Guideline 3.4

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Guideline 3.4:
Detailed documentation is maintained for all objects



Why is detailed documentation essential?

Object safety depends on accurate documentation throughout all work phases: objects can be mislabeled, misplaced and mistreated if their corresponding information is not carefully recorded and updated. Loaning institutions have sued over presumed damage to an object because there was no condition report to establish preexisting condition. There have also been instances during emergencies when museum staff have been unable to find highly significant objects because there were no drawings to locate objects within the exhibit.


Accountability is the first responsibility of the exhibit team. The exhibit team should work with the registrar to keep written and visual documentation that will track the condition and location of objects as they move through the exhibit process.


What should be included in documentation for exhibit objects?

A written register or schedule listing the objects and kept by the registrar. A complete and accurate list will help track objects during exhibit production and installation, and will aid security. The list should include each object’s permanent catalogue and accession number, which refer to its history outside the exhibit (when the object was last on display and any past conservation treatments) and an exhibit number, which helps track and locate the object during the exhibit process. Space should also be provided to indicate when an object is relocated. The object itself should be tagged with these numbers, and the tags should never be removed.
Conservator’s condition report. A conservator should document the condition of each object and identify any treatment needs for those objects going onto display. A written condition assessment of each object made prior to exhibit (together with the condition report from any loaning institutions) will provide a benchmark for assessing any change in the object’s condition. (See Standard 6: Object Conservation Assessment)
Object vulnerability assessment. Once objects have been selected for exhibit, they should be surveyed to determine their specific vulnerability to the various hazards of display. (See Standard 6: Object Conservation Assessment)
Conservation Requirements. The exhibit conservator should develop the exhibit’s Conservation Requirements, which are based, in part, upon the object vulnerability assessments. The Conservation Requirements establish the type and level of protection each object requires while on display and should therefore guide the selection of damage mitigation features. (See Standard 8: Exhibit Conservation Requirements)
Photographs of the objects. Objects should be photographed for security, identification, specific condition concerns (this helps provide a baseline for an object’s state of deterioration) and to provide accurate images to assist mount-making and design. Precautions should be taken to prevent any damage to objects from photography. (See Guideline 3.5)
Exhibit floor plans and drawings. Object locations within the exhibit should be recorded on plans and drawings to ensure an object can be easily located. This will facilitate installation, de-installation, security, and condition checks. It will also ensure that an object can be quickly located for removal in an emergency.


Further Resources: Sample Forms and Documents (not included here)