About the Project

behind the scenes images of the inventory project
By Claire Anderson

This series of online articles will illustrate the work of the National Museum of Ireland’s Five Year Inventory Project by detailing interesting objects, collectors or topics that we have come across in the course of our work. The objects are from the museum’s reserve collections, and so are not on public display.

Related objects can however be viewed in various exhibitions throughout the museum’s four sites. These will be highlighted in the individual articles along with any relevant published information. Through these articles we hope to bring the public closer to the ‘behind the scenes’ work of the Registration Department, and provide a virtual preview of our discoveries in the museum archives and stores!

What is the Five Year Inventory Project?

The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) is currently undertaking an inventory of its core collections. The Five Year Inventory Project began in 2009 building on documentation work carried out in previous years. It is running in all four divisions of the museum; Irish Antiquities, Art & Industry, Natural History and Irish Folklife. The project is managed by the Registration Department and involves a documentation officer and documentation assistants in each division.

What are the aims of the project?

The main aim of the Inventory is to create a database record for each object in the core collections with a museum registration number and a confirmed current location. All objects are being recorded to Spectrum standards: the UK standard for best practice in museum documentation. Object information will ultimately be made available on a centralised database, accompanied by digital images as these become available. This will enable both staff and the public to have better access to more wide-ranging object information for the first time in the history of the museum.

What does the work entail?

The documentation teams are often required to research object backgrounds, particularly when the original object information has been lost. The inventory team must try to identify the lost information in the Museum’s various acquisition registers, files or database records. The teams also consult with experts in the relevant fields, such as NMI curators, external academics and other museums. The documentation teams have built up a good store of in-house knowledge relating to objects of all types and periods!

What are the benefits of the project?

The Inventory Project will enable the Museum to establish the extent and scope of its collections. It will also contribute to improving the condition of the collections. For example, objects often require to be repacked in conservation-grade boxes or bags and objects covered in dust need a light brushing. To date, the project has catalogued over 400,000 objects across all four NMI divisions. A customised database, Adlib, has been established, allowing staff and researchers ease of access to object information. The overall effect of the project has been to open up the national collections more than has ever been possible before, thus providing much research material for future scholars and a wealth of collections information for the public to enjoy.

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