Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Elise Dukart's blog

Reorganizing Storage East: The Saga Continues

Back in May 2019, I blogged about my cataloging and organization project at the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s off-site storage facility, Storage East. Much has happened since then, so I want to take you on a tour of what the collections crew has been up to!

In early 2020, we purchased new shelving for the rooms to maximize storage space. Some already had shelves installed, but these were warped and did not meet our needs as far as adaptability. Those shelves were taken down to be replaced with pallet shelving. We also made use of existing plywood, which we cut to the size of the units to create shelves.

The collections team, with the help of muscles from our other State Historical Society coworkers, has been going through Storage East room by room to update the shelving. The process goes a bit like this handy-dandy numbered list:

1. Clear out individual rooms to install shelving. This involves tracking where the artifacts are moved, so we can still find them in their temporary locations.

2. Install shelving. Sometimes our initial plans get changed during the implementation process. Occasionally, whole shelves are eliminated to allow for the retrieval of objects, with enough space between the aisles for people and objects to move safely.

3. Planning the spaces. This is the stage where we get an idea of what types of objects will go into the newly cleared space. For example, because the collection has many trunks, we decided to consolidate them into one room. Then we adjusted the shelving to make sure it would fit all the trunks and other intended objects, and that the space was used as efficiently as possible.

4. Place Ethafoam. Once the shelves are in position, we place a sheet of Ethafoam where the objects will be stored; this ensures there is an acid-free barrier between the objects and the shelf’s wood.

A storage room is shown with empty shelving units on both sides

A (mostly) empty room in Storage East, with shelves under construction.

5. Moving in. Now it’s time to move objects onto their new shelving. Paying attention to any condition issues, we inventory each object’s new room and shelf number, so we know exactly where to find it when needed for an exhibition or to show a visitor or researcher. No lost things allowed!

A woman is kneeling on the top shelf of a shelving unit while two other women hand her a large trunk

Getting trunks into position with a little overhead help.

6. Celebrate the improved storage organization. The rooms we reorganized have huge improvements in storage capacity. For example, one room went from housing 62 objects to 148. That’s a 138% increase in objects housed for just one room!

The left image shows a room filled with desks and other wooden objects. The right image shows the room cleaned out and organized with shelves and trunks and other items neatly placed on the shelves

Left: Before reorganization.
Right: After we worked our magic.

Not only are we storing more objects in these rooms, but the space is now better organized and the objects are more accessible, making their retrieval both safer and easier (for the objects and collections staff). Wins all around!

Surveying the Museum Collecting Survey

Last year, the museum collections committee analyzed the current representation within the state collection and noticed there were particular gaps of objects from childhood and teenage years, most significantly those items from the 1960s to the present. The State Historical Society of North Dakota is also looking ahead and considering how much collections storage space we will need as we continue to collect objects into the future.

To help us get an idea of what the people of North Dakota would most like to be collected and preserved from their childhood and beyond, the staff began conducting an online survey in February to gather input from lifetime, current, and past North Dakotans, as well as visitors to the state, about what the State Museum should collect.

We have received many great responses since the survey launched, and here is a little about what we have learned so far. I hope you like stats and nostalgia as much as I do, because here we go!

Here are the results as of Aug. 10:

  • 134 unique responses.
  • Representation from 37 North Dakota counties, with the most responses from Burleigh (34) followed by Morton (8).
  • The highest number of responses from participants born in the decades 1950-1959 (37) and 1960-1969 (32).
  • 230 suggestions for toys.
  • 239 suggestions for clothing.
  • 234 suggestions for activities.
  • 105 suggestions for “other,” i.e., stuff that didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

By object category, here are the top responses, as well as an assortment of other interesting answers.

Toys

Top responses: Barbie, GI Joe, Cabbage Patch dolls, Hot Wheels, LEGO toys, Lincoln Logs, toy vehicles

Random responses: Chatty Cathy dolls, color-changing toys, homemade toys, lawn darts, water baby dolls, Yu-Gi-Oh cards

orange barbie car with vintage barbie sitting in drivers seat

Clothing

Top responses: Bell-bottoms, bib overalls, Hash jeans, jeans, jelly shoes, Air Jordans, scrunchies

Random responses: Toe socks, stirrup leggings, skinny jeans, paisley, hand-me-downs, Uggs

Activities

Top responses: Bikes, roller skating, baseball, books, board games, video games/game consoles (Super Mario Bros., Space Invaders), phonographs

Random responses: Cartoons on Saturday mornings, 8-tracks, chalk drawing, drive-in movies, local music bands

Duran Duran puzzle

Other

Top responses: CD & cassette Walkman, inflatable furniture, boombox, clamshell VHS tapes, ordering Scholastic books from a catalog, teen magazines (Tiger Beat, J-14, Bop)

Random responses: The ”Macarena,” TV dinners, duck-and-cover training pamphlets, food and drink packaging, hairstyles (the Rachel, mullet, bouffant, etc.)

As someone who falls into the 1990-1999 age range, it has been wonderful seeing the creative, thoughtful suggestions both from my peers and people born in the decades before and after me. Not only are the responses helpful for us at the museum as we look to the future of the collection, they are also a great way to learn about what objects, activities, styles, and clothing have been important to children in North Dakota throughout the decades.

Is there something from your childhood that you think we should collect? Does it look like your county or age group needs more representation? Head to the collections survey here and make your voice heard!

If you would like to donate to the State Historical Society museum collection, be it a My Little Pony, bellbottoms, a boombox or anything in between, you can complete our Potential Donation Questionnaire here.