The Two-Way Test for Museums

1. If you have the artifact, can you find the history on it?

2. If you have the history, can you find the artifact?

This is the crux of the matter. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? The concept was developed by an American museum worker named Daniel Reibel. It was in his book “Registration Methods for Small Museums”, published by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) in 1978.

I have yet to learn of a museum that can pass this test. The bigger the museum, the bigger the problem.

Key elements of attaining this goal are:

  1. Have EVERY artifact accessioned (recorded in the collection records and a unique number assigned and attached to the artifact)
  2. Have a location recorded for every artifact (even if the location is Stolen, Outgoing Loan, Unknown etc.) and keep it up to date!

I further refined this and put a time-frame on it. Within five (5) minutes, museum staff using the computer, should be able to say exactly where the artifact is, e.g.:

  1. Room X, Aisle 2, Bay 3, shelf 4
  2. Display Case 26
  3. Deaccessioned and transferred to the XYZ Museum on 1999-12-05 reference Board Minutes of 1999-12-01
  4. Deacessioned due to being in poor condition, reference Board Minutes of 2020-11-12
  5. Out on loan to such and such museum, Loan # _____. Due back 2021-04-07
  6. Stolen on 2010-03-14 and here is the police report or internal investigation
  7. Not found during inventory in 2015. 

For those who complain that this is a lot of work, bear in mind that you are the trustees for the collection. The donors have entrusted the artifacts into the care of your museum and you are a temporary custodian and will pass it on in the future to your successors. Now if you would prefer to go back to the old way of doing it with multiple typed record cards for each artifact, feel free to do so. Entering each record ONCE into a computer database, updating location when the artifact is moved, is EASY compared to what your predecessors had to do. Quit whinging (a British expressing for complaining) and get to work!