Tag Archives: cataloguing

BEHIND THE SCENES: CATALOGUING AND STORAGE PART II

By Cheryl Copson, QOR Museum Collections Officer. Cheryl has a BA in Archaeology from Boston University and a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. When she’s not volunteering at our museum, she is a Collection Technician: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East and the Islamic World department at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The museum regularly receives new donations, large and small, as outlined by our Curator in Part 1. But once they arrive at the museum, where do they go? What happens to them? How are they tracked and managed? Are they placed in a warehouse like in Indiana Jones? Left in the dark until a researcher or curator calls on them?

Through this post, I will take you through some of the steps we take to properly care for, track, and make our collection accessible to the public.

First task – Numbering!

As a bit of a refresher from Part 1, once the legal title is transferred to the museum each gift is assigned a unique “accession number”. This is based on the year the gift came to the museum and what number gift it was for that year:

The first gift of 2020 = 2020.01

The 15th gift of 2020 = 2020.15

Then each object within that gift is assigned a unique “object number” based on its accession number. This forms a “tri-part” number:

The first object in the first gift of 2020 = 2020.01.001

The 15th object of the 15th gift of 2020 = 2020.15.015

Let’s get a bit crazier! If one object has two parts – say a pair of shoes – we go even further!

Shoe 1: 2020.01.001.1

Shoe 2: 2020.01.001.2

(Okay, that’s probably far enough!) We use these unique object numbers to easily track and maintain the vast collection. For those of you familiar with our collection you might also know that we have a “5-digit” numbering system….

In the past, the QOR Museum assigned a “5-digit” sequential number to objects. Example – the white “pith” helmet in our collection – Object Number:  01141. Each artefact still gets a unique number in this series however, unlike in the “tri-part” system it is not apparent when the artefact came into our collection or with what other material. We have been working hard to re-establish those connections, and where possible reassign a tri-part number.

01141 – “Pith” Helmet https://qormuseum.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/73608F36-9D59-4928-8454-350462751772

Okay, let’s get cataloguing!

Once an object receives a number it is individually catalogued. This includes noting dates, previous owners, use, condition, dimensions, a detailed description, among other fields. We have many dedicated volunteers who catalogue the collection using paper forms like the one below.

Part of the Object Form used to catalogue material in the collection. From the PastPerfect database.

These forms are then entered into the database. Why not enter straight into the database? Well, currently only one person is able to work in the database at a time. While this creates a little extra work, it allows us to double check information as it is entered off the paper catalogue sheets and ensure it is entered into the database in a consistent manner. Consistency is key when trying to search for collections for researchers or for exhibit updates! The catalogued objects then go to our photographer, Anne, who captures them in detail. The artefact images are linked directly into our database along with being uploaded to our Flickr site. Once complete the objects are ready to be put away.

Where do the objects live?

A small portion of our incoming artefacts go immediately on display. On average, museums generally display about 10-15% of their collections. This is due to (you probably guessed it) space! For the 85-90% of objects not on display, it does not mean they are any less valuable or important. In many cases these objects may be too vulnerable to light to be brought out for extended times, are used to rotate into displays, or are duplicate examples of material already on display.

For artefacts not on display they go into storage. In a historic house that means…closets! In a few previous posts we have mentioned that our office is a former bathroom (also used for archive storage). Not surprisingly, the third floor of Casa Loma has many closet spaces. For us, these now serve as collection storage. Objects are organized based on type into several spaces – Uniform Closet, Photo Room, and the notorious Closet B! Each room has shelving or racking with a unique assigned location code. When an object is put away, this location code is recorded and inputted with the rest of the aretfact’s information into our database. Anytime an artefact is moved, the location code is updated to ensure that we always have an accurate picture of where our collections are.

Image of the shelves in our Closet B. These boxes hold fragile and oversized books.

How are artefacts stored?

The storage requirements for artefacts vary depending on many factors including their material, size, and fragility. Each artefact is assessed when it comes in and determinations are made about the best way to store it. Some standard storage methods we use are:

Uniforms – hung on padded hangers (to alleviate stress on their seams and reduces creasing), and then placed in individual Tyvek© garment bags to protect from dust, light and moisture.

Volunteer Meryn with a newly constructed padded hanger.

Books – smaller books have custom covers made for them. This reduces friction between books when removing them from storage and allows us to label the spine with important information (i.e. title and object number!). Larger or more fragile books are stored horizontally in book boxes (as seen above in our Closet B photo).

Custom book covers on shelf. Note the titles and Object Numbers on the side in pencil for easy identification!

Framed photos – placed upright on shelves (much like books would be stored) with partitions between them to ensure the backing on one frame does not damage an adjacent frame.

3D objects – placed in bags or bins to protect them from any dust and keep them organized.

What happens next?

More research! We are constantly revisiting collections to add additional information, upgrade storage, or refresh exhibits. Although many of our artefacts live in storage rooms, the QOR Museum has worked hard over the past several years to ensure much of our collection is available online. This is a good tool for researchers and family members looking for information and allows us to share our material worldwide. Many times we also receive information from the public through our website or social media on our artefacts or personnel pages. We welcome this wholeheartedly! As a volunteer-run museum, things can progress slowly sometimes – but we are always looking to grow and improve!

Behind the Scenes: Acquisition and Accessioning Part I

“Acquisition and Accessioning: Taking legal ownership of objects, especially (but not always) to add to your long-term collection through the process of accessioning: the formal commitment by your governing body to care for objects over the long term.

In legal terms, acquisition involves a ‘transfer of title’ from the previous owner to you. [It] gives you proof of ownership, and it assigns a unique number that will link each object to the information you hold about it.

Accessioning has a very specific meaning: it brings with ethical responsibilities to preserve objects over the long term…”

Collections Trust UK

Many of you will be familiar with our physical exhibits at Casa Loma, and many more of you will be familiar with our social media posting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and of course this website.  But much of what our volunteer team does is actually behind the scenes as we acquire, accession and catalogue new objects, and then either add to our exhibits or put them carefully into our collections storage so they will be safe and we know where to find them.

This post will explain our acquisition and accessioning process and Part II will explain what happens next.

Where do our objects come from?

Before we dive into the details, you might wonder where we acquire objects.  The vast majority are donated to the museum as gifts – from serving soldiers, veterans, and relatives of former QOR soldiers.  Occasionally they will also come from donors who have picked them up at flea markets and yard sales. From time to time we may actually purchase an item from E-Bay or online medal auction sites however our acquisition budget is extremely limited and so these are generally only very unique or rare items.

How do we decide what we want to accept?

Like most museums around the world, we have limited storage space and have to give careful consideration to what items we accept into our collection. Don’t get me wrong though – we are very grateful when people contact us with objects they think might we might want!  From time to time however we have to say “thanks but no thanks.”  This begs the question of how we reach those decisions.

First we have to consider the museum’s 1956 mandate:

to encourage the study of Canadian military history and in particular the history of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, to rescue from oblivion the memories of its members, to obtain and preserve narratives in print, manuscript or otherwise of their travels, adventures, labours and observations, to secure and preserve objects illustrative of the civil, literary and military history of the Regiment, and to maintain a museum and a library.”

The museum’s interest also includes the six First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force Battalions perpetuated by the Queen’s Own Rifles and soldiers who served in them.

So clearly we’re looking for items related in some way to the regiment itself (or its perpetuated battalions), or to any members who served in it.  And for the latter, these would generally be related to their service with the QOR.

There are exceptions to this. For example items that might illustrate a particular period during the regiment’s service which are not already in the collection.  Recently we acquired a WWII two-piece mess tin from another museum.  It was not connected any in way to the regiment or anyone who served in it but it was a common WWII object that we did not have in our collection. Another was a WWI Victory Bond Flag – again not specifically related to the QOR but certainly an important part of WWI history.

Once we’ve established that the object or objects might be relevant or useful, there are still some further considerations:

Is it legitimate?

Sometimes – particularly for sale on the internet – objects are represented as something they aren’t either intentionally or from ignorance.  Sometimes half-forgotten family lore just doesn’t quite fit the facts. Is this “19th century” cap badge really from the 19th century?  Does the condition of a medal ribbon and other “facts” seem reasonable?

2019.08.001

For example a recent donor claimed a bugle (2019.08.001) had been played at the Battle of Ridgeway.  The bugle cord that came with it was clearly not 150+ years old but the engraving of “Captain Sherwood’s Company” made sense.  It also had the makers mark engraved on it and after some research we found that particular mark was only used for a five year period that spanned 1866.  None of this proved that it was actually played at the battle but it did confirm that it was from the correct time period and certainly could have been played, so we agreed to accept it.  We also need to have some assurance that the person donating the objects has the right to do so – in other words is actually the owner, or perhaps the executor of an estate.

How unique is it? 

QOR Silent Butler
2019.17.001

Generally we only need so many of the same items in our collection.  When a wooden ash tray stand painted like a QOR soldier (2019.17.001) and used in the Sergeant’s mess was recently offered to us, it was a no brainer to say yes.  However unless it was in mint condition (see below) we aren’t going to accept any more copies of Chambers 1899 history of the regiment as we already have six.

How big is it? 

The practicalities of limited storage space unfortunately mean we just don’t have room to accept everything – and the larger the object, the more relevant this consideration.

What condition is it in?

Aside from storage limitations we also have a limited conservation budget so if something is in poor condition and may take considerable effort and expense to properly conserve and preserve it, then we certainly need to consider that carefully. If we already have examples of this artifact in our collection, we’ll also want to determine if the item being offered is in better or worse condition than those we already have.

Can we safely store this? 

Occasionally safe storage is also a consideration.  Live ammunition, or nitrate film – which has a tendency burst into flames under the wrong storage conditions – would be two examples.  We recently had to find a way to safely dispose of the contents of a WWII polish tin which had become corrosive (not to mention the strong odour!) and threatened damaging other objects; however we did manage to save the tin with its paper label.

Can this still be used by the regiment?

Officer's Crossbelt
2018.03.003

Perhaps somewhat uniquely, our acquisition policy allows for the museum to send accoutrements in useable condition to the reserve battalion if they are needed.   The most common example of this would be sergeants’ and officers’ crossbelts which are expensive and hard to source these days. These would be acquired and accessioned but not catalogued in the next steps of our normal process.

We’re going to accept them – now what?

Once we’ve taken possession of the objects we’ve agreed to acquire, we enter the donor and donation information into our accession database and assign it a number.  The accession number 2020.02 would represent the second accession of 2020. An accession could be one item or hundreds of items as long as they are all being donated by the same person at the same time. An item (or object – I’m pretty much using the two interchangeably) could be a uniform piece, book, artwork, photograph, weapon, or collection of archival material such as correspondence or meeting minutes.

Once that’s done, our database allows us to quickly prepare a “Deed of Gift” which lists all the items, indicates that they person donating them is the legal owner, and legally transfers ownership (and copyright if held by the owner) to the Museum, to do with as it sees fit.  It is critically important establish this ownership for the future. Luckily now, much of our administration can be handled by email including sending thank you letters and deeds of gift to be signed.  Once the signed deed is returned to us, we scan it and upload to our database and also file the original copy in our office files.

The process for items that are purchased is almost identical except that the receipt is used to establish the museum’s ownership instead of the deed of gift.

The database also allows us to record the provenance or history of the ownership, as far as we know it. Provenance gives value to objects. For example a pair of WWII boots is valuable – but much more valuable if we know they belonged to Rifleman X who wore then on the D-Day landing and through to the end of the war.  Or to record family lore such as “grandfather said he got the epaulettes off a prisoner of war he was escorting from the trenches to the rear areas.”

The objects are now ready for cataloging and storage but our Collections Officer will explain that process in Part II.

What if we don’t want the items?

Sometimes items offered to us have no connection to our mandate or other use to us.  In that case we try our best to find and connect the donor with a more appropriate museum.

Sometimes some of items are of interest and some are not and so we can decide to accept some, all, or none.  An example is a donation of 10 antique rifles – several were relevant but three were not but it was an all or nothing donation. We accepted all but eventually would sell the three and use the funding to supplement our acquisition fund.  This was made known to the donor before making the donation and they were fine with this arrangement.

Sometimes we’ll accept donations for our education collection particularly when we might already have several in our museum collection.  These can be used or tried on (for example uniforms) by visitors or school groups – definitely not a recommended practice for items in the actual museum collection.

And if all else fails, we just have to say thank you for thinking of us, but no thanks.

What happens next?

Next comes the detailed cataloguing of each items in the accession, including labelling and photographing, and then finding safe and appropriate storage, which is recorded so we can find it again when we need it!  Our Collections Officer will describe this process in Part II of this blog series coming soon!

Bayonets in the Bathtub: A Thursday night at the regimental museum

Even though I arrived 15 minutes before our designated “start time”, Graham had already unlocked the office, set up tables for cataloging, and tried to sort out a DVD display that wasn’t working properly; Cheryl had started sorted through and ensuring the proper documentation for a pile of new accessions; and Elizabeth was re-gluing a loose photo on our window exhibit.

Down the hallway, Rob was giving a tour of the museum – interspersed with a lot of reminiscing – to Josie who had joined the QOR at aged 18 in 1972 and one of the first women to wear the QOR cap badge and parachute with them. Later in the evening Cheryl and Emily who are working our “Women in the QOR” exhibit for next March, looked through photos Josie had brought along and made arrangements to formally interview her in the near future.

Alex arrived and got to work installing a fourth hanging rail in the uniform closet above one of the existing rails in a space with a very high ceiling. This will allow us to spread out and better organize this part of our collection but also means a lot of drilling while standing almost on the top of a step ladder.

Laura got to work cataloguing an archival collection from Professor George Henry Needler, Professor of German at the University of Toronto for 45 years, and a Queen’s Own veteran of the Northwest Field Force of 1885. During the First World War, Needler commanded UoT’s Canadian Officers’ Training Corps, and would later publish his own experiences out West in Louis Riel, The Rebellion of 1885. It should be noted that cataloging an archival collection takes a LOT of patience, attention to detail, and ability to grasp a logical organization of the material it contains.

Larry headed into his photography “studio” in the corner of the photo storage room – under the sloping eves and against an internal brick wall. There he continued his seemingly never ending task of photographing each and every artifact in our collection – which include a continuous intake of new accessions. These photographs are used for our collection database, our website, exhibits, banners and signs, shared with family researchers, and uploaded to our Flickr account (currently with over 7,700 photos).

Dave and his nephew Coleman arrived and set to work cataloging objects – photos, uniform pieces, books, equipment, insignia, and all kinds of military ephemera. Some of these were items that had been in the collection but were being cataloged in detail – a project we’d been working on since 2012 – and others were new accessions received over the past year. This cataloging includes detailed descriptions of the artifact, its provenance, size, material, dates, condition and whatever other information we might have, as well as assigning and attaching/affixing an object number. Eventually all this information will be entered into our database which already includes over 1,600 items. And the database allows us to upload our catalog online so anyone can search through our collection!

Alison was in the office working studiously on her computer creating medal description labels that will be added to walls of our “Riflemen” room. These will help visitors identify medals in the many shadows boxes and understand what they were awarded for.

Emily put her fine arts background to work again while planning how best to finish the photo “stand” we created for Ridgeway which consists of two QOR soldiers painted on a wooden sheet with cut outs to poke your heads through for that perfect selfie! Even in its 75% finished state, it was a big hit at Ridgeway in June and we hope to have it set up again for QOR Day at Casa Loma on November 5th.

Graham also was hard at work cataloging objects and finished up his initial batch just in time to receive delivery of a new acquisition – an amazing set of five photo albums which document the WWII service of a junior QOR officer from 1939 to 1946. In great condition, well mounted and almost entirely labelled, they will provide a great addition to our understanding of this period of the regiment’s service.

By now Alex and Elizabeth had also joined the catalogers and were certainly making progress on reducing our backlog!

Meanwhile, as Curator, I was assigning tasks, answering questions, recalling (more or less) information, making decisions, looking for scotch tape, and doing my best to steer the ship.

Part way through the evening I was pleased meet and provide a tour with Captain (Ret’d) Rick Towey, newly appointed Curator of the Royal Regiment of Canada’s regimental museum, located in Fort York Armoury. Rick is anxious to get some advice on how to get started with his new role – the museum (or collection of “stuff dumped in a room” as Rick described it) and some of us will be visiting the Royal’s Museum shortly and hopefully provide some helpful guidance!

As you can see, on any given night there are a wide variety of tasks, all of which are necessary to make things work like a well-oiled machine – more or less. And our volunteers are come with a variety of skills, experience and interests which are critical to creating the kind of museum team we need:

  • Graham, Emily, Dave and Alison are all currently serving members of the Regiment
  • Larry, Shaun (on sick call last night) and Nicole (also absent as she plans her wedding later this month) are all former serving members of the Regiment
  • Cheryl and Elizabeth are graduates of museum studies programs
  • Alex has a Masters in Public History
  • And Laura and Coleman just have an interest in history, museums and archives

A creative, cheerful, hardworking and dedicated team – what more could a curator ask for?

John

(And in case you were wondering, yes we do store bayonets in a bathtub – where else would you put them?!)

Museum Update December 2012

New photos storage shelving installed December 2012.
New photos storage shelving installed December 2012.

December isn’t over yet but we want to provide both an update and to ask for you support before we all get wrapped up in the holiday hustle and bustle.

Cleaning and Cataloging Photos

Two volunteers – former Regular Force Rifleman Clay Downes and his wife Nancy of Georgetown, Ontario – have been busy over the last several weeks, cleaning and cataloging framed photographs in the museums collection. Cleaning off several layers of dust is pretty self explanatory but cataloging requires recording detailed information about each photo including a description of the photos content, and as much about the people included, location, date, occasion, photographer or studio, dimensions, framing, etc. that we can determine. All of this information is being entered into our new collections management software and will help us with taking future inventories, sourcing photos for future exhibitions, and IMG-20121216-00187providing resources for research projects. Between them they have provided 61 hours of volunteer service and deserve a large thanks!

Today Curator Major John Stephens, Assistant Curator CWO Shaun Kelly and Clay, removed some older shelving that had been built with whatever materials had been at hand and installed new metal shelving (see photos at right). These new shelves will provide much better storage for all our photos, now well organized by their object number. The team was very pleased with the results and once the cataloged photos were moved into the new shelving, Nancy had room to continue the very large project!

RENEWING OUR PAST: Supporting the Regimental Museum

The Regimental Museum is undertaking our RENEWING OUR PAST Campaign which consists of two parts:

Preserving Our Past includes efforts to protect and preserve our artifacts to ensure they will continue to be with us for a long time. Installing new storage, purchasing necessary but expensive archival materials, and creating a detailed collections database are all unglamorous but important parts of this phase.

Connecting with the Present includes re-imagining our exhibits, reaching out with social media, creating a volunteer program and providing museum activities and resources. We’ll shortly be creating a new “Soldiers of the Queen’s Own” exhibit in the Tower room which will start with a new coat of paint!

Elements are underway in both phases and with that comes numerous additional costs beyond our usual operating expenses. The Regimental Museum is governed, operated and supported financially by the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Regimental Trust Fund. You can help support the Museum and its RENEWING OUR PAST campaign by donating to the Trust through the CanadaHelps.org website. Under Fund/Designation select “Museum Fund” to ensure that your donation can be properly directed to our campaign. Donations received before the end of December, will be issued a 2012 charitable income tax receipt.

Thank you for your support and we wish you all a very happy holiday!