What Happens to Your Donation?
Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.
Pretty early on in this blog writing endeavor I took you through how I research when a request comes in, so today I am going to tell you how I approach new acquisitions. If you have ever donated something to the Folsom Historical Society or plan on doing so in the future, this is the process that I go through to make sure that your donation receives the best care possible so we can use it for fun exhibits and research! Often, pieces donated are deeply personal and have been in the family for years so thank you very much for parting with them so our community can enjoy them.
The first step to any donation, no matter if it is big or small is our deed of gift form which I will give an example of below (with all fabricated information, of course). This form gives us the information to contact you if needed, allows us to keep track of what you have donated so we can trace which items belong with which collection, gain information on the provenance of a collection and so we have clear and legal ownership of a collection. If the donation is kept, I send a thank you letter with our tax ID, if it is not, well, now I have your information so we can return the donation to you.
Once a donation is accepted and the boring paperwork is out of the way, the real fun begins. Sometimes a donor has a lot of information on a donation which makes my job easier (what I call a dream donor) but usually there is very little info, which is ok too! The most common piece donated to us with this issue are photographs that donors know are a part of their family but whose names have been lost through the years. While I have your attention, please mark your photographs with names and dates! If not for a museum someday, for your family!
Anyway, back to the process. The first thing I look for is condition, holes if applicable, mold, dirt, tears, fragility, etc. Normal wear and tear is fine, but anything that is in too poor of condition will be sent back to the donor or disposed of at their request. Pieces that pass the condition test will then be cared for to prevent further damage, one because we want to care for everything to the best of our ability, and two, visitors to our museum want to see objects and archival material that is well maintained. Donations with fabric such as clothing or quilts go into our freezer to kill any bugs or slow any mold growth until the item can be cleaned properly. This step ensures that new pieces brought in do not put our already established collection at risk.
From there, I begin to accession your donation which looks different depending on if the donation is 3-D objects, clothing or archival material. I am going to be using this recent donation of items from the Levy and Cohn families as an example on how to accession.
We use a program called CatalogIt to digitally track and store our collection and everything is separated by type. We choose between objects, photograph, clothing, archives and library and add a picture (preferably several!) of the item so we can easily identify it. Every piece is given a unique number which tells us the year it came in, the collection number it belongs to and the object ID. For example, this business card from our example collection would have the accession number 2020.005.001 and the next item in the collection would be 2020.005.002 and so on. Each item is then given a complete background write up to include a description, history, usage, location, condition report, measurements and so on. As you can imagine, accessioning is a very long process per item and detail oriented.
After a collection is cataloged, it is then boxed up, the box is labeled with the contents and it is placed on our archive shelves for future use. So, now you know the basics of our process and hopefully the museum world is a little less mysterious!