Mary Ball Washington Museum and Library



"Norton has a good reputation and is easy to use," she said. "I don't have to think about doing manual scans and updates and I can put all of our computers on the same license and on the same renewal schedule"

— Karen Hart, executive director

Keeping the Rich History of Virginia
Preserved and Secure

Most Americans know the name George Washington … but do you know the name Mary Ball? She was George Washington's mother, born in Lancaster County in Virginia's Northern Neck region. The Mary Ball Washington Museum and Library (MBWML) was established in 1958 and named to honor the mother of America's first president. The museum and library preserves the rich history of the Northern Neck through its collections, exhibits, tours, and educational programs.

Celebrating a Region Rich with History

The Museum's collection includes several historically significant buildings in the village of Lancaster, including the Old Jail, the Old Clerk's Office, and the Steuart-Blakemore Building. The MBWML's website explains how the collection is a reflection of ever-changing, rich history: "Every item, every aspect, has a story and a connection proving that history is neither static nor carved in stone. New stories surface, like arrowheads long buried, providing constant shifting of information that gives vitality to history." 

The library contains thousands of published records, books, manuscripts, periodicals, and microfilms about the Northern Neck region of Virginia. There is a $5 fee to use the library, but it is open to the public for history and genealogy research. The library gets a mix of both general public visitors looking up family history as well as graduate students, writers, historians, and other professionals. MBWML also holds an annual Court Day Festival, which provides a full "living history day" of reenactments, music, storytelling, demonstrations, and more. 

Small Staff, Big Impact

With everything that the MBWML does, it might seem like the nonprofit has a large staff. The truth is that there is only one full-time person on staff, Karen Hart, the executive director. With the support of another part-time staff member and more than 70 volunteers, the MBWML is able to serve the 700 – 1,000 annual local citizens, tourists, students, genealogists, and scholars who visit the museum and library. In addition to these visitors, the museum and library does outreach programs for both children and adults and serves visitors virtually through its website. 

As the only full-time staff member, Hart wears a lot of hats at MBWML. Not only does she manage the daily operations of the facilities and visitor services, she has also been supervising the major structural repairs and preservation work on one of the Museum's buildings, the Lancaster House. 

Keeping History Protected

Like many libraries and educational institutes, the MBWML has public computer workstations (10) that are shared with both volunteers and public users. With so many different users, the organization needs to keep its computers free of malware and viruses. Some of the MBWML's work involves the digitization of historical records, such as those needed to create the Lancaster County Estate Records Database. Having secure, clean computers is a must for the organization to keep these history projects running.

Hart said that the MBWML has been requesting donations of Norton antivirus products for several years through TechSoup. For a one-and-a-half staffed operation with no IT department, it is crucial to have software that works well and requires little maintenance. "Norton has a good reputation and is easy to use," she said. "I don't have to think about doing manual scans and updates and I can put all of our computers on the same license and on the same renewal schedule." 

Without TechSoup and donor partners like Symantec, Hart says that it would be impossible for the organization to keep all of its software up-to-date. Having donated technology products and free resources through TechSoup is a big time saver for Hart. When technology doesn't get in the way, the Mary Ball Washington Museum and Library can better focus on preserving and sharing the rich history of Lancaster County. 

This story originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog and was written by Ginny Mies, senior content curator at TechSoup.