MHS News Flash: A Storage Problem—and an innovative solution!

As you know, Maine Historical Society (MHS) manages an unparalleled collection of books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts related to Maine history. While we have led the field in providing digital access to these resources, we also remain committed to our physical collections and what they represent. Our collections are the foundation for virtually all of the services and educational programs that we offer, and we commit major resources to their care, preservation, and storage.

Although MHS continues to actively fulfill our mission to collect historical materials related to the State of Maine,  we have now run out of room to store them properly.  Our short-term solution has been to house collections in spaces that should be available for public programming or use by researchers.  The beautiful second floor of the Brown Library was carefully restored in 2009, but we have been forced to fill it with overflowing archival collections on temporary metal shelving.  Likewise, museum collections are stored on the ground floor of the museum building—taking space that we would like to use for exhibitions and student programs.

Our situation is not unusual, and the more we talked to our friends at the Portland Public Library (PPL), it became clear that they shared the same space needs.  We developed the idea for collaborative solution.  On November 15, following an exhaustive due-diligence process, MHS and the PPL jointly purchased a 35,000 square foot property at 1000 Riverside Drive in Portland that will ultimately serve as a shared collections management center (SCMC). After some renovations, we expect to begin moving our collections there this Spring.

PPL and MHS are sharing all purchase and renovation-related costs equally.  No taxpayer funds are being used to acquire or refurbish the building, and our fundraising plan does not anticipate any public monies. There are a number of individuals and private foundations who are very excited about this collaboration and its impact on the ways MHS and PPL can serve our visitors. Some of those folks have already stepped forward to support this project while others are considering how they’d like to be involved.

The project will transform Maine Historical Society’s ability to preserve and manage the library and museum collections that are at the center of our work. It is also an innovative collaboration that will serve as a model for other nonprofits.  But we may be most excited about what it will allow us to do with our space on Congress Street.  Because we will be able to free up significant space in our existing buildings, we will be able to activate new public program space in our library and create significant new gallery space in our museum building. We look forward to designing, developing, and using our Congress Street campus for maximum public engagement in the study and enjoyment of Maine History.  We will keep you posted on our progress!

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