Have you ever lost your keys? I know I have. Probably a few times a week on average. Well, maybe that’s not a great example, because we use our keys all the time and tend to carry them around. Have you ever gone looking for something where you thought you knew exactly where it was but you hadn’t actually looked for it in a few months and when you went to where you remembered it being, it just wasn’t there?
Yeah… well, I hate to say this, but this happens in museum collections too. Less often than in my normal every day life, but often enough. See, there is a written record of where everything should be… but it’s dependant on someone actually updating the records as things get moved. Luckily for me, one of my predecessors was fairly anal about updating records… but if the object was moved in the time after their tenure, I often have to make an educated guess as to where it might have ended up. After working at the museum for six years, my educated guesses have gotten a lot better. There’s this thing called “institutional knowledge” which is the memory of staff and volunteers. Institutional knowledge can be the thing that saves your bacon when you just can’t make heads or tails of the cryptic note left in the catalog.
People move objects around. Sometimes it can be as simple as needing to move an object to get to another object and forgetting to put it back in place. It can be more catastrophic when records are “going to be” updated by a staff member who… suddenly stops coming to work with no explanation and now no one knows what they were working on, where their notes are, or how to go about picking up the pieces.
If I got hit by a bus right now, my coworkers would be taking my name in vain for YEARS. My paperwork and records are nowhere near up to date. Everything works FINE as long as I’m there… but if anyone else had to figure it out… Ooof. So I’ve shifted my schedule to be at the museum on Mondays when it’s closed so I can dedicate a full day to nothing but updating records and cleaning house.
I’m hoping to get everything up to date in a few weeks, so wish me luck!