Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review - Standards for Saskatchewan Museums

Time for another book review. That's right, it has another province in its title. But that's okay. Museum standards are pretty transferable. I've heard through the grapevine that our friends in Saskatchewan are actually in the process of updating this, which means a fifth edition is in the works, and I for one look forward to seeing how they improve on this handy dandy guide.

The structure of the book is well-defined, and meant to provide museum workers with a very quick and easy method of checking information. Topics include everything from risk management to intellectual property, care of collections to communications. If you have questions about security, jump to that page and scan through the 1.5 pages of quick tips for your answer. There are 18 pages of additional resources, again broken down by subject which makes it very easy to dig deeper into an area using books or online info.

I've read a number of these books from other organizations, provinces, and countries, so I can't say there were any surprises in terms of content. What I can say though, is that certain points or tips jumped out at me as issues I've seen in our Nova Scotia museums.

First and foremost, First Nations are presented as important partners and this is sadly lacking in other similar Canadian resources. The shift is gradually taking place, but as with many things, it's slow going. Building relationships takes time. So the seamless integration of First Nations' approaches and priorities was most welcome.

Maybe it's because of our upcoming workshop on Museum Management & Governance, but my favourite tips came from the management section. A number of standards jumped out at me:

  • The governing authority monitors and evaluates the museum's performance on a regular basis in order to assess if the museum is fulfilling its mandate.
  • Where the governing authority is a board of directors/trustees it specifies staggered terms for its members. [This means you can't have someone on your board for 85 years in a row]
  • The museum board and staff develop an ongoing relationship with policymakers and actively seek opportunities to discuss the museum's position with them. [Board members need to be in on this, otherwise staff members can be accused of just trying to save their jobs]
  • The museum has adopted a code of ethics which sets out accepted practices and rules of conduct. [CMA Ethics Guidelines can be found here]
  • The museum has a written long-term or strategic plan that is monitored and updated on a regular basis. [There's no such thing as status quo, only moving forward or moving backward]
  • The museum has a written dissolution policy. [Nothing lasts forever]
  • The museum has a financial resource development plan in place to ensure it has enough money to fulfill its mandate. [Hint: cutting back hours & staffing isn't going to work forever]

Staffing can be difficult in smaller museums, and I can think of numerous conversations and issues that have surfaced because museums haven't been following the following standards:
  • The museum recruits and retains well-trained paid and volunteer staff. [One of my biggest pet peeves is when a museum doesn't (properly) advertise a job]
  • There is at least one person, either paid or volunteer, working in the museum with professional museological training. [This means you shouldn't just hire Bob because he's president Fred's nephew and is a fast learner]
  • The museum has identified critical positions and succession plans are in place to ensure ongoing operations. [What are you going to do if someone gets hit by a bus?]
  • The museum supports training and development opportunities that meet the needs of both the individual and the institution by allocating funds on an annual basis.

As I mentioned above, there are lots of other areas covered in the guide. For anyone thinking about starting a museum, or wondering about joining their local museum society, this is a good orientation of the complexities of museum operations. And for existing museums, it's a nice reality check to make sure certain areas haven't become a little relaxed over the years.
So that's it for this book review. Maybe I'll revisit this one when the fifth edition is released.

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