Process and pests
In the History collection alone we received 32 donations, totalling 108 objects.
Documentation and data
Prior to receiving the donations, I had to prepare the legal documentation for each item. All packs included a Deed of Gift, copyright forms and a form for the donor to list contacts if in the future we cannot locate them for any reason. In September 2020, these packs were given to each donor during a public donation drop-off day. Two itemised delivery receipts were signed by myself and the donor at this time - one to keep each, or popped in with the paperwork if being mailed out after any objects arrived by post/courier. This documentation is a crucial step with any acquisition we acquire and it's only once we receive these back that I can issue the individual acquisition numbers that identify each donation for its life in the Museum. Finally, every donor received a thank you letter from David Gaimster, our Chief Executive, along with their own copies of the paperwork relevant to their donation.
When there are this many objects, it is not efficient to upload a record of each object, one at a time. Instead, the core details already known about each object are placed onto a spreadsheet that is then uploaded into our collection management system, Vernon. This process was time-consuming with so many detailed fields to fill, but luckily our fabulous spreadsheet guru, Collections Data Analyst Phil Hinton was a brilliant help throughout the process!
Data entry becomes an ongoing task during processing, as you gather more information about the objects.
Once donations arrive at the Museum, the critical first step is to ensure that no pests have hitched a ride in on the objects. As a Collection Manager, I’m ever-vigilant of my collection and protecting the objects is at the forefront of my mind. Insects are the scourge of any museum, along with the other agents of deterioration. We do not want to introduce pests in to our storerooms and spaces that could then infest other objects.
Mainly organic and many fragile, all the objects received on the public drop-off day in September were boxed or supported, wrapped in plastic, sealed and placed in a separate storage area until all the other donations were received. As the remaining objects trickled in to the Museum, they too were packed safely, wrapped and sealed. Everything then went to our offsite facility ‘Manu Taiko’ where they were placed in anoxic treatment by our relocations team. Anoxic treatment involves objects being placed inside a specially made enclosure that is filled with nitrogen. This environment forces out the oxygen, thus killing pests. Objects remain in here for a full four weeks.
Pest control complete, donations were then moved up to the lab area. Bespoke solutions were required for each because everything was so unique; each donation itself dictated how it should be labelled and packed for storage.
As I completed each donation, Museum photographer Jennifer Carroll photographed each item. I then attached the images to the database records for each object. These records appear on our Collections Online webpages, which you can explore here.
Image: Jenn preparing another donation for photography. Here she is shooting the super hero outfit ‘The Distancer’ (2020.42.1), donated by Andrea Jacobson.
The final touches
And there you have it! The time came for all the objects to be tucked safely away in their storage spaces. This is always such a satisfying part of the job.
Then it is back to the desk for a final check-through of the object database records, ensuring image attachments are complete. I scan and attach each Deed of Gift and a copy of the acquisition proposal to all records, all measurements and materials noted, object parts included, donor details, credit lines, database record status etc. I cross refererence this information with each working folder for each donation.
Image: Checking database records.
Image: Working folders with notes and stickers added during each processing stage.
Working folders are then dismantled. I had a bit of fun during this part, making an ‘artwork’ by peeling the stickers off the folders and popping them onto Post-it notes. I called it ‘Collection Virus’!
When all is done, my final task is to file each of the completed Deeds of Gift away into fireproof safes at the Museum. This is a joy as it heralds the real end. Done and dusted!
At the beginning of 2020, I had no idea that my work life would be thrown into so much chaos, nor that I would end up with a very large, unplanned-for project to cater for on top of my already very busy work schedule! It has been a challenge, but also a pleasure to have tended to the tangible items that arose from the experiences of each donor’s first lockdown – a fraught part of our modern-day pandemic history.
Continue scrolling to view the fascinating methods Sarndra used to catalogue the COVID donations.
Background image: Handcraft art face mask comprising of coconut shell with fabric ties; 2020.30.1 © Auckland Museum CC BY