SIOUX CITY | It's not uncommon for a person to walk through the Sioux City Public Museum's glass doors carrying a cardboard box filled with old family photographs and other historical trinkets.
The museum received 255 separate donations from 201 donors in Fiscal Year 2016. The estimated 10,589 individual objects, photographs and manuscript collections represent a 10 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.
"We tend to tell donors we can never guarantee that anything will ever go on display. That's a deal-breaker for some people," said Haley Aguirre, the museum's archival clerk. "A lot of people want their items to be on display immediately and with our institution that's just not something we can do."
Aguirre said Siouxland residents also often loan or donate items for specific exhibits. For example, she said the museum received military uniforms and ammunition in advance of the opening of "Honoring Our Armed Services: 1861-2017." The exhibit of Siouxlanders' past and present military contributions ran through the end of December.
Matt Anderson, the museum's curator of history, said the clock from the Simmons Hardware Company Warehouse, which is now the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, went on display fairly quickly.
"Either it's large or impressive or it's particularly important to local history," Anderson explained of the items accepted into the museum's collection. "Another example would be the Rev. Haddock memorial that used to be in the street at Fourth and Water streets."
After a donor fills out a form giving the museum temporary legal custody of the donation, the item or items are cataloged using Pastperfect, a digital software that connects every donation with its source. Next, the item or items are placed in the museum's temporary custody room.
Every quarter, Aguirre said the museum's Collections Committee, which is made of the archival records clerk, archives manager, curator of history, curator of education and museum director, review the donations.
"We'll go through every item and decide, 'Do we want to keep this or do we want to reject it?'" said Aguirre, who said a stack of Life magazines from the 1960s and a Wilson trailer are examples of donations that have been rejected. "We're not going to accept something from Chicago if it has nothing to do with Sioux City, because we're the Sioux City Public Museum."
Hazardous materials and extremely large items that won't fit in the museum's storage space have been returned to their owners or disposed of at the donor's request.
"If something is really moldy and rotting away, that's going to hurt us and that's going to hurt anything that we put right next to it," Aguirre said.
Anderson added, "We have a fair amount of furniture that's been acquired over the years, but you have to have a specific purpose for it because it takes up a lot of the storage space. If it's not used in an exhibit fairly regularly, it's hard to justify the space that it takes up."
Accepted items are accessioned into the museum's collections. Three pieces of paper are key in turning a donated item into museum property. The first, Aguirre said is a letter sent to the donor thanking them for their donation. The second is a deed of gift, which when signed, gives the museum permanent legal custody of the item. The third, is a copy of the deed of gift -- the museum keeps one and the donor keeps the other.
"Once this deed of gift is signed, it is mailed back to us and it goes back into Pastperfect and into our file system," she said. "Once (the donation) is ours, each donation will be given an accession number, which is the year of that donation and the number of the thing donated that year."
Next, the donation is processed. Photographs, for example, are placed in folders, defined by subject and cataloged.
"Everything in this museum, ideally, we know where it came from," Aguirre said. "Each piece is given an object identification number, in our case, that is the accession number followed by the number of thing in that donation. These are physically adhered to the item in some way. The big thing we follow is, do no harm."
Once the object I.D. is affixed by pencil, label or string tag, depending on the item, staff perform any preservation work that the item might require. Preservation includes flattening a photo and placing it in a sleeve or making an item that is hazardous non-hazardous.
"Then, the item is stored away based on our own collections," Aguirre said. "Sometimes people just bring in a bullet pencil from the Stockyards. We can just slap a number of that, put it away and it's done."