Friday, May 4, 2018

Will the weirdness ever end?

I've been volunteering at the local county historical museum for about six years now. Shortly after I began volunteering back in 2012, I asked the historical society president if it would be okay for me to work on organizing the archives a little. The museum didn't have any finding aids for the documents in its archives, and a finding aid -- or even a simple index -- is always useful for researchers. Being able to see at a glance whether or not the collections include material relating to the researcher's interest saves everyone a lot of time.

So I got started on figuring out the filing system. Turned out there wasn't one. There were five filing cabinets in the file room. One 4-drawer cabinet had a couple empty drawers, even though they were labeled "scrapbooks," and a couple drawers with some odd stuff in it (a softball scoring book, a couple unlabeled photo albums). Two 4-drawer cabinets appeared to duplicate each other. Lots of folders with similar names and similar material. One of the other volunteers explained that one cabinet was "Jim's stuff." Jim was the Society president. Okay, so I wouldn't touch Jim's stuff. The last two cabinets, a 2-drawer sitting on top of a 3-drawer, were also an odd mishmash of papers, books, and stuff that made little or no sense. But I got started, and gradually it all came together, more or less. It is definitely still a work in progress.  On the other hand, at least now things are generally in alphabetical order.

Of course, the archives keep growing because it turned out the filing cabinets probably contained less than 20% of the documents hiding in the museum or the storage building. As time passed, after we were able to purchase a new computer and I began inventorying the objects that were in the various display cases, more archival material started crawling out from odd spaces. We had a display devoted to Bishop Baraga: the bottom area of the case had several framed items (a lithograph of Baraga on his deathbed, a matted letter from Baraga to Captain Bendry, a portrait of Baraga as a young man) leaning against a shelf positioned maybe 8 inches up in the case. When I opened the case, I discovered the area under that shelf was stuffed full of documents of various types -- and when I say packed full, I mean stuffed to the point of practically bulging. There was enough stuff crammed into the space to fill a banker's box. And it was all material that anyone coming in to the museum hoping to use our archives to do some research on Bishop Baraga (a local high school student, for example) would have found extremely useful.

Banker's box: 24"x15"x10"
In the meantime, our "file" on Baraga in the filing cabinets, the actual physical archive, was maybe 1/4 inch thick. We had a treasure trove of Baraga material, but odds are that anyone coming in to ask about it would never know.

Now take that Baraga experience and multiply it. A lot. I opened a drawer on the Bendry desk and discovered every drawer was stuffed full of material, some of which related to Captain Bendry and most of which didn't. Stepped behind the railroads exhibit and found a Rubbermaid tote crammed full of material about railroads. Checked the storage area under a display case and found another stash of archival material. It took a few years, but I had finally reached a point where I figured all the unaccounted-for weirdness had been found. Oh, there are still boxes in the museum that need to be gone through, like that tote filled with railroads material, and for sure the storage building still has a couple dozen mystery boxes, but I was confident there were no more surprises lurking in the exhibit area.

I was wrong.

Does it look like it would have a secret compartment? 
As part of the ongoing painting project, we had to move a display case that contains items relating to schools and education in Baraga County. As long as we were moving it, I told the S.O. we should pivot it so it's oriented right. For some odd reason, maybe for ease of access, it was sitting backwards. What should have been up against the wall -- the side with the unlockable sliding doors -- was positioned as the front. Pivoting it meant taking out the objects in it so they would be turned around. The case had one shelf about two-thirds of the way up and one shelf sitting, for some odd reason, almost on the bottom. It was propped up by a couple inches but not much.

I get the case emptied and go to move the bottom shelf back to where it needed to be if we were going to pivot the whole thing. Oh f. . . .

You got it. That tiny space, that section that was less than 10 inches wide and only a couple inches high, was full of stuff.

Shoot me. Just shoot me now. The weirdness is never going to end.

On the positive side, such as it is, the weirdness this time included a nice 1903 8th grade diploma.

1 comment:

  1. Well, if I ever need to organize better I will call you. And pay you. A lot.


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