October 2022: Caring for Your Lodge’s Records
It’s human to accumulate things. Masonic lodges are no different. Only in some cases, they’ve accumulated a century or more’s worth of things piling up in the attic. From books to papers to photos and all manner of knick-knacks, it’s hard for even the most seasoned lodge secretary to know what to do with it all.
But before you call in the junk-removal guys, take a second to make an inventory of what materials your lodge is hanging on to, since when it comes to Masonic records, not everything is created equal. Here, Joseph Evans, the collections manager for the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry and the head archivist for the Grand Lodge of California, gives us the skinny on what we can—and can’t—clear out of the basement.
The Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry is home to thousands of Masonic books, archives, and objects that, taken together, tell the story of Freemasonry in California and beyond. But amassing that collection has been the work of generations. And that means having an eye for what is, and isn’t, extraneous. “It’s important to understand that there are different types of records,” Evans says. “There are the records a lodge creates as part of their everyday business, like membership rolls and tiler’s books, and then there are objects and curiosities it collects over the years.” This differentiation is important, because as nonprofit entities, Masonic lodges have a greater responsibility to preserve one type of record over the other.
To help lodge officials understand those distinctions, Evans has created a Retention Schedule that lodges can refer to that lists what types of records need to be kept and for how long. (The retention schedule is located in iMember, under the “Resources” tile, titled “Inventory and Records Retention Information.”) Evans has also written a guide explaining what kinds of records should be kept, and how to do it. Some records, like annual and semi-annual financial reports, are considered permanent records and should be kept forever. Other types of records, like bank deposits, must be held for at least seven years—but can be tossed after that. “This schedule was produced as a way of answering the question of how long documents need to be kept,” Evans explains.
The retention schedule only deals with official documents, though—not things like letters, photographs, or other lodge paraphernalia. In that case, it’s up to the members of the lodge what to keep or not—although as an archivist, Evans tends to favor organizing and preserving those things. Taken together, they represent the lodge’s material culture and help tell a more complete story of its past. “Generally speaking, I would recommend holding on to the lodge’s ephemera,” Evans says, citing things like “the event brochures, menus, photo albums, and scrapbooks. Those tell the story of your lodge.”
Once you’ve organized the clutter and determined what records need to be kept and which can be tossed, it’s important to store them properly. This can be a fairly significant effort, but one that’s well worth the cost.
There are two important rules to follow when it comes to archiving material: First, keep things out of direct sunlight, which causes material to fade, crack, and disintegrate, and away from damp, which can cause mold to grow. The other bugaboo is pests or rodents, which can chew through just about anything. Wherever your lodge stores its records should be dry, cool, and clear of food, plants, or anything else that may attract insects or critters.
In general, Evans says, store archival material in cardboard boxes rather than plastic bins. Though sturdier than cardboard, plastic containers don’t allow for proper air circulation and can lead to mold growth. Label boxes with a list of its contents so you know what’s in them without having to rummage through them, and then store them safely away. “In the end, I’m just an email away if lodges have any questions about what should or shouldn’t be tossed and how to properly store those records that need to be kept.”
For a much more detailed explanation of storage methods and resources, consult this guidebook produced by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. For questions regarding your lodge’s archives, contact Joe Evans, collections manager of the Henry W. Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just announced: The 11th International Conference on Freemasonry, to be held April 8, 2023 at UCLA, will explore a similar theme, “From the Grand Lodge Attic.” Based on the enthusiastic audience response to Dr. Heather Calloway’s presentation last spring on her work as director of the Center for Fraternal Collections and Research at the Indiana University, this year’s forum will dive even deeper into the theme of Masonic material culture.
Speakers are expected to include Mark Dennis, curator of the Museum of Freemasonry in London; Leigh Ann Gardener, a historian who specializes in documenting 19th and 20th century African American benevolent and fraternal groups’ material culture and cemeteries in the state of Tennessee; Adam Kendall, the executive director of the Oakland Scottish Rite Historical Foundation and a member of Phoenix No. 144 in San Francisco; Aimee Newell, the director of collections and exhibitions at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia (and formerly of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington, Mass.)
The event is scheduled for April 8, 2023, at UCLA. More information and ticket on-sale date will be announced soon. So stay tuned in for more information on that!
Stay on track of lodge business and prepare for important deadlines. Here’s your October checklist.
- Make plans for your lodge master, wardens, or other representatives to attend Annual Communication. Your vote is important to the future of Freemasonry in California.
Senior Warden, along with Executive Committee
- Identify and approach members for the 2023 Audit, Membership Retention, and any other committees.
- Urge presumptive master, wardens, and senior deacon to perform their Master Mason’s proficiency soon, if not already completed.
- Urge the presumptive master, wardens, and senior deacon to qualify early with the inspector in their office’s ritual.
- Urge respective officers to answer the master, senior warden, and junior warden questions early.
- Set calendar for 2023 and identify event leaders.
- Continue preparing 2023 budget.
- Finalize your installation date/venue and prepare the installing team.
- Review all candidates’ progress toward advancement.
- Continue tracking 100 percent officer giving to the Annual Fund, with officers setting an example through gifts that represent their capability as well as their commitment to our charitable programs.
- Grand Lodge has centralized the dues process to allow members to pay their annual dues directly into the system via credit card. See previous issues of the Leader for more information.
- Prepare to send out dues notices and begin collecting member dues starting Oct. 31.
- If your lodge has employees and is not using the Paychex Payroll System, file quarterly federal payroll tax form 941 (unless IRS has approved an annual filing of form 944, due in February).
- If your lodge has employees and is not using the Paychex Payroll System, file quarterly state payroll tax form DE9/DE9C and deposit form DE88.
- If lodge per capita has not yet been paid, submit payment ASAP.
Questions? Contact Member Services at email@example.com or (415) 776-7000.
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Last month, we asked whether your lodge has an emergency-preparedness plan in place. See results below.
- Yes - 11%
- No - 75%
- Don't Know - 14%