Monday, September 2, 2013

A Conundrum of County Historical Societies & Museums, Part I

A Conundrum of County Historical Societies & Museums, Part I

My parents have served as volunteers for the Cass County Historical Society in Logansport, Indiana for decades. My dad, Richard Copeland, is an emeritus director and Cass County Historian. He and my mother have invested innumerable hours to the museum and the community.  They love Cass County and believe in service to their community.

Local museums are generally operated on a shoestring without the resources to hire curators, restoration specialists, historians, catalogers, preservationists, archivists, fundraisers, programs coordinators, or accountants. Many museums are fortunate to fund the salary of one general curator who must rely on the dedication, expertise, and generosity of volunteers to identify what has been donated, the provenance of any article that may have significance to the state, the country or historians of a particular discipline at large.  Even when an object of value is identified, the costs of appraisal and insurance can be prohibitive.

It is for these reasons that there should be no place for ego in these environments that require the close cooperation of paid staff and volunteers.

My dad, who had discovered a photograph that could be historically important, made arrangements in advance for my husband, who has some expertise in identifying firearms, 19th Century menswear, and photographic images of the mid 19th Century, to look at some images that had been in a cabinet drawer for an unknown number of years.  They were not cataloged; several had been donated in 1959.  My husband identified a few Daguerreotypes, which while not perhaps of significant value to a collector,  are certainly of historical interest because of the subject matter; however, these images need restoration or preservation by an expert because seals have been broken and there is a danger the images will disappear from exposure to light and air.  Because of my connection with the museum, I was prepared to make a donation towards the preservation of specific images. However, when my dad wanted to show the curator some interesting specimens, ego interfered; it was made clear we were not welcome despite the arrangements previously made; my father was embarrassed; and my husband and I have considered withdrawing our intended financial support.

This is the conundrum. Do we make decisions regarding preservation based upon the disregard for the years of my parents’ dedication? Or do we focus on our collective responsibility to the future and try to preserve something of value for the citizens of tomorrow? Hopefully, I will not allow my ego to decide. 

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