Volunteers get rare access at the North Dakota Heritage Center
BISMARCK—Volunteers at the state's largest museum have found that treasures come in all shapes, sizes and forms.
While sorting artifacts in the lower level of the North Dakota Heritage Center, Mary Diebel discovered a bone bead that is now on exhibit.
Sandra Wiche, who volunteers with Diebel, enjoys finding ceramics with interesting decorations
"Every now and then you find a little jewel," Wiche said.
About 80 to 100 people volunteer regularly at the Heritage Center and State Museum, some working behind the scenes in secured areas of the building only accessed by staff.
"You get to see the Heritage Center in a whole different way," said Beth Campbell, who coordinates the volunteer program.
Volunteers in the archaeology and historic preservation division recently completed a major project that involved sorting artifacts from a Mandan village occupied in the late 1400s north of Bismarck.
Diebel and Wiche spend Thursday afternoons with archaeologists, helping label and catalog artifacts.
"Some of it can get really tiny, like the size of sesame seed," Diebel said.
Some volunteers have a background in archaeology, while others learn on the job.
Wiche has a degree in archaeology but most recently worked for the National Weather Service before she retired. The volunteer job, which she started in 2013, gives her a chance to use her degree.
"You learn a lot of new stuff because things have changed since I did it," Wiche said.
New volunteers are needed to help repackage some collections to upgraded storage containers, such as acid-free materials and plastic bags that don't release chemicals.
"Our understanding of materials for long-term storage of artifacts is constantly evolving," said Wendi Field Murray, archaeologist and collections manager.
Although repackaging the collections will be labor-intensive, Field Murray said it will give people a chance to learn a lot about North Dakota's history.
"There are going to be a lot of collections that potentially no one has seen in decades," she said.
Other volunteers interact with the public, such as working in the gift shop.
Don and Diane Rose greet visitors on Wednesday afternoons from the information desk.
"We only work one afternoon a week, but boy we just look forward to it," Diane Rose said. "It's a fun place to come. It's a fun place to work."
In paleontology, volunteers help prepare fossils or catalog and label specimens for storage. The archives division has volunteers who help digitize materials.
As the museum division adds items to the collection, volunteers help catalog items and record information about each object.
Jenny Yearous, curator of collections management, said she likes volunteers who are detail-oriented and have a gentle touch for handling delicate items. One volunteer enjoys doing background research as she catalogs items.
"Just to have a curious mind is really helpful," Yearous said.
Most volunteer opportunities are Monday through Friday during the day. Campbell plans to host a behind-the-scenes tour in January for new volunteers.