Dyani Feige and Katherine Magaziner 2014-02-11 11:09:47
The treasures that live in archives, museums, libraries, and historic sites across Pennsylvania cover every field of interest. Some shed light on the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Many bear testimony to the struggles of the Revolutionary and Civil wars.Others preserve the stories of the Underground Railroad and the westward migration, record cutting-edge scientific research, and celebrate great artists. These artifacts tell us who we are and where we come from—and may even suggest new directions for our future. And yet, as in so many other states, the future of these items is at risk. With important preservation resources cut back in recent years, inadequate storage and lack of emergency planning have left many collections in urgent need of conservation. Budget restrictions also mean that the archivists, collections care staff members, and volunteers responsible for the care of these treasures do not always have access to ongoing training or to opportunities to connect with colleagues. In Pennsylvania, a state that contains many cultural institutions within its 46,056 square miles, it can be challenging for these individuals to reach each other, spread the word about their collections, and access expert resources.In response to this need in Pennsylvania and other states, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) launched its Connecting to Collections initiative in 2007 with grants for statewide preservation planning.The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA), a nonprofit conservation laboratory and educational organization, led Pennsylvania’s preservation planning initiative.In 2011, CCAHA received followup funding from IMLS to lead Save Pennsylvania’s Past (SPP) alongside project partners PA Museums, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and LYRASIS.The SPP program of education, training, and cultural promotion sets Pennsylvania’s preservation plan in motion, and CCAHA and its partners believe it will have an impact on archives’ and other institutions’ collections across the state. Training Over its thirty-five-year history, CCAHA has dedicated itself to the preservation of our nation’s artistic and documentary heritage. It serves museums, historical societies, historic sites, libraries, archives, and research and educational institutions.Typically, the training programs and conferences CCAHA presents in Pennsylvania are offered in its largest eastern and western border cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. SPP brings affordable workshops to collections care staff and volunteers from small and mid-sized organizations located in underserved regions of the state. Often, “the first line item reduced or cut from [library and archive] budgets during a financial crisis is travel and training,” says Scott Thomas, head of information technologies and technical services at Scranton’s Albright Memorial Library. SPP “addresses this challenge by providing lowcost but high-quality training right in our own neighborhood.While the library makes great use of webinars and other distance learning technologies, these experiences cannot match the interaction you get from a live instructor in a classroom setting.” By the end of July 2013, preservation professionals from CCAHA, LYRASIS, and other institutions will have taught a total of sixty training programs in eight regions of the state, as well as two statewide conferences in Harrisburg.The course and conference topics, designed to give staff and volunteers a foundation in collections care and management best practices, were developed based on data gathered during formation of the preservation plan. One of the training sessions focused on archival concepts. “Understanding Archives: An Introduction to Archival Basics” provided an overview of the best practices that are fundamental knowledge for archivists, touching on archival appraisal, acquisition, and access; policy development for archival repositories; storage materials; and common preservation problems associated with paper-based collections. “Understanding Archives” also sought to empower nonarchivists through training that would allow them to apply more professional standards. Jim Adams, reference librarian at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg, was confronted with archival materials when he was put in charge of the Library’s local history collection. As a librarian, Adams was accustomed to considering books and documents on the item level, but he had to adjust his approach when it came to describing materials in terms of record groups. After attending the SPP program, he could care for Eastern Monroe’s local history collections in a manner more consistent with archival practice. Smaller repositories often have limited staff, and many rely on volunteers, who— although enthusiastic about working with collections—may not have professional training. SPP provides access to needed instruction, and participants further circulate the information covered in the programs. For instance, Rita Graef, curator at Pennsylvania State University’s Pasto Agricultural Museum, found herself taking on the role of unofficial educator and advocate for small collections in rural areas after attending several SPP programs. Building Community Support One of the SPP training programs, “Fundraising for Preservation and Conservation,” explores new avenues for collections-related fundraising—including crowd funding, defined by the digital news site Mashable as “the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” CCAHA has long been interested in bringing public attention to conservation and preservation, which are so often invisible, “behind-the-scenes” activities. Crowd funding seems an ideal method of building community support, as it invites individuals to take an active role in addressing collection needs. To test ways of using this approach for fundraising and awareness building, CCAHA has opened a statewide call to libraries, museums, historic sites, and archives to participate in a program called Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts. Supported by The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, this initiative to save Pennsylvania’s most significant artifacts seeks nominations of items that illuminate important stories of our past. Institutions are encouraged to nominate items from their collections that are in need of conservation, and the top ten objects will be selected by an independent review panel. The public will have the opportunity to vote for and donate to their favorite objects from the group of ten on a new microfundraising site. CCAHA staff will work with the owners of the top ten to assist them in building support through marketing and social media campaigns.Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts will end this fall with the announcement of a People’s Choice Winner. Funds raised online, along with $250 matching grants provided by the Beneficial Foundation, will be used to conserve the top ten artifacts. Related Initiatives SPP is not Pennsylvania’s only educational and cultural promotion initiative. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Small Pennsylvania Archival Repositories, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is surveying collections in small repositories throughout the greater Philadelphia area. Additionally, the Pennsylvania State Archives, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation and with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, offers a two-day educational program, Archives Without Tears, at sites across Pennsylvania. Next Steps CCAHA hopes to sustain many features of SPP after the program ends this fall. Its Preservation Services staff is currently building an online Pennsylvania preservation resource clearinghouse. This searchable database will include continuously updated information on further education programs and resources for preservation planning, disaster planning, and fundraising. An online marketing toolkit developed through SPP will provide archives and other institutions with ongoing support in promoting awareness of their collection care needs. Tools will include templates for op-ed pieces, press releases, and newsletter articles; preservation-related messages that organizations can use for websites, special appeal letters, and lobbying; and ideas for making preservation a focus of special events and exhibitions. In the future, CCAHA hopes to offer use of the online fundraising platform developed through Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts as a service to clients seeking to crowd fund conservation projects. Staff will continue to present additional training programs in locations large and small throughout Pennsylvania, and are investigating ways to create official statewide networks that solidify the more informal connections that participants make during SPP programs. How to Get Involved Registration is still open for several SPP training programs as well as the statewide conference Environmental Management: Stewardship and Sustainability (to be held in Harrisburg on June 18). Visit www .ccaha.org/education/program-calendar for details. Readers who work or volunteer for Pennsylvania institutions are encouraged to nominate an object for Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts at www.patop10artifacts.org by April 15.Receive updates at www.facebook.com/SavePAsPast and twitter.com/ SavePAsPast. And look for the preservation resource clearinghouse and marketing toolkit at www.ccaha.org/save-pennsylvania-s-past later this year.
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