A New Way of Doing Things: Curation Survey

[This is Cameo] We’ve been coming up with questions to ask about the collections that will tell us what level of care they need. These “curation levels” will tell staff and volunteers in the future exactly how to improve upon the condition of the objects, how they’re housed, and how easy it is to find them.


Box with draft templateFull inventories are an ideal way to know what’s in a collection and how to care for it; unfortunately, full inventories take a lot of time, money, and people power. Starting with a survey like this is a great way for smaller institutions like the Southwest Seattle Historical Society to efficiently take care of the most pressing collections needs first, then systematically continue to care for the rest of the collections.

Thanks to 4Culture’s (http://www.4culture.org/) grant support, we are able to develop a survey system that could potentially be used in collections at other similar institutions!



Photo of full shelves


Week 1: first things first, get to know the collection!

Since I’m new to the collections, Lissa helped me familiarize myself with the objects we’d be working with. Those white pieces of paper hanging off the shelves and from boxes are the notes we took about the general condition of the collections when we started.





Box with draft template
Close up!

Handwritten template drafts

Weeks 2 and 3: A work in progress

Based on our original notes and observations, we came up with three documents to guide the survey process: one describing the curation levels, one detailing which questions to ask to determine the appropriate curation level, and one that will be attached directly to the collection unit to relay the necessary information to staff and volunteers.

We’re still fine-tuning things, but we’re almost there!


Fire truck in a boxWeek 4, 5, and 6: Putting it to the test

Eventually we want to reach a point where someone new to caring for this collection can easily use this survey process just using written instructions. To get to that point, we have to test (and re-test) the documents each time we tweak them. Here’s one of our most recent tests:

Opening the box, we find a solo plastic toy fire truck that was left at the Alki Beach Statue of Liberty on 9/11. Even though it may not seem fragile, the fact that it has so much room to move around could potentially be a hazard if the box gets jostled. On further inspection, the toy truck looks to be in a tray resting on a lower compartment…what’s under there?!



Framed print in a box

Uncovering another layer

Beneath the fire truck, we find two framed photographs. As you can see, there’s some damage to the back of the top frame. The damage might be from how it is housed, or it could be from how the object was handled before it came to the collection. Either way, this survey helps us identify how we can protect the objects now.




Print of King and WingCool Finds and Quick-Fixes

One of my favorite parts about this project is uncovering neat objects. The pair of photos ended up being of the King and Winge, a famous Seattle fishing vessel. Check out the Wikipedia page for more info on this historic ship!

The photos were resting on each other glass-to-glass, which could be a potential hazard to the objects (not to mention any humans coming into contact with broken glass!). Slipping a piece of archival foam between the objects will be a great quick-fix to keep them safe until we have time to address it more completely.



Template closer up


The Final Checklist

Using our most recent checklist, we recorded the necessary information about what needs to be done to improve this unit. Overall, this unit is doing pretty well. There are just a few things that stand out as needing urgent attention. People who access this in the future will be able to use the information to care for the objects in this box as more resources of time and materials become available.

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