Washington County Museum volunteers are invaluable to tasks at hand
There is absolutely no way I would be able to do my job here as part-time curator of the Washington County Museum without the aid of all my volunteers and student interns.
My understanding about volunteer service has changed drastically over the years. During all the time I worked in restaurants prior to attending college, it never once crossed my mind to volunteer anywhere. That opinion began to change when, while doing my prerequisites, I was told about cooperative education, in which one can gain credits doing volunteer work in a field of their choice. When I saw the museum on the list, it seemed like fate! At Portland State University, I was able to pick up credits doing internships through my history major.
The museum had just completed work on its main storage room and had erected new shelving in 2010. It became my main project to completely organize and re-inventory the entire object collection. Then we expanded storage yet again in the summer of 2015 and I cleaned out our storage facility in Hillsboro and consolidated the two collections.
I quickly realized the WCM was in dire need of people to complete projects and inventory, help with research requests and assist with exhibit planning. For four years, one other student and I were the only people working with the collection. When I was hired as museum registrar in 2014, I made it my ultimate mission to find more volunteers. I started an email contact list and added all my college professors, then created a volunteer flyer and sent it out to the world. The response was amazing! Since then, I have had a steady stream of 10 to 15 volunteers and interns at a time.
The projects available at Rock Creek facility are never-ending. I have 13 people right now, working on a great variety of projects. Three wonderful retired folks work in the archive. They help to fill research requests and are available for walk-in researchers every Thursday. These particular volunteers are crucial to keeping me sane and caught up.
Several college-level history, art and archaeology students come here weekly, helping to inventory objects, assist with exhibits, scan images and catalog new donations. Three separate people come in once a week to scan and transcribe old county court records (right now, warrants from Oregon's earlier Prohibition period) and letters from the collections of two Washington County judges, George Bagley and Rodolph Crandall. I must say, I am a bit obsessed with those two collections. I also have a working relationship with Washington County Community Service office to help provide mandatory hours.
Photo scanning is always necessary, and there are many ledgers and antique books that need preservation work, as well as school records, a newly acquired collection of items from Cornelius Public Library, furniture and farming equipment, dental office items, Senator Blaine Whipple's office records and a plethora of county court records to be scanned, transcribed and catalogued.
We would also like people interested in writing grants, a major need for our smaller nonprofit status. And, we're in critical need of sponsorships for educational programming, collections and exhibition materials — and even museum operation costs.
Someone who likes doing oral histories is needed as well. Plus, we always need people to help with researching, planning and installing exhibits. And, there's also need for volunteers both in Collections at the Rock Creek storage area and at our museum's Hillsboro public space, where we need folks at the front desk, in education programs and behind the scenes.
Volunteering builds incredible hands-on experience and adds meaning to your resume. In a museum environment, it is rare to get good internships, which is why smaller museums like WCM are so great for students. While I take care to supervise, I like to learn by doing the physical action, so I encourage my volunteers to do the same. I believe making that personal connection is important in retaining the historical information and using those skills for the long term.
Other benefits include just taking on a new challenge, learning new skills and doing something fun with your free time. Studies say that volunteering even helps improve mental health and wellness.
To a part-time employee like me, volunteer assistance is truly invaluable. I cannot properly express enough how thankful I am to everyone who comes in to help me. Go out and volunteer for your community. Find something you are passionate about, hone your skills and never stop educating yourself!
Liza J. Schade is Curator of Collections & Exhibitions at the Washington County Museum. She writes an occasional column about local history for the News-Times. To visit WCM, go to: washingtoncountymuseum.org.