Databases, digital images, video and more: Documentation for the NMAI collections move

Emily Kaplan and Rachael Perkins Arenstein

Abstract

Extensive documentation was used as a way to facilitate and speed a five-year project to move the National Museum of the American Indian’s collection of more than 800,000 Native American objects from New York to Suitland, Maryland. Almost all of the Move Project staff members were contract employees whose term ended with the completion of the project. This loss of institutional memory necessitated that documentation be considered a priority. Conservators used a variety of technologies, some old and some new, to document work on objects and to document move-related activities.

This paper describes the methods used to document conservation treatment and move-related activities. Written documentation of treatments evolved from word-processor electronic text documents through several generations of stand-alone databases. Documentation of pest management treatments involved an additional set of databases that incorporated barcodes and scanners to increase speed and accuracy of data entry. Visual documentation of treatments and general move procedures changed over the course of the project from being primarily film based to relying heavily on video and digital imaging; by the end of the move, over 23,000 such digital images were produced. This mass of images would have been virtually useless without the implementation of a digital asset management system, a database that facilitated organization and allowed the association of data to ensure that the images are searchable and retain their context for future use.

The issues encountered in choosing appropriate documentation methods and the success of various strategies as technology changed is discussed.

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