Well, we did it. After about four years of focused work, the Peabody Institute collections team has finally completed the inventory project.
This project has been a labor of love (and frustration, and tears, and headaches…) over the years. And I am thrilled to share that the last drawer was inventoried last week!
The project was originally designed back in 2016 to gain full physical and intellectual control over the collection. We knew that the Peabody Institute was home to thousands of items that had not yet been cataloged and were therefore inaccessible to researchers, classes, and tribal partners.
Over the course of the project, we more than doubled the catalog records in our internal database, counted just over 500,000 individual items, and rehoused items from over 2,000 wooden drawers into archival boxes.
I considered linking to all the past blog posts about this project, but honestly, that got ridiculous pretty quickly! Instead, I will direct you here to find everything tagged as part of the reboxing project to learn more about our process.
A massive thank you must go out to everyone who was a part of this incredible project. This includes all Peabody Institute staff – including those who have had to move on over the years – our volunteers, and dozens of work duty students.
Our deepest appreciation also goes our financial supporters – the Oak River Foundation, the Abbot Academy Fund, and Les ’68 and Barbara Callahan for their generosity and support of the Peabody’s goal to improve the intellectual and physical control of the Institute’s collections.
As some of you blog may know, the biggest project currently being done at the Peabody is the complete inventory of all of our collections. In previous blog entries (these can be read here and here), we have discussed the process, including the fact that we move the artifacts from the original wood storage drawers to custom made gray Hollinger boxes-generously supported by the Abbot Academy Fund. When we received the shipments of these boxes, they were stored off-site in two storage units that the Peabody had rented in town. These two storage units perfectly held all of our boxes and everything has been right in the world.
A few weeks ago, I was up in the attic of the Peabody doing a pest inspection with Waltham Services and I had an idea. I went to my supervisor Marla Taylor and I said, “Do you know what would be an interesting idea? If we rearranged what is up in the attic, closed out both storage unit accounts and moved the rest of the boxes up into the attic.” By this point in time, the first of our two storage units was getting pretty empty, with maybe 15-20 large boxes remaining inside. I told Marla that if this idea worked out, it would benefit the Peabody in two major ways (and possibly more, but these are the big ones).
First of all, we wouldn’t have to pay the monthly fee for storage units anymore. This would ultimately save the Peabody a chunk of change every fiscal year, and who doesn’t want to save money wherever they can? When we had the storage units, we used to have to reserve a rally wagon (an SUV owned by Phillips Academy that only certified drivers can operate) and drive over to the storage unit. With that method we could only fit a maximum of six boxes (each containing 12 gray boxes) into the back of the SUV. Additionally, we would save on the cost of renting the rally wagons, which we have been using more frequently lately since we have three people working on the inventory.
Second, anytime we needed more gray boxes for the inventory, we would be able to just walk upstairs to the attic and grab them. The only way this idea wouldn’t work was if the boxes wouldn’t fit in the attic. Marla thought about this idea for a minute and we had a look around the attic to see if this was feasible. After a few minutes with a measuring tape, she said she thought that this idea was great and had serious potential to work. This response was of no surprise to me, because it is well known that I only have good ideas. I received yet another gold star for my many efforts and great ideas.
We then strategized how to get the Peabody ready for the influx of these boxes of boxes. First, we needed to empty the first storage unit. This involved John and Emily making multiple runs to the unit while Marla, Emma and I unpacked the gray boxes and organized them around the basement. All of these gray boxes managed to fit in various places downstairs. This was great! It meant the attic wouldn’t have to house anything but the second unit. A week before the big move, we set about cleaning the attic to make as much space as possibly for the contents of the final storage unit. With the help of work duty students, Marla, Emma, Emily and John, the attic was cleaned and looked like a barren wasteland, but a beautiful one that was about to be filled with boxes.
Finally, we rented a U-Haul truck and set to work. We had set aside an entire day to facilitate this move. Marla and John drove the truck to the storage unit and filled it with as many boxes as possible. When they pulled up outside the Peabody, all hands were on deck. We got all of the boxes into the lobby and started carrying them up to the second floor landing. Marla and John left to go fill the truck with a second load. Once all of the boxes were up on the second floor, Emily, Emma and I started the move to the attic. This part seemed like it was going to be difficult because the attic stairs are very narrow and the large boxes are very wide. But then, I had the BRILLIANT idea to use the stairs as a ramp and literally push the boxes up the stairs. This made the operation go so much faster than originally anticipated.
When all was finally said and done, this move that we expected to take all day (and possibly longer) was accomplished in THREE HOURS. GO TEAM – these boxes were MEANT to go into this attic. We were exhausted, but totally deserving of the Indian Buffet lunch we decided to enjoy. The day was a huge success for the Peabody Collections team. Now the attic looks beautiful and it will be much easier for us to restock on boxes when we need them.
I am thrilled to share that we have officially inventoried half of the collection!
As of mid-June, the collections team has inventoried 1,079 artifact drawers – half of the 2,159 that hold our collection. Those drawers translate to 243,967 individual artifacts that have been counted and rehoused in the process!
A massive “thank you” goes out to all of the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the inventory so far: Rachel Manning, John Bergman-McCool, Emma Cook, Annie Greco, Alex Hagler, Quinn Rosefsky, and dozens of work duty students.
With excitement and deep gratitude, we also announce that funding has been secured to complete the inventory by our target deadline of December 31, 2020.
The Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Illinois has renewed its support for a temporary inventory specialist for another two years. Our deepest appreciation goes to the Oak River Foundation for its continued generosity and commitment to the Peabody’s goal of improving the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.
But that is not all!
Barbara and Les Callahan have agreed to provide critical funding to extend the appointment of our current inventory specialist – John Bergman-McCool. Les graduated from Phillips Academy in 1968 and is an active volunteer on campus. Barbara has served on the Peabody Advisory Committee since 2013. Both have been steadfast advocates and supporters of our mission and we cannot thank them enough for providing this deeply meaningful gift.
We hope these acts will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help, please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493.
Before I officially became a staff member here at the Peabody, I was a volunteer and work duty student. I started volunteering at the Peabody about nine years ago, and when I came to Phillips Academy as a student I immediately signed on to do work duty. As a volunteer and work duty student, I worked to catalogue and inventory returned artifact loans, set out class activities, digitize records, and photograph artifacts. Since going to college out of state about two years ago, I have not been back at the Peabody, other than for brief visits. Reflecting on my time working here, it is fascinating, and somewhat nostalgic, to look back at what the Peabody was like when I started all those years ago and how it has changed so much since then!
When I started volunteering here, the Peabody was still officially a museum and still had standing exhibit space on the first floor. Some of those exhibit cases displayed artifacts, others dioramas or archaeology-related activities done by some Phillips Academy classes. Down in the collections, we used white cotton gloves to handle artifacts, rather than the purple nitrile gloves we use now. The reboxing project had not begun, so much of the work I did was cataloguing and inventorying in preparation for when that project might get funding. While I was doing work-duty, I sat in on some meetings about how to make the Peabody more accessible to Phillips Academy students, both in terms of the collections and the building space as a whole. Since then, the Peabody has initiated student study hours, during which the building is open to students as a study space, and renovated the first floor to make it more class-friendly!
It has been just over two years since I graduated from Phillips Academy, and I am so happy to be back working here! I study archaeology in college, and so working here, albeit temporarily, is an opportunity not only to continue learning how to preserve archaeological collections, but also to put into practice what I have learned at school, namely how to make archaeology more accessible for everyone.
About six months in and the reboxing project is beginning to take off. With the help of students and volunteers, 52 drawers have been converted into 86 boxes. These first months have been spent ironing-out the kinks in the procedure and strategically identifying areas of the collection on which to focus.
The inventories produced from this project have already helped to identify areas of the collection for further attention and have made some objects available for education use.
Embarking on a full inventory and rehousing of your museum collection is a daunting task. Transferring approximately 1,700 drawers into 3,000 archival boxes will take years of work. Fortunately for me, I have access to an invaluable resource – Phillips Academy students.
For a week in July, two Lowers (10th graders) came to the Peabody every day for four hours to fulfill their work duty commitment for the school year. I gave them a crash course in artifact identification and object handling techniques before they got down to business. As they worked through the meticulous process of inventorying everything in the collection, they made crucial observations that will improve my workflow. Together, these two students recorded the contents of twenty-nine drawers!
Work duty students will continue to be an essential work force as we move through the collection. I will share their progress and successes in the months and years to come.
I began working at the Peabody in sixth grade, under the brilliant supervision of Lindsay Randall. I was introduced to the behind-the-scenes workings of a museum, cataloging artifacts, organizing photos, preparing materials for classes, all the jobs of a high school work duty student. It amazed me, and still does, that, despite my young age, I was treated just about the same as any other work duty student. I was given the trust of the people I worked with at the museum, and that trust has remained to this day. Because of that, I have had wonderful, momentous occasions at the Peabody. I represented the Peabody at the 2014 Alumni Reunion Weekend, and I presented the findings of my own independent research project to the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, to name only two. I have enjoyed the constant support of the people with whom I have worked all these years, and so the Peabody has become like a second home to me.
Now, as a graduating senior, I look back on my years at the Peabody. I find that I am mostly content, with only some minor regrets, namely that I have yet to see the floppy disk I was promised way back in sixth grade. But beyond that, I find that I am overwhelmed, reflecting on how I have changed over my years working here. At the beginning, I was nervous, hesitantly exploring the Peabody for the very first time, just starting to explore my new found interest in history. At the end, I am confident, not only in that I have made smart and responsible choices during my time here, but also in that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. And I have the Peabody to thank for that.
Interested to read more student reflections? Visit here and here for more perspectives.
Alex and Marla excavated on campus in 2013
Alex and members of the Archaeology and History Club
I started work duty at the Peabody in the beginning of my 10th grade year, mainly because it seemed like the most interesting job to do on campus. How many other high school students have the opportunity to help out at a renowned archaeological museum just a short walk’s away? That year I did a lot of of boring, but necessary, work cataloging objects and essentially entering data into computers. What made doing this so amazing, however, was the fact that I was handling objects that were often thousands of years old, all with their own history and archaeological context. I worked in the same room as Marla and Lindsay, both who shared with me a lot of information about what we were working with and why. This experience I had my sophomore year made me passionate about history and archaeology and want to dive in even deeper.
I did, in fact, become more involved in the Peabody these last two years, through listening to speakers that came to the Peabody for Massachusetts Archaeological Society meetings (and even giving a presentation myself at one of them), meeting the incredibly special artists (such as Dominique and Maxine Toya), teachers, and scholars who visit the museum, and taking a history class the fall term of this year that met in the museum classroom. Having such extensive access and exposure to the Peabody the past three years has instilled in me a love and appreciation for archaeology and all the people involved in the field. I feel that I have learned so much not only about the archaeological and historical background of various objects, but also about the nature of the two fields in general and how they are used in a museum setting. I am endlessly thankful for this experience.
Interested to read more student reflections? Visit here and here for more perspectives.
Alana uses the atlatl
Alana and other work duty students learn about Pueblo pottery from Dominique Toya
I didn’t know what to expect when I started work-duty at the Peabody. I don’t remember choosing to be in it. I didn’t know much at all about archaeology. By my third week of work-duty, I was convinced that archaeology (at the Peabody at least) was nothing but the glorified study of rocks. I was disappointed that I would be stuck inside categorizing rocks for 45 minutes a week, instead of doing one of the quick and easy 5-minute-per-week work-duties.
Those first few weeks, however, are not summary of my time at the Peabody. My time at the Peabody has taught me a lot about archaeology—what it is, what the various aspects of it are, what goes on behind the scenes—and it has imbued me with a deeper appreciation for the discipline. I have learned how artifacts are excavated; how they are stored, cataloged, and inventoried; how one handles delicate artifacts, creates displays for them, records when they are taken out for a class or put back into storage. All of these things I learned during work duty through experience – it was all hands-on. The other work-duty students and I weren’t simply there ticking off check-boxes on a clipboard while the museum staff did the “real work.” We all got the chance to engage directly with the artifacts in the various ways I listed above.
The best part of work-duty at the Peabody is all of the people I get to work with. Each term I work with a new team of students, which is a lot of fun. I really enjoy working with Marla as she always makes the tasks interesting and engaging and talks to us more like adults or friends than high school students.
The highlight of my time at the Peabody was the term that my work-duty group 3D scanned and printed selected artifacts, and then presented our results and research on the topic at a MAS meeting. I’m a math and science guy, and I was thrilled when Marla announced the plans for the term to us. We cooperated with Ms. Wessner from the makerspace and her work-duty students to learn how to scan and print the artifacts we had chosen. We each then presented on a specific part of the project: one student on how we selected the artifacts to print, me on how we scanned and printed them, and two students on the implications of the 3D replication of artifacts. (We also got to eat a lot of food at the meeting.) It just goes to show how interdisciplinary work at the Peabody can be.
Interested to read more student reflections? Visit here and here for more perspectives.