There are suggestions that a number of items have disappeared from the British Museum. They may have been stolen. The staff and management of the Museum cannot agree on what has happened. As is so often the case in logistics, the problem involves data capture and the control over inventory. It seems that not all the museum’s items in its inventory were identified and located correctly.

As a logistics operation the British Museum is very large. It holds approximately 8 million individual items, although it seems that this number is uncertain. It also operates a complex of inventory locations. These are often substantial and include Franks House, a building in central London that holds 200,000 different items, Blythe House, a large former 19th century office building holding 2 million items, a new facility at Reading University and a shared-user storage facility at Wroughton to the west of London.

The nature of these facilities is complicated by the need of curators and academics to have access to items on a regular basis. This means inventory can be further distributed across external locations.

For a museum, organising a logistics operation of this size is a considerable undertaking. The British Museum states that it uses a ‘MI+ Collections Management System’. This appears to be a form of inventory management information architecture that focuses on data capture and stock keeping unit tracking. This system has been created by the state-owned ‘Collections Trust’ which is designed to create information systems architectures for museums.

It is unclear what has actually been going on at the British Museum. However, the institution seems to be facing very familiar logistics problems of inventory tracking, information architecture and creating physical inventory infrastructure that is appropriate for the task. The British Museum is the largest museum in the World and well-funded. If it cannot run its logistics properly it is worth wondering about the state of logistics operations at other museums.

Author: Thomas Cullen

Source: Ti Insight

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