Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Review - Starting Right, 3rd edition

Back to the ANSM reference library we go.
You aren't seeing double or experiencing deja vu, I have reviewed this book before. But that was the 2nd edition. This is the 3rd edition. This doesn't mean that I've run out of books to read or review. I'm still on the first shelf of our library. But when we added this one to the collection I was curious to see how different it would be. Would obvious changes have been made? Would it address all the technological aspects that were missing in the previous editions? That sounds like a lot of information to add, and this book isn't any longer than the 2nd edition.

When I read the 2nd edition I was struck by the great questions the authors were telling people to ask themselves. They didn't just want you to figure out if you're ready for a museum, the questions probed deep to determine motivations, feasibility of goals, and whether or not the ideas were sustainable. It asked how you would handle difficult situations and adapt to changing circumstances.

What struck me most with this 3rd edition was the prominence of partnerships and talking to others - that the first step was to reach out. This was definitely part of the earlier edition, but this time it seemed to be on every page. Talk to neighbouring museums. Talk to your provincial, territorial or state museum association. Talk to the national association. Talk to people who work and volunteer in museums. But not only do we need to be talking to each other, we need to be brutally honest about our past struggles and current realities. Smiling and nodding and telling someone that starting a new museum is a great idea doesn't necessarily mean you're being supportive. You might be causing more harm than good.

The other thing that struck me was the vast number of additional resources. The authors went out of their way to point people to more information on a given subject. There are pages and pages of books, organizations and websites that support the work of museums. Part IV of the book is full of sample documents - organizational chart, by-laws, job description, gift agreement, etc. This section wasn't so interesting to me since we have most of these available on our website. But to other readers I'm sure these are very helpful documents that serve to bring some of the other information together.

The book flows very logically; asking the big questions: what makes a good museum, how can you finance it, and where can you get help? If this doesn't scare you away from museum life, the second part gets into the "nuts and bolts" of operations; how to get organized, plan activities, recruit workers and make it all work together. Let's pause for a moment to talk about recruitment. This is one of my pet peeves. According to this book an organization needs to budget decent wages for staff and have a solid understanding of how they need to advertise the position. But all too often we hear about people being hired with no experience or training in museums, and the job was not advertised appropriately. Having been formally trained and knowing how many classmates struggle to find work, this drives me nuts. The people are there and willing. We just have to have realistic expectations and send the job posting far and wide.
Ok, rant finished. The third part of the book is themed "alternatives". If, as you were reading through, you started to realize just how much work, specialized knowledge, and resources go into operating a museum, and decided that maybe a museum wasn't such a great idea after, that's a-okay. This is the part of the book that will help you look at alternative options. Maybe it's joining forces with an existing group, maybe it's writing a book or developing a website that addresses a niche theme. The possibilities are endless. A museum is just one possibility, and it isn't any more special or valid than the others. It's all about finding the right fit.

As I mentioned in my last review of this book, it isn't just something for people to read when you're thinking about starting a museum. This is the kind of book and these are the kinds of questions that we should be asking ourselves on a regular basis. We need to be giving ourselves a reality check every few years or when there is a major change in the organization. If you want to read my review of the 2nd edition, click here.

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