Mower County Historical society sorts through its collection
AUSTIN — John Haymond looked at the clunky old manual adding machine in a Mower County Historical Society storeroom and noted that it has been cataloged as a typewriter.
What are these obsolete ob-gyn instruments for? wondered the society's executive director as he toured the building. All the catalog says is that they're old.
And so it went — so much history, so many items, but many of them recorded incorrectly, poorly or not at all. And they are a small part of the total collection that numbers 15,000 to 16,000 items from old firetrucks to dozens of lady's hats, he said.
Because of the problems with identifying so many things, the society has started a multi-year push to go through the entire collection to better identify and catalog them, Haymond said. And the time is now, because the society finally has a trained curator in Jaimie Timm, and she has a master's degree in history.
Timm jokes that the sheer size of the collection, and the problems with correctly sorting and identifying it, means she has a lifetime job.
The historical society is facing several problems, he said.
First, the collection "really needs to be refined," he said. Items that are unneeded or, while very interesting, have no connection to Mower County need to be given back to their owners, if at all possible, he said. The process, called deaccessioning, is formal and lengthy said. But "it also creates some really high emotions for people," he said because people can be offended.
At least half of the items they know come from Mower County, but only maybe half of those are known to be from the county and "we know everything about it," he said.
To ensure new items are proper and needed, the society has a formal process it goes through before accepting new pieces. If it's interesting but not relevant to Mower County, the society might inform another county where the piece would be more relevant. And other counties also might tip off Mower, he said. The society now takes in about a fifth of the items it once did, Haymond said.
He said there is a perception that the society is a "junk collecting group or a coffee club." It has way too many of some items that were probably donated with good intention, he said. For example, it has 57 women's hats, at last count.
That isn't the way to operate, Haymond said. "There is no point to the historical society being here if we are not relevant," he said.
And finally, people think items they donate have to be from long ago. His slogan is: History is never just about the past. In other words, he wants to begin collecting items used today, especially from new immigrant groups like Hispanics and Sudanese.
As the county changes, the nature of its history changes, he said.