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Bringing a Museum into the 21st century: Daviess County Museum in process

De-accessioning is a stuffy-sounding, curator-talk word, but it plays a vital part in bringing museums up to date. It means analyzing old exhibits that have stood on shelves or stayed in environments which weren’t climate controlled for years and removing them from a museum’s collection. Can any of the exhibits from an old, closed museum be saved? Of course, and many were at Indiana’s Daviess County Museum. The loving work of collecting treasures from a specific neighborhood and then preserving them by loyal care-takers of the past should be recognized if possible—and updated.

But in the case of the museum in Washington, Indiana, some exhibits, sadly, had to go. Beck Kremp of the volunteers at Washington, Indiana who are retoring the museum. sends photos of a collection dear to her heart: Becky is a doll collector. But this large collection of dolls had been neglected for many years. When Indiana Historical Society county history people came to Washington to give advice, they shook their heads. The dolls had been held in several different locations and there had been heat and flooding. It didn’t look good.

Here is how Becky describes what happened next:

In all likelihood, these almost 400 dolls would have been deaccessioned anyway, since they had no connection at all to Daviess County history and are primarily vinyl and plastics from the 70s and 80s; however, there are collectors for these babies who would have loved to purchase them.  We have photos of them in pristine condition at the Jefferson School museum prior to flooding.  Instead of drying them after that flood and discarding what was ruined, all dolls were thrown into large paper towel cardboard boxes, not inventoried and packed away in the top of the 4th floor at the museum where they cooked from about 2005 until 2015..  My husband and I suited up and covered an area with plastic, wore masks and gloves and the state had us get rid of them as hazardous waste.  Very sad.

Four hundred colls which could have been sold to collectors for the good of the museum. It’s a good lesson in finding out the best practice in museum care of exhibits and manuscripts, for those of us who have collections, either public or private.

Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing

Nancy Baxter is the author of eleven books on Indiana history. To order some of them, click back to the website.