Friday, June 30, 2017

June 2017 Update

Membership Renewal
Yes it is that time of year. Renewal packages were mailed out a couple weeks ago, and renewals have started to trickle in. Let me know if there are any questions about the information, and thanks for handling this in a timely manner.

Museum Evaluation Program
Hard to believe but it is almost time for site evaluations. Next week we are having our Evaluator Orientation day, and the week after that they hit the road to visit the 28 Nova Scotia Museum sites. In the office we are still busy reviewing Documentation Review submissions and wrapping up final details in the briefing notes. And then it will be time to launch into Site Reports. As you can tell, this is a very intense program to operate...no time to rest between tasks or stages.

Given the amount of work required to shift this program into an Accreditation Program, the Steering Committee decided to form a working group to focus on updating the evaluation questions. Don't worry, this isn't a major overhaul. But we do have a list of questions that museums and/or evaluators found awkward last year, and got some great feedback from Candace Matelic on rewording some questions in the community section. So we're going to take a day and look at those and see if we can improve the clarity and user-friendliness.

Site Visits
Digitization training at the
Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum
Sandi has been enjoying life on the road this month and has already seen many museum staff and volunteers. Two digitization hub training sessions have taken place, the first at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum on June 3rd, and the second at the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives on June 14th. So far 56 people have been trained in artifact photography and scanning, and the photos coming out of these sessions are really fantastic. 163 artifacts got digitized this month, with multiple photos of each one. These will make great additions to the collections databases and to NovaMuse. Very exciting! If you haven't signed up for one of the four remaining digitization training sessions, there is still time. Just get in touch with Sandi and she can fill you in on all the details.

CollectiveAccess
We've heard from a few summer students that they are feeling overwhelmed by their work assignments and steep learning curve - understanding museum standards and a database and digitization...it's a lot. So make sure you're checking in with your students regularly and providing them with the guidance they need. We are here to help and answer questions, but their first go-to should be their supervisor. As we've been saying a lot lately, use the help text, watch the YouTube tutorials, and read the manual. You can also refer to your Problems browse feature and the Quality Alerts widget to learn more about issues that need to be cleaned up. As a reminder, the Quality Alerts widget will display items on loan so that you can make sure your loan records are current. Permanent loans are an oxymoron and a bad thing for you to have lying around. If you need to reconcile old loans, check out our guide on the subject.
The last thing you want is a student guessing how to document things correctly. Many, many headaches will result.
Also, don't forget to set your access for media files that get attached to the database. Every image, audio or video file needs will remain invisible on NovaMuse unless you set the media to "accessible to public", and it appears that a lot of people have been missing this step. So let's release those images so people can see the artifacts we're telling them about.

In more positive news, we are seeing good progress in tackling those data entry and digitization backlogs now that extra help is here for the summer. 838 new records and 1,743 new images were entered this month, which means we now collectively have 287,256 artifacts documented with 139,551 associated images. Well done everyone!
Here's what the numbers look like at the regional level:
Southwest - 125,281 artifacts, 57,584 images
Central - 99,572 artifacts, 40,925 images
Northeast - 32,974 artifacts, 27,233 images
Cape Breton - 29,429 artifacts, 13,809 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most records and images this month! Great work!

For your image of the month, let's do something a little patriotic shall we? Here's a beautiful maple leaf patch. For items like this, remember that you can digitize them with and without the scale, using the non-scaled image as your primary image for NovaMuse, and keeping the scale image in your database for quick reference. You can see how a scale would be very distracting in this shot. In terms of 'fixing' this shot, you'll notice a sort of greyish line that runs through from the top left to bottom right. Play with your lighting and camera settings to make sure that your image is evenly lit and doesn't have shadows in any areas.

NovaMuse Redesign
Thank you to everyone who completed a survey about NovaMuse. 45 museum workers filled in the museum contributor survey, and 75 members of the general public completed the visitor survey. This is a fantastic return rate that blew us away. Everyone gave great input and we are using this to enhance the search features and overall design of the site. Early mock-ups look great and we've really just started the process.

After much consternation, I have finally resolved an issue with comments being left on NovaMuse. Basically there was a big clog and notifications weren't coming through properly. Now that this is resolved I am reaching out to museums that have had comments left on their artifact records. If you hear from me about this, please let me know asap if a comment can be made public. Some comments were left quite awhile ago and it would be great to add all this crowd-sourced information to NovaMuse so everyone can enjoy and learn from it.

Advisory Service Training Survey
After compiling the results of the NovaMuse contributor survey, it is clear that more training on CollectiveAccess is something that many members would benefit from. Lack of training was identified as the second biggest obstacle in regards to CollectiveAccess work, only surpassed by a lack of time. Since we circulate an Advisory Service satisfaction survey on an annual basis, we decided that it was time to adapt that into something much more informative that would allow us to address the issues we saw in the NovaMuse surveys. Since this survey is strictly for Advisory Service museum members, the link has been circulated by email. If you are part of the Advisory Service and did not receive the link, let me know and I will get it to you asap.

And speaking of training, here are some dates to save! Firstly is our annual general meeting and symposium on September 22nd. The symposium is going to be a real mixed bag of helpful sessions and info in response to issues we saw in last year's evaluations. Trust me, you won't want to miss this.
Secondly, CCI is coming to Halifax with their Emergency and Disaster Preparedness workshop on November 8 & 9th. We are already getting calls and emails from across the country about this workshop. People are very, very interested in it. We will be opening registration for the workshop in September, so watch the Beacon & our Facebook page for the announcement and be sure to jump on this right away. We don't want Nova Scotian organizations to miss out.

Made in Nova Scotia
We are pretty swamped with other tasks at present, but have continued to make a it of headway in our Made in Nova Scotia database. Kassandra added another 20 shipbuilders this month, and I reconciled 32 furniture makers (most already had profiles so I was just updating records with more details). Sandi has been collecting more resources from museums as she has been travelling. Huge thanks to everyone who has pulled & copied information for her. This is really appreciated and we love how this resource is growing.

SME Work
Kassandra has been busy on the SME front, reviewing military badges with Gary. Next week she meets with Terry to look at agricultural items. As you can imagine, there are a lot of items that fit both these criteria, but we'll see how much we can get through before the end of summer. So far, about 60 artifacts have had a preliminary review.

#150Touchstones
The public has spoken, and the students have spoken, and if you read the last Beacon, you know we've just drawn to see which museums will host a theatrical presentation of #150Touchstones this fall. Sandi is currently confirming with the selected schools and museums that they do indeed want to host a presentation event, after which we will announce the names & places.

That's all for this month. Happy Canada Day everyone!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 2017 Update

Meetings
If April was the month of regional meetings, May felt like the month of committee meetings.

IMAC met on May 15th to discuss the Advisory Service, and in particular the NovaMuse Redesign (more on that later!). They had surveyed online collections websites and as we talked about the results of this work, came up with some very clear ideas about future directions.

ETT met on May 17th, and focused entirely on planning for our Fall AGM & Symposium. This was a small but mighty group as a few people couldn't attend, but by the end of an hour we had a pretty great draft schedule outlined.

DDPDG (Digitization & Digital Preservation Discussion Group) held a teleconference on May 25th which Kassandra, Sandi and I all participated in. We talked about a number of things, but the most interesting one to me was about preserving information shared and/or gathered on social media, and incorporating that into collections records. It sounds like everyone is struggling with this.

Museum Evaluation Program
The provincial Nova Scotia Museum sites are halfway through the evaluation process now, as Documentation Reviews were submitted by May 5th. With the average number of files submitted being 72, this means that a lot of reading is happening now as we go through and score these questions. Briefing notes for evaluators are also being drafted, giving them info on each museum they'll be visiting in July. And speaking of, travel arrangements are almost completed for the evaluation teams.
Further behind the scenes, the Museum Evaluation Program Committee met on May 3rd (there's another meeting!) to review a number of documents and discuss accreditation. Some decisions have been made, and once we finalize a bit more info we'll let you know where you can read more about the Accreditation Program.
Anita, Kassandra and I met with Dr. Candace Matelic on May 23rd to discuss the community section of the evaluation. Candace teaches our Museums & Community course and is an international leader in community engagement work. Being able to toss around ideas with her and figure out how to really assess a museum's community engagement was very interesting and enlightening. We took a lot of notes, photocopied Candace's notes that she wrote up in advance of the meeting, and are feeling good about where we can go with this section, especially in light of how many museums struggled with it during last year's evaluations.

CollectiveAccess
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loves cake...one more reason why
we love CollectiveAccess
Kassandra Hanslep has joined us for a summer internship to complete her Museum Management & Curatorship Diploma from Fleming College. She's tackling a number...okay a lot...of tasks for us. One of the first of these was to review & update the help text in CollectiveAccess. It's still being edited, but we hope that the new version will make documentation standards even clearer for everyone. As I mentioned last month, please please PLEASE make sure your incoming summer students and new workers are using the help text. It will tell you what to enter, how to format it, and if followed you'll have wonderful, professional information in your database. If it isn't followed, you will have a lot of headaches and extra work to clean it all up. If you haven't already, check out our YouTube tutorial on Error Assessment tools in the database.

We have also done an assessment of the Sub-Type field and realized that pretty much all of that data is dirty. People have entered materials (which should be in the Materials field), or duplicated the object name (which obviously goes into the Object Name field). So we are going to slowly be cleaning this out, and then deleting the Sub-Type field from CollectiveAccess. Please stop using this field, and please remember to use the help text.

For a number of museums, the backlog of paperwork has been all entered into the database which means they are focusing on scanning and photographing the collection. And that really reflects the database work this month. 192 new records and 1,008 new images were added. I guess this means the summer cavalry has started to arrive! Overall we have 286,418 artifacts documented with 137,808 associated images. These are great numbers, but what we should be seeing is a closing of the gap between records and images. If you are seeing that gap narrow in your own database, that means you're on the right track. If you aren't seeing this gap narrow, that means it's time to look at your work plan, ask some tough questions, and potentially readjust.

Regionally, here's the breakdown:
Southwest - 124,592 artifacts, 56,655 images
Central - 99,447 artifacts, 40,466 images
Northeast - 32,955 artifacts, 26,895 images
Cape Breton - 29,424 artifacts, 13,792 images

NovaMuse Redesign
We've already been rather vocal about this, but we received federal funding to overhaul NovaMuse. We're pretty excited about this. It's grown so much since it was launched in 2012, and technology has progressed so much, that we need to clean it up, make things easier to find, and add in some new features. For those of you who remember my 2010 summer site visits, we talked about what you wanted to see in a new database system, and customized CollectiveAccess to meet those needs. We also dreamed about an online collections website and what that might look like. So now is the time for you to share your insights again. This is your website, your program, so we need to hear what you want it to look like. We also need to hear from NovaMuse visitors to find out what they want the site to be and do. Kassandra has done up two surveys to help inform this work. These have already been circulated by email, but here they are again. If you work or volunteer at a museum that contributes to NovaMuse, please complete this 3-minute survey. In order to help us get responses from NovaMuse users, please share this 2-minute public survey on your social media channels. Feel free to complete this second survey yourself as well, since the questions are quite different. The more input we get, the better we can make NovaMuse.
We've had an initial redesign meeting with Whirl-i-gig about this (yes, one more meeting) to share the results of IMAC's work and to brainstorm, and Seth & Sophie are looking forward to receiving the survey results from both the museums and the public. We are hitting the ground running!

Made in Nova Scotia
We continue to pick away at Made in NS info. Sandi has finished with the book on carvers, and Kassandra has started on Sails of Fundy by Stanley T. Spicer. I'm still working on MacLaren's Nova Scotia Furniture book. As Sandi travels around this summer, be sure to have your own local industries info ready for her. Better yet, email her in advance of the visit so she knows what you have, and can either let you know we've already worked through that resource, or figure out how we can copy or borrow it to get it into the database. We will not borrow artifacts or anything else from your collection, but are very keen to know about your reference library or other research resources.

SME Work
Last year you'll remember that Heather worked with Joleen Gordon to improve information about baskets. We lovingly referred to Joleen as our SME (subject matter expert). This summer we have partnered with four new SMEs and will be looking at agricultural, marine, and military artifacts. The lists of artifacts have already been circulated to our SMEs, and Kassandra will be working with them over the summer. As with last year, we are making no guarantees about how many artifacts will be reviewed, or what kinds of improved will be made. Museums will be informed if the work reveals more info about their collection.

#150Touchstones
The second phase of Touchstones came to a close on May 18th. During phase 2, Canadian History 11 students across the province had fun selecting artifacts for the virtual exhibit and interactive storytelling components of this project. They selected a wide variety of artifacts, everything from sports equipment to a commemorative plate. If you voted during phase 1, you'll be happy to hear that the students selected a lot of items from the top 600 artifacts chosen by the public. The top 150 items will be revealed shortly.
What's next? For phase 3, we will work with classes that participated in phase 2. They will be given the opportunity to engage in an interactive presentation, which will utilize audio-visual techniques to tell the stories of the artifacts selected by the students. Two museums will also be selected to host this presentation. A lottery will take place shortly to select these museums. To be eligible, a museum had to promote #150Touchstones during the earlier phases of the project.
This is exciting stuff, and while we didn't have as many schools participate as we'd hoped, we are hopeful that Touchstones can serve as a pilot for future NovaMuse & high school collaborations.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Introducing Ms. Hanslep

Hello! My name is Kassandra Hanslep and I am joining ANSM this summer as an intern. This internship will finishup my studies at Fleming College in the Museum Management and Curatorship graduate certificate program. I am excited to be in Halifax for a fun and busy summer!

Originally from Toronto, my family moved out of the city after I finished high school, now residing just south of Collingwood, Ontario. I completed my undergraduate degree in History at Western University (formerly University of Western Ontario). While I loved reading and writing about history, I was looking for a way to apply my studies outside of academia. This led me to my first museum experience – helping to curate a historical photography exhibit at the Dufferin County Museum & Archives.

Having fallen in love with museum work, I spent the following summer working at The Collingwood Museum. I was lucky enough to be there as they were undertaking a reorganization project of their largest storage room as part of CCI’s RE-ORG Canada. This involved moving every single artifact out of storage, and back in once new storage furniture had been installed. I was accepted back at The Collingwood Museum for the next summer as well, allowing me to expand on my Collections Management knowledge and work.
I feel privileged to be at ANSM as part of my museum journey. I look forward to taking in all of Nova Scotia’s beautiful scenery, friendly people, and delicious seafood!

Friday, April 28, 2017

April 2017 Update

Meetings!
Northeast Regional Meeting
The first regional meeting of the Spring, this group met at the Museum of Industry on April 11th. It was quite a full house, with a few new faces which is always nice. The group did a roundtable to update everyone on various activities. Busy times over the winter, and busy times preparing for the summer season! Thanks to Andrew of MOI who gave a tour of the museum after the meeting finished. It's always great to get inspired by what other museums do.

Southwest Curators' Group Meeting
The second regional meeting was April 21st at the Kings County Museum in Kentville. Big thanks and applause to Bria and Kate for being such great hosts, and for having such a spread of snacks and
treats for everyone. Since these museums circulate reports in advance via the listserv, there was a very quick roundtable, we gave updates on ANSM activities as well as provincial and federal news, and the group had a discussion about some pressing issues in the Southwest that they wanted to address as a group. That's one of the great opportunities of regional groups - to advocate about important issues. We're all keeping fingers crossed that the letter being sent to a certain municipality will help to bring some positive results. A special guest joined the meeting for the afternoon - the inimitable Val Lenethen came out of retirement to give a talk on collections rationalization. It was a great, casual learning experience that everyone seemed to enjoy.

Central Region Heritage Group Meeting
Today was the final regional meeting of the month, hosted by the HRM Archives. Thanks to Susan for being a great host, providing treats, and for showing people around the archives after the meeting. It was another great turn out, and now we have a set of 3 photos of museum people sitting around tables. And I have just noticed that I always seem to sit in a corner...strange. Again we had a roundtable with everyone reporting on their museum's activities. So much going on!! We gave our updates, and Kellie had to lots share about HRM Municipality activities. One of the key lessons from this meeting was the importance of communicating with your local politicians. This group took on some advocacy work recently and are now waiting for final word on some additional support. When the latest news was shared, everyone was reminded that they needed to build relationships with their municipal councillors and other politicians. When it came time to advocate for support, the relationships were established and the job was much easier. A number of people chimed in about how relationships with politicians had helped their museums. So if you aren't already doing it, invite politicians to your events, send them holiday greeting cards and thank you cards when they do show up and when they do help you out. Make sure every politician in your riding, no matter if they are municipal, provincial, or federal, knows about your museum and its work.

Museums 101
We had a great group of 18 participants for our Museums 101 course, hosted by the Yarmouth County
Museum & Archives on April 6-7th. As with the regional meetings we had some new and familiar faces. We had some really good discussions. It's always more fun to facilitate when people ask questions and want to talk through things. Again we need to give a shout out to Nadine and her team for being such great hosts and especially for keeping us so well fed. The lunches and snacks kept us well energized. The next Museum Studies Certificate program course is Museums & Community and it will be happening May 25-26th at the Age of Sail Heritage Centre in Port Greville. There are still a couple spots left if you haven't registered yet, and don't be afraid to put yourself on the wait list if it is full when you try to register.

Museum Evaluation Program
Things are really ramping up with this year's evaluations. Museums are actively uploading their submissions for Documentation Review (due May 5th), and there are lots of Q&A emails being circulated for last minute tips and clarifications. Site evaluations are all scheduled for July, and we've started to work on travel arrangements for the evaluation teams.
Behind the scenes, the Steering Committee is meeting next week to finalize some documents about accreditation. I've said this in the past, but this committee is really great; very engaged and committed to developing a solid program and process for the museums of Nova Scotia. We've been editing documents via email discussions, and now it's time to sit down again in person. We'll be sure to announce via the Beacon when fresh information is available on our website.

CollectiveAccess and NovaMuse
Database work is always ongoing, and this month was no exception. We now collectively have 286,226 entries with 136,800 associated images. This means that another 332 records and 613 images got added this month. Great! And it's still the off-season! Speaking of which, we need to have a serious talk for a minute. When your summer staff come on board, it's really, really critical for you to train them in documentation standards and database use. We have spent a lot of time and money in helping to clean up data and give you recommendations for improvements. You have spent a lot of time and resources on getting your database to its current level. You don't want dirty data going into your system, and you definitely don't want to be broadcasting bad info online. It will create massive headaches that make you look unprofessional and require a lot more effort to clean up. It's important to remember that not everyone enjoys or is adept at collections documentation work. If you have a student or volunteer whose brain doesn't work that way, don't let them mess up your data. Trust me, it's not worth it.

Now let's look at those monthly regional statistics shall we?
Southwest - 124,592 artifacts, 56,657 images
Central - 99,289 artifacts, 39,850 images
Northeast - 32,922 artifacts, 26,401 images
Cape Breton - 29,423 artifacts, 13,792 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most records and images this month! We're looking forward to seeing lots of great, clean database work happening over the summer.

Fleming Project
We have wrapped up this partnership for another year, which means another 270 database records were improved. Kudos to the students for their hard work, and for all the amazing info they dug up! This was the 6th year for this partnership, and I can definitively say it was the best for research. Whether it was finding information on a British watchmaker, American photographer, or Nova Scotian military unit, these students uncovered some amazing new details and context for these artifacts.
Here's one of the adopted artifacts from this year for your image of the month:
What a dapper gent in his top hat! Ideally we'd have no shadows in this image, but otherwise it's a great angle to see the 3 dimensions, and additional photos show the side, back, and inside (including the milliner's label) views so a viewer can see the whole thing. With hats it is very important to photograph them on a head form. That's really the only way to demonstrate how the hat was worn, and how it would sit on the head. Otherwise your hat photos can end up looking lopsided or hide details (especially with women's hats that have ribbons or other bits that dangle).

Made in Nova Scotia
In geeky exciting news, I finally finished entering the silversmith info into the Made in NS database.
Phew! What a long haul. Sandi is still plugging through carvers. We are both feeling good about the progress being made, getting a few new or updated entries reconciled every day. I have now moved on to a little book by George MacLaren (former NSM curator) on furniture, and am happy to report that we'll be getting more copies of MacLaren's research notes to beef up the furniture section as well. Thanks to our friends at the Nova Scotia Museum for partnering with us on this.
Since we started this "picking away at it" approach, we've added over 300 new entries to the system, and have enhanced many existing entries.
If you are wondering what artisans or businesses we have in the database from your area, send me an email and I can give you a little report. Or if you've got some local history books or resources that discuss local industries or artisans, be in touch! We want to add to our stockpile, and can quickly tell you whether or not we've already worked through a book. As I mentioned last month, we are particularly interested in shipbuilding and marine-related resources right now (but we really will take anything).

#150Touchstones
Sandi has been busy with Touchstones, recruiting schools and teachers to partner with us and have their students identify their top picks for the virtual exhibit and interactive storytelling phases. As you can imagine, local connections are pretty powerful. So if you know a grade 11 history teacher in your area please be in touch with them about participating. We want every region of the province to be included in this project, and need museums to advocate for their collections in their communities to make this a reality.
We're extending the deadline a bit but it is still fast approaching...sort of like the end of the school year. More info here.


That's "all" for this month. Lots more on the go next month so stay tuned for more updates!

Friday, April 7, 2017

#150Touchstones Update

As many of you may already know, phase two of #150Touchstones has launched!  If you are new to ANSM and our Canada 150 project: Touchstones, welcome! In this post, I will provide a brief summary of the project so far and share what we have planned for the future! But first, I invite you to follow us on our various social media platforms to receive project updates: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube
NovaMuse Pinterest: Curiosity Cabinet 1

On the NovaMuse Pinterest page, you will find inspiration for Touchstones activities! The board titled, Touchstones (Canada 150 project) contains a selection of 300 artifact images from NovaMuse that will act as a guide for teachers and students during phase two. Curiosity Cabinet 1, Curiosity Cabinet 2, Curiosity Cabinet 3, Curiosity Cabinet 4, and Curiosity Cabinet 5 are for Sample Project 3 - more on this later. Want to find out which museums have these artifacts in their collections? A list for Sample Project 3 has been included at the end of this post.

Unsure how to navigate NovaMuse? Check out the #NovaMuseTutorials on ANSM's YouTube page. Be sure to subscribe to receive notifications for new releases!
NovaMuse Pinterest: Curiosity Cabinet 2
During the initial phase of Touchstones, ANSM and its member museums asked the public to select their favourite items from museum collections on NovaMuseDuring the initial phase, the public voted for over 600 artifacts that helped shape Nova Scotia’s role in confederation and the evolution of Canada. 
What is NovaMuse? NovaMuse is a collection of collections. Museums collect material culture and documentary evidence of our past. Many of these community museums serve multiple functions, also operating as archives, art galleries, cultural and interpretive centres. Each has its own focus – based on community boundaries (town, county or province), industries (mining, shipbuilding, etc.) or specific themes (fishing, military, etc.). These collections are held in the public trust, and museums work to preserve, research, interpret and exhibit the objects in their care. This website enables contributors to showcase their collections online regardless of their geographical location, physical space or hours of operation. 
NovaMuse Pinterest: Curiosity Cabinet 3




The second phase of Touchstones launched in March 2017. ANSM is now partnering with Canadian History 11 teachers and students across Nova Scotia. Narrowing down the list of 600+ objects, students will select and curate the final 150 artifacts that they feel best fit the project's theme. The final artifacts will be featured in a virtual exhibit on NovaMuse. 




A packet containing project information and lesson plan ideas has been sent to Canadian History 11 teachers across Nova Scotia. If you have not received your packet, please contact: advisory@ansm.ns.ca. Received your packet? Please send an email to confirm participation as soon as possible.
We ask that students complete the Opportunity for Independent Study activity in the packet. There are also three sample projects in the packet that relate to the Canadian History 11 curriculum (see below). Teachers, please use these as inspiration for your own lesson plans. Each activity is meant to make research fun and interactive for your students.
Teachers: Please submit your students' top 30 artifacts for consideration via email: advisory@ansm.ns.ca by May 18, 2017. 
We would like to give special thanks to Virginia Stephen, a member of Arts Consultants Canada for her continued guidance and support on this project.

Note: Schools participating in the Touchstones initiative may be selected as venues for an interactive presentation, which will utilize audio-visual techniques to engage and educate students. The 150 student-curated artifacts will inform the presentation and Harry Bruce's book titled, "An Illustrated History of Nova Scotia" will frame the narrative. 6 schools will be chosen to participate in the interactive presentation through a lottery, which is scheduled to take place in May 2017.

Sample Projects:




If teachers are unable to access Pinterest, here is a list of artifacts that can be used for this activity:

















Friday, March 31, 2017

March 2017 Update

Meetings Etc.
We had a lot of committee meetings this month. As you may have noticed by now, the CNSA's Education Committee meets on a monthly basis, and is gearing up even more for the annual conference in May. In other committee news...

ETT - Our Education & Training Task Force met to talk about conference survey results (Fall symposium it is!), upcoming workshops, and other fun stuff about our professional development offerings. In exciting news, we were successful in our application for the CCI workshop on Disaster Planning, and it is now scheduled to take place on November 8-9th in Halifax.

MEP - the Museum Evaluation Program Steering Committee also met this month, and selected this year's team of evaluators. We're excited to have some returnees from last year, as well as some new faces. And they've all expressed how much they're looking forward to the evaluation work.

IMAC - While the Information Management & Access Committee didn't meet this month, they are keeping busy as they've just embarked on a website review to get ideas and inspiration for NovaMuse's next big upgrade. Committee members are reviewing two online collections sites each, and making lots of notes about their likes and dislikes. If any of you have ideas for new features or improvements to NovaMuse, please let us know. We want to have a nice big wish list at the end of the review process.

Museum Evaluation Program
In addition to committee meetings and forming up the evaluation teams, there is a lot on the go with the MEP. In terms of this year's evaluations, questions are pouring in from museums, which means lots of tips & answers to questions are circulating, and we've just opened online submissions for documentation review. Mid-March was the deadline for museums to submit blackout dates for their site evaluations, so that means that next up is the development of the site evaluation schedule. This is either a major juggling act or work of art, depending on who you talk to. Lots of drawing is involved, so I guess there is that.
We are also working on evolving the program into the Accreditation Program, which means guiding documents are being developed to address eligibility, the application process, the appeals process, and benefits of the program. We're in the final stages of developing the implementation timeline and will be updating our website with new info over the next few months. Stay tuned for more info.

CollectiveAccess & NovaMuse
We had one of those rare months where a number of records were deleted from databases, as museums are actively working on winter data clean-up projects. Some are inventorying and adjusting storage locations, some are identifying and deleting duplicate records, and others are updating old entries with new information. It's all great work; great to see our collections information being enhanced. With all the ups and downs, we now collectively have 285,894 artifacts and 136,187 images in CollectiveAccess. Wouldn't it be great if those two numbers started to converge and we had images for everything? I would love to see that, and I'm sure our online NovaMuse community would as well.

Here's the regional breakdown:
Southwest - 124,425 artifacts, 56,287 images
Central - 99,138 artifacts, 39,715 images
Northeast - 32,935 artifacts, 26,412 images
Cape Breton - 29,396 artifacts, 13,773 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most records this month and to the Northeast region for adding the most images!

In fun NovaMuse news, this September will be its 5th birthday and we are looking for ideas on how to celebrate! We're brainstorming here at ANSM, and we want you to brainstorm too! Email us your ideas. Let's see if we can come up with something really fun and engaging.

Made in Nova Scotia
Sandi and I continue to pick away at the Made in NS database. I'm still working on that epic silversmiths book by Donald Mackay, and Sandi has just started in on Deb Trask's book on gravestone and other carvers of Nova Scotia. We've now got 7,932 entries in Made in NS, so please, please please don't forget to use this field in your database. With all the additions we've been making, it is more and more likely that you can link your locally made artifacts to an artisan's or company's profile. We have big plans for this feature for our NovaMuse upgrades, but we've got to have the artifacts linked in order for this to work.
Also, if you have any local resources that would help us enhance the database, please let us know. We're working through our little stockpile, but we're always happy to add to it. Right now we are particularly thinking about shipbuilding and other marine-related businesses.

Fleming Project
The students wrapped up phase 1 of their assignment at the end of February, but have gone back to make a few more adjustments in some of the records. This means that 270 of our collections records got proofread and corrected. Isn't that great? It can be hard to find the time to go back and review one record, let along 270. Huge kudos to the class on their hard work. They are now busy in phase 2 of their assignment - selecting two items from the ten on their list and doing some extra research to enhance the record. It's still early days but we're looking forward to hearing about the students' discoveries.
As a friendly reminder, having good images is critical for the success of this project, and is critical in general. So keep up the digitization work, but be sure to take your time and get the best images possible.

Let's take one of the items from this project for our image lesson of the month. Here we have a penny,
a little, flat object. If you look in the museum's database, there are 4 images of it. How come so many? Because there are 2 with scales (the obverse and reverse), and then two without the scale. Since the scale can be distracting in such close-up shots, we left those images as "not accessible" in the database, and only published the photos without scales on NovaMuse. A couple things to notice about this shot - notice how centred the coin is and how uniform the contrasting backdrop is. The camera was set to macro (the little flower) in order to get improved focus. Never shoot detail shots without using macro.

#150 Touchstones
And last but not least, we're very excited to announce that #150Touchstones has returned! During the second phase, we are asking students studying Grade 11 Canadian History to select artifacts that they feel speak to Nova Scotia's role in the evolution of Canada. Each participating class will vote for their top artifacts on NovaMuse, creating a list of their personal favourites, and then voting as a class on their top 30 artifacts. Once this is done, we will be creating a virtual exhibit of the selected #150Touchstones and do some interactive storytelling about the items. It's going to be fun!

Looking ahead to April & May, it is regional meeting time again. I hope to see you all at your respective meetings. Lots of other news to share and discuss.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review - Guidelines: Roles and Responsibilities of Museum Boards of Trustees

If you hadn't figured it out yet, I've been going back to basics for my recent book reviews. We saw a real need for this in last year's museum evaluations, so sharing insights from our reference library is an easy way to address the issue.

So today's resource is another look at the foundations of museum work - governance. In 2005 the Canadian Museums Association partnered with the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization on a project sponsored by the Department of Canadian Heritage. They created a simple outline that anyone can follow, with the goal of making sure board members and staff "have a strong, common understanding of the roles and responsibilities of museum trustees." One of the reasons behind the resource is the increased public expectations of transparency and accountability. I think we'll all agree that without a clear understanding of your job as a board member, accountability could be a little elusive at times.

There are 4 main sections to this booklet: Public Trust, Responsibilities of the Board, Board Self-Governance, and Board Conduct. And there is also the standard introduction, additional resources, and a review of the two common board types.

I think it is important that the role of public trust is highlighted in its own little section, and that it is the first section. The authors remind us that the board's public accountability isn't just the right thing to do, but that by law, boards are publicly accountable for the museum's resources, activities, care of the collection, adherence to professional standards, and for ensuring public access.

Section 2 is all about the responsibilities of the board, and is broken down into four basic pieces - purpose, continuity, progress and identity. Very direct statements are made about what should and should not be done in each area. Some of my favourite tidbits are:
- the board should regular review the by-laws and constitution to make sure they are relevant to the museum's evolving role in society (a subtle reminder that the museum should always be growing and changing)
- former staff shouldn't be on the board for at least a few years after they leave the museum's employ, and board members should not be hired as staff
- the board develops and implements framework, operational, and advocacy policies, and monitors progress
- the board has established a long-range plan with clear objectives and outcomes, ensures that resources are available to achieve these goals, and monitors progress (I'm starting to sense a recurring theme)
- the board engages in fundraising activities. Period.
- the board must serve as a link between the community and the museum, bring community concerns and ideas to the museum and be an ambassador for the museum
- the board should be involved in discussions and activities with the broader heritage community (ie don't be insular)

Part 3 has the scary title of "Self-Governance". Cue the menacing movie music. Time and again we hear from museums that struggle in this area, especially in terms of assessing progress. If you went through the Museum Evaluation Program process last year, or are working through it this year, this stuff will sound very familiar. Recommendations include having clear bylaws, requiring quorum for meetings and decision-making, the chair playing a lead role, having job descriptions for board members, and having terms of reference for committees. One of my favourite parts of this section is on board recruitment, because succession planning is a real struggle for museums. The guidelines recommend an annual recruitment process and developing a board that is an accurate reflection of the community. The basic principles are of course to be organized, to provide good orientation information and materials to new board members, to encourage their professional development, and finally, to assess the board's work and make sure it is operating as efficiently as possible. No this is not being overly demanding of volunteers. This is good governance.

Part 4 is all about board conduct. From a discussion about meeting attendance and associated policies (ie how do you deal with someone who never comes to meetings?), to conflict of interests and adoption of a code of ethics, this section goes more in-depth about policies and procedures that every board should have in place. The discussion on liability in this section is especially helpful, as it includes a quick list of things that board members can do to minimize liability risks. The second half of this section is more about relationships. In addition to the reminders to be collegial and respect confidentiality, there are outlines for board-director relations, and board-staff relations. Outlining exactly what expectations are for board members and staff, especially in their interactions, can help you avoid a lot of trouble if personalities start to clash. The authors have provided a handy bullet list of basic expectations for both parties for quick reference.

If you are interested in reading this, or want to circulate it to your board, it is available for free online.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review-A History of Nova Scotia in 50 Objects

Book Review: 'A History of Nova Scotia in 50 Objects' by Joan Dawson 

Amazon.ca
In this text, Dawson offers a refreshing glimpse into museum treasures throughout Nova Scotia. It was a treat to see a selection of artifacts from many of our partnering museums in here as well. There are two things that Dawson did when conducting her research that I greatly admire. 1) She worked with a variety of different museums from federally operated national historic sites, provincial institutions, and heritage houses to small community museums run by volunteers and 2) she spoke to staff, volunteers, and student guides [xi]. I believe this is the approach to take when conducting research. This approach provides staff at every level a chance to contribute their knowledge and benefit from the partnership.

Dawson speaks of the diversity of Nova Scotian culture and heritage over the years and has selected fifty artifacts that reflect this. The oldest artifact featured is a fossilized amphibian from the Joggins Fossil Centre and the most recent artifact is a mask from Le Centre de la Mi-Carême (Grand-Ėtang). She even gives Gus the "living treasure" an honorable mention. The artifacts chosen provide a glimpse into everyday life in Nova Scotia. There is a wide variety of objects listed, such as: clothing, sheet music, a Canada Post mailbox, and even a stagecoach. There are also beautiful items that speak to craftsmanship in Nova Scotia, such as a Mi'kmaq procupine-quill box and Acadian hooked tapestry. Dawson also identifies objects related to transportation and industry. For instance, the importance of the railway and mining in the development of Nova Scotia is addressed through items in this text. For those of you interested in learning more about what treasures await you in Nova Scotia, this is a great place to look. 


I am happy to report that artifacts from many of our partnering museums are featured in this text. I encourage you to find the featured artifacts on NovaMuse.

DesBrisay Museum
Fort Point Museum
Kings County Museum
Colchester Historium
Shelburne County Museum
Jost Heritage House
Queens County Museum
Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum
McCulloch House Museum
Antigonish Heritage Museum
Wallace and Area Museum
Randall House Museum
Yarmouth County Museum
LaHave Islands Marine Museum
Cape Breton Miners Museum
Chestico Museum
Whitney Pier Historical Society Museum
Les Trois Pignons Cultural Centre


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February 2017 Update

Meetings
CNSA Education Committee
I mentioned last month that I sit on the CNSA Education Committee, and we had another meeting this month. Lots of planning activities for CNSA's conference: Facilitating Accessibility; Celebrating Diversity.

Margaret with her social media prize
IMAC
We had a very full IMAC meeting this month. A lot of our committee have been serving for well over two years, and so we all decided it would be good to bring in some fresh faces and give our longstanding members an opportunity to step down and take a break. Our three new members are Pam Atwell (West Hants Historical Museum), Joanne Boudreau (Fultz House), and Margaret Mulrooney (Colchester Historeum). We are really excited to have them join us. Since the Colchester Historeum recently won our #150Touchstones contest for social media participation, this gave us the perfect chance to give her the Small Museum Toolkit book series - aka the social media prize.
The committee had lots to talk about, from our Fleming College partnership, to a recent trip to Ottawa, but one of the key items on the agenda was about moving forward. Before we launched NovaMuse the committee did a review of collections websites to inform design & functionality decisions. As amazing as it is to think about, NovaMuse is going to be 5 years old this September. So we figure it's time to go through that process again to determine how we can best move forward. We have a couple ideas up our sleeves already, but I'm sure a comprehensive review will result in all sorts of fun stuff to consider.

Provincial & Territorial Museum Association (PTMA) Meetings
My long-time readers will remember that I used to go to Ottawa every year to meet with the

Heritage workers from across the country :)
Canadian Conservation Institute, Canadian Heritage Information Network, Department of Canadian Heritage reps, and ANSM's counterparts from across the country. It was a very full two days of meetings/discussions, and we also took advantage of evenings to talk even more. We were tired by the end of it, but everyone agreed that it was a very worthwhile exercise.
We heard about CCI's strategic plan, and also that they are seeing fewer applications for conservation treatments than in previous years. That makes me want to flood them with applications from Nova Scotia. So put on your thinking cap folks. If you have something in your collection that needs some conservation help, let me know and we can talk about the application process and whether or not your situation is a good fit for this service. We heard from CHIN that Nomenclature 4.0 is going to be released in digital format in the not-too-distant future. You can be sure we'll be sharing that link once it is released. We also heard about the renewal of Artefacts Canada. Plans are still in the works but let's just say we are positioned quite well here in Nova Scotia.
Other discussions were around the Museum Assistance Program. There was an acknowledgement that the program is ripe for review & updating, especially to better accommodate current technological realities. Last but not least, we heard about the 2016 Survey of Heritage Institutions, and that there will also be a 2017 survey. Apparently not a lot of really small museums participated, so we will be asking everyone to take part in this year's survey. Government is using the results to inform decision-making, and museums can use the statistics in funding applications and advocacy work...very important stuff. So let's make sure that the results reflect realities of all museums.

Museum Evaluation Program
The big milestone for the program this month was the deadline for evaluator applications. We didn't get in as many as last year, partially because we promised not to have any former NSM staff or trustees on evaluation teams this year. We want to avoid any potential or perceived conflicts of interest. So the next step is for the committee to meet and review the applications, and form up the evaluation teams. On the museum side of things, the 28 museums on the docket for this summer are busy preparing. Q&A emails are regularly circulated so that everyone is getting the same information and support. We learned a lot from last year's evaluations and so are applying those lessons to this year's process in order to make things easier for everyone. So far, so good.

CollectiveAccess & NovaMuse
February was a rather quiet month for database work. Our big migration was all done and a lot of museums were working on other tasks or taking a mid-winter break (we don't blame you, we aren't fans of February either). 202 new artifact records and 750 new images went into the databases, giving us grand totals of 285,965 artifacts and 135,967 images. These are big numbers. But if you look at NovaMuse you will 'only' see about 214,097 records and 113,827 images. So don't forget to make those records accessible to the public. The public expects to be able to see your collection online, and you have a great marketing and programming opportunity to showcase your ongoing, behind-the-scenes collections work.

Now without further ado, here are the regional stats:
Southwest - 124,644 artifacts, 56,451 images
Central - 99,006 artifacts, 39,497 images
Northeast - 32,921 artifacts, 26,246 images
Cape Breton - 29,394 artifacts, 13,773 images

It's been a few months since we've had an "image of the month", so let's visit one that will cover a couple of bases. You might remember that right now I'm picking my way through a book on Atlantic Canadian Silversmiths for our Made in Nova Scotia database. So let's take a look at some Nova Scotia silver. This medal was made by Richard Upham Marsters (1787-1845) and was first prize in an Annapolis Valley ploughing match. Nifty eh? We want to highlight our locally made artifacts, and that means getting great photographs of them.
If you're like me, when you look at this image your eye feels pulled to the lower left corner. You shouldn't feel that way when looking at an artifact photo. You want the object to be centre-frame of the shot. The scale is also opposite of what it should be. Make sure you are consistent in your scale placement - lower left, and incorporated into the framing rather than treated as part of the artifact. The final point I want to make about this image relates to Marsters' hallmark. You'll notice a little blob above the medallion part of the medal, just below where the ribbon attaches. Believe it or not, this actually says R.U. Marsters, and underneath it there is a lion passant. This is gold...or perhaps I should say silver. This is Marsters' hallmark. He stamped his work so it could easily be identified. Whenever you see these kinds of marks that identify the maker, whether it be on silver or ceramics or clothing, be sure to take a close-up photograph.

I'm going to wrap things up here for this month. Here's hoping March turns out to be a great month for museums in Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review - Crafting Effective Mission & Vision Statements

Back to the reference library we go, this time for a look at mission & vision statements. This is another area that we discovered needs to be addressed after last year's museum evaluations. A surprising number of museums are still using 1980s-styled mission statements - templates that had a few blanks to fill. Unfortunately, all those museums that still these mission statements "to collect, exhibit, interpret, research, and preserve" aren't actually saying much any more. People know what museums do. They understand we are collecting and exhibiting and preserving and all the rest. What they don't get from those old standard missions is the actual mission of that particular, unique museum. What makes it different from the museum "next door"? What is the museum really trying to accomplish in and for its community?

So without further ado let's take a peek at Emil Angelica's book, Crafting Effective Mission & Vision Statements. As soon as I opened this one I knew it was going to be good. Why? Because it kicks off with a cartoon of people in a boat, rowing in opposite directions. The person at the centre is wearing an ED (Executive Director) shirt and saying, "C'mon, put some muscle into it...we're not getting anywhere!" I love it when an author uses humour to address a serious subject. And yes, there are cartoons throughout the book. They will make you smile, nod in agreement, and maybe even remind you of a meeting or situation from your own museum.

The book is divided into 3 parts officially, but actually has 7 sections to it. The main parts are Understanding and Using Mission & Vision Statements, Developing the Mission Statement, and Developing the Vision Statements. In addition to these there is an introduction that explains why these statements are important, and at the end there is a sort of conclusion that explains the leadership benefits of crafting them and reviewing them regularly. The other two sections are appendices; one being the standard additional resources, and the other being worksheets that walk you through the statement development processes. These are fantastically helpful in tackling what can often feel like a daunting task.

The author has extensive experience in consulting with nonprofits, so launches the introduction by looking at three typical problems experienced by organizations that are lacking well-defined mission statements. I've added my peanut gallery thoughts after each of Angelica's points in an attempt to make them more concrete to museums.
1. Disjointed and competing programs (has anyone ever asked you why the museum is having a certain event? Have volunteers been at odds over which program/activity should get more resources or attention?)
2. Decreased funding (think of this as decreased support in general...fundraisers going poorly, being denied funding for summer students or special projects, difficulty finding new volunteers, etc.)
3. Poor decision-making (this isn't about any individual person, but if the board or staff tend to struggle with making changes or moving forward, or just making decisions in general, it shows the lack of direction in the museum's mission & vision statements)
While they may not use those exact words, I can think of museums that express frustration in one or more of these areas.
By comparison, states Angelica, organizations with clear and focused mission and vision statements are able to deliver unified services to their public, see an increase in funding (remember to read this as support too), feel confident in decision-making and often experience cool collaborations. Basically, people can tell when you're a healthy organization and will want to support that. But just like we try to avoid hanging out with someone who has a cold or the flu, the public doesn't want to hang out with an unhealthy museum.

Part 1 - understanding and using mission & vision statements - kicks off with a great reminder that mission statements should be short, snappy, and fit nicely on letterhead and/or business cards. They need to answer the question "what good, and for whom", and be so easy to remember that your volunteers, staff, and board can easily recite it to anyone and everyone they meet. Thinking back to all those "collection, preserve, interpret..." statements, Angelica says it best when he says that "a mission statement should separate your organization from the rest of the pack by distinguishing its work from the work of similar organizations." Once you have your mission statement, you should be using it in planning exercises, interactions with the public, marketing and fundraising efforts. Your name should become synonymous with the statement.
In thinking about the vision statement, this is big picture. It "sketches a picture of the organization's desired future in a few paragraphs. It answers two questions: What will be different in the world in three to five years because our organization exists? And, what role will our organization play in creating that difference?" Your vision statement is used differently; it should serve to keep everyone in the museum (volunteers, staff, board) focused on the same goals, can be used as a supporting document in funding applications to show how your project aligns with goals and serves your vision, and finally it serves to inform everyone in a broader way than your mission.

Part 2 reviews the steps in developing a mission statement; selecting a writing team, clarifying core values, reviewing the [museum's] underlying strategies, evaluating the current mission statement, drafting the new one (or tweaking the old), circulating it for review, and then finally adopting the new statement. Each step is reviewed in detail so you can easily understand the process, kinds of tasks to tackle and questions to ask. If you've never been part of an exercise like this before, those detailed steps will be really helpful to you.

Part 3 initially sounds like it is the same as part 2, but for the vision statement. However there are some key differences. Angelica acknowledges that not everyone has a vision statement, and sometimes people aren't sure if they should develop one or redevelop an old one. He uses a checklist of conditions to determine if it's time to create one:
- if the organization has significantly changed its mission statement
- if the organization has no agreed-on vision for the future
- if the current vision statement is at least two years old
- if staff and board changes indicate that it's time for the new leaders to create a vision statement of their own
- if so many external or internal factors have changed that the current statement is no longer valid
He also cautions that it's important to talk to your community and stakeholders before embarking on this exercise. This is a good time to think back on the organization's history, current reality, and capacity for growth. Focus groups, interviews, reading research reports, and other methods can be really helpful as you prepare for your visioning session. The steps to the development process will be similar to those in part 2; selecting a team, generating alternate visions, identifying common threads and themes from these, drafting a vision statement, circulating for review, modifying, and finally adopting the vision statement. Again each step is discussed in detail so the book really walks you through the entire process.
One of the most powerful points (at least to me) in this section was about drafting the statement. It reminds the reader of the need to keep the vision focused on the customer/client/visitor/whatever term is appropriate to your situation. Rather than talking about what your museum will do, shift the language to serving the community. For example, rather than saying you will expand kids' programming, say how many families will be supported by your "after-school at the museum days." Always remember that museums are community service organizations.

In the final summary section that outlines the benefits of crafting these statements, the author again reminds about the importance of the actual process, and how much can be learned from it. It provides you a chance to work together as an entire organization, to get valuable feedback from your community and stakeholders, and to really come together and get re-energized about your organization's work. Again this reminds me of all the conversations I've had with museums that are frustrated and feel like they're stalled; that every forward step is a battle in some way. That's when I think the worksheets in the appendices become invaluable. Instead of you having to come up with questions to ask, or a process to work through, you've got an expert (through the book) who can guide you through the process. It's not you saying the same thing over and over again. It's someone on the outside who is totally unbiased.

Honestly, I think a lot of museums need to borrow this book from us and work through its processes. Sometimes you've just got to go back to basics to give yourself that booster shot and refocus energies.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Book Review - Living Folklore: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions

Related image
As some of you may already know, I have a strong appreciation for the study of Folklore and, as a result, I am passionate about telling the stories of people, places, and things through the presentation of artifacts in museum collections. One of my personal goals this year is to share ways that you can highlight these stories in your museums and, for our partnering sites, on NovaMuse. You may be asking yourself, "What is Folklore?" In Living Folklore: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions, Sims and Stephens provides a great working definition of folklore in the first Chapter:


Folklore is informally learned, unofficial knowledge about the world, ourselves, our communities, our beliefs, our cultures and our traditions, that is expressed creatively through words, music, customs, actions, behaviors, and materials. It is also the interactive, dynamic process of creating, communicating, and performing as we share that knowledge with other people.  (8)



The study of Folklore will inspire you to identify objects that are telling of things like, tradition and performance in your collections. Everyday objects are often the best objects to start with because they help tell the stories of people, places, and events in your community. Think about how an object would have been used, who would have used it, and what it meant to that person. Ask yourself, the five W’s-who, what, where, when, and why?

Brass Band of the 112th Battalion Windsor 92.19.4
Do you have a trumpet in your collection? Was it used by a member of the Brass band of the 112th Battalion Windsor? Was it used in a parade? If there is a personal narrative for that object, be sure to fill in your narrative field in CollectiveAccess. It is those stories that speak to your audience at a museum. Did you know you can also link related objects on CA under Relationships? Neat stuff! Now all we need is a trumpet to link to this photograph. Any takers?


Another great example provided by Sims and Stephens is quilting:

Quilts are a type of material culture you may already identify as folklore. Folklorists have studied the artistry of quilts, examining the designs and colors used by different individual quilters and groups of quilters. In addition to examining the material objects themselves, folklorists have studied the informal learning process by which quilters have taught each other techniques of quilting and elements of design. Extending the community's interactions further shows how the practice of quilting can be an opportunity for social interaction, the women who are quilting sharing values and cultural knowledge while they stuff and stitch. (13-16).

I encourage you to ask yourselves how items in your collections have helped shape your community, are used within folk groups, and are telling of practices and beliefs. Sims and Stephens explore the term "folk group," a folk group "requires special knowledge of its language, behavior, and rules-spoken or unspoken. These types of communication convey and express the group's attitudes, beliefs, values, and worldview to other members of the group and often to outsiders" (31). Consider folk groups in your collections, such as the Brass Band of the 112th Battalion Windsor and link them to other artifacts in your collection to help expand the narrative. More often than not, there are already experts in your community that want to share what they know with you. I encourage you to make these connections and ask them to help you fill in the gaps in your records. Here at the office we call them our SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). Working with SMEs will not only help beef up your records, it will also build stronger ties between your institution and community.

Living Folklore also covers the following topics: Tradition (Chapter 3), Ritual (Chapter 4), and Performance (Chapter 5). I have pulled definitions for each term. I encourage you to explore your collections and ask yourself, "do artifacts in my museum speak to traditions, rituals, and/or performance?"

"What is Tradition? Both the lore we share and the process by which we share it. Something that creates and confirms identity. Something that the group identifies as a tradition" (65).

"What is Ritual? Rituals are repeated, habitual actions, but they are more purposeful than custom; rituals are frequently highly organized and controlled, often meant to indicate or announce membership in a group. Most rituals bring together many types of folklore: verbal, such as chants, recitations, poems or songs; customary, such as gestures, dance or movements; and material, such as food, books, awards, clothing and costumes" (95). 

"What is Performance? So far, we've been talking about people, texts, behavior and the many ways that folklore communicates, and now we want to consider in depth the moments in which all these pieces come together, enacted through performance ... Most often, though, performances of folklore happen naturally within daily conversations and situations. ... Performance is an expressive activity that requires participation, heightens our enjoyment of experience, and invites response" (128). 

In chapter 6, Sims and Stephens explore the different approaches to interpreting folklore: Functionalism, Structuralism, Psychoanalytic Interpretation, and Post-Structuralist Approaches. If these approaches peak your curiosity, I encourage you to explore this section of the text further. If you are interested in learning how to conduct fieldwork, Sims and Stephens do a wonderful job outlining the importance of collecting data in Chapter 7. There are great examples of general questions you can ask SMEs that will help you learn more about the history of artifacts in your collections (209):

Opening Questions:
"What do you remember ..."
"Can you describe what happens ..."
"How did you learn this process? Who did you learn it from?"

Follow-up Questions:
"You mentioned earlier ..."
"Other people have told me about their memories of the flood. What do you remember about it?"
"What does it mean to you to participate in this? [talking to a crafts person, participant of an event, etc.]
"How old were you when you learned about this?"

Feel free to experiment with these kinds of questions to fit the needs of your conversation. It is important to provide open-ended questions and leave room for casual conversation. Another important thing to do when working with your SMEs is to take fieldnotes. Sims and Stephens state that "the primary purpose of field notes is to provide the folklorist with an in-the-moment record of what happened during fieldwork" (211). It is much easier to reflect on what you have learned from your informants when you document your findings.

Sims and Stephens leave us with suggestions for activities and projects in the final chapter. A great way to grasp what folklore is and how it shapes your community is to analyse the role it plays throughout your own day-to-day routine. I challenge you to complete at least one suggested activity for personal reflection. I will leave you with one of my personal favourites:

Image result for question markWrite about a folk group of which you are/have been a member. Focus on who's in the group, how one becomes a member, group hierarchy, why members are members, etc. What characteristics do the members of each group share? How did the group form? Is it an interest-based group? Proximity? Occupation? What special traditions, customs or verbal expressions do the group members share that let them and others know they are members of the group? (275)