October 22, 2010

Archives Month Activities Continue: How to Care for Your Family History

On this blog the Montana Historical Society Research Center staff has discussed a variety of ways that archivists and librarians provide public access to historical materials. Another important function of working at the historical society is taking measures to preserve the materials in our care. Since the Montana Historical Society has staff that is knowledgeable about how to preserve documents, books, photographs, and objects—we decided to use this knowledge to give an Archives Month presentation to the public on how to care for their family history.

The Montana Historical Society Archives and Museum staff worked together to present a three part presentation on preservation: Lindsay Matson, Photograph Archivist, discussed how to preserve photographs inexpensively and effectively, Rowena Harrington, Assistant Registrar for the Museum, talked about how to prevent the deterioration of objects, and Caitlan Maxwell, Electronic Records Project Archivist, presented on how to care for documents and books. I am excited to say that we had a full house. People were very enthusiastic and had tons of questions for us on how to care for their collections. Some people even had useful preservation tips of their own to share with the rest of the audience. For example: did you know that you can remove photographs from a scrapbook safely by using dental floss?

In addition to our presentations—we also had handouts with contacts for licensed appraisers and conservators, as well as links to go for more information and preservation supplies. In November we are offering a second opportunity for the public to talk with the staff at the Montana Historical Society about preservation. There will be an open house on November 6th from 2-4pm where people can bring 1-2 small items (or photographs of the items if they are too large or fragile) to the research center reading room to talk with us about how to care for the item. It has been a very exciting Archives Month here at the Montana Historical Society!

Online Resources:

University of Washington Libraries: Annotated List of Useful Websites on How to Care for Family History

Montana Historical Society List of Manuscript Appraisers and Dealers

Archives Month in Full Swing

MHS librarians Anne McDonnell and Virginia
 Walton work to save Helena banking records, 1955
Who do we think we are, anyway? Well, we are archivists seeking to celebrate the work we do! October is Archives Month across the country, and this year the staff of the MHS Archives wanted to spotlight the long tradition of “history keepers” in Montana going all the way back to 1865 and the founding of the Montana Historical Society. A couple weeks ago on Oct. 7 we kicked off our celebration with a light-hearted program revealing the men and women of Montana who were critical to collecting and caring for the superb historical collections we now hold at the MHS archives and photo archives. Rich Aarstad, archivist and oral historian, began with a tale of the original “Beard of Directors,” reviewing the efforts of the Montana pioneers (and mostly bearded men) who founded and led the Historical Society through its first decades of existence. State Archivist Jodie Foley, then illuminated the audience on the “maternal branch” of the Society’s history as she celebrated the long line of female library professionals who began applying professional standards to the care of archival collections. The MHS archives came into its own during the “Age of Acquisition” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as explained by Archivist Jeff Malcomson. The Montana Legislature in 1969 declared MHS the official state archives, while at the same time MHS administration hired professional historians, like Brian Cockhill and Lory Morrow, for the first time to work solely with the archives collections. Archives acquisitions quickly increased through the 1970s and 80s, right on through to the significant collections of today. Caitlan Maxwell, electronic records project archivist, concluded the presentation by describing the coming of the computer and its impact on the MHS Archives. She demonstrated the multiple ways computers are used to make the Archives collections accessible to the public and users around the world.  The MHS Archives and photo archives have come a long way, and we look forward to carrying on our mission into the future.