, Muskogee, OK

November 27, 2012

Museum preserves the past

Photographs, documents digitized at local museum

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— By Cathy Spaulding

Phoenix Staff Writer

Thousands of documents, photographs and other works are going digital at Five Civilized Tribes Museum.

The museum is putting its archival written documents and historic photographs in digital format for computer records. Museum collections manager Reuben Noah said he is scanning the documents and photos to make them available online. He also is taking digital pictures of and cataloging each of the museum’s art works.

Part of Noah’s work is funded through a $36,000 grant the City of Muskogee Foundation awarded for 2012. The grant also paid for computers, including a digital scanner large enough for 12-by-18-inch documents.

“We’re trying to get everything in digital format and cross-referenced so people can research the items,” Noah said. “There is so much we have in the collection that isn’t seen. This helps get the information across about what we have in the collection.”

Museum director Mary Robinson said the museum has “well over 10,000” paper documents and almost the same number of photographs.

“Easily,” Noah said.

The photos range in time from when this area was part of Indian Territory to early days when Muskogee was first settled.

“We got three new computers with Foundation money,” Noah said. “We have a master computer and an external hard drive so we can back up our files.”

Another hard drive containing back-up files is kept in a safe, he said.

Noah said the museum acquired thousands of documents over the years. The museum, housed in the 137-year-old Union Indian Agency building, was incorporated in 1955, the Five Civilized Tribes website says. The museum’s aim is to preserve the art, culture and history of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminole tribes.

However, not all the donated items will go digital, Noah said.

“We’re trying to deaccession some things if they don’t meet our mission and guidelines,” he said.

Scanning the photos into digital format also could improve their quality, he said. For example, a rip in the original photograph could be erased, he said.

The work is time-consuming.

Noah said it could take 10 minutes to scan and document each item. He said he scans the items in three different computer formats, then catalogs them according to the information he has. Such information could include the photo’s description, date it was taken, condition, who donated it, whatever information is on the photo, he said.

Robinson said half of Noah’s work — about 20 hours a week — is funded through the City of Muskogee Foundation grant. The other half comes from the museum’s regular fund. She said his work digitizing the documents and photos are funded through the grant. Cataloging the art work is part of the museum’s ongoing work, she said.

Noah earned a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies from Northeastern State University and a master’s degree in cultural resource management from the University of Kansas.

The digitizing grant is the museum’s fourth from the Foundation, according to the Foundation’s website. The museum received $37,650 for capital improvement in 2009 and $75,000 in 2011 for revitalization. Robinson said the grants funded new LED lighting, which improved lighting for displays and helps cut utility bills.

The museum also got a $6,500 grant in 2011 for a story conference.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogee