Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 41

Part 41: Bait and Switch

After my return from DC to secure Masonic scholars for the museum team, I completed the St. Paul library acquisition. By the end of February 2015, the books were packed and ready for transport to both record storage (250 boxes) to the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum (25 boxes). I then began to create the necessary timelines and labor requirements to process this collection. This, however, was a very small part of a much larger administrative project. The CEO also directed me to anticipate the staffing requirements and labor expenses for the museum, library, and theatre spaces to plan for the upcoming year’s budget and subsequent opening of the facility.

For the new library acquisition, I requested four individuals to help process the 10,000-item collection. In assembling the proposal, I met with Theresa Norman, the part-time Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum curator. Norman worked only 8 hours each week as she already had a full-time job as a curator elsewhere. Like me, she was in desperate need of assistants beyond her own two sole octogenarian volunteers.

I suggested that it was possible for us to share the talents of a single group of assistants/interns, depending on the museum and library project timelines. That way, we could immediately start the hiring process for them to come on board to start processing the opening exhibit artifacts for the Ladd Museum. I was in the midst of the thematic layout for the six-gallery museum, realizing that this project would take precedence over the library as its impending deadline was June 1, 2015.

The museum team needed a year for artifact conservation and exhibit construction. However, it was anticipated that there would be a point when I could set up several interns to process the St. Paul Masonic collection – hopefully in summer after the museum exhibit was finalized. Throughout the spring and summer of 2015, I had to repeatedly explain that it would take at least a full year to process the library collection and assign local identification numbers for each item.

As it was a Masonic library, we would also use a slightly different labeling system based on Boyden’s classifications. It was not until September of 2015 that I was given the “go-ahead” to remove the collection from record storage, hire one intern, and start processing the collection. By this time, I had identified a possible place to process the St. Paul Masonic Library – the old residential cottage (5 bedroom two-story house over looking the river) that remained on the Minnesota Masonic Home grounds. I had encountered this space when Steve Johnson and I identified it as a possible location to film A. E. Ames footage for various informational displays at the future museum.

5-bedroom, two-story residential house at Minnesota Masonic Home in Bloomington, Minnesota, that was selected as the location to process the St. Paul Masonic Library. This also become my “office house.”

During that same month, the CEO recommended Mark Anderson for the position of library intern so that we could start processing the books immediately. I ordered metal shelving units and some folding tables to set up the library-processing center. One of the rooms would also serve as my on site office. No need to spend money on space rental and I was a stone’s throw away from the Minnesota Masonic Charities and the Grand Lodge offices! The nine pallets of books were removed from record storage and transported to the basement of my “office house” in mid-September 2015. I was now only waiting for my library intern to schedule his TB test, a requirement as a Minnesota Masonic Home employee.

I was also deeply ensconced in a third library project directed by the CEO; researching identifying, and selecting an appropriate library software system for the Nelson library.   I sought advice from curators and librarians across the country at a variety of Masonic museums and libraries, including Adam Kendall at California’s H. W. Coil Library, Mark Tabbert at the George Washington Masonic Memorial,  Jeff Croteau at the National Heritage Museum, Joan Sansbury at the House of the Temple,  Heather Calloway at Washington College, and many others.

I was narrowing down my selection when we began negotiations for the purchase and removal of the Fort Scott scenery collection. I soon realized that the library processing might have to be placed on hold until after my three-week absence in Fort Scott, Kansas during November 2015 when we removed the scenery. There was no one else to oversee any of my projects while I was gone and my intern had yet to finalize his paperwork.

Upon my return from Fort Scott, however, I learned that the entire scope for the library acquisition had changed during my absence. In mid-December 2015, the CEO and general director informed me that the books would no longer be processed and were to be placed onto the shelves for the opening without any identification. I was stunned. We had promised the Valley of St. Paul that the books would be thoroughly processed, and that they would be placed in climate-controlled storage. As part of our continued discussions with the Valley of St. Paul, we assured a better environment for the books in a dedicated and secure setting.

Furthermore, the CEO explained that we no longer needed any library software system, putting off all processing until after the facility opened. I tried to explain that this would quadruple the anticipated future workload and timelines. I was numb. After all, I had personally given the Valley secretary my word that the books would be carefully preserved for future generations as that is what I was told would happen.

What was the point of having a room full of unlabeled books? This would make the entire library unusable and it could no longer be considered a research facility.

To be continued…

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