This past week I participated in the museum donation process from the other side – the donor side. My father was donating some of the papers of his father and grandfather to a military museum, and my sister and I joined him.
The initial meeting with members of the collections and research departments was relatively familiar to me, having witnessed it happening in my own department when I was at the historic house museum. They explained the process of accession – slightly different from what I was used to – and we talked about the content and history of the 2 trunks, display table, and assorted files and scrapbooks. They were very excited about some of the material, and sensitive to the fact that it was sort of hard for us to let it all go. They are, however, going to digitize everything, and we’ll get a pdf of the finding aid once it’s complete.
The best part of it all, however, wasn’t even on the original itenerary. Dad of course mentioned that I had just worked in a curatorial department, which led to some friendly colleague chat with the research guys. They suggested that, after visiting my great-grandfather’s aircraft (undergoing restoration), we visit their office building, also the collections storage site.
It was amazing. First off, they had just recently renovated the place, and so they had a clean room for object processing, not to mention secure-access climate controlled storage rooms with all the proper storage formats and electronic moving shelves. The records and documents processing area had really lovely scanners, a humidifier dome for uncurling photos, and large tables for processing documents, not to mention an abundance of acid-free folders and boxes. Fantastic!
All three of us had been encouraged by the enthusiasm of the staff for the material we donated, but seeing the storage and processing areas was reassuring. My father has worked in and with libraries for over 30 years, my sister has a background in the humanities, and my knowledge of collections management needs increased exponentially working in curatorial. We were all impressed by the facilities, and it made a difference knowing that not only would the material be appreciated but well cared for.
It isn’t always feasible or useful to show donors where and how their donations will be stored or processed. Some people aren’t interested, and some don’t have the context to understand what’s important, and that’s fine. For someone like me or my father, however, who has experience and a vested interest, it can make the difference between accepting that you’ve made the donation and being delighted that you did so.