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How to Start a Volunteer Collections Team

July 13, 2012

By Gordon Gillespie

If you want to start a volunteer collections team, start the training with an 1885 satin wedding dress and you will have them hooked. It also helps to have an excellent contracted collections conservator and the proper storage materials, right down to the white gloves, all paid for with the help of a Heritage Grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission.

Two volunteer collections teams are working hard at the Bowman Museum in Prineville.

The A.R. Bowman Memorial Museum in Prineville has been housed in the 1910 Crook County Bank building since its inception in 1971. The storage areas included a few coat closets and the “retasking” of the original bank vault for additional storage. We were very excited about moving most of the collection into a newly purchased and renovated expansion building.

We had high hopes for the new storage areas and hoped to reorganize everything into a logical order. We needed to decide what parts of the collection belonged where and what would move to the new climate and humidity controlled storage. It also all needed a catalog update including a digital record in our museum software PastPerfect. This was our Collections Storage Transitions Project.

Our project started with a well-attended volunteer orientation meeting that combined new and veteran volunteers. Our collection conservator did a presentation on the basic concepts of collection care and demonstrated hands-on collection care procedures using the 1885-era wedding garment. We heard testimonials from our veteran volunteers and finally reviewed our PastPerfect museum software.

The Bowman Museum now has new and better storage – and a lot of volunteers to help!

The response was extraordinary. The group of new volunteers self-selected for preferred jobs. Some wanted to do only hands-on tasks, others liked data entry, and others wanted to work the process from beginning to end.

We had enough new volunteers sign up to create two collections “teams.” The teams worked independently under the supervision of the collection conservator. In the first six months, all of our project storage areas have been evaluated, and many of the objects have been moved, properly stored and cataloged.

While our collection care consultant has completed her grant hours, she has left us with an excellent collections procedure manual, and a detailed list of remaining collections project to-do list. Staff and volunteers continue to work to complete the transition and integration of the old and new facility.

Gordon Gillespie is the Executive Director of the A.R. Bowman Memorial Museum operated by the Crook County Historical Society.

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