Do you ever wonder what happens to an artifact when it is donated to a museum? At the Sooke Region Museum, there are three steps we use to effectively bring a new artifact into our artifact and archive collection.
Step 1 is the process of acquiring an object from a donor. The term object is used to refer to any artifact or archival materials at a museum. Any new acquisitions should help us protect the past and safeguard the future. In order to preserve and interpret history and advance our understandings of our region, we only accept objects that support this vision.
As an object is being offered to us, we consider its historical, artistic, aesthetic, scientific, societal and research significance. To help this process go smoothly, we require donors to provide as much documentation about provenance, history, authenticity and ownership as possible.
The collections manager or executive director typically makes an immediate decision as to whether we will accept or deny a donation. However, there are times when we must take the time to research and verify an object’s authenticity before we can accept it.
Step 2 is called accessioning. Following the approval of a new donation, legal and physical custody will be transferred to the museum. Legally, we are required to obtain a signed gift form from the donor.
At this time, an accession number will be given to the object. This is a two-part number that shows the year and the collection number. When one or more objects are donated to the museum they are referred to as a collection. For example, if your accession number reads, “2015.005” this means your collection, or object(s), was the fifth to be donated in 2015.
Step 3 involves cataloguing the new donation. Following the accession process, extensive documentation is mandatory. All details will be documented including the object’s history, appearance, purpose, condition and provenance. Photographs are taken and an identification number (or an object ID) is applied to the object. The identification number is three parts and includes the accession number. For example, a basic identification number could read as, “2015.005.002.” The “002” means that this particular object is the second article in the fifth collection donated in 2015.
Following documentation, all data is inputted into our computer database called Past Perfect. Afterwards, the object can go into storage or on display. At this museum, the collections manager is responsible for all of the above duties. However, at other institutions these tasks may be performed by someone called the registrar.
If you are thinking about donating an object, here are a few questions you could ask yourself. Does this object provide authentic evidence of Sooke history? Is this object rare or considered a treasure of the region? How will this object contribute to the story of our region?
Brianna Shambrook is collections and exhibits manager at Sooke Region Museum.