Monday, December 31, 2012

December 2012 Update

Renewal Contracts
One of the biggest pre-holiday tasks was the renewal mail-out. By now you should have all received a little package with your contract, letter, and service cost-analysis. Contracts and payments are due by January 31st, so please take care of this asap. If you have questions feel free to email or phone the office. Remember that we cannot deliver support services without a valid contract.

Young Canada WorksThe deadline for YCW applications is quickly approaching, and this year they've made a couple little changes. Be sure to read all of the fine print for the program outline. Remember that successful applications include references to "big picture" work, such as tying in with community anniversaries, special events, and large-scale initiatives (such as NovaMuse). The federal government is currently gearing up for "the road to 2017", so if you can connect your work to confederation and any upcoming commemorations this will give you a big boost in the adjudication process. Remember to be specific. Feel free to refer to my post on writing funding applications for more tips.

Database Info
In less than a week I will be embroiled in the world of data review. Nomenclature 3.0 and batch editing will be my new best friends, and by the end of January I'll have reviewed & updated over 6000 records. This is going to be very quick work, so please continue to work on updating your georeferences and manufacture dates. This will help be a huge help to me!
Now on to the fun stuff:
We have finally passed the 190,000 record mark! December was a much slower month for everyone (and rightly so), but 385 records and 178 images were added. Our new official tally is 190,278 records and 71,239 images.
By region:
Port Hastings Museum & Archives
Railway Catechism Booklet
Southwest: 98,299 artifacts, 31,867 images
Central: 35,901 artifacts, 13,554 images
Northeast: 30,648 artifacts, 17,569 images
Cape Breton: 25,430 artifacts, 8,249 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most records again, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!

Your image of the month takes us back into the realm of scanning 2-dimensional items. In this case we're looking at the catechism for general train and interlocking rules, ie an instruction booklet for railway workers.  Of course by now we all know that this can just be popped into the scanner and a lovely image will result. But it is also important to take secondary and sometimes tertiary images of these items as well. For postcards, you'd want to scan the back to capture the written message. For this book, when it is opened up you see that someone wrote their name and the date inside. We can also see a very clear outline of the tear in the front cover which is important for conservation purposes. So when you are scanning, be sure to look for these kinds of details and get them done while the item is out.

Winding up the Old Year

We only had 3 weeks in the office this month, which gave us a surprising amount of time to come up with some new hair-brained schemes and shenanigans. We had two meetings with the Nova Scotia Museum and Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage to talk about NovaMuse and next steps. We're going to touch base again in early January, but we're already pretty excited about what this might mean.

The Cultural Federations of Nova Scotia, of which ANSM is a part, joined together to host an open house on December 14th. The courtyard was packed with writers, actors, dancers, artists, was pretty impressive. It even brought Paul Collins out of retirement for the evening.

I also managed to write another book review this month. Click here to check it out.

Ringing in the New Year
I mentioned in November's update that we would be talking with Fleming College again about the possibility of their museum management & curatorship students doing a bit of database work for us. I am very, very pleased to say that this is a go! Next week we will begin ironing out the final details, but I have already identified and approached the 10 sites that we are hoping to partner with the 29 students for a little database cleaning & research work.
Important - if you got an email about this and have not responded, please let me know asap if you want to participate. I have to have the records picked out and accounts ready for the students by the end of January and this takes a bit of time to prepare. If I don't hear back by January 14th you will miss your chance for some extra help.

All for now. Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and I look forward to working with you all in 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review - Thinking About Starting a Museum?

Almost two years ago I reviewed Starting Right, a book that helps people figure out if they are really ready to start a museum. Getting back into our reference library, a similarly useful book is Thinking about Starting a Museum? published by the Alberta Museums Association. This workbook takes a much more hands-on approach at an even earlier step in the process.

While Starting Right provides many questions for organizations to ask themselves, this discussion guide doubles as a workbook, providing plenty of tables and space to document your answers as you go through the process. "The booklet is a tool to help identify the most effective way to meet a community's heritage needs. It is not intended to outline how to establish a museum but instead, to guide a group through the very important process of deciding how heritage activities can bring the greatest benefit to a community."

I appreciate the fact that the authors didn't hold back, didn't sugar coat anything. They warn that a "museum that is merely existing is not likely to remain open for long; the public will quickly lose interest if it is perceived that nothing changes or happens at the museum". Consulting with the community about any kind of heritage project is not suggested as a good idea but presented as a mandatory requirement.

The workbook is broken up into the following sections:

1. What is a museum?
The flow of the book impresses the seriousness of museum work on the reader - that museums are part of a publicly accountable, professional, international community with a strong code of ethics. From there it moves on to the financial responsibilities associated with museums, reminding the reader that generous one-time donations from community members, businesses or governments should never be interpreted as "first-time" donations. You can't expect these donors to step in year after year, and you can't expect people to always be knocking on your door to volunteer in other ways. Community engagement is always ongoing.

2. Identifying goals, needs and resources
There will always be differing opinions and lots of ideas shared during such a discussion, but the important thing to remember is that we can't be all things to all people. It's important to stay focused and organized in our activities. So before you do anything else, you get to work through a series of questions that address your purpose, community support, and resources. The list of questions may seem long, but this just makes sure you aren't wearing any rose-coloured glasses when you reach your final decision about how to proceed.  You've acknowledged what level of resources are available in the short- and long-term, the sustainability of your ideas, what kinds of skills, infrastructure, and/or facilities are required, and potential partners.

3. Finding the right fit
I especially like section 3. It presents options for groups based on their main objective: education, tourism, community centre, or preservation. Your answers from section 2 will make your objective(s) clear, allowing you to move forward. So if you are really interested in preserving the identity of a community that is dwindling as people move to urban centres, it talks about things you can do to save the town's identity and ensure that its story is not lost in the mists of time.

One thing that I have noticed about this and similar resources is that they always limit their market to groups that are considering opening a new museum. What about a museum that has gotten itself "stuck"? I think it's time to use these resources as reality checks, as part of the strategic renewal process. If institutions aren't constantly re-examining themselves, if they aren't constantly working with their communities, it is only a matter of time before they lose relevancy and end up debating closure. So the next time you find yourself sitting in a staff meeting or chatting with your board of directors and the question of relevancy or community engagement comes up, maybe your first step shouldn't be to dream up the next big scheme. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to go back to the basics. Maybe it's time to step out of reality and pretend that you don't have that museum and see what kind of answers you get by working through this process. And once you have those answers, I'm willing to bet that the road to renewal will become much clearer.

Oh, and did I mention that not only is this book in our reference library but it's also available online for free?