- Associated Press - Sunday, June 8, 2014

FORREST CITY, Ark. (AP) - Recently, volunteers at the St. Francis County Museum have undertaken the task of reorganizing the substantial collection of files documenting the authenticity of artifacts held within the museum, as well as the artifacts themselves.

Since the museum was moved in 1997 to the 1906 Rush-Gates House - the former home of local doctor J.O. Rush - a large number of artifacts have been donated to the museum where they have been filed and stored according to different organizational systems implemented by several different past directors.

Current museum curator Dena French said she feels, for the sake of efficiency, everything needs to be cataloged into one uniform file system.

French said she initially expected this to be a job that would take a few months at the most, but she, along with museum staff and volunteers, have quickly realized that this project could instead be a few years away from completion.

What began as an intention to turn one of the second floor rooms into a women’s exhibit, full of porcelain dolls and handmade quilts and women’s clothing, has led French and her team on a mission to completely reorganize, starting from square one.

“I have rooms upstairs that I would like to open up, but right now, they are storage for things that have been donated and are not on display. I have to organize what is in storage before I can organize what I want to display, and the only way to do that is to start with the files so that we can locate everything in this museum much more quickly,” French told the Times-Herald (http://bit.ly/1ob9oxe).

The staff’s goal is to file the museum collection, in its entirety, into a cross-reference system much like books in a library.

Volunteers and employees are systematically photographing every artifact in the museum, both on display and in storage, and cataloging them along with all existing documentation pertaining to each item. The file folders will be labeled with the photograph of the item, the specific location of the item, and a museum identification number.

French said she also intends to have the identification numbers listed in a ledger which will cite the source of the items they represent. Once the system is completely in place, French hopes it will be easier to update when things are moved or added to the museum.

“You have to go by the numbers,” French said, referring to the identification numbers, “But that number doesn’t always tell you exactly what you’re looking for. That’s why we are taking the pictures. As soon as we locate an object and find it’s corresponding file, we take a picture of it right then, print it out, and staple it to the front of the file folder.”

French said the cross-reference system is necessary because people do not always use the same approach when looking for an artifact.

“Sometimes people come in wanting to look at a specific item that a relative or someone may have donated and they, of course, don’t know the ID number. They might give me the name of the person who donated it or they are able to describe it to a tee. I want to be able to go straight to that ledger, or to the file system, and find what they are looking for right away.”

French said of the volunteers helping her, “I’ve got the best possible help I can have for getting this done. Christine Williams and Wilma Taylor work for us through a program called Experience Works. Elizabeth Hodges is our volunteer intern for the summer, and Mary Francis Hall is a volunteer as well. They are coming in and helping me every day, and they’ve just been great. I’ve also got Nick Gaskin here to help do some of the moving and lifting that is required. But there is so much to be done. There is just so much in this museum, and it is going to take a while to sort it all out.”

French noted, along with the organizational updates that need to be made, funding for projects has been an issue as well.

“We have sponsors who donate to the museum every year and we are very grateful for those people, we just need more people willing to help, who care as much as they do,” said French. Last year, proceeds from the downtown festival held on Front Street benefited the museum.

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