Physical Inventory

When the inventory process is more detailed and, in addition to basic information, generates information on the physical characteristics of objects, it is referred to as a physical inventory.

Such an inventory may consist of the following:

  • the materials of which the object is made and the technique used to make it;
  • the object's size or dimensions;
  • the object's decorative motifs;
  • inscriptions found on the object.

Even though this information is based on data that can generally be taken directly from the objects themselves, it can also be derived from written sources, such as the acquisitions register, object lists, or legal documents or contracts.

Since a process such as the physical inventory generally involves direct contact with the objects, it often provides an opportunity to photograph them. While this task is not required, it is becoming increasingly important, given all the possibilities created by digital imaging.

The advantage of such a process is that, in addition to providing the basic information for adequately managing the collection (identifying, counting and locating the objects), it gives us access to a more detailed description of the objects. This allows us to gain a better understanding of the collections, anticipate their storage and preservation needs more precisely, and obtain photographic reproductions of the objects.

Whether the inventory consists of a basic count or a physical inventory, remember that an inventory provides a central repository of information about the collections managed by the museum. It is a key tool for ensuring the sound management of collections. It is essential for the information to be updated regularly, since this is the only way to guarantee that the information is reliable and of high quality.

Several factors influence the need for updating the inventory and its recommended frequency.

  • How long ago was the initial inventory taken?
  • Are the objects used often and do they move around frequently?
  • Is there proper control over access to the collections within the institution?

As a general rule, if it has not already been done, it is advisable to take a single, complete inventory of the collections. Afterwards, updates must be done:

  • once a year, using a representative sample of the collections, by systematically verifying at least the location of the objects and their identification number;
  • at varying intervals and if deemed necessary, on the entire collection, about every 5 to 10 years, in accordance with existing policies and depending on the individual case.

These updates often help to identify problems related to procedures for collection use and serve as means of monitoring location. They also help to refocus and improve management approaches.

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