Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review - Small Museum Toolkit 3: Organizational Management

"Effectively managing people, facilities, and partnerships can make or break an institution." Truer words were never spoken. As the author goes on to state, this isn't why we got into the museum business, but it is an integral part of the game. So with that in mind, here we go for round 3 of this book review series. Five chapters and 3 appendices later, this book should shed some light on how you can improve the management of your museum, no matter how long you've been in the museum business.

The first chapter is a real bricks & mortar look at the building, its use and maintenance. It encourages you to think about your visitors' first impression of the site, having a regular maintenance schedule, pest management plan, looking for ways to "green" the museum, and have solid financial plans to accomplish your goals. And how does it suggest you do all this? Through an operations manual (we often call this a facilities management plan). It should contain architectural drawings (and descriptions/drawings of any renovations), a site map, lighting and alarm map, floor plan (with labels), circuit breaker map, fire suppression system map, plumbing map and/or info on water shut-off valves. It's a good place for your Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), equipment warranties and manuals, and contact info for vendors or service providers. This is also where you should outline your maintenance and cleaning schedule - everything from when filters need changing to when the trees need trimming to when the cases need dusting. And last but not least, your key log should be here, along with your key & alarm code policy (or at the very least a few lines stating who gets keys). You absolutely have to know who has keys to which doors, cabinets, etc., for pretty obvious reasons. You may feel like some of this information is obvious, but as my mother likes to say, common sense isn't as common as it used to be.

Now let's talk Disaster Plans, or Emergency Preparedness Plans if you prefer that term. This isn't something you can buy nor is it something that should just be sitting on some shelf. This is a living, breathing document. If it is more than 5 years old, if it wasn't revised the last time there was a board or staffing change, if it doesn't account for a new & major acquisition, then it is out of date. And the thing about emergencies is that when they strike, it can be a pretty scary and emotional thing, so having a plan to guide you through the process is crucial. Knowing who is responsible for what, and having checklists, phone lists, and basic instructions will be your best friend when something bad happens.

There were two other areas in this chapter that really jumped out at me - insurance and facility rental. These are areas that I know some museums struggle with - insurance is an expensive headache and renting out the museum space can be terrifying. This wasn't in the book, but we always point people to the CMA's insurance program. As for facility rentals, I really appreciated the author's discussion on mission-based building use and the list of questions to address in shaping a policy. There is a lot of inconsistency in how museum's handle rentals, and there often seems to be a reactionary approach to policy development, so forcing some discussions in advance and comparing notes a bit more sounds good to me.

The next three chapters in the book deal with people - staff, volunteers, and interns. There are some common threads through these chapters and tons of great info in good detail, such as the need for job descriptions, hiring qualified people, and regular evaluations. There is often a fear that setting goals and evaluating volunteers will be "asking too much" or might "drive them away", but it is just part of operating a professional organization. You need to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of your staff and volunteers, and provide constructive feedback and opportunities for growth. We are not hobbyists, we are professionals. The section on internships is very transferable to other roles; ensuring that projects and tasks are matched to the person's skill and knowledge levels, and ensuring that the internship is mutually beneficial.
And don't forget to keep this personnel info on file to protect all parties involved.

The final chapter in the book talks about collaboration. As an intro, the author says we need to collaborate because "times are hard, sharing resources helps them go further, collaboration can increase your audience, and collaboration can make your project more attractive to grant-making agencies." This is all true. I would also add that collaboration is a way to gain an outside perspective on your museum. We're always so busy that it can be tough to take a step back for perspective or a step out into the unknown, and collaborating can help you get over those hurdles. When we think about which museums are thriving, our list consists of museums who connect with other museums, community groups, businesses, etc., and aren't afraid of trying non-traditional museum stuff. It can be difficult to capture the myriad ways we could be collaborating. But this book does a good job of arguing the point, providing suggestions on how to start, how to identify potential partners, and how to manage and assess the partnership. It includes a sample management agreement and case studies for inspiration. It's a heavy topic, but the author does a great job of breaking it down.

One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind as I was reading this book and writing this post was that we need to better document what we do for future museum workers. If you've got a good system figured out, then you should write it down so everyone can be on (and stay on) the same page. Those organizational documents can then serve as excellent training resources for summer staff, volunteers, board members, and new staff. If/when you leave the museum, they serve as foundational and crucial guides for your successor(s).

So that's it for book 3. All in all, a very impressive read that I will definitely be recommending.

Check out my reviews of the other books in the series:
Book 1: Leadership, Mission and Governance
Book 2: Financial Resource Development and Management
Book 4: Reaching and Responding to the Audience
Book 5: Interpretation: Education, Programs and Exhibits
Book 6: Stewardship: Collections and Historic Preservation

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