A Day in the Life…Rehousing 101

Rehousing 101

Two weeks ago I promised you a post on rehousing. So here goes.

Rehousing is exactly what it sounds like. Taking artifacts from their current, old housing, and putting them into new, sparkly clean, 100% archival housing.

So, what are the main things we consider when rehousing a collection?

Warehouse scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

  • Space efficiency – Museums do not have tons of empty space. Remember that scene at the end of Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark? The one in the overfull warehouse? Most collection storage facilities are a lot smaller, but just as full. By packing the boxes efficiently, we can help keep collection storage facilities from running out of space sooner rather than later.
  • Standards compliant – We work with federal museum collections, meaning, we work with collections that you, the tax payer, are paying to protect. It is our duty to ensure that they are around for future generations. As such, the Secretary of Interior has a set of rules for proper storage of collections.
  • Ease of access – Remember that warehouse scene from Indiana Jones? Can you imagine trying to find one little artifact in that giant warehouse? Now think about annual inventories or researchers hoping to gain insight from a collection. Without a well-organized collection, you’ll be hard pressed to achieve these goals.
  • Happy artifacts equal happy curators – Think about it this way. Would you like to have a herd of elephants sitting on top of you for many years to come? Artifacts don’t want that either. Storing materials incorrectly (i.e. a heavy brick lying on top of a piece of tin enamel ceramic) is damaging to artifacts. As museum professionals, it is our job to ensure that the collections in our care will still be around for generations to come.

Space Efficiency


Rehoused objects using 2-tray system

Our favorite space-efficient storage method may seem time-consuming, but it beats paying to construct a new storage facility. Using blue board trays, we can store twice the amount of objects while decreasing the risk of heavy objects crushing smaller, more fragile ones.

In the case of the SAMA collection, we also moved large items into their museum cabinets. These large objects, though not always spectacular to look at, are space hogs. By moving them to the museum cabinets, we were able to reduce the box count, thus saving valuable shelf space.

Standards Compliant

Can anyone say archival materials? Everything we use is archival – boxes, trays, bags, container lists, labels, tags. If it’s involved in the storage of an artifact, it’s archival.

Ease of Access

Jessica C. - Rehousing in action

Remember the tray system I mentioned above? Well, every bag is labeled. Numbers are assigned based on the location of the bag in the box. This information is then added to the catalog records. Ready for an example?

Let’s say we have 5 items from the same provenience (where they came from in the ground). Each item goes in a small bag of an appropriate size. We then put the 5 small bags into one 6×6 mother bag. The mother bag is the first bag in Box 1, Tray 1. So we label the mother bag 1-A, Tray 1. Since this information is then entered into the catalog record, finding one of those 5 bags in 1-A, Tray 1 is suddenly a lot easier.

In addition to labeling and organizing the artifact bags in an easy-to-find way, we also include container lists. These are lists of every object in a given box. The list lives on the underside of the box lid. Without having to touch any of the artifacts, you can look at this list to see what you will find in the box.

Happy Artifacts

This pretty much goes without saying. If artifacts are stored efficiently, in archival materials, and well-organized/easy-to-locate, you will get happy artifacts. And who doesn’t love a happy artifact?

So what do you think of the before and after? Does the collection look ready to withstand many generations of researchers and curators to come? I think so.

Before rehousing

After Rehousing


About Megan L.

Megan graduated from Boston University in 2008 with an M.A. in Historical Archaeology. While in graduate school, she wrote her master's thesis on 18th-century glass drinkingware excavated during the Big Dig and interned with NMSC for 2 years. Megan has been a full-time employee since February 2010.
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