Friday, November 21, 2014

How Museums Work: Accepting Donations

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Every year, CCHS accepts hundreds of items into our collections.  Just this month we took in yearbooks and uniforms from the St. Joseph’s School of Nursing, a collection of barbers’ tools, and the records of the local chapter of the AARP.  We also rejected a number of offered items as well.  Why don’t we take everything?  How do we decide what to accept and what to reject?  Who does the deciding?  How does this museum thing work?

Like most museums, CCHS has space issues, as in we are constant danger of running out.  We can’t take everything offered to us because we simply would have no place to put it. 
I need more room.

Instead, we have to be selective about what we accept.  Everything we take has to meet certain criteria.  Firstly, it must fit within the scope of our collecting mandate.  Our Collections Policy, as laid out by our Board, states that “The collections of the Chemung County Historical Society, Inc, and interpretation of the history derived from them will focus on the unique aspects of life in the Chemung Valley region, from pre-history through the present.”  This means that we are obliged to reject those items which are not directly tied to our region, no matter how cool it would be to have them.  In most cases, we try to help the donor find a more appropriate home for their treasures.      

We also need to think about how offered items fit within our existing collections.  We already have four copies of Elmira’s Part in the World War and we don’t want another one.  What we do want are items which fill gaps in our collections and help us to tell new and interesting stories.  We also try not to duplicate the collections held at other nearby institutions.  For example, the Steele Memorial Library has a complete run of the Star-Gazette which is why we don’t bother collecting it ourselves. 

Yes, it's cool, but no more please.
Lastly, we consider the condition of the donation.  Our mission isn’t to store artifacts, it is to share artifacts and the stories they tell.  If an item is too damaged to be handled let alone displayed, then we probably don’t want it.
This is trash.

 So, who makes the decisions about what we do and do not accept?  As I mentioned, the Board as a whole establishes our collecting policies.  The staff, mostly the archivist and curator, perform the initial evaluation.  They present those items which they would like to accept to the Collections Committee.  The Committee is made up of Board members and interested members of the community and they make the ultimate decision about what to keep. 


1 comment:

  1. I suspect the questions answered by this piece are very often wondered about and often asked. Thank you for anticipating them.