Greenbelt Museum

Scope of digital holdings

The Greenbelt Museum is a community museum that focuses on the “New Deal history and living legacy of Greenbelt, Maryland” (“Greenbelt,” n.d.). Founded in 1937, the town was designed as a “utopian cooperative community” by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration in hopes that it would become an accepted model of collective living across the country (“Greenbelt,” n.d.).  

Greenbelt was later designated a National Historic Landmark, and the museum was founded in 1987 as a partnership between the City of Greenbelt and the Friends of the Greenbelt Museum (FOGM). The Museum provides tours of an original Greenbelt home, walking tours of the community, rotating exhibits, and educational programming. Their collection scope includes items that were made and/or used in the town; associated with a resident, location, or event in Greenbelt; and that originated or were used from 1936-1952 (“Collections,” n.d.). In total there are approximately 2,000 artifacts in the Museum’s collection, with an estimated 50% already digitized. This total does not include the Museum’s archives, comprised of textual records, maps, and photos.

Their digital holdings consist primarily of image files in TIFF format, but also include recordings and transcriptions of oral histories. More recent oral histories are in MP3 format; however older recordings are stored on cassette tapes and have not been digitized. The Museum’s primary collection of oral histories, taken in 1987, were transcribed and scanned into PDF format. These scans were done a decade ago, and the Museum’s Director/Curator, Megan Searing Young, has indicated that they likely need to be rescanned. Finally, there are not corresponding analog copies of every digital object in the Museum’s possession.

Managing their digital content

While the Museum’s Collections Policy outlines digital content management and security in detail, it is unclear if actual day-to-day practices adhere to the policy. PastPerfect software is used for the collection database, Searing Young, describes as “searchable, though it’s clunky” (personal communication, October 9, 2018). Only the Museum’s artifacts are catalogued in PastPerfect, which excludes archival material since they have not been treated as objects.

According to the policy, records should be backed up on a weekly basis, with Searing Young as the sole responsible party of the repository. One copy of the backup is kept on her computer (which is owned by the city); one copy is kept in the Greenbelt Community Center safe; and one is kept off museum grounds (the policy does not specify where). When interviewing Searing Young, she said that a backup of their digital content is kept on a dedicated external portable hard drive with Greenbelt’s IT department, located at the city’s municipal building, but she was unsure of how it is stored.

On Searing Young’s computer, files are divided into subject folders which are grouped alphabetically with minimal metadata that differs across folders. In general, each image file name consists of a short description of the subject, its photographer, and whether the photo belongs to the Museum or the Library of Congress. Images are treated less as artifacts and more as archival records.

Staff perceptions of the state of digital content

The Museum’s Director is deeply concerned about their digital content and sees it as critical to the institutional mission that they have a digital preservation strategy in place. She strongly feels that this should be a priority for the whole organization.

Future collection plans

The original Greenbelt community was racially segregated until the late 1960s, and historically the museum has not been concerned with collecting material from African American residents in the area. Searing Young feels that this lack of diverse voices in the collection needs to be rectified. In 2012, on the occasion of Greenbelt’s 75th anniversary, she created a separate archive for objects and records from the Greenbelt African American community during the New Deal era and beyond.

Additionally, the Museum wants to acquire more video resources; objects that would provide more contextualization around the Resettlement Administration’s plans; and documentation of how homeowners were recruited and applied for the original Greenbelt homes.

Available resources

Greenbelt Museum is unique in that their collection is owned by the city; however, in the annual city budget there is no line item set aside for collection care. Generally $2,000 to $4,000 are allocated each year for museum purposes. The rest of their funding is provided  through two investment funds: a NEH Challenge grant and the Founders Fund, managed by the FOGM. The FOGM’s operating budget for fiscal year 2019 is $45,000 (City of Greenbelt, 2018).

Museum staff consists of one full-time employee, the Director/Curator, and two part-time employees, an Office Manager and an Education/Volunteer Coordinator. Much of their workforce consists of 20 to 25 volunteers.

It is unclear when the Museum could realistically tackle a large-scale digital preservation project, as they recently acquired the duplex next to the historic Greenbelt home and plan to expand the space for an education center, office space, and collection storage. This is expected to take place over an 18 month timeline.

References

City of Greenbelt. (2018, June 4). City of Greenbelt, Maryland: Adopted budget fiscal year 2019. Retrieved from https://www.greenbeltmd.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=13193

“Collections management policy and manual.” (n.d.). Unpublished internal document, Greenbelt Museum.

“Greenbelt Museum mission statement.” (n.d.). Unpublished internal document, Greenbelt Museum.

2 Replies to “Greenbelt Museum”

  1. Great write-up! Great that you could get such detailed information about the current state of the museum’s digital content and on their practices. It’s great that they have some existing policies in place for managing digital content. You’re question about the extent to which those policies are being followed is a good one though, so following up on that is a great idea. It is also great that you were able to get such detailed information on resources at hand. It seems like you have a solid set of info for making helpful recommendations to them for next steps.

    1. Thank you Prof. Owens! Yes, definitely planning on asking more about what policies are actually being practiced. The Museum has been a lot of fun to work with so far and very responsive.

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