Accurate and complete accession records are the cornerstones of museum collections. With PastPerfect, you may enter complete information about each new accession, including donor name and address, date received and accessioned, names of staff who received and accessioned items, and credit line. You can also specify the type of acquisition, such as gift, bequest, purchase, transfer, or exchange, and track activities throughout the accession process.
Every item in your collection is linked to its source information by its accession number. The Catalog Records Accordion gives you the option of entering items from the Accession screen at the time the accession is registered. Once this is done, you may go to the catalog records and enter detailed descriptive data for each item. Or you can go right to the catalog, add the item, and link it to its Accession record using the accession number. Either way, you will have instant access to detailed information about items and how they were acquired. Another great advantage of PastPerfect’s Accession catalog is that it generates a Deed of Gift and thank you letter with just a few mouse clicks.
For more information, see Additional Features | Accessions.
The professional museum goes beyond simply collecting items; it must also collect information. Often the importance of careful registration and cataloging are overlooked in the busy environment of local museums and small historical societies. The task of registrar may fall to a volunteer. PastPerfect is designed to help address the needs of organizations with little or no training in collection management.
An accession is defined as one or more items acquired at one time from a donor or group of donors constituting a single transaction between a museum and a source.
Registration is the process in which institutions develop and maintain a permanent means of identifying items for which the institution has assumed permanent or temporary responsibility.
The registration system is the museum’s memory. Some would argue that the records are as important as the items themselves. Keeping good records is a primary function of a good museum. Your museum has placed its collections in your hands. Someday you will pass the collection on to its next caretaker. It is your fundamental responsibility to hand over the collection and its records in good condition.
The registration system does the following:
What do you really need to know about each item?
If your organization is brand new, you have the unique opportunity to begin truly at the beginning. Your task is to implement a registration system that is easy to understand, flexible, and expandable. This can be accomplished by starting with a numbering system that is in keeping with professional standards throughout the museum community. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. The three-part numbering system is standard in the museum field and is readily understood by museum professionals.
The three-part registration numbering system, also known as the trinomial system, is both simple to apply and expandable. To begin, assign each accession to the year it was received. For example, if the item or group of items was received by the museum in 2015, then 2015 is the first part of the three-part number. The second part of the number is derived from the chronological order in which the accession was received. For example, the first group of items received in the year 2015 would be assigned the number 1. Now our number has two parts: 2015.1. This number, 2015.1, is the accession number for the item or group of items.
To further distinguish the items within the accession, simply add item numbers to the accession number to give each item in the accession a unique Object ID number. For example, the first item in the accession would be given the Object ID number 1, the next would be 2, and so on. Now our first item in the accession has the unique Object ID number 2015.1.1, the second item would be 2015.1.2, and so on. Thus the system has given you three pieces of information: the year of the accession, the number of gifts in a given year, and the number of items in each gift. This system is simple to understand and unlimited in application.
In PastPerfect, the accession number refers to the unique number that defines an item or group of items received from a single source at one time. Essentially, the accession number refers to the transaction of the item or items rather than the items themselves. The Object ID is the unique catalog number assigned to each item. An accession may contain any number of items with unique Object IDs.
There are obvious advantages to the trinomial system. You do not have to worry about how many items are in each accession. It is expandable to accommodate any number of items. The second advantage, and perhaps the most important, is that it identifies the source of the donation. The accession portion of the number can be related easily to the donor information. In PastPerfect, this information can be viewed from any record in the Objects, Photos, Archives, or Library catalogs by clicking the Accessn/Loan number to open the Accession record, or by opening the Source Accordion on the catalog record.
A good guideline to follow is to assign a different Object ID to each item, even for items that are closely related. Each item has its own record, where you can track the condition and location for each item. Relationships between items (regardless of whether they are part of the same accession or not) can be recorded through the Related Items function, found on catalog records in the Relations Accordion.
However, there may be times when you may want to number items in a set so that it is clear they are related. There are a variety of ways to do this, so it is important that your institution is consistent with its numbering methods.
Don’t ask your numbering system to work too hard. Some curators attempt to use the accession and Object ID numbers to classify items. Most of these systems break down as soon as they are implemented. For example: you may be tempted to use the prefix "T" to indicate tools. Soon you realize that you have carpenter’s tools (CTs) and shipwright’s tools (STs); next you identify seamstress’s tools (ST2s), blacksmith’s tools (BTs), and dentist’s tools (DTs). Very soon you will need a scorecard to understand your own system. In addition, a numbering system that employs alphabetical prefixes will soon have items with identical numbers differing only in prefix. Museums with such numbering systems will find their record keeping complicated and confusing.
If you already have a registration system in place, PastPerfect can accommodate it as long as each item has a unique Object ID or catalog number. In the past, many museums simply assigned a chronological number to each accession. For example, a group of items might be given the accession number 5000 because that is the next number in the sequence. The individual items in the accession would be assigned chronological numbers as well. Thus, the items in this system might be assigned the unique Object ID numbers 5000.1, 5000.2, 5000.3, etc. The next accession would be 5001 and so on. This system will work in PastPerfect because each item has a unique number.
For more information about assigning numbering systems, we recommend the "Numbering" chapter in The New Museum Registration Methods, 5th edition, edited by Rebecca A. Buck and Jean Allman Gilmore.