donated piece into the permanent collection was photographed as part of the accessioning process during the collections audit.

Artist Unknown, “Untitled” (Janus Head), (1974), whalebone is a recently donated piece that is being entered into the permanent collection during the collections audit.

For the past few months visitors to the Harbourfront have had to tackle a lot of construction taking place on Queens Quay as part of the Waterfront revitalization project. Additionally, the museum has been undergoing some pretty major changes of our own. In previous posts we introduced new layouts for our permanent collection, asked for your input for what sorts of information should be included in our next batch of interpretive texts and installed a new exhibition. While we have been a little quiet on the blog side of things, we have been typing up a storm inputting all your feedback into our panels (which are being printed at this very moment!).

Alongside these new panels we are also creating a brand new labeling system for the individual objects you can see in both our special exhibitions and permanent collections. We’re going to dedicate a separate blog to introduce our new designs and how we have been playing with lots of different looks, but you can take a quick peek here for a sense of how your questions inspired our new look.

Design sample of future new MIA museum object labels

Design sample of future new MIA museum object labels.

You might have noticed that in the above design sample, the accession number has been left unfilled. Part of the process of creating new labels has come out of another important project we have initiated: completing a full collections audit.

And what is a collections audit you ask?
Under the SPECTRUM definition, a collections audit is:

The examination of objects or object information, in order to verify their location, authenticity, accuracy and relationships… The organisation must have a policy covering the auditing of the collections and related information. Refer to Policies and Legal Context chapter for general guidance on collections management policies.

The procedure for managing and documenting audits must:

  • Ensure that the organisation maintains, manages and documents a regular review of the objects in its collections and the information relating to them;

  • Ensure that the audit of objects is based on the physical presence of the objects;

  • Ensure that all relevant object-related documentation is updated as required in a timely manner;

  • Ensure that remedial action is taken as required, following discovery of missing objects, wrongly or inadequately documented objects, or undocumented objects;

  • Ensure that, wherever possible, inventory checks are conducted or witnessed by a person not responsible for their custody or record-keeping

As part of best practices, it can refer to a small section of the collection, or if you’re keeners like we are, the ENTIRE collection!

As we went through the permanent collections cases we noticed that there were some inconsistencies, such as files that weren’t in the proper locations or objects that did not have multiple photographs to show the piece at different angles. These types of errors come pretty standard across museums, and despite the fields limited resources you will always be able to find that one passionate detective who pulls a Nancy Drew in search of runaway documentation. This kind of project has been the source of  many a internship and looking at past presentations from networking events like Museums Showoff TO you can learn more about how other institutions solved their mini museum mysteries.

This fall we will also be putting together a team of  collections interns, who will be documenting what types of pieces they will be working with, how they are investigating the collections, and what kinds of documents they are looking for. So stay tuned to meet the team and learn more about some of the behind the scenes moments that make up a part of an objects life inside the museum!

– Posted by: Brittany Holliss, MIA’s Digital Asset Coordinator

3 Responses to “Nancy Drew and the Case of New Collections Management”


  1. Meet Our Collections Team! Introducing Leah C. | Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - September 24, 2013

    […] for your ultimate playlist then you might have some idea of the what it takes to undertake a collections audit. Each piece in a museum’s collections must be documented and accounted for and this fall I am […]

  2. Meet Our Collections Team! Introducing Lily J. | Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - September 29, 2013

    […] I’m thrilled to be a brand-new addition to the team here at MIA while the museum undertakes a collections audit – a lengthy, intensive, but critical process that ensures everything is a collection is in […]

  3. How A “Rat-Infested Ghost Ship” Intersects With Our Collection: Adventures in Collections Research | Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - February 18, 2014

    […] you may have guessed, the collections audit we’ve talked about previously has been an interesting experience. Sometimes, it can be fairly […]

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