Management and Interpretation of Artifact

Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, UTC- June 1-30, 2004

Management and Interpretation of Artifact
Dr. M.K. Bhandi * and Sri. M.P. Gowda **

“When thoughtful people experience vivid information, poignant issues,
or their own unfamiliar reflections in museums and libraries, they reach
to grasp more, see farther, and understand critically, beyond themselves.”
David Carr


As the library was thought of as a collection of printed material, museums were thought of as collections of artifacts. Artifacts, however are well displayed, to educational and “ popular” presentations. Museums are the repositories where civilizations store their treasures. Humankind has always preserved artifacts that it deemed important, that it has valued and treasured things never to be parted with except perhaps as Neolithic grave goods. The basic purpose of museum is to preserve the artifacts, and to make available to the public as many of them as possible, couched in meaningful public displays.

In museums the words are seen on the walls-as well as the issues displayed, constructed and presented. In museum evidence and telling the story of the transformation of the region spiritually, physically and economically through close and explicit comparisons of the character and nature of each group are done.

Museums are the treasuries of a culture. Their educative tasks involve design, transmission and cognition.

Note: *Dr. M.K. Bhandi, University Librarian and ** Sri. M.P. Gowda, Assistant Librarian
Mangalore University, Mangalagangothri – 574 199.

Museum is an awareness of an unusual world unfolding for us alone, comprising multiple realities, each demanding its own transition, each implying its own context and complexity and each available to us briefly.

Museums are finite provinces of meaning, constellations and arrays that, gallery by gallery, evince a structure of critical choices and a network of themes.

Museums are cultural institutions inviting, astonishing choices, provocative and extraordinary juxtapositions – educes a reflective process, polishes a cognitive mirror for the examination of images, thoughts and beliefs.

The most effective Museums capture the complex extremities of human experience and knowledge; with varying degrees of success, they combine, order, and illuminate them for public access. Our culture may use such institutions to contain permanently the artifacts, texts and records it wishes to hold as forms of experience and knowledge.

In Museums human beings can consider, compare, integrate and think beyond the evidences of experience. Museums are public places intended for learners, for lives of self-invention and pursuit. At their best, they are forums for communication, independent learning and self presentation, intended for the living of life on one’s own horizon, yet informed by the horizons of others.

Museums and libraries are environments where human beings can come to understand the fresh and unroutinized parts of themselves: their curiosities, their continuing, unfinished issues, and unarticulated needs to learn. They provide access to the diverse cultural texts, artifacts and contexts that confer meaning in one life over time.

The Museum Object

The museum object is a heritage item worthy of being preserved. In the museal reality it becomes a document of the reality from which it has been isolated. A heritage object is a physical object whose material and form carry rich layers of meaning to be communicated as messages from the past to the present and to be preserved for the future. The specific aspects of meaning of museum objects are the following: practical, aesthetic, symbolical and metaphysical. The museum object is the source, carrier and transmitter of information. It is a link between museology and a fundamental discipline. While the fundamental discipline focuses on one aspect of the object and remains confined to the documentational and partly communicational approach, museology develops an open approach to the object as an unlimited source of information to be preserved and communicated. The consequence of this approach is an analytical study of different identities of the museum object, whereby it becomes a source of information. Its conceptual identity is that which its maker had in mind before making it; its factual identity is its shape at the moment when it was made; its functional identity reflects and follows its changing uses; and its structural identity reflects its changing material structure in the course of its lifetime; finally, its actual identity is a changeable property reflecting the object’s actual state at present

Definitions of Artifact:

Artefacts – A group of ‘artificial’ and ‘concrete’ entities occurring in the process of classification. Opp. ‘Mentefacts’. P.18.(Glossary of Library Science Technical Terms.)

Artefact – Anything made by human invention and workmanship: an artificial product. Museum objects include artefacts in addition to naturally occurring items. The artifact is held for its information content, whether educational, scientific or aesthetic. P.8.( International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science.)

Artifact- term in archaeology for any object made by human agency (from Latin ars, “art” ; facere, “to make” A-531 preshistoric S-455, pictures S-455. ( Compton’s Encyclopedia.)

Artifact is a product of man’s efforts, especially the workmanship of prehistoric man, Immovable artifacts are called monuments. Portable objects may be called relics. P.633.(The World Book Encyclopedia)

The materials deliberately produced by past peoples.

Phenomena produced, replicated, or otherwise brought wholly or partly to the present through human means, thus all households items, from carpets to crucifixes, light bulbs to beds, and cooking pots to paintings, are artifacts; as are neckties and nose-rings. Houses, churches, factories, and civic buildings, themselves stationary artifacts called structures or architecture, overflow with portable artifacts ranging from desks, widget-winders, and laptop computers to holy water. Most pets as well as domesticated animals are also artifacts, for their breeding is at least partly under human control. Less obviously, when a person”s body is altered by applying lipstick, piercing ears, receiving a tattoo, or styling hair, the result modifications become artifacts. Moreover, for some purposes we can also regard as artifacts any substances created by but separated from, a person’s body, such as hair, nail clippings, tears, fingerprints and noseprints, ear wax, scabs, sloughed-off epidermis, airborne scents and odors (from skin, hair and auxillary glands), saliva, sputum, urine and feces. Finally artifacts may also include human remains: corpses, mummies, skeletons, body parts, organs and tissues, ashes and relics.
Formal writing of any fact is known as record. Record covers Content, Structure and Context.

Content - the words, phrases, numbers, imaages composing the text.
Sturcture – evident from the use of standard document forms (e.g. tax
return forms, land-grant certificates, business letters).

Context – can be derived from

Internal features: signature lines, addresses and salutation, letterhead, date etc.

External features: position of the document in a file; the file
heading & number, the place of the file in a record
classification system; to other related documents and
documents in other media (maps, photos etc.)

Record should be Reliable, Authentic and Complete.
Reliability: the authority and trust worthiness of a record as evidence of the

activity in which they participate. A record is reliable when it can stand for the facts it is about. Reliability is the exclusive responsibility of the records creator: it depends upon the degree of control over the record’s procedures of creation and form.
Authenticity: a record is authentic when it is what it purports to be; it has not been altered or falsified. A record is authentic if it is precisely as it was when first transmitted or set aside-it is as reliable as it was when created. Authenticity is a shared responsibility of the record’s creator and the record’s preserver.
Completeness: a record is complete if it has all the elements of form required by the system of law in which it is created. Minimum elements: chronological date; topical date; originating address; name(s) of author/writer; addresses; name(s) of copied persons; title or subject; disposition.
The record of a transaction is only properly useful for current and historical purposes when it has the qualities of completeness, accuracy and reliability

Heuristic questions for understanding museums

Museums are intended to address the information at hand, the need to devise and carry out a plan, and the need to look backward.

v What information and objects have been brought here?
v What ideas appear to be present?
v How promising are these ideas in the light of my interest?
v How will I recognize the difficult parts of this experience?
v How might I best approach these challenges?
v What is the situation for learning, and what constraints does it present?
v How might I best overcome these constraints?
v What paths are open to me, where do I begin and what is likely to follow from this beginning?
v What essential words must I use to understand these appearances and sensations?
v What is familiar to me and how is what I already know likely to be useful?
v What is expected of me here?
v How have I behaved usefully in similar situations in the past?
v How will I know when I have found something useful or new?
v Is this what I expected to occur?
v What are my questions now?

The usefulness of museums

· Museums emphasize connections among disparate experiences and otherwise fragmented information.
· They offer arrays of data and alternative paths toward these data
· Contextual information abounds
· The learner constructs order, structure or pattern typically without interference; judgments are emergent, provisional, relative and contextual not predetermined.
· Museums offer grounded empirical direct experiences of artifacts and texts each experience acts on expectations and changes.
· Museums nurture no routine, exploratory thoughts.
· Museums and libraries are conducive to peak experiences.
· They stimulate language, they are conducive to clarity and accuracy in perceptions language makes classifications, questions and judgments possible.
· Museum have a particularly adult character: they match the reflective modes of age they assist in distinctions between ideals and realities: they lead to renewal or suggest the possibility of renewal and they permit us to compare the past with the new.
· It is possible to learn in the museum or the library that we are more capable, more perceptive, more interesting than we think.

Thinking and Critical Thinking:

Thinking for oneself within a community of discourse and inquiry is the hallmark of adult independent learning; critical thinking is a positive, productive and constructive process, leading the thinker towards authentic self awareness and the articulation of living personal values.

§ Critical thinking involves the integration of complex events and information related to living issues; it is an incremental process, not easily contained or resolved.
§ Critical thinking is self-induced and self-controlled. Its forms are variable and adaptive, depending on the contexts, issues and kinds of discourse in specific situations.
§ Critical thinking is pervasive in the life of the thinker. It is about both cognition and emotion; it challenges assumptions, increases awareness of causes, contexts and constraints and emphasizes the imagination, exploration, and contemplation of alternatives to existing conditions.
§ Critical thinking engages the narrow, private world of the thinker often involving profound questions, indirection and doubt-with a public world of dialectic and dialogue. The presence of questions and errors is seen as a certain indicator of learning.

The Learning Cycle:

· Motivation: The awakening of a conscious substantial interest in the
subject, which the learner recognizes as a practical problem.
· Orientation: The formation of a preliminary hypothesis or model which explains the principle and structure of the knowledge necessary for solving the problem.
· Internalization: The enrichment of the preliminary model with the help of new knowledge.
· Externalization: The application of the model as a tool in solving concrete problems, influencing change in the work environment and producing innovation.
· Critique: The learner evaluates critically the validity and usefulness of the explanatory model.
· Control: The learner examines his or her own learning, stops to anlayse his or her ideas and performance in the light of the new model and corrects them as needed.

In our view there are three dimensions to the interpretation of artifacts The three dimensions of interpretation of artifacts are Instrumentality, Aesthetics and Symbolism involves overlooking one or more dimension or overlooking certain aspects of any of the dimensions. Any symbol is better viewed as an artifact. Artifacts are always perceived by the senses and that they have certain intentions, aiming to satisfy a need or a goal. Artifacts can include colors, dress and accessories, furnishings, buildings, offices, stores, vehicles, windows, cartoons, logos and emblems and more. Organizations are one big conglomerate of physical artifacts. Most artifacts are more than that. Artifacts allow people to do things and inspire people to feel or react a certain way. A systematic model for analyzing artifacts can significantly enhance the understanding of artifacts and facilitates effective artifact management.

A systematic analysis requires understanding the dimensions on which artifacts may vary. Artifacts can be classified into distinct categories. Artifacts as symbols for example, typically did not consider additional dimensions on which artifacts may vary. It means failing to recognize the full complexity of organizational artifacts. In current theory that artifacts can embody conceptually distinct and independent qualities for example a realization of symbols and artifacts. Places evoke both actions and feelings. Buildings can vary in form, space and function. Buildings can be evaluated, including utility evaluative and aesthetic evaluative. The form of a building is considered “ design” rather than “function”.

(i) Instrumentality

v The key to instrumentality is that people and organizations have goals to accomplish and artifacts can be evaluated according to whether they help or hinder the accomplishment of these goals.
v Ecological approach suggests that what people perceive in the environment are affordances namely the extent the environment supports or hampers desired activities.
v The usability of artifacts as a critical feature and identifying `Web pages that suck’ to help identify whether a Web site succeeds or fails at its main mission – effectively communicating what it’s about and what product or belief they are trying to sell.

Example In a first model of direct influence, if the artifact is a physical work station for e.g. it can hamper performance due to bad location or damaged or inappropriate equipment. If the artifact is an organizational web site, it can facilitate performance through a good design.

In a second model, of indirect influence, an artifact can cause stress or other emotional reactions which in turn hamper performance. Thus instrumentality is one dimension for assessing artifacts. However this is only and dimension receive to such assessments. The other two additional and essential dimensions are aesthetics and symbolism.

(ii) Aesthetics

Aesthetics is the sensory experience an artifact elicits. Aesthetics is separate from instrumentality but cannot be divorced from it, since aesthetics is judged in the context of the tasks or goals of the context of an artifact. In the example of a picture of a man on a door the same picture can be considered pleasantly aesthetic when on the door of the men’s bathroom, but considered tacky and unaesthetic when appearing on a news web site. Similarly, expectations of aesthetic from a logo of an auto shop for example are likely to be very different from aesthetic expectations from the décor of a board room, although both logo and board room are important organizational artifacts.

Example everybody from industrial designers to city planners claims to be looking after our aesthetic interests and there is ample anecdotal evidence that, on the margin people do put a higher premium on the look and feel of things than they once did. But aesthetics doesn’t come in neat units like microprocessor speed, calories, or tons of steel. Style is qualitative it is hard to be assessed. As a general matter, aesthetics sells, not just in computers but in other goods and services.

A classic case of aesthetics taking a lead over instrumentality is with the design of cellular telephones. Ergonomic considerations recommend a certain angle of a telephone headset but such angles produce bulky and less aesthetic cellular phones. The industry has navigated toward the more aesthetic even if less functional telephones.

(iii) Symbolism

Symbolism regards the meanings or associations an artifact elicits. Chairs and tables have meanings. Artifacts as symbols representing the values of organizational cultures.

The physical layout of an organization reliably elicits associations of certain qualities. Advertising campaigns are the most vivid context in which such symbolism is used to the point of using symbolism to create desired identities. Attitudinal and behavioral responses to offices as products of meaning that individuals attribute to the work environment.

Key to symbolism is the process of observation and interpretation by observers. Physical settings of organizations as “symbolic resources”.

The three dimensions as essential to understanding artifacts and to effectively managing them in or for organizations.

Perhaps we only recognize three dimensions but there are more. A review of the diverse bodies of research on physical artifacts reveals three clusters which are the foundations of these three dimensions.

A first cluster is technology and human factors engineering, which discuss how artifacts relate to task performance, clearly attending to instrumentality.

Second cluster is architecture, product and industrial design and the fine arts, which focus primarily on aesthetics of artifacts.

A third cluster is advertising, communication and especially semiotics, which focus on the symbolism of signs and artifacts.

This marriage of multiple disciplinary perspectives appears to capture the breadth and depth of views on physical artifacts, supporting the three dimensions as essential to capture the full complexity of physical artifacts.

Furthermore, these three dimensions together can be viewed as creating a philosophical `whole’ by integrating a behavior, sensory and cognition or hands, senses and mind.

Instrumentality relates to doing thus either facilitating or hindering behavior. Aesthetics are tied to the senses or to visceral reactions and symbolism builds on associations, as it is all about message. So necessarily relies on cognitive processes. The three dimensions therefore suggest theoretical completeness because they tap and integrate the fundamental distinctions in scientific thought between doing, sensing and thinking.

A view of any artifact through only one dimension can be misleading. Yet professional training often creates a context that leads to a focus primarily on one dimension. But since artifacts are necessarily multi-dimensional, effective artifact management interpretation in organizations requires recognition and integration of multiple dimensions.


Work in this class involves performing a range of standardized and administrative tasks in the areas of site management, interpretation and visitor services, artifact management and some site support duties which may include

(1) clerical duties – Reception, Information, Distribution of broachers
(2) operating a sales desk – Selling photography, VCDS, DVDS, Books
(3) maintaining the site – e.g. of Gay lord’s catalogs.

At this level employees perform a range of tasks such as:

(1)event planning
(2) volunteer coordination
(3) operations or programs management and
(4) research for events or projects.

At this level, employees function in a specialist capacity in areas of

(1) financial support
(2) community support and volunteerism
(3) research and restoration and operations
(4) employees plan
(5) research and coordinate projects with the site’s support and
(6) special interests groups.

Artifact management involves:

(1) checking the buildings and ground periodically to ensure that artifacts are present and in good condition
(2) employees clean and maintain the historic area and
(3) objects according to management training. Employees may function as assistant site manager and perform related duties as required.

Strategies for Archival methods:
Archivists to complete high priority tasks and carry out high priority processes. Some strategies are:

· Refining the Records Management Units analytical tools such as the Computer Systems Inventory Worksheet, so that computer analysts.
· Evaluating the archivists participation in new systems development projects to determine whether there are key phases in a project cycle that require attention from an archivist rather than involvement on a daily basis.
· Providing the archivists with more time for analytical work by training clerical staff to maintain existing records classifications and retention schedules and to respond to routine archival inquires.
· Developing a justification for hiring more archivists to meet the additional work load entailed by applying archival and records management concepts to the management of computer systems.


Complexity – Interpretation and visitor services involve:

(1) giving tours as needed
(2) conveying information geared towards that group
(3) answering questions and
(4) researching information to answer specific questions.

Events planning/research involves:

(1) identifying the event and its purpose
(2) its likely audience
(3) staffing needs
(4) its funding
(5) its expected return.


Employees work with limited direction:

Visitor service standards and site history are written and are used to evaluate acceptable service. Employees develop knowledge based on further research and community resources. Employees use judgment and tact in dealing with visitors engaging in unsafe, destructive or disruptive behavior, the employees work within state policies and guidelines of the support groups to raise funding, solicit community involvement and define a plan of development.

Responsibilities of the Archivists:

The five roles and associated responsibilities of the archivists are:
· Visionary: has an overview of the business of the organization and its work flow and business processes…understands what types of information needs to be captured in the organization, given its business and accountability structure and processes.
· System Designer: ensures that record-keeping requirements are included in the design of business applications, work processes and management functions.
· Policy Driver: develops the rules of record-keeping liaises with senior management to ensure that these rules are reflected in the plans, tools and techniques of the organization’s programs and services.
· Retrieval Expert: provides access to information stored in central reserves assists users in locating specific information.
· Advisor/Coach: provides advice on the development and modification of record-keeping requirements; keeps up-to-date with developments in the field of record-keeping.


Employees represent the Department of Museums, the site and the community to site visitors, school groups, historical societies and other interest groups. Employees are responsible for reporting theft and damage of artifacts or property and injuries on the site. Employees document various aspects of the site’s history, develop operational procedures and commit the site to action or activity; management is consulted prior to implementation. Employees ensure that operational issues are addressed and resolved in the absence of the site manager or assistant manager.

Consequence of Action:

Poor performance of visitor services may adversely effect tourism in the area. Careless or negligent performance duties may result in visitor injuries or loss or irreplaceable artifacts. of national geographic journal

Impractical special events may cost the site money and community support. Poor interpersonal skills could reduce funding and volunteer support which are necessary to increase visitation at a site.


Work is evaluated by observation, visitor comments and participation in operation activities and in site events planning/research is reviewed by professional staff for viability, documentation technique, judgment and historical accuracy. Ability to work well with support groups is evaluated by community support.


Subject Matter

Work requires a deep knowledge of the site, its history, the area and the collection at that site. Employees explain and relate site rules, history, safety precautions and other information regarding the local area to groups. Employees must have a knowledge of the community, the types of events the community has supported before and the logistics required for an event.


The purpose of contact is to educate through entertainment, Employees work closely with support groups, local government and corporations to encourage the community to provide goods and services, monies and other support.

Work Environment:

Nature of Work Conditions:
Some work is performed in a climate controlled visitor centre although it also requires walking over fields and uneven ground. Employees may be exposed to dust and mold.

Nature and Potential of Personal Hazards:
Employees walk through old houses with narrow stairs and hallways and low cellings of through fields: lighting at the sites is not always good. Employees are exposed to insects and the possibility of injury.


Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:
Knowledge of state and national history. Extensive knowledge of site history. Some knowledge or archival practices. Ability to speak effectively with a wide variety of people. Ability to adapt historical tours to age, interest level, special interests or time constraints. Ability to app…. Site and state office practices. Ability to write cohesive material based on documentation. Ability to establish and maintain effective work relationships.

Minimum Training and Experience Requirement:
Graduation from a high school and four years of experience in giving or developing museum tours; or an equivalent combination of training and experience. e. g In India archeology department conducts six weeks training program for the interested for the professionals in Delhi.

20th Century Trends
Librarians too have started working with special collections. They too have started digitizing rare collections’ information using a number of new technologies. We call this as heritage artifacts. These days dramatic and musical performances, audio recordings, spoken words captured on audio recordings , radio broadcasts and recently recording of moving images are stored in the digital media in addition to the printed material.


Our museums should continue to concentrate on the artifacts, not because of historical continuity, but because that is what their customers(the public) want to see. Most debate about what the public wants to see is based only on presumptions. Very few museum professionals ever go down into their halls while the public is also there, to see what people are really doing; such rare visits by the staff are usually to show a visiting fireman around, or to impress a dignitary. But you only have to visit a museum, as one of the general public, to see what is truly popular.
Artifacts does not mean that museums must forsake the use of technology. But technology should not devour the artifacts. Artifacts can be locked up in their cases, and sit undisturbed forever.

“ In the case of many forms of service work, we recognize that, the better the work is done, the less visible it is to those who benefit from it” .



Contact Persons *

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary,,

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