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Making Our List and Checking it Twice: The 2020 Collections Inventory

In addition to better amplifying the Black voices of Montpelier and adjusting all our work to safely navigate the current health crisis, our big 2020 project is conducting and completing a full Collections Inventory!

Inventory 101

All museums, no matter what size they are, conduct inventories. These can take different forms, from a spot inventory to partial inventories to full, complete inventories. Spot inventories are where you select random objects in the collection and verify their location information. Partial inventories are where you take one section – perhaps a particular exhibit – and verify the location and information for those objects. A full, complete collections inventory is where you go through every single object in your collection and verify its location and information. EVERY SINGLE OBJECT! This ensures that all the objects in your collection are accounted for and gives you a chance to quickly assess their condition. This is particularly important for objects in storage, where you may not see or access them regularly to check on their condition. It’s generally a good idea to conduct a complete inventory every 3-5 years and at Montpelier, we do ours every 5 years.

So, Where Do We Start?

At Montpelier, we break down the inventory into the places where our objects are located. So for starting in the house, we break down the house into all the rooms. Generating lists of the objects that are supposed to be in each room from our database, we start systematically working through each object to see if it is accounted for on our list. We do this by first locating the object’s accession number. This is the number that is assigned to the object when it becomes part of the Montpelier Collection and allows us to track the object’s location.
This book’s location is being checked and confirmed on the Old Library’s object inventory list.
Once we locate the object’s number we turn to our checklist. If our information is correct, we should find the number on our list and go from there – assessing if the location information is correct, writing down the date of when we are checking the object and doing a very basic condition report – noting if there seems to be a major change in the condition of the object. Another factor we look at is whether the object has an accurate photo in our database. In addition to the accession number, accurate photographs help in identifying objects, so having an updated photo is important!
When an object is moved, like the busts in the Drawing Room, their new locations are updated in the Collections database.  Now assuming all our information in our database is up to date, this process goes pretty smoothly. However, we are only human, so there are typically a few anomalies that can come up. The most common one is that the location information needs to be updatedbecause the object has been moved around the room. For example, in the Drawing Room in the house, the busts were all once in one location and then a few of them were switched around. Our bust of George Washington was once on the west wall and now is on the east wall – and while it stayed in the Drawing Room, its location information was never updated in the database to reflect east wall vs west wall. This is something we would make sure to update.
Once every object has been accounted for, we move into the data entry part of inventory – not quite as fun as getting to go through all the objects in each room, but arguably the most important part! We start by going through our database and adding an entry for Inventory. The entry states that the object was found during the 2020 Inventory, who found it and any pertinent information. While in the database we make sure to make any location information updates as well. Once the database entry is complete we turn to our old school methods – the paper files and record books, our back-ups to the digital world. We check to make sure the location information on the object’s accession file (a file of the object’s history and important documentation) and in the accession record book (the book that lists every object in the collection!) is correct.

Once all of this information has been collected and entered, we simply start the process over in a new room or location!

So there you have it, the basics of the 2020 Inventory here at Montpelier! With a collection of over 4,300 objects, we still have quite a bit of work ahead of us – but we’ll make sure to update you along the way!

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