What does inventory actually mean?

by | Jul 14, 2020 | A look in the depot

The definition of SPECTRUM, the internationally recognised professional standard for documentation practice, is
“The compilation and maintenance of basic information that describes objects and formal identification. This may include information regarding the origin of the objects and the collection management, such as details of acquisition, restoration, exhibition and loan history and locations. It does not necessarily bring together in one place everything known about an object, but should include references to all other relevant sources of information known to the institution”.
Source:

SPECTRUM 3.1: The UK Museum Documentation Standard (German extended version), 2013

In short: everything that one can actually know about our objects is recorded here – and this information is a huge treasure for a museum.

At our theatre in the Museum of Theatre Puppets in Lübeck the inventory is divided into 3 areas: The basic inventory, scientific processing and the detailed description of the condition.

In our basic survey we record the most obvious and measurable criteria of an object in keywords. For example, what type of object it is, its dimensions, what materials it is made of, what design technique was used and whether the object is heavily, slightly or not at all damaged. This includes photographing the object from all sides. We already reported on this a few weeks ago in our article on photographic object documentation ##LINK##. With this first inspection, each object receives its own inventory number and a permanently assigned location in our depot.

Roughly speaking, the scientific work includes the research and documentation of the history of objects and the description of the objects. This includes, for example, the type and date of acquisition, the origin of the object, a detailed physical description of it, its age, existing inscriptions, etc. This is – as the name suggests – a science in itself!

The detailed appraisal of an object is a photographic and written documentation of the current material and overall condition. This can be very extensive with our objects, which often consist of many different materials such as wood, paint, hair, textiles, metal, etc. Therefore, we always take the opportunity to closely examine the objects when we prepare them, for example, to be displayed at an exhibition.

This treasure trove of information, which we collect, must of course also be kept somewhere: In the past, all this information was catalogued in inventory books, on inventory lists and documents, and kept in files and archives.

(Photos: inventory book, inventory list) 

Inventory
Inventory book

Today we work with an electronic database that combines all of our data in one place. What used to be inventory books and lists are now so-called masks and electronic tabs with many different fields for our entries.
We now store thematic contents of files and archives in modules. For example, for the collection, exhibitions, literature, restoration and much more. And so we can link all information with our objects in a very small space. For example, which exhibition(s) it has appeared in, what literature there is about it, who originally crafted the object and where it currently resides and in what condition it is

Fig. An electronic data set of the object St. Georg.  

Fig: An electronic data set for the puppet of St. George, which has not yet been completely processed. 
Some of the modules are visible in the header: Firstly, the module Collection. On the toolbar below the first third of the window, the different categories are visible on the left. First of all the tab Basic Data. On the right under the photo you can see the symbols for functions, such as links to the other modules. 

In addition to the infinite possibilities of an electronic database, we also face many challenges. For example, we have to partially adapt the tabs, fields and names to the terminology and requirements of our collection. This is because the subject of puppet theatre has not yet been properly dealt with in the world of inventory and cataloguing. How do you correctly and scientifically call such a huge figure on iron bars from Sicily – “Sicilian Puppet”? “Figure from the Opera dei pupi”? Or is it perhaps simply a “marionette”, even if it is not played on strings? Questions like these are very important, because we want to make our collection internationally accessible online at some point, and that’s where our vocabulary has to be! (24.06.2020, KF)

Mehr einblicke in die Arbeit im Depot

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