The men and women who work on the ground floor of the Montebello Building are wonderful. They do the real work of caring for the collection and making it available to the public.

When Nancy Tait began volunteering last February, I did my crash course on processing a new collection with her. I used the language that I had used for decades. I pulled out Chenhall’s Book of Nomenclature. Then I made a confession. My colleagues don’t catalogue new artefacts. They accession them.

Image Archivist Lise Ouimet, another volunteer, was listening.

From that moment on Nancy and Lise both made a point of using the word accessioning when describing their work. I knew they were correcting me.

Later on that spring I had a group tour from the Enderby and District Museum and Archives. Former Curator Joani Cowan set it up as a way to introduce her organization’s interested board members and key volunteers to another place. It was also an introduction to Kristina Parkes, Joani’s replacement.

When I started in 1990, I did the same thing. I still do. Before I start a new project involving the collection, I make appointments with the staff at other institutions and check out how they do things. 

I showed the Enderby Museum tourists the old museum basement. I am sure they were aghast. It was stuffed to the ceiling on shelving that had been inherited and added to over the decades. It was dimly lit.

I showed them how my volunteer Textiles Technician Pat Turner sewed cotton bags for our clothing. Pat purchases 100% cotton sheets from the thrift shop, washes them three times without soap to remove residue, and custom sews the bags. Volunteer Doreen Paterson, Curator of Textiles, gives Pat the measurements. The process is smooth and cost effective. We don’t have the money to buy archival quality muslin.

You will notice that my volunteers have titles.  They earn them. I give them incremental raises after I’ve checked with the Volunteer’s Shop Steward. Always a percentage of what they were making previously. But that’s another story.

You will notice that my volunteers have titles.  They earn them. I give them incremental raises after I’ve checked with the Volunteer’s Shop Steward. Always a percentage of what they were making previously. But that’s another story.

I hope the Enderby Museum crew were impressed. They saw the tight space, and  how I prioritized what money I had to spend on collections storage. The non-clothing textiles were all in acid free boxes thanks to a donation from the Shuswap Quilters’ Guild. The quilts were rolled on fabric tubes but buffered with acid free mylar. Pat Turner had sewn bags for the quilt tubes so that dust didn’t settle on our treasures. The inert things, like glass bottles, curling rocks, and dishes, were stored in standard boxes. I had to make decisions based on the needs of the artefacts.

Then I dropped a bomb. I mentioned that we catalogued artefacts elsewhere, upstairs where the light is good.  Kristina looked confused and shot a look at Joani. My friend smiled. “She means accession.”

It was a hiccup and I smiled back. Of course I meant to use the word accessioned. My colleagues in the Interior all accession their records but I had started my career in archaeology. I catalogued artefacts. Then I worked at three libraries, one of them in the Cataloguing Department at Saint Mary’s University Library. I worked processing books. MMM. I was caught using the version of a museum four letter word.

The tour continued. We went to the Montebello and walked around the exterior. The dioramas were still under construction, but I showed them the cladding and finishes, door knobs, colour choices based on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s True Colours palette, and the photographs on display that inspired the building’s design by Cuyler Page.  I told them how the tin on Bedford’s Drug store and the pool hall and barbershop was specially ordered. We had found a supplier in Ontario who had made a die for a church restoration. I mentioned that the Enderby Public Library building had the same tin on it.

Then we went to the ground floor, to the vault, archives work room, and the collections storage areas. The spaces were empty. We talked about our second hand shelving. They saw “the vault” that would hold the community’s stories.  I told them about the vault’s own geothermal heating unit and how Rosemary Wilson was going to have her name placed on a plaque on the vault door. Rosemary was a board member who had passed away in 2017. She had insisted the heating be flameless. Then I told them about our 3 ½ hour fire rating.

It was a workshop of sorts about how a small town museum was doing its job, collecting and preserving community memories.

The tourists seemed happy.

Fast forward to the next winter. The collection had moved from the old space. We organized the artefact storage based on the Chenhall System of Nomenclature, a book that volunteer Liz Murdoch bought for us in 1996, replacing the photocopied version that we were using. The original book had been published in 1978.

We made lists of contents on each shelf.

We hired Breanne Malo on a Get Youth Working project to  update the shelf locations. Breanne worked her way through the shelves. She devised a system to track our treasures. She updated the entries.

All the while Breanne was working with the Chenhall’s System of Nomenclature to figure out the right categories of some of the artefacts. When we had unpacked, we put like with like and listed the numbers. Sometimes functions were misidentified or unknown.

I was unaware that Breanne was irritated. Our Chenhall book had a broken spine and was falling apart from 23 years of hard use. She went home and searched online for a replacement. Breanne found one on Amazon for $117. It was an updated version. Breanne didn’t think twice. She got out her Visa card.

A few weeks later she approached me.

“I bought a book. You aren’t going to like it, but it is done,” she said.

Breanne opened her bag. The Chenhall method had been revised in 2016. The book looked brand new.

I opened the book. It was twice as thick as the old one. It was the improved version. Its pages were numbered throughout! The index was easy to use! What a sweet gift!

Over the next couple of days we figured out what made the book totally “revised.” The categories and classifications had changed. I was floored.

Carrying the book to Breanne I said, “you’ve got to fix the categories and classifications in our database.”

She smiled back. Of course she would if she had time.

Then I noticed the cover.

Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging.

I’d been using the right word all along.

Sorry Joani.

Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging
is an updated and expanded edition of
Robert G. Chenhall’s system for classifying
human-made objects, originally published
in 1978. The Chenhall system is the standard
cataloging tool for thousands of museums
and historical organizations across the
United States and Canada. For this fourth
edition, hundreds of new terms have been
added, and every category, class, sub-class,
and object term has been reviewed and
revised as needed by a professional task
force appointed by the American Association
for State and Local History.