Friday, April 06, 2012

Magic Numbers

UCL Museums and Collections Blog (Rachel Sparks)

Well it's not news, but it did provoke a wry smile.  So nicely written.

There is a legend that when every object in a collection has been given a unique accession number, its curators will be freed of the shackles of performance indicators and documentation plans and finally achieve a state of nirvana. There’s lots of self-help guidance out there, of course (deep breathing exercises optional) to help us achieve this goal, including information on how and when to number objects. The sensible way, according to the Collections Link’s subject factsheet, is to give objects a running number, or, if you must, a number representing the accession year and then a running number. So surely that’s what everybody does, right? Wrong!

The reality behind the ideal is that many collections were assembled a long time ago when standards were – how shall I put it? – somewhat looser than they are today. Curators have therefore inherited all sorts of interesting, not to mention inpenetrable, inconsistent and sometimes downright unworkable systems.  All of which are usually exacerbated by the fact that these older systems were rarely documented properly. So even figuring out how they are supposed to work can be a challenge in itself.

The Institute of Archaeology Collections at UCL are no exception.

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