Museum curation process explained

The Strong School, pictured here, is part of the historic village.

Donating an Item to the Vicksburg Historical Society?

A museum curator evaluates a collection of items, decides what’s important to the museum, cares for the items and creates paperwork to document them. Maggie Snyder, curator and chairperson of the Vicksburg Historical Society’s Collection Committee, joined Kathy Bach and Bonnie Holmes in 1990, when the three began care of the Vicksburg Historical Society’s collection.

Snyder says, “Our focus is narrow. We confine our collection to the area encompassed by the Vicksburg school district, and whatever items we think may help us tell a story inside the buildings of the Historic Village.”

Snyder outlines the careful process below:

When an object, including paper and photographs, is received, a deed of gift is filled out and signed both by the donor and the person who has done the intake. By signing the document, the donor relinquishes all ownership of the item.

That paperwork and the object(s) go to the curator, who decides if it will be accepted into a collection.

If accepted, a collection number is assigned to the object. The first four digits are the year (2021). The next digits indicate the number of collections accepted so far in that year. Let’s say 30.

The curator or another staff member completes an accession form, making a detailed written description of the item: dimensions, color, what is it and what is it used for, where it was used, date if known, approximate date if there’s good reason to make a guess, and condition from very poor to very good.

If there are multiple items in a particular collection (remember, we’re dealing with the 30th one for the year) then the numbers 1 through whatever are assigned to each item and a full description (as above) is written for each item. (Example, 2021.30.1 – item 1 in this collection, 2021.30.2 – item 2 in this collection and so on.)

Each item is also assigned a storage location, be it a numbered box or a location in the Historic Village.

Spaces on the accession form are checked as to date received, who received it, who accessioned it, when data entry was done, and so on.

The items are marked with their collection number. Sometimes tags – metal or cardstock – are used, sometimes acid-free labels are used, sometimes a cardstock tag may be pinned with a brass safety pin to the label already attached to clothing, etc. All labels are rated suitable for archival use and therefore approved for museum use.

The item(s) are cleaned lightly, if needed, and placed in acid-free bags or wrapped in acid-free tissue or both, and put in their designated storage location. If they go in the Historic Village they are placed there.

The accession form and deed of gift are turned over for data entry – currently Donna Seilheimer, who is assisted by Office Manager Leah Richard.

Data entry is done using PastPefect, a well-known collection database system used by many museums. A thank-you, if needed, is generated.

The deed of gift and the accession form are filed. Deeds of gifts are kept until the item is de-accessioned, if it ever is.

The archives housed in the Depot are readily available, and there is much information to explore digitally by watching slide shows or accessing information at the Information Station. Specific collections housed in the storage area require an appointment.

Individuals wishing to donate or request a tour can contact info@vicksburghistory.org. or call 269-649-1733 and leave a message.

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