As a result of a $5,000 grant received last year from Bay and Paul Foundation, the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History is embarking on a mission to better preserve and archive its extensive collections, which includes around 20,000 objects and 10,000 photographs.
The grant was intended for “collections management, digitization and archival supplies and equipment,” according to Matthew Edwards, executive director of the museum.
Museum volunteers gathered Tuesday afternoon for a training session to teach them how to repackage, document and digitize a large part of the museum’s collections.
Adrienne Berney, collections care trainer with the Connecting to Collections project, led the volunteers in a series of training activities, including an examination of multiple training objects in order to properly train them to archive materials and know the techniques needed to examine and document each object.
“Our goal is to help small museums and this grant helps us to go out in the state, to museums like this one, and host regional workshops to reform and revise the archives as well as learn object handling techniques. Some volunteers will work with objects and others will work primarily with the digitization of the archives,” Berney explained to the volunteers.
The museum would like to have a complete catalog record of every item in the archives in order to ensure, as memories often fade, that the story behind each item is documented in order to make it meaningful to future generations, Berney explained.
Berney said the condition of each item also will be examined in order to determine the proper storage techniques.
In addition to information about cleaning important items, Berney said it is important to consider using acid-free storage materials, which are more readily available than they have been in the past. For example, after examining a fragile silk textile that Berney brought for training, museum volunteer and intern Susanna Pyatt determined that by storing the item folded, damage developed along the creases.
Berney said that textiles should be stored either rolled on a tube that has been covered in a padded, acid-free material such as heavy-duty aluminum foil and a clean and non-dyed cotton or muslin, or folded with a material to “pad out the folds” such as acid-free tissue or cloth, the latter of which is recommended for storing quilts.
Another concern Berney noted was the humidity levels in the storage area, and she included a humidity reader in each packet she distributed to volunteers.
Berney noted that the humidity levels inside the museum were ideal, but also said in a home setting, humidity levels were worth considering, and even more important than temperature. Improper humidity levels can lead to mold development.
Storage containers should be acid-free, but if plastic storage containers are used, Berney said to make sure they contained polyethylene or polypropylene, indicated by a PE or PP mark on the container. These type of plastic storage containers are available at most any retail establishment.
After an examination of a small alligator head by Don Brookshire and Olivia Edwards, Berney explained to the volunteers to take careful care at handling any taxidermy that is dated prior to 1970, due to poisonous chemicals used in preparing the taxidermy, such as arsenic and mercury.
Berney also went over techniques that were once used in the past for handling archived materials and museum collections, such as the use of cotton gloves which was once part of the archetype of those who work in museums and are now considered to be an outdated practice.
Gloves are still used, explained Berney, but for some items such as paper or fragile textiles, it is more important to be able to feel the item, to make sure it is handled properly, as hands covered in gloves may actually cause tears on items like fragile paper.
Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards said he is fortunate to have partners in the community and regional area such as Hibco Plastics, which has donated archival materials to assist with the preservation of the museum’s collections. In addition, Walmart of Mount Airy donated 150 plastic containers.
Edwards explained that the process will take four to five years of rehousing and documenting the objects in the collection, which number at least 20,000 and include copies of The Mount Airy News, The Mount Airy Times, the Yadkin Valley News and around 10,000 photographs.
“This will allow us to assess what is really important in our collections. We want to make sure we are collecting the best quality objects that have a connection to our local and regional history. We will have the opportunity to make our collections stronger and more pertinent, while freeing up space at the same time.”
Edwards said items that do not meet the criteria for preservation have to go through a formal process of deaccession, which could include transferring items to other museums or educational institutions, and auctioning items, although the funds raised at auction are specifically earmarked for future conservation efforts.
Museum volunteers also had the chance to examine the archives, including items such as furniture, wagons, books once owned by historian Ruth Minick, vinyl records, a hand-carved wagon, a dollhouse that looks like a log cabin, and much more.
In the future, museum Curator Amy Snyder explained that the museum’s collections will be searchable by appropriate keywords, and photographs will be digitized.
The museum is always in need of new volunteers to assist with not only the preservation and digitization of the archives, but also with other areas such as greeting and assisting visitors at the receptionist desk and museum’s gift shop, and volunteers for education, exhibits, maintenance, collections and administrative needs. Call the museum at 786-4478 if interested in volunteering or making a donation.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.