Monday, June 18, 2018

Archives Explained: Part II

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

People often asks me what happens to their things after they donate. I already discussed what happens to collections of papers, but what about one-off donations? I am regularly given one or two random items someone found in their basement or grandma’s attic. As with the larger collections, my job is to find a home for these items and make sure they are accessible to researchers and staff.

Let us take, for example, this mounted flour bag which was recently donated to the museum that I cataloged last week. 
The flour bag in question

Step one is to label the item. Every single item in both our paper and 3D collections has a unique number used to identify it. This flour bag’s number is 2018.0032.0003. The 2018 refers to the year in which it was donated. 0032 indicates that it was given by the 32nd donor of the year. 0003 indicates which of how many items that person donated. In this case, the flour bag was the third item of three, the other two being a photograph and a jug. We use pencil to label our paper-based item and either cloth labels or a special lacquer on our 3D items.  

This is where it bag lives now

 Step two is to find a home for the item. In our archives we have two types of collections: organic collections which were created by a person, business, or organization and given to us by them in their entirety; and artificial collections created by the staff from multiple donations based on a specific topic or format. Some examples of artificial collections include our photograph collection, which contains photographs, and our religion collection, which includes material from various churches and synagogues. Single-item donations are always filed within the artificial collection which best suites either their topic or their format. Based on its size, I chose to file the mounted flour bag in our oversized items collection.

Step three is to create a detailed catalog record of the item. I describe, measure, and photograph it. I do research into the item’s background in order to place the item into its historical context. In this case, I used the Elmira City Directories to figure out when the company which produced the bag, Elmira Steam Mills, was in operation and where it was located. Once I have all this information, I enter it into our museum database along with its location information. Here at the Chemung County Historical Society, we use a program called PastPerfect. We also have a second database linkedto our website which researchers can use to search our collections. 
Catalog record for the flour bag in PastPerfect

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