Preserving Los Alamos History At The Archives

State-of-the-art shelving in the Los Alamos Historical Society Archives and Collections. Courtesy photo

By Stephanie Yeamans
Los Alamos Historical Society

As the community of Los Alamos, a relatively young town in historic New Mexico, grows older, portions of its population are also aging. When retirees downsize or parents pass away, families often wonder what to do with old papers and objects from years gone by. The Los Alamos Historical Society often becomes the repository for those collections.

As caretakers of our community history, the Historical Society has legal and ethical obligations for these donations. If you are considering a donation of papers, photographs, or artifacts to the Los Alamos Historical Society, the archives and collections staff would like to share with you some of the questions we ask and criteria we require for donations.

The first request is that you set up an appointment for bringing in donations by calling 505.695.5253 or by filling out the Contact Us fields under Collections Donations on our website at Rather than dropping off donations at the History Museum, we also ask that you bring those donations directly to the Archives in the Municipal Building, 1000 Central Ave., Suite 180.
The archives and collections staff want to be able to spend time with you to gather the history and connections behind your donation.

When bringing in a donation, we ask that you first clean or dust it off to the best of your ability. This saves previous donations in our collections from the risks presented by dust, pests, mold and such. Our goal is to be able to preserve our collections in perpetuity, and clean donations are a first step in the process of protecting our precious artifacts, documents and photographs.

When our staff meets with you, we will always ask that you leave your contact information and sign a temporary gift receipt. This insures that we will be able to contact you with any questions that may arise and that we will be able to send you the deed of gift paperwork that is required to transfer the donation from your care to ours. This second step is very important because it gives us the ownership required to properly care for and potentially exhibit the donation.
The most important question that you’ll be asked when bringing in your donation is “What is the connection between your donation and Los Alamos and its history?” The background stories on donations—or provenance in museum lingo—are what help us when we make the decision to add donations to our collections. We want each donation to tell the stories of the people and community of Los Alamos, but if a donation comes to us with no information, we lose the connection that makes it possible to exhibit an item in the museum.

The more detailed an established connection is to Los Alamos, the more valuable the donation becomes. The details may include how the object came into your possession, when it was created (if you know), names of any previous owners, the object’s purpose and how was it used, the object’s composition, and what makes the object significant to the story of Los Alamos history? These details help make your donation useful for research or exhibit purposes. It helps us determine in which era of Los Alamos history it belongs, how it should be cared for, and makes possible the use of the object for telling the history of Los Alamos in the Museum.

The staff and volunteers at the Los Alamos Historical Society are passionate about preserving and sharing the history of Los Alamos and its people, and we would love for your donation to be a part of that. Please contact us at the Los Alamos Historical Society Archives for an appointment, 505.695.5253.