Be selective, have a "collections policy"
conservatories, libraries, and zoos all focus or limit their collections
to what they can safely store, care for, and learn about.
try to collect everything. Instead of collecting "old toys,"
narrow your collection to puppets, cast iron figures, or a particular
kind of doll and accessories. Instead of collecting postcards, narrow
your collection to holidays, humor, or a particular place.
collectors and museums take a combination approach: They acquire an
example of each type of thing they collect, but then focus more on a
example, The "Bug Room" at the Carnegie Museum of Natural
History would like to have an example of every species of insect known,
but they also collect as many individuals of certain species as they
can to become more expert about that particular insect. (See photos
Store your collection
is hard on things. Metal corrodes, cloth fades, leather dries out. Store
your collection in a place protected from light, temperatures that are
too hot or cold, where it is not too humid or dry. Don't leave things
in the open where they can get dirty or handled by other people. In
fact, don't handle items in your collection yourself unless necessary:
your hands have oils that can attract dirt and acids that can slowly
damage metals, papers, and cloth. Wear cotton gloves when handling these
materials to be extra sure.
you are storing paper, cloth, or metal in paper or cardboard, watch
out! You can't see it now, but acids from paper and cardboard yellows
paper and cloth. Always check that your collection is stored in acid-free
boxes with acid-free papers. Light can also damage and fade materials,
just like ultraviolet in sunlight can give you a sunburn and, over many
years, skin cancer.
Never "clean" or refinish old things in your collection unless
you really know that you are doing it properly! Watch the Antiques
Road Show on WQED/TV if you don't know why!
and archives try to find as much as possible about the things in their
collections. They write down everything they know about how each object
came to them, what its previous owners knew about it-- the usual who,
what, when, where, why, and how. Then they keep researching to learn
more. The museum's registration records and catalog keeps this information
on file, along with drawings, photos and descriptions of each object.
Every type of object carries different kinds of information with it.
Information about one-of-a-kind works of art is different than information
about manufactured items or published art works. Things from the natural
world require different kinds of record-keeping than things made by
humans (Go to Botanical Bounty (coming) to learn special ways
plants are documented).
You probably already know some of the important kinds of information
about the things you collect. You can start your own catalog by listing
some of that information. The idea behind a good catalog is to dig up
and record the same consistent information for each item in your collection.
You can add to it as you research and learn more about the things in
your collection. Here is a list of the kind of information you might
want to collect about human-made things:
History of Object (Who owned and used it, what they used it for, how
they acquired it, etc.)
your collection in different ways -- either in a database or in real
life -- helps you pick out patterns leading to new discoveries. A library
catalog is an example of a computerized catalog that allows you to search
and organize your search by subject, author, and title. Museums also
have catalogs, though they aren't usually used by the public.
the list above to create a computer database with records that list
information for every object in your collection. Or just keep a tried-and-true
record system with an index card for each item in your collection.
Share it, interpret
archives, libraries, conservatories, and zoos share their collections
to help people learn and scholars research more about their fields.
Museums create exhibits to tell stories with their collections. They
use exhibits to "interpret" their collections, that is, explain
what story the objects have to tell. What story does your collection
tell? Your collection may be able to tell many stories, depending on
how you arrange things.
museums, libraries, and archives are digitizing their collections to
share online. What are the pros and cons of online exhibits? Though
screen images of great treasures will never take the place of standing
in front of the real thing, they allow people from all over the world
to enjoy these collections and learn about them.
If you have a scanner, computer, and web server access, create your
own online gallery of your collection, too!
us about your collection at the Collecting
Ourselves Gallery. If you have an online exhibit of your collection,
post the URL so we can help people find you! And upload a picture of
one of your favorite things in your collection.
Entymology Department at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History collects
both one of many species and many of fewer species.
specimens are mounted, then kept stored in special glass-covered drawers
under controlled temperature and humidity.
more about it
work isn't over when a species is added to the collection. In fact,
it has just begun! Curators continually research the collection, learning
more and publishing the results of their research.
catalogs are much like library catalogs, like these at the Carnegie
Library of Pittsburgh. Computer databases allow records like those in
the old card catalogs to be arranged and searched much more quickly.
use their collections to teach about art, history, and the natural world.
The Carnegie Museum of Art hosts travelling exhibitions like the aluminum
show above, but Phipps Conservatory's outdoor exhibits tend to stay
where they are planted!