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.

Interns Learn About the State Archives From the Inside Out

Colby Aderhold, Photo Archives Intern

I am a senior at the University of Mary studying history, philosophy, and classics. This summer I had the privilege of working as an intern at the State Archives. My project was to inventory and organize the Reverend Harold W. Case Photograph Collection at the container level. In total, I inventoried and organized 215 boxes and 17,312 individual items. The collection contains a variety of photographs, including safety negatives, nitrate negatives, tintypes, slides, film, glass, and prints of various sizes. Each item requires different conditions for storage. A part of my job was to make sure these individual requirements were met for each photograph. Negatives were paper sleeved and placed on a shelf; tintypes were put in paper sleeves and given their own boxes. Glass was assessed for damages and scanned, then stored in special boxes on the lowest shelf to avoid accidental shattering. Slides, prints, and film were placed in paper sleeves, and every item, irrespective of type, was given a unique item number.

Throughout the project I was amazed by the Rev. Case’s skill as a photographer! Case, a New Yorker who arrived in Elbowoods in 1922 to serve the Fort Berthold Mission, would work there until much of the area was flooded by the construction of the Garrison Dam. His pictures really captured life around the mission and serve as a time machine for the interested researcher. Below is my personal favorite, which shows a massive crowd gathered to witness the 1934 dedication of the Four Bears Bridge. The image makes the viewer feel as though they are a part of the gathering.

large group of people

SHSND SA 00041-05211

This internship has taught me the value of organization and the proper methods of archival research. Mistakes were sometimes my greatest teacher. If I left my desk untidy or my cart full of photographs it would result in more difficult and slow work the next day. If I procrastinated due to the difficulty of a specific task, it would only make this already challenging task even harder. I quickly learned to clean up every day before I left the office and to never leave a task halfway done promising to complete it another day. These lessons have spilled over into my daily life and have also resulted in a cleaner house and reduced stress.

Finally, I learned how to properly research sources while working within an archive. Though many aspiring historians must learn how to use an archive from the reading room, I have had the good fortune of learning the inner workings of the State Archives from behind the scenes. This has been a great advantage this summer as I have been doing archival research in the Huntington Library’s collection for my undergraduate dissertation project. Moreover, this skill will prove invaluable as I move forward in my career.

In conclusion, this has been a very successful summer internship, and I cannot wait to return to the State Archives in the capacity of a work-study student.


Connor Grenier, Local Government Archives Intern

Though my internship started in May my hiring process began in March. Graduation was rapidly approaching, and I needed to find a position that could offer me work experience related to my career goals. Back in March, this internship seemed like a promising place to start. Now that the internship is complete, I have gained valuable experience that has better informed what my interests are and where my goals are aligned for the future.

My main project at the State Historical Society was running an inventory survey for the material in the local government archives. My tasks gave me insight into archival work. It was interesting to discover the materials that an archive contains and how these are preserved and processed. The work here is never finished. I find this last point to be the most hopeful as I seek to pursue similar work. While I spent most of my time on the inventory project, I also had the opportunity to engage in other archival duties, such as digitizing audio and video material.

paper forms

A collection audit form used during an inventory survey of local government archives materials.

This internship has also shown me the other career routes the state offers. Whether it was painting picnic pavilions at a state historic site, touring another department at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum, or networking with my fellow state interns, I was exposed to the different opportunities and options that this field has to offer. I gained a lot of experience from my tasks, but I learned the most from my colleagues here. Getting to know the work of the people around me was very interesting and eye-opening. I got a better sense of what this work requires and the many avenues people could take within the field. I would also like to note that the work environment at the agency is very fun and kind. Everyone here is willing to teach you something you do not know and is not afraid to have a laugh. Overall, I had a positive time in this position, and I hope that the work that I did reflects that.

How to Protect and Preserve Your Family Treasures

Here at the State Historical Society, we want to be sure your personal family collections are kept safe for future generations. With that in mind, we’ve prepared some guidance on caring for your collections in the event of potential flood events and water damage. We will look at preventative care tips and suggestions to follow or keep in mind as you work to protect and preserve your family treasures and history before a disaster strikes.

General advice for storing personal collections

Storage of your items should be in a space that has a stable and consistent temperature. The best storage space for home collections is a cool, clean, and relatively dry area with no direct light. We do not recommend storing items in attics or in most basements as these spaces can be humid, and the temperature may fluctuate drastically due to seasonal weather changes.

You should avoid placing items near heaters, radiators, chimneys, vents, electrical sources, and open windows. Take note whether your chosen storage area is at risk of water damage, such as being near plumbing pipes, sprinklers, open windows, vents, or sinks.

1) Housing your personal collection

VHS tapes should be stored upright in cases to prevent damage.

Housing options (basically the containers your collection is placed in) will vary depending on the items. The main consideration is whether these guard against insects and pests, block bright or direct light, and help keep objects clean and free of dust, which can scratch delicate surfaces like those of photographs.

We know people often default to basic plastic bins for storage, but plastic is not a good storage option because it will leach plasticizers that can affect the material within. We recommend acid-free boxes instead. That said, plastic is still better than nothing.

2) Buffered versus unbuffered?

When looking for housing materials online, you may come across both buffered and unbuffered options. If something has been buffered, calcium carbonate (better known as chalk) has been added to the cellulose material and acts as a buffering agent raising the pH level of the paper to be more alkaline. If the item being housed is paper or made of cellulose (like film, photographs, and cotton products) go for the buffered option. But for items that come from animals (e.g., leather, silk, wool, feathers, horsehair, and pearls) use unbuffered. This rule applies to file folders, tissue paper you wrap around objects, and boxes.

3) Considerations for general materials

Audiovisual and magnetic media: The ideal orientation for CDs, DVDs, audio, and video cassettes is to be stored upright like books, as stacking can cause stress and warping. The original containers work well for storage if they are clean and made of inert plastic. Video and audio cassettes should be wound to the beginning or the end, so that content on the tape is not exposed.

Photographs in the State Archives collections are sleeved due to high use by researchers and staff.

Flat/oversize items: For flat paper materials, a file folder is our go-to method, unless it is very weak, has tears, or is heavily creased. In that case, we would place the item in a polyester sleeve. The file folders can be stored flat or upright in a box. Speaking of tears, please do not use regular Scotch tape to fix them! There is special tape and other repair methods if you feel the items need conservation. We also recommend the removal of rubber bands, metal paper clips, and metal fasteners. If the item is oversize/poster size, then storing it may require a bit more creativity, but keep it flat with little to no pressure on top. If you must roll the item, do not roll it too tight, and remember to periodically unroll and roll it in the opposite direction.

Photographs: A common question is whether photos should always be sleeved? If you have many photographs and feel that putting them in sleeves is necessary, then we would recommend at least 3-millimeter-thick polyester, as it is the most chemically inert of the plastics used for archival storage products. But you only really need to sleeve photographs that are handled a lot, show signs of weakness or deterioration, or are of utmost importance to you. Otherwise, leaving photographs loose should not be an issue. Just store them flat or upright with some space in the box since you do not want to exert pressure on the photographs by shoving them tightly into the container.

Textiles, taxidermy, and natural materials: Textiles should be kept on padded hangers or placed flat in watertight buffered or unbuffered boxes (depending on the textile material). They should be stored away from leaky areas and sunlight, which can cause fading. Taxidermy should also be placed away from leaky areas and sunlight but on a high shelf. It’s important to use extreme caution when handling older taxidermy due to the risk of exposure to arsenic. Use coated watertight metal cases when storing wood, rocks, minerals, ceramic, and glass. Uncoated metal objects should be in a dry environment to reduce the risk of oxidation (rust).

Textile artifacts, like this circa 1880s blouse, should be stored in an acid-free box with tissue paper to support the garment. SHSND 1972.00169

While this certainly doesn’t cover every material type and situation you may encounter when caring for and housing your family’s historical items, it is a good place to start. If you have questions we haven’t addressed, our staff are happy to help. For questions related to paper, books, and photographs contact the State Archives at 701.328.2091 or For artifact-related questions, contact our museum staff at

*This blog was co-authored with Local Government Archivist Megan Steele and two former museum interns, Zoe Harden and Emily Bruun.