Friday, September 28, 2007

Whatzit Friday!

Oh wowee wow, time sure does fly! It's Friday already! Let's have another round of Whatzit?! Now remember, it's more fun if you guess what it might be in the comments.

This object is made of wood, and is very light. It might be an unfair Whatzit, because I'm not entirely sure I believe what our catalog card says this is. But it's pretty nifty, nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Beaded Leather

Whoops! Time sure flies when things get busy. With the start of the school year here at Central Washington University, I've experienced an influx of interested volunteers and interns. This collection has gone from 8 months of no one working with it to having about 7 people working on it (students and me). So far though, we've been working on the exciting, but darned useful, task of transcribing data from our catalog cards into our PastPerfect database. I anticipate moving onto object cataloging by next week.

Instead of taking the time to come up with a fun post for y'all, here's a pretty picture of an object in our collection:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Answers to my question

On Friday I asked you, Whatzit?

Two of you bravely responded: Larissa B. guessed that it might be a fossilized seed pod or some sort of sea shell. Ana guessed that it was a part of a cranium.

Neither of you are exactly right, but Ana's pretty close. The object is question is actually a whale ear bone!

I wish I could tell you more about it than just it's name, but unfortunately, that's about all the information I have. The museum received the whale ear bone as part of it's first accession, which consists of over 600 lots of objects. Some of those lots have a great deal of information about their origins, others do not. The whale ear bone falls in the latter category. If I were to hazard a guess about its origins, I would guess that the donor bought the ear bone from some curiosity shop during his travels in the first half of the twentieth century, but there's really no way to say for certain.

Thanks for playing Whatzit!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Whatzit Friday

One of my favorite activities is learning more about the collection. On more than one occasion I would encounter something and say to myself, What IS that? And I would go to the documentation we have to find out, and sometimes onto Wikipedia and the internet to confirm what the documentation said.

In honor of discovery and learning, I'm going to post pictures each Friday (that's the plan for now, in any case!) of some object that I had to do some work to understand. I'm not going to tell you what it is, not right now. You'll have to wait until Monday to find out the answer. But in the meantime, I encourage you to make your guesses in the comments.

I ran across the object below while I was transferring some of our written information into our database. It's a natural history object, relatively heavy for its size, and hard. Whatzit?

I should let you all know that these are not official museum quality photos - these are some quick snapshots.

Okay, go to it!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Foamy, foamy, foam!

When I went to graduate school for a degree in museology, I learned things I never expected. Like about foam. You know how foam on, say, those headphones from 1987 crumbles right off and is gross and disgusting. That foam is what will call unstable foam.

Appropriate foams for museum purposes are pretty stable. That is, they don't break down as much over time. In fact, we use things that aren't supposed to break down at all, or very very slowly. When materials break down, they release gases which we usually don't notice because they usually don't affect us. But if you put a very fragile old object on materials that break down (like that gross old foam), the gases and acids given off by unstable material can cause the object it's touching to discolor or grow weaker.

My original point was meant to be this: My supply orders are beginning to roll in, and I have some foam!

That's 6 planks of 2" think ethafoam. Useful stuff. Also in the picture are nitrile gloves and an acid free box. But there's more!

Let's see, that's more nitrile gloves, acid-free lignin-free file folders and paper, cotton tying tape, and some good old aluminum foil. Aluminum foil? What's that for?

Well, remember what I said about foam decaying and giving off gases? Wood does that too. A lot of our current storage space is made up of pressed board wood shelves, which is wood plus nasty chemicals. Currently, most shelves have a layer of paper on them on which the objects sit, but it's possible that those gases and unpleasant things released by the wood could migrate right through the paper. So I plan to lay a layer of aluminum foil between the paper and the shelf. Aluminum foil makes a barrier that the gases can't penetrate, at least not so easily. That's the story on aluminum foil!

I'm still waiting on two rolls of 1/8" thick ethafoam, and a roll of acidfree, unbuffered tissue paper. What's unbuffered? Let's save that for another day. And maybe another day I can tell you all about the kinds of foam I know. :D

Monday, September 17, 2007


How do you start a museum collection? Well, someone says "I would like to give you these things" and you say "Okay, I'll take them." And there it begins.

In the case of the museum collection at CWU, the collection began in 1953 with a large donation from a local doctor which runs the gamut from lithics, to natural history material, to coffee grinders. After that, the donations were pretty quiet until the 1970s when an effort was made to become a museum.

In the 1970s, many donations were made to the museum, and an exhibition space was created. A professional museologist (their term!) was brought on board to maintain collections, exhibits, and the museum studies program. Sadly, around 1980, budget cuts resulted in the loss of the museologist position and the museum more or less shut down. The collections remained. Over the next 20 years, efforts were made from time to time to revitalize the museum, but none came to full fruition. In the past decade or so, the collections were cared for by one of the professors and his wife, who served as volunteer curator.

I was brought on in August as part of a bigger plan for the museum. Renovations in one of the buildings on campus will provide us with a dedicated exhibition space and a collections space with more climate control then we currently have now. It is my task to ready the collections for a move to this new facility. This includes everything from writing up new policy and forms, to putting official paperwork in order, to making sure the collections are housed in ways which will keep them as stable as possible for as long as possible. And that's the short version of the story as I've discovered it. I understand that a longer version is in the works for the official museum site (which I will, of course, link to when we get it ready to roll).

It's really very exciting. While the collection has been cared for and documented over the years, I can find areas where we can improve on the care and documentation. By doing this, we'll make the collection useful to potential researchers (students, faculty, visiting scholars) and we'll have a really cool collection to use as a base for exhibitions in the new museum space. I hope you'll follow the journey.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Adventures in Collections Management!

You remember how Indiana Jones worked for a museum?* Well, I work for one too! Except that I don't travel the world and fight Nazis. But I do think my job is pretty exciting.

I am the Collections Manager for the Anthropology collections at Central Washington University. Although we don't currently have formal exhibition spaces, we will be moving into a brand new collections space and exhibition space inside of the next two years. That means there's a lot of work to do before we're ready to move!

What does a collections manager do? Many things. A collections manager is responsible for maintaining physical and intellectual control of museum collections. What does that mean? It means I need to know where our stuff is, if it's our stuff, and I need to ensure that the collection is cared for in a way which will keep it around as long as possible. That's the short version. I think you'll get an idea of the longer version over time.

So, wanna see it? Just a peek, a quick peek for today.

*Okay, fine. He was a professor of archaeology, but he was very concerned with the museum, adventuring and fighting Nazis for it. At the very least he mentions a museum at one point.