Community Collections Collaborations

Story by Amelia Chamberlain, Director Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

What do you do when your mission overlaps with other Stillwater institutions? Why, you collaborate, of course! There are at least three Stillwater organizations that collect historical items to preserve them and make them available to their patrons.

The ongoing mission of the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is to receive and collect the material culture of Stillwater, Oklahoma, dating from prehistoric times, but especially from the 1880s to the present. The Museum seeks to preserve those materials for the future; to study them to derive information about the past; and to use the knowledge resulting from such study to present to the public the history and culture of the area through all effective means.

The Oklahoma State University Archives Department’s mission is to save, secure, and share the story of Oklahoma State University. The department collects and preserves academic and administrative records as well as additional significant documents and records produced at the institution relating to OSU activities, events, programs, students, employees, and alumni.

The Stillwater Public Library collects Stillwater and Payne County history items and makes these items available to its patrons for research purposes. For example, the Library has OSU annuals and histories that are used as reference materials.

Over the years a wide variety of artifacts relating to the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College and later Oklahoma State University have been donated to the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar. While these artifacts fit within the Museum’s mission, they seem to be a better match with the University’s mission. As Museum staff and volunteers come across OAMC and OSU materials, the items are being inventoried and listed for deaccession and transfer to OSU. The Archives Department will provide a better environment for these artifacts and will eventually be able to make them accessible to its patrons online.

Another community collaboration is with the Stillwater Public Library. When the Stillwater History Museum came across duplicate Stillwater phone directories and OSU annuals during an inventory in late 2019, staff contacted the Stillwater Public Library and these items were relocated to the Library. (OSU yearbooks have all been digitized by the University and are available online, but the Library likes to have copies of the books for patrons to physically examine.) As a rule, the Library’s hours make its items more accessible than the Museum’s hours. As details of artifacts already in the collection are entered into the Museum’s database, there may be other duplicate items that will be considered for transfer to the Library.

So what does this all mean for the future of collecting by the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar? It means that the Museum will continue to collect items relating directly to Stillwater history. If an OSU-related object is offered, a suggestion will be made to contact the OSU Archives Department at the Edmon Low Library.

Part of the Stillwater History Museum’s long-range plan for collections is improved storage for its photographs, framed items, and archival materials. A 2020 fundraiser provided funds to seal the Archival Storage Bunker floor, paint walls, and add additional shelving. During the process, all of the materials in the Bunker had to be removed. As the shelving units were put back in place, all shelves were lined with an acid-free barrier to provide better storage environment and labeled to make it easier to locate materials. Boxes were sorted according to collection type before being put back in the Bunker.

Archival storage in the room called the “Bunker.” This room has concrete walls and a steel door and is located in the basement.

When an object is donated to the Museum it goes through an evaluation process, the most significant criteria of which is that it fits within the institution’s mission. First, it is considered by the Collections Committee. If the object is accepted, it is recommended to the Museum Board of Trustees for approval, and once approved, the item is “accessioned” into the collection. The object is given a number and then entered into a collections database—in the Stillwater History Museum’s case, the database is called PastPerfect. If a decision is made to remove an object from the collection, it must go before the Collections Committee and then the Board for approval. The item continues to exist in the database; however, it is marked as deaccessioned and its new location is recorded.

Storage at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is limited. Staff want to ensure that they can properly and safely care for the current collection as well as potential new donations that may be accepted into the collection. This means inventorying and evaluating items already in storage to confirm their Stillwater connection and their fit with the Museum’s mission. Only those items that do not have a Stillwater story or that would be a better fit at another Stillwater organization such as OSU will be considered for deaccessioning. The Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is proud to be the home of the treasures that evoke the traditions, memories, stories, and cultures of the City of Stillwater and its citizens.

The collection of objects to be transferred to OSU include a wide variety of items, ranging from student handbooks and directories to sports and game-related memorabilia, to sorority publications and dance cards, to commencement programs and inauguration schedules, to Experiment Station publications. Copies of a few of the items being transferred have been made available for research purposes.

The Stillwater History Museum has an exhibit highlighting the history of OAMC and OSU and will continue to maintain that exhibit. Because of this, the Museum is retaining select objects and memorabilia to be able to change out artifacts and regularly “freshen” this exhibit. In instances where there are duplicates of items that provide historical information, one of the duplicates has been retained in the Museum collection. A few select other items are kept when there is a direct link to the Museum. For example, the Museum is keeping examples of Eddie Sutton memorabilia because of his wife Patsy’s service on its Board (including as Board President) and her connection with the Museum’s Heritage Garden. Another example is a publication that was created by OAMC to give out to Oklahoma High School Honor Society members, including those at Stillwater High School, to encourage the students to consider OAMC for their college. 

Maintaining a mission-focused collection is one way to ensure the safety of the Museum’s artifacts. Too many items in the collection leads to stacking objects one on top of another—not a practice that provides the best possible environment for these treasures. Being able to share the mission focus with Museum patrons helps them to understand the kinds of objects the Museum collects and gets potential donations into the right hands. The Stillwater History Museum continues to collect and preserve items that help tell the many stories of Stillwater, and appreciates having other destinations for objects when they are not a fit with the Museum’s mission.