An itemised inventory carried out by the volunteer support staff of Theater Aan Zee

An itemised inventory is time-consuming and not always the best approach for all parts of your archive and collection. That said, in certain contexts there are good reasons for making an item-by-item description of documents or objects from your archive. This is how Theater Aan Zee (TAZ) would like to present a visual story of the history of the festival on the occasion of its 20th anniversary in 2016. Whatever the outcome of this project (an exhibition, a publication, digitisation of the archive, an online database, etc.), the first useful step is definitely a detailed inventory. Which is why, at the end of 2014, a group of keen volunteers led by Het Firmament began making an itemised inventory of the TAZ’s paper archives. For this purpose they used the guidelines available on TRACKS.


  • Mapping and initial filing of the archive: Spring 2014
  • Call for TAZ archive material: Summer 2014
  • Targeted recruitment of volunteers: October 2014
  • Training of volunteers: November 2014
  • Completion of itemised inventory: November 2014 – February 2015

Statement of the Problem


In 2016 Theater Aan Zee celebrates its 20th anniversary and this Ostend festival would like to mark the occasion. Before any activities for the public can be initiated, the first key step is to map the archive and create an itemised description of its content.

Desired results

An itemised inventory of the paper archive.


  1. Call for archive material
  2. Volunteer recruitment
  3. Training of volunteers
  4. Drafting of itemised inventory
  • Description
  • Packing
  • Labelling
  • Storage
Volunteers at work © Tatjana Bonne

1. Call for archive material

The TAZ press & communications officer had previously mapped the archive. While creating this large rough inventory it transpired that a lot of the archive from the early years was missing. A general appeal was sent out to the TAZ support staff to trace the missing parts. Despite this wide-ranging appeal, the initial reaction was rather limited. In the end the archive was largely supplemented with material from ex-TAZ staff.

2. Volunteer recruitment

Volunteers from the support staff of TAZ were used for this project. TAZ has after all a great many supporters and mobilises hundreds of volunteers to help out at the festival every year. A group of four trusted volunteers (also called the “TAZ ladies”) were keen to help draw up an inventory of the archive. The main advantage of volunteers from the support staff is that they are well acquainted with the festival and are better able to place certain items in the right context.

3. Training of volunteers

The volunteers are well acquainted with the festival but less knowledgeable about heritage preservation. To this end, Het Firmament was called in to provide training vorming. They were first educated on the nature of the performance arts cultural heritage and why an itemised inventory is required. Then the volunteers were intensively trained, according to best practices, so that they were able to:

  • describe;
  • label;
  • pack and store.

4. Completion of itemised inventory

Het Firmament was not present for the further inventorisation, but did stay in contact with the volunteers and their coordinator (a permanent TAZ staff member) on site. This ensured continued monitoring of the inventorisation.

When making an itemised inventory it is vitally important that everything is done in a uniform way. For this reason a document was drawn up at the beginning of the process that included clear agreements on the method of describing, labelling and packing and the use of certain terminology. During the process this document was then amended to address any problems and terms that the volunteers came up against.

4.1 Description

Volunteers at work © Tatjana Bonne

When describing the archive items, the following field names were always used.

Field name: Description

Code: The unique code allocated to the item

Editorial form (content description): The type of document: deed, letter, list, register, report, statute, poster, press report photo, invitation, drawing, quote, contract, plan, etc.

Content (content description): What or whom is it about? Where did the action take place?

Date: The year in which the archive element was created. If the archive element is being described using several documents (e.g. file), note down the last date on which the documents were created.

Scope: An indication of the scope of the archive item.

Dimensions: The dimensions of the archive element.

Location: Where is the archive item stored?

State: In what state is the archive item?

Digitisation: The name of the member of staff who scanned the item and the date on which this occurred.

Checking digitisation: The name of the member of staff who checked the item and the date on which this occurred.

De beschrijving van de stukken gebeurde in een Excel spreadsheet. Er werd gekozen voor een spreadsheet omdat een tekstdocument de gebruiksmogelijkheden beperkt en een databank in deze context niet noodzakelijk was.

In de mappenstructuur van TAZ werd op een logische plaats een map aangemaakt voor documenten met betrekking tot het archief. In deze map werd de geüpdatet inventaris na elke nieuwe beschrijving bewaard. Met een goede backup van deze map, en bij uitbreiding de volledige mappenstructuur, wordt een veilige bewaring gegarandeerd.

4.2. Packing

If you have to take the archive items out of their original packaging to describe them, it is recommended that you store them again immediately in suitable packaging. For the TAZ paper archives we used acid-free boxes and acid-free folders. The agreement was to use one acid-free folder per 10 archive items. The need to copy information from the original packaging to the new packaging was emphasised.

4.3 Labelling

An agreement was made to pencil the unique codes of the items in the bottom right on both the packaging and the item itself when labelling archive material.

4.4 Storage

Before beginning the inventory, several archive racks, shelves and boxes in the TAZ archive room were allocated a number (the racks and boxes) and a letter (the shelves). This was done so that the location of the archive items could be indicated in the description. Under the field name ‘location’ in the description this could then be indicated as follows: “Archive room x, Rack x, Shelf x, Box x”.


Were the desired results achieved?

With preparation and training at the start of the process by Het Firmament, it was possible for volunteers from the support staff of the festival to make an itemised and high-quality inventory.

Observations and points for attention

  • Order packing material on time.
  • Term sheets including agreements on the use of certain terminology are useful for assuring searchability and uniformity .

Author: Eline De Lepeleire (Letterenhuis)

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