Overview of the Organization’s Mission and Collections
This semester, I will be serving as a digital preservation consultant for the Baltimore Community Museum, which documents the history of the small town of Baltimore, Ohio and the surrounding areas. According to the director of the museum, the organization is “dedicated to the preservation of local historical artifacts and the exploration of the history and culture of Baltimore for the betterment of the community.” To support this mission, the museum collects documents from the township, papers of prominent citizens, and photographs. The museum’s collections also include a broad variety of historical artifacts like dresses, dental equipment, and even an airplane. Currently, museum staff are working to scan documents and photos from the collections. Issues of a local newspaper, the Twin City News, have also been digitized. Thus, much of the museum’s digital content is fairly recent and is still being created. The museum is more focused on digitization of textual materials at this time, but they do also have objects like cassette tapes that contain oral histories. However, they are not sure what is on some of the tapes and do not have a cassette player. In the future, the Baltimore Community Museum would like to continue to collect similar resources related to the history of the area. The organization also hopes to strengthen its family history collections in order to assist members of the community working on genealogy projects.
When I interviewed the director of the museum, Jess Kunkler Shaw, and one of her interns, they emphasized that the museum’s collections are quite extensive for a town with a small population because the community is passionate about documenting local history. However, the people who originally founded the Baltimore Community Museum did not have a background in museum work and did not know the best way to organize and preserve the museum’s holdings. The end result is that present-day museum staff members are still trying to figure out what they actually have in their collections. Staff are also encountering items that are in poor condition and have had to prioritize some emergency situations. For example, Max, the museum’s intern, shared that some items from the collection had to be removed from a humid basement. The Baltimore Community Museum is in the process of inventorying its holdings and uses PastPerfect to keep track of its analog collections. These ongoing projects are critical for the organization as it continues to gain control over its physical collections, but this also means that staff may not have a great deal of time to manage and preserve digital objects.
Jess and her interns are scanning items as they come across them during their inventory process. Some photographs were also scanned by the museum’s previous director. After attending workshops and conducting research, Jess determined that scanning needed to be a priority for the museum because of the large amount of township records, documents, and photographs that exist in the collections. The Baltimore Community Museum is prioritizing documents and photos that are damaged and items that are of great importance to the history of the community.
Jess also stated that organization was a concern for the Baltimore Community Museum. While she generally knows where things are located, efforts to inventory the collections are still ongoing and formal documentation does not always exist for every item. There is also no real system in place to keep track of what has been scanned thus far. After items are scanned, staff save the files to a folder on the organization’s laptop. The museum is also using Google Cloud to store some items. However, the organization does not have multiple copies of their files and does not have a process to backup the content. Staff are concerned that they would lose access to the files if the museum’s laptop were to break. Staff members typically scan and save items as JPEG files. They have also attempted to use PDFs in the past, but have encountered some difficulties with maintaining a quality image of the documents being scanned. The museum does not conduct fixity checks on the files and staff do not know how to begin doing this. Jess and her interns are the only people who can read, modify, and delete the files on the laptop. Currently, museum staff members are the only people who have direct access to the Baltimore Community Museum’s digital content. Researchers would have to visit the museum to use the staff laptop to view the majority of the items that have been scanned thus far. CDs of the digitized Twin City News content have been created and are being sold to the public in order to generate revenue.
The organization is pursuing grant funding to develop a genealogy research center based in the museum. This genealogy hub would be a place where people could access physical resources like family genealogies that have been donated to the museum, cemetery records, township records, and other documents that can help researchers track their ancestors to a given place and time. Visitors would also be able to access Ancestry.com and other similar sites. Staff believe that focusing on genealogy would serve the needs of the community and would bring more people into the museum. Eventually, the organization plans to have physical resources digitized and made available on their website so that people who live further away from Baltimore can still access the valuable family records in the Baltimore Community Museum’s collections.
The director of Baltimore Community Museum is the organization’s only permanent staff member. Jess started in this role about a year ago. She works part-time and reports to a board of nine people who are supportive of her work. In addition to running the museum, Jess manages rentals of the museum’s facilities for local events. Rentals generates valuable revenue for the museum, but because Jess has to coordinate these rentals herself, she does not always have enough time to work on collections management tasks. Over the summer, Jess began working with a group of about five interns and continues to work with two of the interns this fall. The interns receive a stipend. The museum does not currently collaborate with any volunteers from the community. In the past, people have expressed interest in working with the museum but have not followed through. The museum has created an application for interested parties to fill out and would like to bring in volunteers in the future.
As a result of this semester-long consultant project, Jess hopes to be able to gain knowledge about digital preservation strategies so she can train interns and volunteers to assist her with these sorts of tasks in the future. Staff realize that the Baltimore Community Museum’s current system for managing digital content is not as strong as it could be. Jess is concerned that if the museum starts to take action now, they might do something incorrectly and end up having to redo the work. As the semester progresses, I hope that we will be able to identify meaningful first steps for the Baltimore Community Museum.