Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Behind the Scenes With IMLS: The Process

September 22, 2014

Objects pulled from just two shelves.

The Henry Ford is busy with many projects right now, including an ongoing two-year grant awarded to us by The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to digitize and rehouse our communication collections - things like TVs, radios, phonographs, computers and typewriters. We have about 1,000 artifacts to process. With a project of this size, it’s important for the many people contributing to this project to coordinate and organize each step to make sure every artifact is processed correctly. Here is an overview of the steps that we are using:

Discovery: The artifacts are currently stored in our Collections Storage Building, so the team must first pull all the objects off of shelves systematically. Once that is done, our Curator of Communication and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, determines which objects are considered part of the grant using our proposal for reference.

Cleaning: The artifacts must be vacuumed and sometimes cleaned with a mild soap before they can come into the Conservation Lab. This is because of dirt, dust, and the possibility of mold from being in storage, untouched, for a very long time.

Conservation Specialist Cayla Osgood vacuuming a typewriter from the collection.

Moving: The objects must then move into the museum and the labs.

Jacob Hildebrandt, Collections Specialist, strapping large objects to pallets before their move to the museum.

Cataloging: Museums have standards for artifacts records. Before cleaning, each artifact is examined for inscriptions, notations, information on tags, and measured in order to make sure each record has the appropriate information required. A physical number is then put on each object so we can keep track of it in the future.

Registrar Patrice Fisher takes measurements of an object for its database record.

Conservation: Even though the artifacts were given a quick cleaning before they came into the labs, a more thorough cleaning is done and notes are taken to record its condition the database records. This also gives the Conservation portion of the IMLS team an opportunity to make any repairs necessary to stabilize the artifacts so they will be in better condition to be handled. Often we encounter corrosion (rust), old tape residue, and maybe small broken pieces that must be repaired in order to protect ourselves, the artifact, and those who will handle these artifacts in the future.

Left: Cayla repairs a screen. Right: Project Conservator Jessica Lafrance-Hwang removes cadmium corrosion using a custom-made sealed box.

Photography: Our wonderful photography team then photographs each artifact in order to capture updated pictures for the database records. These photographs are also put online for our digital collection.  You can see some of the IMLS digitized objects here.

Photographer Rudy Ruzicska takes a shot of the interior of one of our phonographs. (Photo by Jillian Ferraiuolo)

Packing and Storage: Once photographed, the artifacts are packed securely for transportation. Jacob Hildebrandt often creates custom boxes for each artifact. This is more cost effective for the type of collections we are processing, which tend to be large and very heavy! Boxes are placed in crates which are then taken to another storage location.

Left: Custom box for a very heavy printer. Right: Jacob placing the last box in a crate before moving.

As you can see, it’s a long process that requires a lot of people to make each step happen. And thanks to IMLS, we can bring these artifacts and insights to you!

Cayla Osgood is a Conservation Specialist at The Henry Ford. (With Clara Deck, Senior Conservator at The Henry Ford.)

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