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U.S. Department of the Interior - Museum Program
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Frequently Asked Questions




I have an object.  What is it?
In order to help figure out what your object might be, it is best to contact your local historical society or museum for assistance. Additionally, many museums have online catalogs that have pictures and descriptions that can aid in identifying the object.

I have an object.  How do I find out how much it's worth?
Most museums will not appraise objects because it places a specific monetary value on objects that could create unfair favoritism between objects, which can be an ethical issue. The best place to find resources about appraisal is to look for appraisers in your area or a local auction house.  It may be useful to search for appraisers through the American Society of Appraisers, Appraisers National Association, or  National Association of Professional Appraisers.

I have a collection of fine art/paper and books/furniture/ceramics/leather/glass.  How do I care for these items?
There are many resources available online for caring for objects and materials of all kinds, and there are steps that you can take at home to preserve and protect your objects. The American Institute for Conservation has published “Caring for Your Treasures,” the Northeast Document Conservation Center has published Training on Preservation Basics for Paper and Media Collections, and the National Park Service has released several Conserve-O-Gram issues that cover multiple preservation and conservation issues in a simple and straightforward manner.  Additionally, we have many more resources appropriate for the public and professionals on the “Preservation” page.

I never guessed that the DOI had extensive museum collections.  How did you acquire them?

The Department of the Interior acquires museum collections in many ways. Archives and constitute over half of DOI museum holdings (over 122 million items), which include historic letters, documents, and more recent NPS resource management documents.  Many objects and specimens come from field collection on DOI-owned lands based on requirements in laws on archaeology and paleontology.  This is part of why the five “land-managing” bureaus (Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Affairs, and National Park Service) have such extensive collections.  Some objects are gifts from the public or acquired as a result of DOI staff activities.. Other objects are acquired as a result of the activities of DOI staff and offices. Generally, objects are acquired through gift, bequest, field collection, transfer, purchase, or exchange.

How do I find museums with DOI objects near me?
The Department of the Interior has bureaus and offices around the country that have museum collections. The majority of the objects held by the DOI are acquired and managed by the National Park Service. On the NPS Museum Management’s website, they feature a listing of “Park Museum Collection Profiles” that can provide a starting point for locations near you featuring museum collections. Also, on the DOI Museum Program website, the “DOI Bureaus and Offices with Museum Collections” page provides several additional locations with museum objects.

Can I donate items to to the DOI?
Although the DOI does acquire objects through donation, DOI bureaus and offices only accept donations whenthe object’s relevance to the DOI can be definitively established. The object in question may be more beneficial to your local community; we suggest contacting your local museum or historical society prior to contacting DOI museum staff.  Curators and museum staff at your local DOI bureau or office are available for contact if you have specific questions. 

Can I donate money for the care of DOI collections?

Yes, you absolutely can.  The answer to your followup question of, “How?” is slightly trickier because there are many ways in which to support the care of DOI collections.  These include:
  • Simply making a purchase at the bookstore or gift shop of a site (such as a national park or Fish and Wildlife refuge) that you’re interested in supporting.
  • Donating directly to a site with DOI museum collections.  There is often information regarding this online--the National Park Service maintains a list with park donation information, and many museums and visitor centers put donation policies on their websites.  If you cannot easily find this information or would like to investigate museum-specific donation options, contact staff at the site.
  • Donate to a Friends group.  Friends groups assist parks, refuges, museums, and other DOI sites by providing volunteers and funding.  Friends groups may be associated with one particular site or a group of sites.  DOI sites should provide contact information for associated friends groups on their website.  Friends groups for the National Park Service are also listed in the Friends Group Directory.

Are you the National Park Service?
Technically yes and no. The National Park Service (NPS) is a bureau within the Department of the Interior. The Interior Museum Program (IMP) governs the museum-related activities of the NPS and all other DOI bureaus with museum collections. The NPS represents a large portion of DOI museum collections, and  NPS museum collections tend to be more visible than other bureaus’ collections because they are able to devote more resources to museum management.  Other bureaus have significant collections as well, and it is well worth taking a look at their exhibits!