Cassandra Leon: Registration Intern
I have loved museum work since 2018, when I was first able to intern at a small university museum. I was a math major taking an art history elective course at a community college. The professor of this class recommended me for the internship, and shortly after starting, I changed my entire career path. Since then, I have worked in several museums in California, Texas, Ohio and now Wyoming. I love getting to be hands-on with objects, solving mysteries in the collection, and spending time behind-the-scenes.
As the Registration Intern here at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, I get to work pretty closely with objects in the collection. But what does a registration intern even do? What is a Registrar? How is a collection, with so many different objects, managed? These are questions I hope to answer, throughout a series of blog posts during my summer here.
(Some) Responsibilities of the Registration Department
The collection at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has a wide variety of objects. Artwork, taxidermy, firearms, textiles, and many other materials all have different requirements for storage and care. The registration department’s primary responsibility is the care and management of these objects. When working with museum objects, we must follow the rules that provide the best care for each object, keeping in mind they may differ from object to object. In a perfect world, every single object in a collection, from the smallest key to the largest painting, will have its own Object ID. We then number and barcode each object.
One of the current projects I am working on is giving each object in the Cody Firearms Museum individual records and numbers. Many of the firearms on view have a case and accessories in storage, that all need their own number. In order to do so, there are certain handling and marking procedures one must follow. The variety of materials in a collection require different processes and techniques. This post will focus on two aspects of this project: handling and numbering objects. First, I must create new records within the collection management system. This ensures that objects will not be numbered incorrectly. Then, I can create numbers and barcodes for each object.
How to Handle Objects
While most materials require specific rules regarding handling, some general guidelines can be followed. The first rule when working with objects, is to only handle an object when necessary. Harm done to objects is most often by human interaction. When handling a piece in the collection, treat each object as if it were priceless. Wear gloves when handling objects, since the oil from your hand can transfer onto the material and cause lasting damage in several years time. Before even touching the object, plan the route you are going to take. Also, know the space you are going to place it. With larger objects, find someone to help move and place it. Hold objects like photos or paintings by the sides, never from the top. Never use the handle on an object, as it may be fragile from age or use.
If damage occurs when handling an object, document and photograph the object and any damage. There are many regulations when it comes to handling different kinds of objects, and before doing so, the person handling it should be aware of them. Books, ceramics, textiles, paintings, natural history specimens and firearms all have different requirements when handling.
How to Number Objects
The number one rule when physically changing an object in any way, is that everything must be reversible. The Center uses two main types of adhesive. Each one requires a different solvent, dependent on the material of the object. One dissolves in ethanol. It is used on metal, hard woods, glazed ceramics and glass. The other dissolves in water and is used on plastics. Whatever solvent used to remove the old number, should not harm the object. To number the object, print the Object ID Number on archival paper and place it in an hidden place on the object. This is so that when an object is on view, the number is not visible. For textiles, write the number on cotton twill tape and carefully sew it onto the object using existing holes.
If a number is already on the object, gently remove it, using the proper solvent, and replace with the correct number. Sometimes, objects are too small for a number to be placed, such as a piece of ammunition. In that case, place the object in a bag and number it.
Overall, there are many things someone must be aware of when handling or numbering an object. The preservation of the object is the most important aspect of doing anything within a museum. There are a lot of things that one needs to be aware of when interacting with objects both on and off view.