Northern States Conservation Center

Providing collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services to collectors and collecting institutions.

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (June 17, 2013)
June 17, 2013    
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Managing Collections  
In This Issue
Accreditation and Standards
Regional Workshops
Moving a Collection
Upcoming Classes


July 1, 2013


MS104: An Introduction to Collections Preservation


MS107: Introduction to Museum Security


MS207: Cataloging Your Collection


MS235: Scripting the Exhibition


MS242: Museum Microclimates


MS262: Moving Collections


July 15, 2013


MS007: The Mission Statement: Is it really that important?


August 5, 2013


MS101: Introduction to Museums  


MS208: Applying Number to Collection Objects  


MS213: Museum Artifacts  


MS219: Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums  


MS226: Care of Furniture 


MS228: Care of Paper 


MS236: Education in Museums 


MS244: Traveling Exhibits 


August 12 2013


MS002: Collection Protection: Are You Prepared? 


Express Vacuum  
Express Vacuum
Express Vac, our smallest vacuum, weighs 8 lb. (with accessories and box) and has a top handle. It fits easily into carry-on luggage. A fabric carrying tote is sold separately. Three excellent filtration systems are available: (1) a bag and shell filter combination, (2) a disposable, anti-dump canister filter in a recycled plastic housing or (3) a HEPA filter cartridge. Low suction makes this vacuum ideal for collection cleaning. Micro-tool accessories slot into the nozzle of the smaller crevice tool. Vacuum measures 12"x 8.25"x 9.5".  

Accreditation and Standards 
by Brad Bredehoft
What are museum standards? Standards are the generally held principles to which museums voluntarily adhere to ensure good stewardship and accountability. Standards may also be required to achieve accreditation with an organization like the American Alliance of Museums.


There are many standards for museums and galleries set at the association and national level. Examples include:

Our on-line courses make students aware of and help them implement these standards in their institution.


If you are aware of other standards, regardless of country of origin, please let us know.


Brad Bredehoft is the Sales and Technology Manager for Northern States Conservation Center. Brad manages NSCC's business website (, administers the online training website (, manages IT for this growing small business and oversees purchase, manufacture and distribution of catalog items. Before joining NSCC, Brad spent five years at the Science Museum of Minnesota as a volunteer and employee. 
Regional Workshops 
Where you can find some of our instructors this year:

Gawain Weaver
The Care and Identification of PhotographsAdvanced Photograph Conservation Workshops
  • October 21-24, 2013 (Huntington Library, San Marino, CA)
Steve Layne 
IFCPP Conference 
  • August 3-7, 2013, San Diego, CA
Helen Alten
Collections Management and Practices
  • July 11-12, 2013, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA, $270 AASLH members/$345 nonmembers.

Brad Bredehoft

Northern States will again be an exhibitor at the AASLH Annual Meeting. Look for us across from the Awards Showcase. 

  • September 19-20, Birmingham, Alabama
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Northern States Conservation Center

Online courses in museum studies

About Us

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
Why is cataloging so important?
By Peggy Schaller


Cataloging is the process by which you establish a detailed informational record on each artifact in your collection. The catalog record documents the description, history, condition and significance of an object.


Object ID 

Object ID is an international standard for describing art, antiques and antiquities. Through the cooperation of museums, customs officials and law enforcement around the world, the Object ID program has established a checklist of questions and information that provides a minimum level of documentation for museum artifacts.


This minimum level of documentation requires the following information:

  • Type of Object (what is it?)
  • Materials and Technique (what is it made of and how was it constructed?)
  • Measurements
  • Inscriptions and Markings (signatures, maker's marks, etc.)
  • Distinguishing Features (anything about the object that would uniquely identify it so you can tell this one from another similar object)
  • Title (applies mainly to art works; does the object have a title by which it is known or identified?)
  • Subject (applies mainly to art works; what is represented in the work?)
  • Date or Period (when was the object made?)
  • Maker (who made or manufactured the object?)
  • A short description of the object
  • Take photographs of the object (overall views and close-ups of marks/damage/repairs)
Texas Music Museum
Volunteer Shaun Stalzer cataloging albums at the Texas Music Museum with William Vanden Dries.

Additional Information 

Certainly, there is more information that a museum will want to keep in its collection catalog such as:

  • The unique history of this particular artifact.
  • The unique nature of this particular artifact.  

Unique History 

The unique history of the object is the story that makes it important for the museum to acquire it in the first place. This could be the object's connection to a particular person, place or event. Whatever it is that makes this artifact unique, it should help tell the story that drives the museum's mission.


Unique Nature 

What makes this object unique? Is the object a prototype of an invention? Is it the type specimen for a species or subspecies? Is it the only specimen from a rare meteorite fall? The largest diamond in the world? The Mona Lisa? Or is it the best example of a mass-produced artifact with which we are all familiar? (Even if it is the Mona Lisa, it should relate to the mission of the museum and fall within the museum's collection policy or it should not be acquired by your museum.)


Collection Catalog 

All this information should reside in one place, your collection catalog. If you use a manual method, the collection catalog can be a series of card catalogs sorted by various headings such as classification (with main headings, secondary headings, etc. that follow your nomenclature standards), accession number, location, association (with a place, person or event) and donor. A lexicon (the list of terms used in your classification scheme) card file is also a good idea, especially if you are not using a published nomenclature, such as Nomenclature 3.0 for Museum Cataloging. These days your collection catalog is usually computerized. This makes searching for individual artifacts or groups of artifacts much easier. There are a number of commercial museum cataloging programs. Some museums create their own system using a database program such as Microsoft Access or Excel.  


Your collection catalog is as important as the collection artifacts. Artifacts mean very little without their stories. Therefore, you should keep your collection catalog as safe and secure as you keep your artifacts. An added benefit of the collection catalog, that can not be matched by the artifacts, is that the catalog can be duplicated and a copy can be maintained in a secure off-site location in case a disaster hits the museum. Make sure you do this! And update that off-site copy on a regular basis, especially if you are making a lot of changes to the catalog!


(Excerpt from the course MS207 Cataloging Collections.)


Peggy Schaller, founded Collections Research for Museums in 1991 to provide cataloging, collection-management training and services. She has worked with a large variety of museums and collections for more than 18 years. She provides workshops and project services to museums and historical societies all across the country. The mission of Collections Research for Museums is to inspire museums to improve their professional standards, collections stewardship and service to their constituency through training in, and assistance with, documenting, preserving, protecting and managing their collections.  

Moving a Collection: Planning

By Lori Benson 

Detailed planning of your collection move is the single most important step in the entire process. In the planning process you will define expectations, develop a communication process, identify risks and plan for their mitigation, estimate costs, schedule move phases, and identify funding.

Clearly communicate your expecta= tions and be specific. Listen to what expectations others have. Come to a consensus. For example, in the Science Museum of Minnesota's move, the administration thought it would take three months, while collections staff estimated seven years. They compromised on three years to prepare the collection for the move.

Good communication is essential throughout the entire move process. Develop a system that works within your group as well as one to communicate with those outside your group. Do not leave anything to chance. Meet face to face with all of the affected staff and volunteers. Be clear about your plans and explain the reasons for decisions. Listen to their concerns and try to come to a consensus, if necessary, but final decisions must be reached. If something is unclear, ask questions. Do not rely on verbal communications. They are the first to break down and the information might not be passed on. Instead use = email or other forms of written communication to disseminate plans and progress.

Identify Risks
It is important to identify the risks to your collection. Conduct a general assessment of your current location, your new location and the move itself. Some possible risks are: vibration, physical breaches, fire, infestation, security, and service disruptions. Once you have identified the risks, you must plan for mitigation. What will your insurance cover? Where do you need to increase security? How can packing time and materials help lessen risks? Then develop procedures and disseminate them to your staff.

Estimating Costs
Estimating the costs to move your collection can be tricky, but is crucial. Running out of funds before the move is complete is not the time to have to procure funding. Detail is so important. Compile information from past projects and grants including timelines, staffing and materials. PACCIN (Preparation, Art Handling and Collections Care Information Network) might be able to help you, if you have no prior experience. Use your inventory to identify collection types and numbers. Develop a list of materials you will use. Do a test run with a group of objects to determine how long it takes, how many staff hours are needed, what materials does it require, and develop packing prototypes. Use this information to extrapolate how you will develop your project, adding a contingency of 25 to 50 percent. Design your system to adapt as the project progresses.

Scheduling is a fluid activity. Use benchmarks to keep the project progressing. Create a flexible system that can adapt to changes. During the preparation and move you may need to close some collections to visitors and researchers, limit new donations, reduce fieldwork and plan around holidays and conferences. In some places, hunting season may greatly reduce available staff. Make sure you have enough staff and volunteers for scheduled tasks including: preparing materials, moving awkward objects and sending and receiving daily shipments. Address when the new facility will be ready. Do you need to work around exhibit installation or events? Is there a schedule for vacating your current space? You may also need to take into account weather. Is there a rainy season or winter? Is there a season with significant temperature and humidity fluctuations that would be detrimental to your collection? Do not forget what seems obvious, like coordinating use of elevators and the dock.

Funding a move project is commonly a combination of several funding sources. There may be federal grants available for storage furniture and materials for permanent mounts. Staff and moving company funding may need to come from the general operating budget. Other sources of funding might include donations and private foundations. Make sure your project description is clear and justifiable. Plan your funding well in advance. You must often wait for months to hear the disposition of grants. Fund raising for a move project should occur a few years before the move is scheduled to begin.

You know your museum and what issues are likely to come up. Try to address those issues early in the planning process. No one can control the external environment, so do not over plan. Be flexible. Develop a checklist and start planning from the most limiting factor. Don't forget your archives, catalog and research documents. Finally make sure you back up all computer files and keep a copy of your plans off-site. 

(Excerpt from the course MS 262: Moving Collections.)  


Lori Benson, is an independent museum professional based in Maine. After a series of project positions at the Minnesota Historical Society, including Assistant Moving Coordinator, she was hired by the Science Museum of Minnesota as their first Collections Manager in 1994. She was Project Director in the Research and Collections Division for the new facility planning and move. The project was published as Moving the Mountain, the Science Museum of Minnesota Guide to Moving Collections. For years, she has taught museum studies to undergraduates and given many talks and lectures on preservation, deaccessioning, project planning and moving. She is a member of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and the Registrars' Committee of the American Association of Museums. Ms. Benson teaches MS201: Storage for Infinity, MS202: Museum Storage Facilities & Furniture, and the new course MS262: Moving Collections. 

Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.


Helen Alten, Director

Brad Bredehoft, Sales and Technology Manager

Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager 

P.O. Box 8081, St. Paul, MN 55108   Phone: (651) 659-9420

© 2002 Northern States Conservation Center

Updated 24 January 2012