We get donations from all across Scott County, and even beyond, but do you ever wonder what happens to the objects you give us afterward? Well you are in luck because that is what this blog post is about. The process of taking items into the collection in called accessioning, and entering them into our collection database is called cataloguing. One of our golden rules for items we take is “What is the history and how does it connect to Scott County?”, we don’t take copies of photos and we want to be sure that we have a good history for anything we take it. Starting to accession something requires the donor to sign over their ownership of the item to the Historical Society. Once all the paperwork is done, we begin the process of cataloguing the items.
Cataloguing has a few different steps to it, but all of them are pretty easy. Cataloguing an item starts by giving it a particular number. This number serves to tell us who gave it to the Historical Society, as well as which item in the system we should look for when we need it. The number is based on the donor, and then for each item they gave it proceeds in numerical order: 1, 2, 3, etc. We attached the number with a tag, or sometimes we use a special material that lets us write the number directly on the item. In most cases though we use a tag, it’s much easier to remove if we need it later. After we give the object a number we enter into our database a description, dimensions, what we know about its history, connections to people and places, and finally, its storage location.
Storing historical artifacts is part space management, part chemistry, and part environmental sciences. Objects of all kinds are very particular about the kind of environment that is best for them. We have specially controlled storage rooms that keep the artifacts stable for as long as possible. Once we assign a space to an object, we begin boxing it or lining a shelf with foam to keep the artifact safe. As you can see, we have a lot of full shelves but very little space. Once the item is placed in storage, we check on it periodically to make sure it isn’t decaying or breaking down. Steps are taken to make sure items in our collection have the longest life span possible for the generations to come. When we put together new exhibits, we always search our own collection first for artifacts and stories of the people of Scott County.