Full Visibility of Collections
By making the tracking of collection items a fast, simple and automated process it is possible for museums and galleries using Smarttrack RFID to achieve ‘full visibility’ of their collections.
What does ‘full visibility of collections’ mean?
Essentially what is meant by full visibility is that the organisation can be 100% certain that at any given time the whereabouts of any collection item is known. It also means that anyone in the organisation needing to access this information can be certain that it is accurate and up to date. Full visibility of the collection is vital for the good management of any museum or gallery. This can be impacted by a wide range of regular activities which includes labour-intensive tasks such as:
- Collection relocations
- Inventory and Stock-takes
- Identifying and retrieving objects for exhibition / research
- Condition Surveys
- Maximizing the use of existing resources
How are collections tracked?
Most collections in museums and galleries today are tracked using manual, labour-intensive systems. This usually involves the physical recording onto paper of object numbers as they move (noting the object number(s) and its new location). Subsequent to the move, this information is normally then entered by hand into the Collection Management System. Ideally this data is entered immediately, but in most cases there is at least a 1-2 day lag, which can easily stretch out to several weeks (or more). Some museums have started to utilise barcodes to begin to automate this process.
How does Smarttrack RFID help achieve full visibility of collections?
The Smarttrack RFID Loca.Fi system automates location tracking, either through the use of mobile handheld devices or fixed readers (portals). Any location changes recorded in the Smarttrack system can be integrated (automatically) to an existing Collection Management System (CMS), or alternatively viewed via a web-browser. This means that any user can see where any object is at any given time, and be confident that the information is accurate and up-to-date.
- Automated tracking
- Automatic updating of location changes into Collection Management Systems
- Confidence that location data is accurate and always up-to-date
Fast-track collection audits and stock-takes
Museums and galleries undertake some form of stock-take or audit of their collections on a regular or semi-regular basis. Audits are often mandated by legislation or are performed as a part of the regular audit of an organisation’s finances. Stock-takes are carried out to confirm locations and numbers of objects in a given area. An audit or stock-take of the museum or gallery’s collections is an essential part of good management practices for these organisations. However, audits and stock-takes are highly labour-intensive processes. The labour involved can be drastically reduced using Smarttrack RFID.
Because of the significant time and effort involved in carrying out stock-takes and audits, these virtually never cover 100% of the collection (unless the collection is very small), and instead focus on selected areas of the collection. Sometimes a portion of the collection is surveyed with a plan that over 3-5 years the whole collection will be covered. Of course, in the intervening period much of the material that has already been checked can move and potentially be misplaced.
How have Audits and stock-takes been traditionally performed?
Audits and stock-takes primarily revolve around checking objects are where the documentation or CMS says they are. In practice this usually involves staff printing off a list of objects in a given area and checking these off. While on the surface this appears to be a simple process, in practice this is never as straightforward as it sounds. This is because audits and stock-takes usually involve a number of time-consuming factors, such as:
- The need to open boxes or remove packaging to access objects and their number
- The need to move objects out of the way to access objects behind/underneath/etc.
- The need to handle objects to find their number (e.g. if its written on the base of a vase or a piece of furniture)
- The need to enter results back into the collection management system (this is normally done manually).
Once the results are entered into the CMS they then need to be reconciled. This involves:
- Confirm locations for objects found where they’re meant to be
- Update locations for objects found in different locations
- Report on objects not located (i.e. misplaced or lost objects).
Misplaced or lost objects and artworks
Finding objects and artworks not located during an audit or stock-take can be the most time-consuming to resolve, and causes the most grief when it comes to audit time. Essentially these objects are ‘lost’ until a complete inventory of the collection can be completed which is usually not feasible. The Smarttrack RFID Loca.Fi solution provides a simple, fast and effective means for finding these misplaced objects
Streamline and fast-track collection audits and stock-takes using Smarttrack RFID
The Smarttrack RFID Loca.Fi solution can make stock-takes several orders of magnitude faster than the current manual methods. We have a developed a cost-benefit analysis white paper. which can be used as a guide to estimating the costs for your collection. Using the Smarttrack RFID solution it is feasible that a collection containing 10,000 objects could be completely checked in a matter of hours-days, not months as it currently requires.
How does streamlining and fast-tracking collection audits and stock-takes using the Smarttrack RFID solution benefit the organisation?
Because complete stock-takes can be carried out more often, at any point in time the organisation can be confident that its collections are where they’re supposed to be. This can have wide-ranging benefits to an organisation:
- Increased staff time to focus on other more productive tasks
- Potential for reduced insurance costs
- Ease of audit processes at audit time
Quickly and easily find misplaced items
Museum and gallery collections can number in the tens of thousands to the millions. With such vast collections, misplacing an object through mis-filing or data-entry error essentially means these objects are ‘lost’ until a complete inventory of the collection can be completed. However, this is usually not feasible due to the significant labour required, and potentially places undue risk on other objects needing to be handled as the missing object is searched for. The Smarttrack RFID solution provides a simple, fast and effective means for finding these misplaced objects.
Find misplaced objects without opening boxes
By using a handheld reader misplaced objects can be quickly and easily located. The handheld enables a user to simply walk slowly up and down storage aisles scanning for the misplaced object (or objects), without needing to open any boxes, crates, etc or move or handle any other objects.
How does it work?
The user scans shelves using the handheld reader. Once the tagged object (or objects) is within range of the reader (this can be up to 3 m away) the reader provides the user with a beep and a visual read-strength indicator via the Loca.Fi app, which informs them that they are within range of the object that is being searched for. The handheld can then be used to ‘home’ in on the object using the signal strength of the tag read to pinpoint its precise location down to a few centimetres. Essentially this provides a simple but effective ‘Geiger-counter’ method for searching for misplaced items.
Using the handheld a misplaced item within a large collection store can normally be found within a matter of minutes, whereas it would essentially be lost otherwise.
Improve collection preservation through reduced object handling
During an object’s life in a museum or gallery it can be exposed to a number of risks. The most significant risks affecting the long term preservation of an object or artwork are:
- Dust and pollutants
Most museums and galleries go to great lengths (and expense) to minimise the risks associated with light, temperature, humidity, and vandalism and theft. However, two of the most significant risks to objects – handling and vibration – are often not minimised, and are seen as a ‘tolerable’ level of risk. Collections still need to be moved and handled to some degree e.g. for exhibition purposes. However, there are many tasks carried out ‘behind the scenes’, e.g. stock-takes, checking loans in/out, etc, which require significant amounts of object handling and vibration. These risks can be significantly reduced or even eliminated in many cases through the use of Smarttrack RFID.
In addition, RFID can reduce Work Health and Safety risks by minimising the need for staff to move heavy objects in order to access accession or registration numbers.
Through not requiring line-of-sight to read object labels object handling can be significantly reduced or eliminated through:
- No need to remove objects from boxes/packaging to see label(s)
- The ability to read object numbers in difficult-to-access areas without needing to move or touch the object.
- The ability to read object numbers without needing to move or touch other objects e.g. furniture items in storage, paper items in plan cabinet drawers, etc.
- The ability to read tagged artworks/objects in close proximity to each other e.g. stacked works on paper
Automatically track the movement of objects and artworks
Movement of objects and artworks is a core part of the day-to-day operations of any museum or gallery. Objects and artworks are moved for many reasons, such as:
- Visitor Access
- Storage changes
These movements are ideally recorded in the organisations Collection Management System (CMS), thereby maintaining a history of where an object has been, what it’s been used for, and who last moved it. More importantly the system identifies the last known location for an object, which should be where it currently resides. In most organisations many of these movements are not tracked, and if they are, it is usually a labour-intensive, manual process. Using Smarttrack RFID portals and readers’ museums and galleries now have the ability to automatically track objects and artworks as they move throughout their site.
By covering entry and exit points for every area of the building with an RFID portal, all tagged objects and artworks are automatically tracked as they move either in or out. In addition, the system has the ability to record the person moving the objects, and provide alerts if they’re not authorised to do this.
The Smarttrack Portals and integrated readers can cover:
- Storage doorways
- Loading docks
- Front doors
- Doorways to work areas (e.g. Conservation labs, Exhibition workshops)
All without interrupting the available opening area of the doorway
The benefits to a Museum or Art Gallery are numerous
- Improve collection preservation by reducing unnecessary handling required to open crates & packaging to read labels
- Gain insights into the actual amount of movement objects and artworks are being subjected to, which in turn provides vital information for the long term management and preservation of collections
- Ensure an object or artwork’s whereabouts is always accurate up-to-date
- Have clear audit trails detailing who moved which object(s) and when
- Significantly reduce staff time spent either looking for misplaced objects &/or spent updating information into Collection Management Systems.
- Assist in the prevention of theft
How it works