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35,969 objects, Ah ah ah ah ah!

These days the IMLS grant team is giving The Count a run for his money. Since making our big move and settling in, Chris, Allison and I have been getting back to the basics and picked up the process of counting and inventorying everything in McKissick Museum’s natural science collection.

The Count

Part of the mission of the grant is to take stock of everything in the collection, including items both in McKissick and in our offsite storage facility. This means not just counting everything, but also creating an inventory list, detailing each object by making a record of what the object is, briefly describing it, and listing its current location (in the building) and its locality (place of origin) if possible. Once an inventory is complete it is the job of the grant team to catalog the object, which means producing an official record for it in the museum’s database. Over the past year much of this work has been focused on the artifacts in offsite storage. As detailed in previous posts, this meant going through each box of specimens, identifying them, assigning a cataloging priority, repacking the box, and eventually creating an inventory record for each and every object we discovered.

Counting Blog Post

 

Since we conquered the collections in storage, we focused our attentions on items still in McKissick that have not been entered into the database. For the past two weeks Chris and Allison went through approximately 250 drawers of specimens, and painstakingly took notes on each object, while I inventoried them on the computer. We are proud and excited to finally be able to say that we have inventoried every last rock, fossil, mineral and gemstone in McKissick Museum’s natural science collection!  (We’re still counting the modern shell collection…)

This may seem like a simple enough task, but there are not enough fingers and toes in this building for the amount of counting we’ve accomplished. Over the past 2 years the grant the team has managed to catalog 10,376 objects, and has inventoried 10,559 items from the offsite storage facility, 4,000 gems from the Howard Collection and 6,161 objects from McKissick’s natural science storage area. This gives us a grand total of 31,096 total objects processed, out of the 35,969 total items in the Natural History collection!  Safe to say that’s probably more objects than The Count would have time for in one episode of Sesame Street.

by Alyssa Constad
Curatorial Assistant
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Movin’ Out

If you see Chris, Allison or I walking around campus this week, ask us to flex for you. It’s safe to say that we are all a little stronger than we were this time two weeks ago, not to mention a lot more relieved! Last week, with the help of some awesome museum and facilities staff, the IMLS team accomplished mission impossible and finished  moving thousands of pounds of natural science objects from one offsite storage area into a new offsite storage facility.
Our off-site storage facility fully stocked and ready to go.

Our off-site storage facility fully stocked and ready to go.

Off-site storage... post move! Sometimes, less is more.

Off-site storage… post move! Sometimes less is more.

Over the past year the IMLS team has been working towards inventorying everything in our off-site storage facility so we would  be able to take stock of our collections and move them into a new home. Since summer 2013 members of the team have inventoried and repacked over 300 boxes and moved the majority of them from our old facility into McKissick for storage or conservation work.
Starting bright and early last Tuesday morning, May 13, the team started moving almost 150 boxes out of McKissick into our new building, and successfully completed the job. Wednesday brought some more heavy lifting as the team ventured to move out some of our bigger items. How many of you can say that you’ve safely transported a fossilized whale jaw and some dinosaur foot prints on the same day? Thanks to some incredible facilities workers, we were able to get every piece of petrified wood, fossil, and lapidary equipment safely and successfully moved down the street into our new facility.

Willie, Chris, Austin and Charles carefully moving a fossilized whale jaw into the moving truck. It's as heavy as it looks!

Willie, Chris, Austin and Charles carefully moving a fossilized whale jaw into the moving truck. It’s as heavy as it looks!

It’s been a long and heavy road, but we can finally say we’re all moved in! Over the remaining months of the grant the IMLS team will be working to catalog the rest of our “rediscovered” collections, and eventually move them over into the new facility. But for today, this has been one small step for museums, and one giant leap for the IMLS team!
Make sure you stop by the third floor of McKissick to check out all of the hard work we’ve done. “Hidden Treasures,” an exhibit displaying some of incredible things the IMLS team has found over the last two years, will be on display until August 30th.
Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

by Alyssa Constad
Curatorial Assistant
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Rocks That I Got

I may not be Jenny from the block, but I do have some cool new rocks. As the newest curatorial assistant working on McKissick’s second IMLS Museums for America grant, you could say I have an abundance of rocks. By way of introduction, my name is Alyssa Constad. As of November 2013, I have the honor of joining the team here at McKissick Museum.  As a current graduate student in USC’s Public History department, my background is based in history and museums. In my freshman year of undergrad, at Dickinson College (a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away) I took an introductory geology course, and have not entered into the realm of science since. As such, I will be describing my experiences through the bewildered eyes of a historian.

JLO

Not this

Lots of these

Since joining the IMLS grant team about a month ago, we have been busy packing, cleaning, identifying and cataloging. Essentially, this has been a crash course in museum registration, organization, and above all, geology. As mentioned by Allison’s previous post, the kick-off to our second IMLS grant involved packaging the specimens in our off-site storage facility and preparing them to be moved. Many of these specimens and pieces of lapidary equipment have been packaged and in storage for forty years or more, so digging through the dust seemed a bit like hunting for buried treasure. Talk about a dirty job.

Silver ore

A specimen with examples of different kinds of historic labels we might find. Numbers are also painted on the specimen as a form of identification.

Since conquering the off-site storage facility and packing up the last of the equipment, we have turned our attention to cataloging some of the specimens here in McKissick, as well as some of the historic specimens rescued from the storage facility. This has involved the careful process of identifying historic labels, as detailed by Allison below, and matching them to the specimen if they are not already in the correct position. Occasionally, a label is placed with an incorrect specimen, or a specimen is numerically misidentified as another object in our historic collection. This is where our detective skills come into play.

By using the original handwritten catalogue and the collector’s labels, we are able to match specimens either by their given historic number, or by description. At times a number given to a rock or mineral does not match the correlating numerical description in the book. When this occurs, Christian Cicimurri, our project manager and resident geologist is able to identify the specimen and then decipher the best possible descriptive match, using the historic catalogue as a guide. In the eyes of a new comer, this feels a little bit like CSI: McKissick.

In the coming weeks, we prepare to delve deeper into the unknown, and continue to catalog the remainder of our collection. Stay tuned to see what we find next!

Catalog of SC College Mineral Cabinet

A page of the historic Catalogue of the Cabinet.

We will be taking a brief hiatus here at McKissick Museum to enjoy the holidays. We would like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and safe New Year’s. See you in 2014!

 
Alyssa Constadt
Curatorial Assistant
 
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Label Crazy!

Object labels are an important source of information for the specimens, and part of our job is to record their information and safely store them.   While preparing every drawer to be measured and cataloged, we examined the labels with the specimens and available catalog cards to make sure the labels were associated with the proper object.  Once we verified the label was correctly associated, we marked the reverse of non-historic labels with the McKissick Object ID in pencil.

Before the first grant began, most labels were stored with their objects (usually underneath the specimen).  This resulted in damage to the labels through abrasion or exposure to chemicals from the specimen or storage system.  To prevent further damage, the labels are now stored separately from the specimens, and new archival object labels were generated for each specimen, for easy identification in the drawers.

Since this is such an old collection, many of the labels are fragile, and need special care.  We also have a wide variety of types of labels.  Some of our oldest labels are from Thomas Cooper’s personal collection.

MCKS1017 label

This label is one of Cooper’s originals. Underneath his text, someone wrote in “1017” to match the specimen’s entry in the Historic Catalog.  Later, at some point someone else encased the label in rice paper to prevent this fragile label from crumbling. This label identifies the object as Quartz, var. Resinite, an antiquated term for opal.

MCKS8988 labels

South Carolina College had their own labels for identifying specimens.  The top label is a SC College label, and the bottom is from the German collector, Dr. Adam August Krantz, who sold the specimen to Professor Richard Brumby and the college.

The labels describe a specimen of Hydromagnesite from Hoboken, New Jersey.  The bottom label is in German.

MCKS1976 Label

This is another SC College label, for a specimen collected by Lardner Vanuxem, another antebellum professor.  All of these historic labels are stored in archival binders and plastic sleeves, sorted by McKissick number.

MCKS0883 & MCKS3777 labels

We also have labels from the 1920’s and 1930’s that used to be part of boxes that housed minerals.  The minerals destroyed most of the boxes this way.  Museum staff salvaged the labels, though some boxes still remain whole. These labels are printed, and much easier to read than historic handwriting.  They also describe the original collector, and sometimes the year the specimen was collected.

We manage over five thousand labels.  Each label is either transcribed in its specimen PastPerfect record, or recorded in a database of orphan, or unassociated labels.  The next step is do digitize our label collection!

Allison Baker

Curatorial Assistant

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

. . . And We’re Back!

After a hiatus to finalize our first IMLS grant, we are back to the blog!  We are very excited to announce that McKissick Museum has received a second IMLS Museums for America grant to continue work on the natural history collection.  When we began the first grant, we did not have a grasp on the extent of the size of McKissick’s natural history collection.  The grant team cataloged almost 10,000 specimens, and found more in off-site storage.

Off-Site Storage 3

Some of McKissick’s space in off-site storage.

This storage area is scheduled for demolition, so we need to pack the specimens and move them to new off-site storage. The new grant will allow us to move these specimens safely, catalog them into PastPerfect, and update their storage to reflect current best practices.  Then we can continue to work on the specimens housed here.  This grant will also give us more time to rehouse the radioactive collection and continue work on McKissick’s fossil collection.  On the first grant, we focused primarily on historic minerals, and work on the fossils came at the end.  We also discovered that McKissick has many more fossils than originally thought because several collections of fossil shells were mislabeled as modern shells.

Off-site storage

Specimens waiting to be repacked

 

This is what we have to work with in off-site storage, over 300 banker’s boxes worth of specimens!  We even have some lapidary equipment tucked away there as well.

 

 

Currently McKissick staff is working to pack the specimens to be moved, hopefully by the first of the year!

Off-site storage 2

Specimens packed in banker’s boxes, ready to move!

 

We will post a new blog entry every other Friday, so make sure to come back on November 15th!

Allison Baker

Curatorial Assistant

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Happy Leap Day!

Today is February 29th – Leap Day, and today reminds me of things that are cyclic – that only happen once in awhile – like adding an extra day to the calendar.  And lately, when I think of things that only happen once in awhile, I think of how often I find something really exciting in the McKissick Museum’s geology collection.  What’s great is that its happening much more frequently than I expected, probably more frequently than anyone expected.

Azurite with encrusting of malachite from Mexico, a beautiful specimen for display.

My job, as the project manager of the Natural Science Recataloging Project, is to organize the process of how our team inventories and electronically documents the rocks, minerals, and fossils in the collection.  As you can learn from previous posts, the collection has been in existence in some form for over 200 years, so you can imagine how large it is.  Then again, maybe you can’t… and that’s something we’re working on, too. I’ll elaborate more on this later, but for now just know that it’s an awful lot.  We’ve identified exemplary specimens (those that are valuable and showy), and historic specimens (those dating from 1801 to the early 1900s) as “High Priority” specimens that should be cataloged first.  Once these items are cataloged, then we’ll move to the remainder of the collection that, no doubt will provide meaningful scientific and historic information, even though these specimens are unlikely to be exhibited.

A specimen of silver with pyrite and quartz vein, with its historic labels from the South Carolina College.

We’ve estimated that there are over 400 drawers of specimens to catalog, and the number of specimens in each drawer varies, but the average is about 47 specimens.  Do the math, and you quickly find that we’ve got just under 19,000 specimens to catalog.  Now on a good day, I can enter 30-40 specimens into the computer, documenting the place of origin, dimensions, mineralogical features, and physical characteristics.  Historical specimens take a bit longer to catalog than others because we often have more information to enter from historical documents that are with the specimen.  On a slow day I might get only 10 specimens cataloged, but keep in mind, we’re doing more than just data entry.  Often a rock or mineral specimen has been damaged or broken, so we repair what we can, and package the specimen so that it isn’t damaged further.  We also take the time to ensure that all specimens are accurately labeled with a valid object number, and we organize each drawer numerically according to that object number, so each specimen is easy to find.

But what about those really exciting specimens I started with?  Well, one of the characteristics of minerals is that they grow in regular crystal shapes.  For example, quartz crystals often form 6-sided prisms with a pyramid on one or both ends, while fluorite crystals are usually cubic.  Well, on more than one occasion, I’ve found a specimen that outwardly looks pretty ordinary – a brown or gray chunk of material with a label on it (if we’re lucky).  But once I take a closer look at the crystals that make up that brown or gray chunk, I find amazing crystal shapes.  Using a hand lens (or jeweler’s loupe) or microscope, I can see tiny cubic crystals of pale yellow pyrite inside a fluorite crystal.  One specimen even has crystals shaped like 3-dimensional plus signs (+).

Occasionally we find other surprises – like two additional cases (or 15 more drawers) of material.  Because this project is grant funded for only 2 years, we’re focusing on how we can work most efficiently to get everything done, rather than getting overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of specimens.  The good news is that we’ve nearly completed the identified “High Priority” specimens, and have cataloged just about 1900 specimens.  The challenge is the number of specimens left to catalog, and we know that many of them will be found to be historical “High Priority” specimens.  But luckily we have amazing specimens to look at while we work.

Christian Maloney Cicimurri
Project Manager

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

Welcome to the mine!

Welcome to “Mining McKissick,” a blog devoted to research and discovery in the natural science collections at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum! We’re glad for your interest, and we hope you’ll stay tuned as this blog progresses.

Institute of Museum and Library Services In the fall of 2011, McKissick Museum was awarded a $149,734 “Museums for America” Collections Stewardship grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. With the award, McKissick has begun a two-year project to inventory and recatalog the minerals and fossils in its natural science collection—one of the largest areas of McKissick’s collections, numbering somewhere over 15,000 specimens. (Read more about the awarding of the grant here).  Included in the collections are specimens of beauty, like gold, emeralds, rubies, and garnets; specimens from near and far, like North Carolina quartz crystals and African dioptase; and specimens that make you wonder, like petrified wood, fulgurites, and a pyrite sun (Google it!).

Welcome to the “rock room!”

While these collections are significant geologically, they also reveal the history of mineralogical research, and that of the University and its state. The oldest portions of the natural science collections date to 1823 when South Carolina College acquired the collections of scientist, professor, and college president Thomas Cooper. Later additions included the collections of Lardner Vanuxem (a professor of the College who performed the first state-supported geologic survey of SC in 1824), Michael Tuomey (appointed SC state geologist in 1844), and Burnham Colburn (who amassed a collection of 10,000 minerals, acquired by the University in 1945).

Because of how these items came to the museum—as collections of their own, with unique numbering systems and records—McKissick has struggled with incorporating all specimens uniformly into its catalog system, while preserving the historical data of each specimen along with its mineralogical information. Enter the IMLS grant. Receiving this grant has enabled the museum to bring on board specialty staff to work for 2 years to perform a full inventory and cataloging of the natural science collections, identifying and recording each specimen in our database, while associating it with its historic labels and records. Four months in, our team has cataloged 1500 specimens, photographed historic or noteworthy examples, and performed needed storage reorganization and specimen care.

A sample drawer before cataloging. Historic label information will be entered into database records.

At the end of this project, McKissick will gain a complete searchable database, which will open new doors for the museum, the University, and the public at large to study and use the collections. Until then, we want to share our discoveries, challenges, and triumphs with you, right here on our blog. Bookmark our page, and check back with us as we “mine” McKissick’s collections!

Melanie Neil
Curatorial Assistant

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.