Way-Finding Notes

A major challenge at the Morrison County Historical Society and in other institutions with collections is finding specific items within the larger collection. We depend a lot on our memories here, but that’s not a great method for people new to the collection. Nor do we have flawless memories.

Sorting and labeling our collections are critical to our success in finding things fast. The photos are kept in the same area in the archive. Large photos are grouped with other large photos; small with small; and within the size categories, the photos are sorted by subject (business photos together, portraits in another box, etc.).

At MCHS, we also put together topical boxes based on our research and the documents that are donated. We’ve got a section of business-related boxes, a section on government, one on schools, churches, and cemeteries, and a catch-all section on cultural/social topics that don’t fit elsewhere, such as archaeology,  military, explorers, and social institutions.

Every section is labeled, as is every box.

A slightly blurry picture of one of our box labels. Note the section line at the top: "Business/Industry. This helps us remember where to return the box after we've used it.  MCHS collections, December 5, 2012.

A slightly blurry picture of one of our box labels. Note the section line at the top: “Business/Industry. This helps us remember where to return the box after we’ve used it. MCHS collections, December 5, 2012.

Aside from sorting collections by type and labeling the subject of each box, there’s another thing museum staff have done over the years to help future researchers. We write way-finding notes. These are particularly helpful when a connection between topics is not readily apparent.

Here are some of our way-finding notes:

A cross-reference way-finding note in the Brown Family File, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A cross-reference way-finding note in the Brown Family File, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A way-finding note that tells researchers and staff where to return the file, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A way-finding note that tells researchers and staff where to return the file, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

Way-finding notes that tell researchers the specific documents to be found in the District Court boxes, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

Way-finding notes that tell researchers the specific documents to be found in the District Court boxes, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A way-finding sign that tells staff info they need to know about copyright, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A way-finding sign that tells staff info they need to know about copyright, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A way-finding note that provides critical historic information, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

A way-finding note that provides critical historic information, MCHS Collections, December 5, 2012.

As you can see, way-finding notes are an important part of our archive. Because most of them are handwritten, they also become a record of the staff person who produced them. We come to recognize who wrote what note by their distinctive handwriting.

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