Janet Smart

By Janet Smart

Museums and documentation processes

Manufacturing systems are often understood in terms of a pipeline. Raw materials go in one end, flow through a series of linked processes, and emerge at the other end as finished goods. One of the aims of manufacturing systems design is to make sure that goods spend the shortest possible time in this pipeline, and that the processes are very reliable so that the least possible number of objects are damaged or lost within the pipeline. For museums, one might imagine that the documentation pipeline is similar: artefacts arrive at one end, move through the documentation process and a computer record of that item emerges at the other end, as in the diagram below.

labelled pipeline image 181115

There may be a few cracks in the pipeline, which cause some losses. Perhaps these artefacts join some other pipeline which eventually delivers them to a fully documented state, or maybe they are really lost, or only temporarily lost.

The other two symbols indicate valves, which can be turned to adjust the rate of flow along the pipe. These could represent the amount of money available, or the number of assistants and volunteers who are working on the task of documenting museum artefacts. Turn the manpower valve, and there will be more or fewer helpers available to generate documentation on the artefacts. Turn the money valve and there could be more or fewer paid assistants working on documentation.

At least, that’s the operations management view of processes. Define the tasks (stages along the pipeline), allocate resources (using the valves), count how many things you have to process, and calculate the time until the job is all done.  Other refinements are possible, like checking if there are other parallel pipelines which apply to different kinds of artefacts. And we could estimate the losses due to leaks (the cracks in the pipe).

But, museums are not like that, it seems.

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