Donation Decisions: An Inside Look
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Donation Decisions: An Inside Look

August 26, 2019


[ Matt Anderson ] I’m Matt Anderson.
I’m standing in one of the collection storage spaces at the Minnesota
Historical Society. Since its establishment in 1849, the Society
has collected objects, books, maps, fine art, posters, manuscript materials
and government records. While some materials, government records for
example, come into our holdings on fixed schedules set by government
agencies, much of what we have comes to us in the form of donations
from the public. Space, time and resources are limited and acquiring
an item into the collection isn’t quite as simple as taking it and putting it into
a display case or onto a storage shelf. Several steps are involved. The typical
donation begins when a donor submits an on line form about the object.
The curator reviews the form and can also make a decision then and there.
But if the object has an interesting story, if it isn’t duplicated in the
existing collection, if it’s in good condition and if it has strong ties
to the State of Minnesota, then arrangements will be made to
bring the item to the History Center. During the meeting the curator asks
the donor for information about the object and then issues a temporary
deposit receipt which the donor signs. This form gives the Society temporary
custody of the object while it’s evaluated. After meeting with the
donor, the curator may conduct additional research or compare the
item with other pieces in the collection. If the object still has strong potential,
then it’s taken to the acquisitions committee for formal approval.
This committee consisting of curators, librarians, exhibit developers and other
specialists, listens as the curator makes the case for the object,
explaining its story, its significance, how it compliments other materials
in the Society’s holdings and how it might be used for exhibit or study
purposes. The committee then debates over and votes on the item.
If a majority is in favor, then the object will become a part of the collection.
After the positive vote, the curator writes a catalogue record for the object
noting what it is, how it was used, the nature of its significance and the name
and contact information of the donor. The curator then sends a deed of gift
form to the donor. This form transfers legal ownership for the object to
the Minnesota Historical Society. The donor signs the paper and the
returned document is placed into the Society’s permanent file.
The collections manager then assigns a permanent accession
number to the object and passes it on to a volunteer who labels the item
with that number. This identification number follows the object forever
and ties it to its computer catalogue record and its paper file. A photograph
of the object is then taken both for inventory purposes and for use in
the Society’s public re-assessable web-based catalogue. Finally, the
collections manager finds a permanent home for the object among the shelves
and cabinets in the climate controlled storage rooms. There, the new
acquisition stays safe and secure until needed for research or exhibit
purposes. As you can see, a good deal of careful thought goes into deciding
what we take for the permanent collection and the typical donation
passes through many hands. We take these steps to ensure that the
collection is of high quality and that limited space and resources are used
prudently. Not everything can be added to our holdings but the process helps
to ensure that those items we do take will be available to future generations
as they explore Minnesota’s past.

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