Utah Division of State History opens Engagement Room in MidvaleMar 08, 2023 01:22PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
A sculpture of Don Lind is one of thousands of artifacts being stored at the Midvale Collections Center for the Utah Division of State History. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)
In a way, Don Lind has come home. A sculpture of the scientist and astronaut who grew up in Midvale and died in 2022 can now be viewed at the Midvale Collections Center for the Utah Division of State History.
The building at 7292 S. State St., formerly used by the Department of Workforce Services, is one of five locations being used to store the state’s collection of historic artifacts—but the only one where the artifacts are accessible to the public.
“We’re excited to be here,” said Jennifer Ortiz, director of the Utah Division of State History. “We’ve been working on opening the Engagement Room since the summer of 2022.”
Access to the collection was closed to the public in March 2020, after the building it was housed in was damaged by a 5.7-magnitude earthquake. The collection, which has an estimated value of $125 million, will be moved again to its permanent home in the Utah State Capitol in 2026.
The collection includes 1 million photographs, 31,000 artifacts, 30,000 books and 25,000 pamphlets. Of all the items, Ortiz was quick to name her favorite.
“I love the Philo T. Farnsworth television tubes,” she said with a smile. “They’re a real claim to fame for Utah and connected to TV, an invention everyone has interacted with.”
Astronauts and inventors aside, the Utah Division of State History places an emphasis on documenting the lives of ordinary Utahns.
“We’ll be absorbing the Salt Lake Community College textile collection in the coming weeks,” Ortiz said. “The clothing represents what a typical 19th- and 20th-century Utahn wore. We’re trying to get a fuller picture of who people were and are in our community today through clothing choices.”
The division recently held a “Scan and Share” event in partnership with the Salt Lake Chapter of the Genealogical Society of Hispanic America.
“We documented important items such as photos of the first Mexican American parade in Salt Lake City and ephemera-like posters from the Chicano Movement in the state,” Ortiz said.
A table of Midvale artifacts was on display during an opening reception of the Engagement Room on Jan. 27. The space has cozy lighting with plenty of tables and chairs and is available by request. Anyone wishing to access the archives can call 801-245-7227 or email [email protected].
“We’re working to make the collections more accessible,” Ortiz said. “We had an Engagement Room before, but here we can make available a variety of different objects, not just 2D. It adds a layer to the research people are doing.”
Staff are still working on procedures for accessing the artifacts.
“Our pamphlet collection is housed at the state library, a sister agency,” Ortiz said. “So if someone wants to see it we need to arrange for transport. Things that are here onsite can be called up quicker and easier.”
Sabrina Sanders, the artifact collection manager, led tours of the storage area that will not typically be open to the public.
“Every item is in a database, down to the smallest political pin,” Sanders said.
For those who can’t make it to the Midvale location, around 300,000 photos and other documents in the collection have been digitized and are free to view online at www.history.utah.gov/library-collections/digital-collections/.
Donations are accepted, though they must go through a committee to make sure the artifacts meet certain collecting and acquisition requirements. For example, the object must relate to Utah history and not already be represented in the collection.
“We’re working to recognize the cultural and historical gaps in the collection,” Ortiz said. “Then move forward to fill in those gaps and hold ourselves accountable to represent the state’s full history in our community.”