The boards of 15 local nonprofit organizations that participated in a study of local historical archives are considering if they will form a governing body to oversee the next phase of the History Trust project. The History Trust will work to catalog, protect and digitize the region’s archives and engage the community, especially students, in a greater appreciation of their value.
A planning study conducted in 2017 showed that the region’s historical archives are at risk. At least 20,000 of 45,000 linear feet of materials are kept in unsafe conditions. Valuable historical materials are undiscoverable because of large processing backlogs, and all storage areas are filled beyond their capacity.
“While the organizations on and around Mount Desert Island have amassed impressive collections,” said Tova Mellen, a principal investigator in the study, “less than 20 percent of the historical holdings are cataloged, and even fewer of the holdings are accessible to the public online.”
At a March 2018 meeting, representatives of organizations that participated in the planning study said that their most pressing concerns include the need for improved collections care and the people, training and resources necessary to care for materials that are in immediate danger of damage or loss.
Participants identified the need for a processing facility for archival materials, with appropriate standards for cataloging, conservation and digitization, along with the right equipment and people who know how to use it. The History Trust also would commit to a common digital platform to make the collections widely accessible, especially to the region’s youth.
The organizations that choose to participate in the next phase of the project would agree to work together to refine the contents of their collections, improve the conditions in which the collections are kept, digitize their catalogs and make online images and records of their materials freely available. Though the ultimate type of digital catalog will be selected at some point in the future, a model featuring approximately 2,000 objects from 13 participating organizations shows the potential for presenting the diversity and breadth of the collections.
All participants agreed that solutions need to be economical. As museum consultant Julia Gray said, “We don’t need a Taj Mahal. A Winnebago would suit us well.” Though conditions of the archives vary by organization, participants said that by working together, they could more successfully fundraise and improve the circumstances of each contributing organization and the group as a whole.
The boards of the participating organizations have been asked to endorse a common agenda. While maintaining their own institutional autonomy, they would agree to form a collaborative with a shared mission. The initial tasks for the History Trust governing body would be to identify its membership and a fiscal agent, define its goals and estimate the costs necessary to accomplish them, and commission a feasibility study to determine the group’s fundraising capacity and responsibilities.
The Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association, College of the Atlantic, Great Cranberry Island Historical Society and Jesup Memorial Library have committed to participation in the next phase of the History Trust project. Twelve other organizations are expected to consider the agreement during their scheduled board meetings between now and the end of May. They are the Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor Historical Society, Great Harbor Maritime Museum, Islesford Historical Society, Maine Seacoast Mission, Mount Desert Island Historical Society, Northeast Harbor Library, Seal Cove Auto Museum, Southwest Harbor Historical Society, Swan’s Island Educational Society and Tremont Historical Society.