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Collection Auditing
Auditing collections: overview and various case studies.



Case One (national collection) | Case Two (university collection) | Case Three (corporate collection) | Case Four (consultant and dealer)

Auditing a collection has become really important as it provides a difinitive account of all the items in a collection:

  • Location and storage details.
  • Financial value, both evaluation and insurance purposes.
  • Verification the item exists and has been located.
  • Check the condition of the item.

Getting the accessioning and documentation done is often an enormous task - and it never ends as there is always more information and research to add - then associating images, documents and other media. Even if the collection is well accessioned and documented it will always require routine auditing. It is essential that the record of the items in the collection are checked that they actually exist and verified.

Auditing a collection is very time-consuming, using technical and human resources. Perhaps the best way is present case studies that cover the actual processes:


Case One: a national collection in one building but stored in different rooms - numbering approximately 10 000 items

Aim: match the database records with the physical items.

Process: after converting all their records from card index and written register to a database, a process taking 2 years, they needed to confirm the actual existence of the items. This involved someone locating the item, confirming the storage details and checking the basic documentation. Various lists according to location were printed and curators given the task of auditing their specific collections. If the item was located it was verified as being check by the curator and dated. Items not located were flagged. The completed lists were returned to the person maintaining the database and recorded.

Once all the lists were received from the curators and the database updated, further lists were retrieved to identify items not located. These were compared with items out on loan, restoration, etc. Further investigation was done from a list of missing items - these were missing or stolen, stored in the wrong location, badly damaged, or incorrectly accessioned initially. This process took a further 3 years.

Most collections are dynamic - as in the example above - which means:

  • New items are being purchased or donated to the national collection throughout the process.
  • Items are continually going out on load, being restored, used for research purposes, going on exhibition, used in displays …
  • Also note, gradually items in storage that were not accessioned - formally accepted into the collection - were also identified.

The database was used to continually monitor the audit process while managing all the dynamic aspects of the collection. Although this example used printed reports and manually updating the database, it resulted in the entire collection being audited. The process of assigning an evaluation to each item was still required although many of the items had been evaluated at the time of documentation.


Case Two: a university art collection stored in various campuses across a city, in multiple buildings and rooms - numbering approximately 5 000 items

Aim: match the database records with the physical items.

Process: after converting all their records from card index and written register to a database, a process taking 3 years, they needed to confirm the actual existence of the items. Note: this collection was documented and managed by one person with the occasional use of consultants and volunteers. The dilemma in this case was the curator could not travel across the city to all the campuses and locate each item - well, in theory they could, but it would take years. Also note the curator still had many other tasks to perform (exhibitions, loans, educational programs, etc.). However, to perform a definitive audit, it would still involve someone locating the item, confirming the storage details and checking the basic documentation. A unique approach was then adopted: get various heads of departments to do the audit. There were many advantages to this:

  • No need to travel to each campus as there were already heads of departments in place.
  • The heads of departments knew the buildings and rooms where the artworks were located.
  • A big savings would be made financially to get the audit done.
  • The audit would be completed within 1 year rather than taking a number of years.
  • The curator would then need only liaise with the heads of departments and offer support but still be able to cope with day-to-day tasks.
  • The curator monitor progress real-time and view various log files.
  • Another indirect advantage was to promote an appreciation of the extent and growth of the holdings on display.

Due to the varied geographical location of the art, the following approach was developed: essentially, information was extracted from the central database and placed online with secure access via a username and password. When the audit is complete then the information is imported back into the central database. This means all the information regarding the location and audit is stored centrally, complete with a history of audits relating to each artwork.

Another database of all heads of departments, and those associated with the collection, was also developed and, via their login details, the artworks associated with their location / department were displayed (documentation and image). This has proved to be a useful resource in itself and recording the relationship between staff and the artworks in their departments has never been done before - very useful moving forward and for future audits.

The participating auditors received an email message with an introduction to the audit, website address and login details. Once they logged in they receive a simple interface of artworks relating to their location / department and a list of those already audited and those requiring the audit.

They were offered practical advice about completing the audit :

  • "You can print a list, do the audit, and update on your computer later. "
  • "If you have a laptop, tablet (i.e. Galaxy, Surface, iPad) or smart phone and access to the Internet - you can do the audit directly online."

During the process reminder messages were sent, following up with emails and phone calls to answer any queries or provide support. During the auditing process it was realised the locations / departments with a large amount of artworks required additional assistance, such as supplying a printed report for a student to do the audit.

The locations / departments with a smaller amount of artworks were identified and prompted. Special access was given to some auditors - i.e. extend their time required to complete.

Once the audit was complete the main central database updated with full details of the audit. Further lists were retrieved to identify items not located. These were compared with items out on loan, restoration, etc. Further investigation was done from a list of missing items - these were missing or stolen, stored in the wrong location, badly damaged, or incorrectly accessioned initially. This process took a further 9 months.

The collection in this example is very dynamic - as in the example above - which means:

  • New items are being purchased or donated to the university collection throughout the process.
  • Items are continually going out on load, being restored, used for research purposes, going on exhibition, placed on display, …
  • Items are moved to different locations.

The online database was used to continually monitor the audit process. The main central database managed all the dynamic aspects of the collection.

Simultaneously, the process of evaluating each item was done by an art consultant. They performed the evaluation online by viewing documentation and images. Where necessary, the consultant went and located various items using the location and storage details provided. They evaluated the entire collection via a laptop and when complete, evaluation data was imported back into the main database.




Case Three: a large corporate collection stored in various locations across a country, in multiple cities, buildings and rooms - with tens of thousands of items

Aim: match the database records with the physical items and add ones not already recorded.

Process: after converting all their records from a spreadsheet to a database, a process taking 2 years, they needed to confirm the actual existence of the items and offer a process of adding new ones. Note: this collection was only basically documented and managed by a staff of three. The dilemma in this case was the curatorial staff could not travel across the country and visit each location in each city locate each item - well, in theory they could, but it would take years. Also note the staff still had many other tasks to perform (exhibitions, loans, educational programs, etc.). However, to perform a definitive audit, it would still involve someone locating the item, confirming the storage details and checking the basic documentation. It would also involve a process of adding items not accessioned. A unique approach was then adopted: get staff from each location do the audit. There were many advantages to this:

  • No need to travel to each location as there were already staff in place.
  • The staff knew their location and where the artworks were located.
  • A big savings would be made financially to get the audit done.
  • The audit would be completed within 1 year rather than taking a number of years.
  • The main curatorial staff monitor progress real-time and view various log files.
  • The curatorial staff would then need only liaise with the staff in the various locations and offer support but still be able to cope with day-to-day tasks.
  • Another indirect advantage was to promote an appreciation of the extent and growth of the holdings on display.

Approach: due to the varied geographical location of the collection, the following approach was developed. Essentially, information was extracted from the central database and placed online with secure access via a username and password. When the audit is complete then the information is imported back into the central database. This means all the information regarding the location and audit is stored centrally, complete with a history of audits relating to each artwork.

Another database of all locations and staff across the country also developed and the auditors, via their login details, view the items associated with their location / department were displayed (documentation and image). They could also search across the entire collection to locate items that had no location recorded - the search assisted via an asset number.

The participating auditors received an email message with an introduction to the audit, website address and login details. Once they logged in they receive a simple interface of items relating to their location and a list of those already audited and those requiring the audit. They could also assign items without a location recorded.

During the process reminder messages were sent, following up with emails and phone calls to answer any queries or provide support.

Once the audit was complete the main central database updated with full details of the audit. Further lists retrieved to identify items not located. These were compared with items out on loan, restoration, etc. Further investigation was done from a list of missing items - these were missing or stolen, stored in the wrong location, badly damaged, or incorrectly accessioned initially.

This process took a further 1 year.

The collection in this example is very dynamic - as in the example above - which means:

  • New items are being purchased throughout the process.
  • Items are continually going out on load, being restored, used for research purposes, going on exhibition, placed on display, …
  • Items are moved to different locations.

The online database was used to continually monitor the audit process. The main central database managed all the dynamic aspects of the collection.

The process of evaluating each item done by an art consultant which is performed the evaluation online by viewing documentation and images.




Case Four: a fine art / antique business managing various private and corporate collections across various countries, in multiple cities, locations, buildings and rooms - numbering approximately 9 000 items

Aim: match the database records with the physical items.

Process: this business is established and been maintaining a database of their own inventory and clients data for many years. They needed to confirm the actual existence of the items. The dilemma in this case was the staff could not travel across the countries to all the clients and their locations and locate each item - well, in theory they could, but it would take years. Also note the business still had many other functions (selling items and exhibitions). However, to perform a definitive audit, it would still involve someone locating the item, confirming the storage details and checking the basic documentation. A unique approach was then adopted: get various client's staff to do the audit. There were many advantages to this:

  • No need to travel to each location as there were already staff in place.
  • The staff knew the locations, buildings and rooms where the items were located.
  • A big savings would be made financially to get the audit done.
  • The audit would be on-going and each collection audited as required.
  • The business staff would then need only liaise with the clients' staff and offer support but still be able to cope with day-to-day tasks.
  • The business staff monitor progress real-time and view various log files.
  • Another advantage was to offer the client online access (full search, documentation and images) to their collection. They can login from anywhere in the world, at any time, and access their collection - plus, many additional functions.

Due to the varied geographical location of the items, the following approach was developed: essentially, information was extracted from the central database and placed online with secure access via a username and password. When the audit is complete then the information is imported back into the central database. This means all the information regarding the location and audit is stored centrally, complete with a history of audits relating to each item.

Another database of all clients and their staff was also developed and, via their login details, the items associated with their location / department were displayed (documentation and image). This has proved to be a useful resource in itself and recording the relationship between staff and the items in their departments has never been done before - very useful moving forward and for future audits.

The business staff would then need only liaise with the clients' staff with an introduction to the audit, website address and login details. Once they logged in they receive a simple interface of items with a list of those already audited and those requiring the audit.

Once the audit was complete the main central database updated with full details of the audit. Further lists were retrieved to identify items not located. These were compared with items out on loan, restoration, etc. Further investigation was done from a list of missing items - these were missing or stolen, stored in the wrong location, badly damaged, or incorrectly accessioned initially.

The business in this example is very dynamic - as in the example above - which means:

  • New items are being purchased, sold, on consignment, ... throughout the process.
  • Research and evaluations.
  • Items are moved to different locations.

The online database was used to continually monitor the audit process. The main central database managed all the dynamic aspects of the business data.




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HumanitiesCMD
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Audit:

An examination of records or financial accounts to check their accuracy.

Source: TheFreeDictionary


Auditing manually via printed lists




Auditing via a table, smart phone, laptop or computer


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