The York County Heritage Trust—formerly the Historical Society of York County– has been around for 117 years. Think about how much you have accumulated in your house/apartment/dorm room over a period of years, and imagine that collection stretching to 117 years! What would you do with it all and more importantly, where would you put it?
Collections departments in museums world-wide struggle with that dilemma every day. A fellow museum professional who works for the Smithsonian told me almost two years ago that they were “at 5%”. That means that when you stroll through SMI’s Museum of American History, you’re seeing about 5% of their collection. Translation: 95% is in storage. Yep, it’s that much. The York County Heritage Trust maintains about 90-92% in storage at any given time—you see about 8%. Why? Go back to the 117 years again—we’ve been collecting artifacts since before most of us were born.
The other caveat in this conversation is the evolving changes in the museum world. Until the 1970s, you couldn’t obtain a degree in “museum science” or “museology.” Most museums relied on volunteers, patrons and trained docents to handle their collections. Today, most larger museums require Masters level degrees for any level of employment. With advanced education in the museum world, more has been learned about preservation, conservation, and exhibiting of artifacts. The artifacts themselves have benefited greatly from the evolving scientific knowledge of how to better care for priceless objects in museum holdings. With the expanded knowledge, museum collections policies began; providing a structure for how we create our exhibits and handle our collections.
It is my dream that eventually, ALL objects in our collection will be exhibited in the very best way, allowing us to share with many generations the stories of York County’s rich historical past.
–Cindy Brown, Collections Manager