Currently viewing the tag: "Risk Assessment"

Yesterday was supposed to be our last day here at the museum, but we decided to come in today to try and finish up with our Risk Assessment in the Manuscripts collection.  We came very close to doing just that, but didn’t get all the way to the end, unfortunately.   However, we tackled a few big collections over the past two days, and even some unprocessed collections.  Along the way we got to see some pretty interesting collections, including our favorite, Lillian Powers, the Squirrel Lady, one last time.

We began this summer doing a shelf read in the Manuscript collection, comparing the items on the shelves with the catalog spread sheet, and when that was finished we proceeded to the Risk Assessment portion of our project.  Both experiences have taught us a great deal.  The shelf read introduced us to different types of formats that can be present in a manuscript collection and some of the best practices for describing them.  We also gained a little experience with using the Library of Congress authority controls during this process.

This thing is HUGE!

While performing risk assessment for this collection, we began learning about what can physically compromise a collection: red rot on leather, acid migration from newspaper, annotations on photographs, and the dastardly metal paper clip!  Every now and again we stumbled upon something which really caught our preservation attention, like a very unstable nitrate negative or x-ray.  We also got a chance to see the wide variety of formats that can be found in these collections, like specimens, reprints (I never want to see another reprint again), slides, cassette tapes, and giant floppy disks that wouldn’t fit in any computer we’ve ever used.

Otherwise our time was spent counting items of varying formats and then logging them into the LARA Access database, a process which was sometimes slow and required a significant amount of attention to detail and discussion.  We were both happy that we didn’t have to go this alone.

In the end, our experience taught us so much about risk assessment and the organization and maintenance of an archive.  And it allowed us to encounter images of U.S. presidents, species of fish we’d never heard of, and wonderful squirrel loving New Yorkers. So we leave you with this:

Goodbye, Special Collections. Thanks for everything.

Most of our afternoon today was spent with Roger Conant. A museum herpetologist, Conant was a meticulous and precise individual to say the least.  The processed portion of the collection housed in the Manuscript department (which does not include the portions of his collection housed in Herpetology or the unprocessed portions) spans 57 linear feet and is comprised of 117 boxes!  The picture hardly does the immensity of this collection justice.  But you get the idea.

The collection was largely correspondence, which was easy enough to go through as far as risk assessment is concerned.  But as we made our way through all of his boxes, we found ourselves confronted with, and stunned by, the plethora of formats and the sheer volume of it all.

While going through a box containing a handful of miscellaneous notebooks we also found 11 old passports belonging to Roger, his second wife Isabella, and one of third wife.  In older passports (which were not always blue, by the way) there was a section where you were supposed to mention any distinguishing characteristics of the bearer.  Turns out Conant was missing his left thumb. We had to find out how and why, and knew that the answer had to be somewhere in these boxes.

And it was.  And the story makes complete sense in the end.  Conant studied snakes, predominately of the southwest. As a 20 year old student, Conant apparently tried to capture a Crotalus mitchelli, commonly known as a speckled rattlesnake, or Mitchell’s rattlesnake.  Tried, and was bitten in the process.  The photo at left was found among some of Conant’s personal papers towards the end of the collection.  The annotation on the back identifies the top photo as being of Conant’s left hand, after being bitten by the snake in the second photo. Yikes!

Risk assessment wise the collection was in great shape with exception of some mounted oil paintings of snakes, lizards, and frogs.  In color these pictures are still enclosed in non-archival plastic with decaying adhesive.

Conant’s archive was full of personal and family records including pictures from his childhood in the early 20th century and memorabilia from his time as a boy scout and a math tutor.  Seeing small artifacts such as these just makes you smile, and then wonder how on earth you are supposed to classify them.  Two wooden boats, one metal cannon, 5 award ribbons…

Boo hoo, alas, after three months, today was our last day in Herpetology. We spent the day trying to do as much as we can to complete the risk assessment of the processed collection, and the cataloging and risk assessment of the unprocessed collections. As we mentioned in last week’s blog, the unprocessed collections are HUGE. There were many boxes of papers, slides, photographs (both black & white and color), notebooks, and more. To give a perspective, Ernest A. Liner’s collection has over 8,000 slides! Whew! Unfortunately, most of these slides have sustained damage due to being housed in non-archival plastic sleeves. The sleeves are sticking to the emulsion of the slides. We were told that these slides are one of the most important items in his collection. Hopefully, these slides will be preserved somehow.

Near the end of the day, we found boxes of slides that showed the various stages of venomous snake and spider bites including several slides depicting autopsies of fatal bites. These slides are from the Sherman Minton collection. Minton seemed to specialize in studying the effects of venom and anti-venom.

To conclude, while we learned a lot about cataloging and risk assessment of archival collections, we also increased our knowledge of reptiles and amphibians as a side benefit. Jannette’s favorite out of the entire collection was the giant turtles that greeted us everyday as we walked to the archival room. My favorite reptile was Ernest Liner’s smiling pet, Buster, the Mexican beaded lizard.

In Herpetology, we are nearing the end of the cataloging and risk assessment phases. Today, Rebecca continued with the risk assessment of the processed collections, while I catalogued the unprocessed collections. Adding to the disorganization, there were numerous boxes placed by the filing cabinets that needed to be sorted out. Not all the boxes were labeled, so I had to deduce who the creator was. I was able to do this by deciphering the handwriting on the materials in the unidentified boxes. The result was there were actually three collections (Ernest A. Liner, Roger Conant, and Sherman Minton.) These were labeled accordingly so hopefully, during the next cycle, it will be easy to continue with this project.

On the risk assessment side, things are moving quickly. While the majority of the materials were field notes, Rebecca came across some interesting black and white photos and beautiful etchings of various species. We have to say that we’ve made good progress and hopefully we will finish on the last day of our internship.

While tackling some of the unprocessed collections in Herpetology, we came across a century 0ld scrapbook of newspaper clippings about toads. The clippings spanned from 1911 to 1936 and the scrapbook was in good condition. One very interesting article that caught our attention was about a hop toad that was found alive in Nantucket after 21 years entombed in cement! We were amazed and intrigued to read about this. Upon further research, we found another article that mentioned of a horn toad that suffered a similar fate. However, he was discovered alive after 31 years in West Texas. The article discussed the findings of a researcher who claimed that certain species of frogs can exist without food or water for a hundred years. Wow, this was truly mind boggling!

Other than our trip through old newspapers, we were able to complete the cataloging and risk assessment of the rest of the unprocessed collections that were mixed in with the maps. These included photographs, negatives, posters, artwork, and other mixed formats, including field notes. We are finding that cataloging these unprocessed collections takes a bit longer due to the vast variety of formats. However, looking through these “treasure troves” makes this project fascinating and enjoyable.

Again, there were many photographs that are in need of correct archival storage and treatment. We found a cool looking enlarged x-ray of a coiled snake that we think almost looks like a chain necklace. Next week, we shall be exploring a different room in Herpetology, who knows what we will discover next!

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Risk assessment was the name of the game today as we continued to survey the herpetological collections. At first, we didn’t find anything unusual. As we continued, however, the Herndon Dowling Collection caught our attention. Dowling was a curator of reptiles in New York Zoological Park from 1960-1967 and Emeritus Professor of Biology at New York University. During the 1920s, he conducted studies of the black swamp snake and discovered two subspecies. Therefore, it came as no surprise that his collection contained mostly of anatomical drawings of snakes. We were impressed that these drawings were very detailed and done in pencil. Notations on the drawings indicated that they were copied from specimens in the museum. The photos on the left show the precision of the drawings.

On a conservation note, these drawings were not well protected and are left loose in the archival box. Ideally, they should be placed in mylar sleeves and put in archival envelopes or folders.

Today in Herpetology for a change of pace, we decided to take a side trip to the map room. Needless to say we found some maps. Big maps, small maps, old maps, new maps, sketch maps, maps in Spanish, black and white maps, color maps, relief maps and even some hand drawn maps. As you can see by picture above, one map was almost bigger than Marilyn!!

The maps spanned the entire world including every continent as well as countries, states, counties, cities, townships and even some maps of remote locations where the herpetologists found and marked specific specimens.

Most of the maps were in good condition. All are kept in map drawers and many are separated with acid-free paper. Some of the older maps are brittle and ripping. The following map is of Arizona which a herpetologist who happened to pass by estimated it was from the 1930s.

We did find some maps that were laminated. We we wondering if that may be a good solution for the older maps that are falling apart. Are these maps too fragile for the laminating process?

So far we have estimated over 2000 maps in this collection and that does not include a locked cabinet we can not get into yet. Among this collection are also many items that are not maps and should probably not be in this room but more on that later….

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Well, it’s the end of my time here at AMNH, and it’s certainly been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed looking into some of the Museum’s hidden collections and making records for them so that one day they won’t be so hidden. Since most of my work was in the Anthropology Department, and because there is yet work to be done there, I’ve created a summary of what has been completed there, and what is left to be done by interns this Fall.

All locations in the Anthropology Archive have undergone Phase 1 cataloging.Todd and I began this work in the Spring semester, and thought that because the Department already had their own records this phase would go fairly quickly. It took much longer than expected because we were overly thorough in our additions to the records of things like Physical Description, and additions to the Summary field. Verifying authority records using the Library of Congress Authorities site also took considerable time.

The Server Room (Room 36), Anthropology 2 (Room 14), and the Hallway Map case have undergone Phase 2 risk assessment.Still needing risk assessment are Anthropology 1 (Room 15), Hallway filing cabinets outside of Anthropology 1, and Hallway cabinets outside of the kitchen area.



Bolding in the cataloging spreadsheet indicates new entries or information that was added to the records since obtaining the Department’s original catalog records from Kristen Mable.

Anywhere in the cataloging spreadsheet that the creator is listed as “AMNH Department of Anthropology,” the authorized heading is “American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Anthropology.”I believe I’ve changed all of these using Excel’s find and replace function, but did not check line by line.

Field Notes were identified by determining whether the material appeared to be a first person account or observation of time spent in the field where the researcher was working.This includes field data sheets, sketches of sites, notes on what the researcher saw or heard at the site, and diaries kept while in the field.

Today is our last day in the Paleontology archives. We started the morning with another tour with Bob Evander, checking out hidden collections among the specimens. We also came across this awesome giant sloth!

We’ve finished wrapping up all the loose ends for Phase 1 and 2 and have labeled all the collections. At some point, the hidden collections will have to be included but we took pictures of all the locations so that can be finished at a later point. Also the new collections that we created will need to be added to the finding aid. VPA collection numbers also need to be integrated into the existing finding aid. During our risk assessment, we did a basic overview of the map collection, but it’s clear that additional work on this collection would be helpful to the department, there are about 3,000 maps. The intention is for it the maps to be an ongoing project. We also have one collection of totally unprocessed material which we did a basic catalog record for, eventually it will hopefully be processed.

We really enjoyed our summer here at the museum and feel that we have learned a lot about how an archives works, creating new collections, and conducting risk assessment.

Today in Anthropology I worked with Lauren to complete the risk assessment in Location II. There were only about 10 collections left in this location, and fortunately they were fairly large and generally only 1 or 2 collection units. We finished the risk assessment in this location before lunch, and moved on to the map case in the Anthropology hallway after lunch. Our favorite find from Location II today was this floor plan of an unknown museum from the “Notes on Museum Collections in Europe and America, 1911-1930” collection. Notice the bear hunt scene at the far left.

After lunch, we completed risk assessment on the hallway map case, and found these drawings of clay dolls from the collection of James Alfred Ford.

Next week we hope to finish risk assessment on the remaining hallway cabinets, which will bring us much closer to finishing both phases in Anthropology – hooray!