An acquisition number is a unique identifier that provides information on when an object was added to a collection such as a museum, library, or similar resource. Organizations typically have their own code for acquisition numbers, and when an item changes hands, it will be assigned a new number. This is part of collection management, the art and science of keeping accurate, detailed and useful records of items in inventory for the benefit of researchers, owners and other interested parties.

The number of digits in a capture number can vary, and the number can be split into multiple segments, each offering encoded information beyond the time the article entered a collection. 

For example, a library might use codes starting with a year, include a two-digit code that specifies the item type, and then add three or more digits to indicate the single acquisition number. A number like 200912304, for example, could indicate that the article was acquired in 2009, is an academic journal, and was the 304th journal to be added to the collection that year.

Some collections use the term “access number” instead. In both cases, this identification code is one of the first elements associated with objects when they come into the organization’s possession. A technician who processes the item on arrival will generate an acquisition number, add it to the item record and, if possible, label it. This could involve placing a sticker or transmitter on the item or creating a curatorial card to use if the item cannot be managed directly.

You can search for articles by acquisition number and other parameters if that’s interesting. These numbers can provide valuable information to observers who are familiar with the code associated with them. They also allow organizations to quickly sort databases to organize inventory in a meaningful way. For example, a biostatist could sort fields to highlight all proteins added to a database in a given year.

Acquisition code systems are designed to be flexible, to allow space for the expansion of collections and events such as entering a new century, where a double-digit code of the year could be confusing. In a museum that has been open since the 1700s, for example, a year code such as “18” could indicate any number of years, such as 1918 or 2018. In the event that the system needs to be revamped to accommodate changes to nature of an organization’s work, this can involve a lengthy recoding process to accurately fit older items into the collection with the new classification system.

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