Happy birthday, Historical Society workers!

MEA-MFT members at the Montana Historical Society recently celebrated the 25th birthday of their local union, the Montana Federation of Historical Society Workers (MFHSW).

These are the folks who collect, catalogue, display, and interpret Montana’s priceless historical artifacts and protect them for the future. They produce award-winning publications and educational materials. From archivists to curators to security guards, they exude pride and enthusiasm for their work.

As part of their birthday festivities, members of MFHSW took MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver and several MEA-MFT staff on a behind-the-scenes “cook’s tour” of the Historical Society in Helena November 9.

“Cold and dark, that’s our life as archivists,” quipped MFHSW President Rich Aarstad, standing in the Society’s temperature-controlled photo archives. “We’re not quite mushrooms because we avoid damp.”

Montanans have access to half a million photos at the Historical Society, collected since the 1860s, from which they can print images. Citizens can also search through paper archives, which many folks do—particularly for genealogy research.

“The whole goal is to preserve the archival record for the longest time possible and provide it for the public to use—not to lock it away,” Aarstad said.

Martha Kohl explained how the Society’s Outreach and Interpretation program assists Montana teachers and others.
The program’s latest crown jewel is “Montana: Stories of the Land,” a highly acclaimed new Montana history textbook.
The Society recently developed a web site to accompany the textbook with tools for teachers. “We worked pretty hard with teachers to make it really usable,” Kohl said. Check out the site at http://mhs.mt.gov/education/students.asp.

“As your union president, and more importantly as a Montana citizen, I appreciate what you do,” said Feaver over birthday cake, “especially as short-handed as you are.”

Staff at the Historical Society are struggling with understaffing and a $75,000 shortfall in their budget. “All through the Society we’re missing staff,” Kohl said. “We have a bad habit of saying, ‘oh, we can still get this done.’ But we’re getting stretched thin as onion skin.”

Feaver explained that MEA-MFT tried to exempt small agencies such as the Historical Society from Governor Schweitzer’s mandatory 7% “vacancy savings” in the 2009 Legislature. “We weren’t able to do it,” he said. “That won’t stop us from trying again.”

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” said Aarstad, quoting (appropriately) labor history. “It is nice to know we have our own ‘big stick’ to wield when necessary.”

Established in 1865, the Montana Historical Society is one of the oldest institutions of its kind west of the Mississippi River. Learn more about the work MEA-MFT members do here at www.his.state.mt.us.

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