Cataloging Historical Wealth
From “Seasons of Childhood” to exhibits on the work of women and men, the Nanticoke Valley Historical Society covers just about every phase of life. Its museum in the Town of Maine offers a treasure house for anyone interested in this community’s past. That includes both local residents and people who live elsewhere, but whose roots run back to the shores of Nanticoke Creek.
“We get contacted by people all over the world,” says Sue Lisk, curator and archivist at the Historical Society. A woman from Australia, for instance, got in touch last year to ask for a photo of a relative who had lived in Maine.
Members of historical societies tend to be a mature lot, and they worry about who will carry on their work. The Nanticoke Valley is fortunate on that count: the younger generation has already stepped up. For instance, some middle school and high school students volunteer at the museum as tour guides. “Some of them are very knowledgeable about the town and the people,” Lisk says. “They are our future.”
The Historical Society is also securing its future by harnessing 21st century technology to preserve the past. With a $3,600 grant from the Community Foundation, the Society has launched a project to build a digital catalog of its holdings.
Some of the money purchased a software package for managing museum collections. The grant also paid for a digital camera, a bar code printer, a bar code reader and training. Using the new tools, plus a laptop and scanner the Society already owned, Lisk and a team of interns and volunteers are constructing a database of every artifact and photo in the collection.
“I don’t think anyone’s catalogued anything in 15 or 20 years,” Lisk says. The earlier effort used index cards. With a digital archive, museum staff will be able to retrieve data on any item, fill requests for photos quickly and, someday, create online exhibits.
Not only will the digital catalog make it easier to share artifacts with the public, but it will help protect the community’s legacy. This requirement became all too clear in January 2014, when a trio of burst pipes damaged some of the collection.“Once we have all this on the computer, if something is damaged, we can show its condition before the damage,” Lisk says. “And we’ll have a better handle on what we actually have.”