Behind the Scenes at the Cone: Intaking History

The American Heritage Center (AHC) is home to thousands of different historical materials ranging from letters, diaries, and photos to oral history recordings and original artwork, just to name a few. But how what happens when collections come through the AHC’s door? And how do they get that little number—“Accession Number”—that make them unique? Well, that is all done by the AHC’s Accessions Unit Supervisor, Bailey Sparks.

Bailey Sparks is pictured above in a selfie she took at the AHC.  (Photo courtesy of Bailey Sparks)

Bailey is also one of the first people at the AHC to see the new historical materials when they arrive on campus and is responsible for everything from helping to decide which materials the Center will accept to transferring physical and intellectual ownership to the AHC and the legalities associated with that.

“Legal ownership of the material is super, super important,” Sparks explains, adding, “There are documents that sign over the legal ownership of the material to the AHC. Within those documents, donors can say if they have dispositional instructions for them, meaning if the Center was to dispose of the material because it’s not archival, then the donor has a say in where it goes.”

“Most often, if they have any instructions, it’s to return the materials to the donor. They can also retain copyrights if they so choose. So as long as I can keep on top of when things have arrived and keep track of the status of the legal documents that pertain to various materials, then we’re in pretty good shape.”

One of the many filing cabinets where Bailey houses copies of the legal documents. (Photo courtesy of Carissa Mosness)      

Back to those mysterious little numbers. I asked Bailey what an “accession number” is. I learned that it’s a sequential number each collection receives that indicates the chronological order of the acquisition. The AHC is now in the 13,000s+ so that’s a lot of acquisitioning going on. She related to me, “If the material is a new collection, then it gets its own totally unique number and a little number at the end that denotes which day it arrived. If something is going into an already existing collection, then it gets assigned that existing collection number and a specific number based on the date that it arrived.” You can think of it like a unique number that a book receives once a library catalogs it. That catalog number is how the library tracks the book and the accession number is how an archive tracks its collections.

Photos bubble-wrapped from shipping await accessioning. (Photo by Carissa Mosness)

Sparks is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology at UW and hopes to one day obtain her master’s in library science, which led her to her current position, which she started at the end of November in 2022.

“I like the energy at the AHC,” Sparks exclaims, “It vacillates between routine, which I like, but it can also change quite suddenly as well. I mean, there are difficulties with any position, but this job has been really nice because I am able to have somewhat flexible hours.”

A box of newly arrived materials is in a room specially designated as a staging area for incoming collections. (Photo by Carissa Mosness)

Sparks also took time to praise her coworkers at the Center, noting how helpful they have been over the past couple of months.

“People here are quite supportive of me,” Sparks affirms, “If I need some instruction on something, then I have some people that I can go to. And if there’s something that I’ve missed, they can come to me and say, ‘I think that you might have missed something’ and it’s not a big deal, which has been very nice.”

What happens to a collection once Bailey has done her job? That’s next in our series describing what happens inside the Cone on the Range.

The AHC is a pretty dramatic building!

To learn more about the AHC, see the Center’s website at

Post contributed by AHC intern Carissa Mosness.


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