From Inside the Vaults Blog

From Inside the Vaults: Collections Inventory

From Inside the Vaults is a monthly blog that gives insight into best practices for collections stewardship, curation, and archaeological collecting institutions.

What is a Collections Inventory?

As the Collections Manager at the Center, one of my duties is to complete an inventory of the collections vaults. This task may sound daunting.  However, inventories are important when considering proper collections stewardship and long-term artifact preservation. Ideally, collecting institutions will complete a full inventory every 1-10 years, depending on the institution’s size, type, and resources available. By completing an inventory of the vaults, the Center will have a complete picture of the amount and types of artifacts that the repository holds. It is a great time to photograph, report on artifact condition, and correct any errors without being repeatedly obtrusive to the artifacts over time.

How the Process Works

After researching and developing a plan that worked best for the Center, I began with the first shelving unit in collections storage. I pull artifacts from their shelves to physically inspect them. After ensuring they are housed and bagged properly, I check that artifact boxes and labels meet the Center’s curation standards. The locations of the artifacts, condition reports, and any problems or discrepancies are also recorded during this process. The collections database is then updated with any new information for each artifact. Digital and paper files are also gone through, and reconciled as necessary.

Challenges in Collections Inventory

The Center has an advantage over some older institutions. Opening only 25 years ago, the Center repository and vaults are very well organized. A main problem I have encountered at past institutions is disorganization related to age. Older institutions have adhered to many different methods, policies, and procedures over the years. Collecting practices have changed many times since museums began. Artifacts may have multiple catalog numbers, have gone missing or are not in their recorded location, or artifacts may have never been fully curated to begin with – the older the institution, the more problems there can be. Since the Center adheres to California State, National Park Service, and Federal curation standards, I have encountered very few discrepancies or errors during my inventory thus far. I look forward to continuing this exciting and necessary project!

By Jessica McPheters, Collections Manager

Volunteers work in the Center’s Research Library, cataloguing materials and organizing on a computer-based system.

Marketing and Administrative Volunteers assist the Development Office or Administration Office with data entry, updating marketing materials and clerical tasks. Computer experience is a plus.

Docents welcome visitors and answer general questions regarding the Center and exhibits. Docents staff the gift shop and help out with administrative and curatorial tasks.

Volunteers support event activities at the Center, such as the Annual BBQ, lectures, workshops, and fundraising events. Be a part of the party!

Volunteer provide support for K-12 programs offered at the Center. These are fun, hands-on programs that kids really enjoy. Teaching experience is a plus, but not required. Background checks are required.


With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will use photogrammetry to prepare one or more archaeological collections for digital preservation, as well as create a virtual museum exhibit for our Public Archaeology department. Per approval, special projects of the intern’s choosing are also available. During the research and planning, the intern will receive guidance as appropriate to their selected project. Prospective interns should already be familiar with photogrammetric procedures, and Agisoft Metashape.

Collections Management

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. During the course of the internship, the intern will learn to identify artifacts and ecofacts common to the San Diego region, including lithics, ceramics, historical objects, and faunal, botanical, and mineral specimens. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and preventative conservation. In addition, the intern will become familiar with historical trends in archaeological practice in the San Diego area and will be introduced to current legal and ethical issues in archaeological curation as well as the concerns and rights of culturally affiliated groups with regard to archaeological materials.

Development and Marketing

Under the direction of Center staff, the intern will support the department in various activities, including, but not limited to, fundraising and grant research; e-newsletter development; social media marketing; and website maintenance. This internship will give the intern valuable, real-world experience in non-profit fundraising and marketing.

Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology

Prospective Interns must have completed three courses: Introduction to GIS, GIS Database Management, and Intermediate/Advanced Methods in GIS. The intern will be assigned a project where they will create shapefiles and maps for curated archaeological collections, museum exhibits, and/or public outreach using ArcGIS 10.6. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological GIS laboratory procedures such as computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and database management.

Library Science

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will arrange and catalog materials in the Center’s library. During the course of the internship, the intern will take a leading role in the cataloging, sorting and storing of research files and creating user guides for these collections. Center staff will instruct the intern on archival procedures, computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Public Archaeology

Harness your passion for Public Archaeology and gain hands-on experience with K-12 museum field trips, lectures, and public outreach. Additional projects may include creating virtual museum exhibits and activities, assisting in the development and implementation of K-12 curricula programs, planning and presenting public facing content, or educational field trip content of your own design. Must be able to pass a Live Scan.