Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March 2020 Update

What a crazy month. If you had told me on the 1st that within two weeks we'd be closing down our office and working from home, and that schools and daycares and almost everything else would be closing down too, I would have told you to stop being so alarmist. But here we are. Thank you to everyone who has reached out with messages of solidarity and concern. Anita has been working from home on a wide variety of tasks, Sandi has just started back with us in her new role as Member Services Coordinator, and Jen is in the process of moving on to her new role as the Curator of the Kings County Museum. With a toddler at home, I am putting in as much time as I can to keep things moving along. My husband is working a rotating schedule and Allie is being a real trooper in our new temporary reality, but I won't lie and say it's easy.

Speaking of online, we are shifting what we can to online. We also recognize the need for human connection in a time of self-isolation. If you are feeling lonely, need to talk, and/or want to compare notes on how your museum is changing gears in this weird current reality, please join us for our Monday Community Connection chats.

We had to cancel our Museums 101 course that was scheduled for April, and are instead testing out another new approach. I've pulled excerpts from the course content and shifted them into 7 webinars, each 45 minutes in length. We are calling it Museum Fundamentals. Rather than a set registration fee, we are asking that you simply "pay what you can". These are taking place Wednesdays at 11am, and as with Museums 101, these are a great way to introduce board members, volunteers and staff to the museum field. Please pass on this opportunity to everyone at your museum. The next webinar is looking at definition and mission statements. If your mission statement includes the words "to collect, exhibit, interpret, research and exhibit", you'll definitely want to tune in. I'll be asking some tough questions, so come prepared to ponder!
Read more and register online.

Museum Evaluation Program
We've had a few questions about this year's evaluation schedule. Today our board is holding a special meeting to discuss options, and we will be in touch as soon as a decision has been made. We know that this is a stressful time for everyone, and each museum is dealing with it differently. Some are making amazing progress on their evaluation prep work and are actively uploading. Others are finding it difficult to shift in-person meetings to online or phone meetings.
With so many stakeholders involved, from funders to museum boards and staff, not to mention the public, we are looking at every angle, and trying to anticipate all the impacts. No matter what the board decides, we know that we will all have to work together on a solution.

CollectiveAccess Updates
An impressive amount of work has been done this month. 1,053 new records and 2,273 new images were added to the databases. Great job everyone! That brings the total to 309,336 artifacts and 223,855 images overall. In a time when people can't visit the museum in person, there is an increased interest in seeing collections online. Your hard work is paying off! People are learning, sharing and being inspired by what you've shared. Working through your backlog and enriching database records is a great way to engage with your community online. Let everyone know about your latest updates!

Here are the regional stats:
Southwest - 137,786 artifacts, 85,977 images
Central - 103,221 artifacts, 66,970 images
Northeast - 37,112 artifacts, 53,590 images
Cape Breton - 31,217 artifacts, 17,318 images

Another great way for you to engage with your community right now is by using the new NovaMuse Transcribe feature. I circulated an email announcement which included links to Sandi's YouTube tutorials. In case any museums missed it, here's the video that teaches how to set your records to be transcribable. For the public, here's the video that shows you how to transcribe museum records. Let's work together to issue a public transcription challenge. As above, broadcast your efforts!

SME Partnerships
The timing might seem odd, but we've just partnered with a new SME to learn more about spinning wheels in museum collections. We often joke about how many wheels are in collections and that we don't want or need anymore. Well, David might disagree with that latter statement. He is already seeing some exciting and rare wheels, and wants to see more. Put simply, he can't tell you more about your spinning wheels if you haven't photographed them yet. So, if you are at home working on plans for the summer/fall, be sure to add digitization of spinning wheels to your list. For those of you that already have some spinning wheel photos in your database, we will be in touch.

Remember when Sandi visited museums with our SMEs and filmed some of the sessions? These recordings are now featured on NovaMuse. Check out the four galleries to explore the records examined by Terry, Joleen, and Gary. Terry examined agricultural tools, Joleen examined baskets, and Gary examined military insignia.

We also did a few virtual sessions with Eric who examined ships portraits. As you flip through the records in these galleries, click the blue "view record" button to see the recordings. The recordings will display as a thumbnail with the associated images of the artifact (as seen above). Please note that not all records have recordings in the galleries. Click here to listen to Eric's description of reef points! Are you more of a basket enthusiast? Joleen compared two baskets, one made of poplar and the other made of ash. Ox yokes more your cup of tea? Check out this description by Terry. Interested in learning more about items used in the First and Second World War? Why not start with Gary's discussion on battle dress? These are only a few of the recordings featured in these galleries. The best part is you can explore these records from home and learn from experts in the field. Looking for homeschooling materials? This is a great place to start!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review - 101 Museum Programs Under $100: Proven Programs that Work on a Shoestring Budget

image from rowman.com
For those of you that follow us on Facebook, you'll know we enjoyed a bit of book buying over the past year or so thanks to some amazing sales. And you might even recognize this title since we profiled it on Facebook as well. It hasn't been in our reference library as long as most of the other books, but it has been a popular one to borrow. 

If you're like me, collections is what attracted you to museum work. So coming up with ideas for programs, let alone developing and implementing and evaluating programs, can feel a bit daunting. Laura Hunley's book, published in 2018 by Rowman & Littlefield, aims to help. She notes in the preface that budget cutbacks at her museum meant that many programs had to be put on hold. She "began looking for other innovative and inexpensive museum programs to adapt, and the deeper [she] looked, the more [she] realized a few things: (1) Museum professionals are creative, resourceful, and innovative. We do so much with so little; and (2) [She] couldn't be the only one looking for these types of programs. Thus, 101 Museum Programs Under $100 was born." How great is that? What a perfect example of the sharing nature of our profession. 

The result of her efforts, aka this book, is essentially a catalogue of options. This is a very quick and easy read. There are only six chapters - programming for today, for children and families, for teens and young adults, for adults, and for multigenerational audiences. The final chapter talked about adapting, expanding and implementing programs. As appendices, Hunley offers up program planning checklists and worksheets, as well as the contact information for all the museums that contributed program examples. If you liked what you read but want to learn more, you can easily reach out. 

If you want to develop a new program, tweak an existing one, or are just interested in seeing what else is going on in museums, this is a good place to start. The examples are American but are very transferrable. Each example is shared as a profile, outlining target audience, attendance, overview, budget, interpretive components, staff time requirements, audience time requirements, scalability, and an analysis. In the analysis, Hunley often offers suggestions on how to adjust the program to work in different sized spaces or to accommodate smaller or larger audiences. 

This is the sort of book that will speak to different people in different ways. Using Hunley's terminology, it is very scalable. As I read, I encountered programs that I've helped to develop and deliver, ones I've participated in, ones I've heard about, and ones that I would love to see in our museums. Some are pretty traditional in nature and have been delivered for decades, and others really embrace the ideals of community service and engagement and would likely make some traditionalists very uncomfortable. 

I often share quotable quotes from the books I read. This time around, I'd like to share the programs that jumped out at me. These are not in order of preference, but simply in the order they appear in the book.

1. Summer STEAM: Signal Flags and Semaphore - kids learn some signals and create their own flag messages. Pretty applicable to our maritime province.
2. Teddy Bear Tea - a formal tea party for kids and their stuffies. So many museums in Nova Scotia offer teas as part of their programming, so why not extend this to younger audiences?
3. Teen Corps - a volunteer program for teens, where they get to help out with various museum initiatives, gaining transferrable skills and experience, and giving them the chance to share their local knowledge and perspectives. 
4. Words on Canvas - a writing competition for college students, where they are asked to write a piece of poetry that was inspired by something in the museum's collection. Submissions become bonus interpretive text/labels for their associated objects. I've seen this done and it is VERY effective.
5. Member Preview Day - open house for members only, to launch new exhibits. Perk for members and a way for the museum to test out the flow and effectiveness of the new exhibit. Win-win. I've worked these events and you can definitely learn a lot by watching how people interact with each other, the space and exhibit.
6. SPARK! Cultural Programming for People with Memory Loss - for people with early to mid-stage memory loss and their caregivers, participants do basic activities that help with cognitive functions and maintaining motor skills, and talk about community history and old photos.
7. Culture Me Mine Date Night - something for couples, but could easily work for pairs or small groups. A scavenger hunt, game show-style quiz, and craft activity make this a fun night out. 
8. Poetry N' Rhythm - a monthly open-mic event where musicians, artists, storytellers etc. are invited to share their talent. Anyone else think this sounds a lot like some Celtic Colours events?
9. Nicole Carson Bonilla: A Cowgirl's Legacy - a personal storytelling of one family's western experience. Hunley says it best, "every community contains characters with unexpected and even surprising stories. These life histories provide commentary and new viewpoints on historic narratives and changing community cultures."
10. Echoes of the Past Cemetery Tours - costumed volunteers portray people who are interred in the cemetery and share their life stories with participants. I've played one of these characters and also hear about this happening in multiple NS communities.
11. Star Parties - community stargazing! As simple or as complex as you want, provided someone can help people read the sky, and come up with a few simple activities and/or challenges. 
12. Veterans Day Program - similar to the cowgirl legacy above, this program invites veterans to share their stories and experiences, and create their own personal shadowbox exhibit.
13. Yule Log Hunt - a community scavenger hunt, where people solve local history riddles to find the hiding spot of the log. The yule log could be swapped out for almost any sort of identifiable local item.

So those are my highlights. I hope they sound interesting. 
If you want to have a sneak peek, there is a preview available through Google Books. 
If you want to borrow this book from us, click here

Friday, February 28, 2020

February 2020 Update

Here we are at the end of month #2 of our consolidation year. February didn't feel as busy as January, but there was still a lot on the go, and we were able to wrap up and consolidate some more things.

We did a lot of running around in February, and a lot of sitting on the phone or computer for virtual meetings. I sit on the CNSA's Education Committee and we are actively planning and preparing for the annual spring conference. We had two meetings and a lot of email discussions this month.

The Digitization & Digital Preservation Discussion Group held a mostly virtual meeting (a few people were in a room together in Ottawa) and had some great chats about issues facing museums across the country. I shared a snapshot of our recent survey of time-based media holdings, and there was a lot of talk about legacy equipment and software. This group is really generous in its information sharing.

The meeting that will likely be of most interest to our readers took place last week, when Anita and I met with CCH staff to talk about CMAP. We shared the realities and individualities of museums in the program and beyond, and talked about the evolution of CMAP. We know everyone is keen to hear news of the program and potential changes, and we are feeling optimistic that there will be some news soon.

Museum Evaluation Program
As one final wrap-up to the 2019 evaluations, we were very pleased to release the big, overarching annual report this month. Download it here. Annual reports for every year of the MEP are available on our website, and provide an overview of the program and look at trends and issues facing museums across the province. Each report ends with a "moving forward" section, which shares thoughts on key issues and how we can collectively progress.

Two more Q&A emails went out, and lots more questions came in, so I've slightly increased the frequency of messages. It's interesting to see which questions come in from year to year, and the different approaches that museums take in preparing for their evaluation. On our end, I've updated a number of administrative and internal support files relating to the MEP, including the post-evaluation survey that will be circulated in the fall.

It was a very busy month for the the MEP Working Group. We welcomed 3 new members - Joe Ballard (Little White Schoolhouse Museum & ANSM board member), Lynette de Montreuil (DesBrisay Museum), and Matthew Hughson (Fisherman's Life Museum). We also received and reviewed an impressive number of applications from people wanting to serve as evaluators this year. As we've said in previous years, the credentials of applicants is impressive, and it was difficult to limit our selections to the number of people needed.

Looking at Accreditation, we're working with a local communications company on branding and marketing. We had a great first meeting, have had numerous emails and calls since then, and our consultant is just as excited as we are to share the results of this work with everyone in the Spring (not to mention we're excited to honour those museums that have received this designation).

CollectiveAccess Updates
When I reviewed the stats this month of new and updated records, I saw a lot of activity. Most of this related to updating records. The Fleming students alone updated 320 records, and museum staff and volunteers updated many, many more. In addition to this, 489 new records and an impressive 2,353 new images (and a few videos) were added to the databases.
Here are the regional stats:
Southwest - 137,053 artifacts, 85,800 images
Central - 103,124 artifacts, 64,897 images
Northeast - 36,890 artifacts, 53,570 images
Cape Breton - 31,216 artifacts, 17,315 images

We finished the testing of the new Transcribe feature on NovaMuse and associated settings in CollectiveAccess. Big thanks to those museums that helped with the testing. Their feedback helped us tweak things to be more intuitive and user-friendly. I circulated an email announcement which included links to Sandi's YouTube tutorials. In case any museums missed it, here's the video that teaches how to set your records to be transcribable. For the public, here's the video that shows you how to transcribe museum records. There's a nice new homepage button for Transcribe, so as we add new records to the feature, we hope the public will enjoy reading them and helping us decipher interesting penmanship and inscriptions.

Educational Partnerships
Our winter project with Fleming College is moving along well. This month the students finished their data cleaning (proofreading) work, and I reviewed all 320 records - phew! They've done a really great job, and I was quite impressed with some of the improvements they made. The next step is to research an object and see if they can add more contextual info. Some of the students have already started this and wow - cool stuff is being uncovered.
As I mentioned last month, the students are reviewing some of the participating museums' earliest acquisitions, so it's great to go back to these early records and add missing details, and also give the museums tips on how they can improve them further using their local knowledge and ability to examine the objects firsthand.

Keeping Fresh
Unfortunately most of the training opportunities of this month conflicted with meetings and other obligations. On more than one occasion there were 3 interesting activities happening at the same. Still, I was able to participate in a Tamarack Institute webinar on the Courage to Lead. We follow a museum leadership blog, and I found it very interesting to compare the various approaches I've experienced and been learning about. As with anything, you probably won't agree 100% with a single approach, but there are definitely lessons to learn from all of them.

Friday, January 31, 2020

January 2020 Update

Welcome to 2020, which we have affectionately dubbed our "consolidation year". What does that mean? It means we've experienced a lot of growth and change over the past few years, and this year we want to make some adjustments, deal with some administrative backlog, and get ourselves a bit more organized. So far, we've made some good headway...

Museum Evaluation Program
This month we opened the FTP website so museums can start submitting files for Documentation Review. The deadline is May 1st, so it's great to check this box and let people upload at their leisure. Three Q&A emails went out, which shows us that a lot of museums are already actively working on evaluation preparations. I also finally finished updating the Scoring Guide for 2020.

The Accreditation Panel convened for the first time ever (and we of course forgot to take a photo). Discussions were engaging, decisions were made, and letters are in the mail. So if your museum applied for Accreditation in December and you haven't received a letter yet, check your mailbox. If you're being evaluated this year and want to read up on Accreditation, we have lots of info on our website.

Today is the deadline for applications to join the MEP Working Group, which has a new chair in Susan Marchand-Terrio of the Isle Madame Historical Society. Terms of Reference and the application form can be found here. This is such a great group; we look forward to inviting fresh ideas and perspectives into its mix. February 14th is the deadline to apply to be an evaluator this year. Again we're excited to review applications and bring in some fresh ideas and perspectives to the evaluation process. More info on this role can be found here.

As we think ahead to next year, I had a meeting and a number of emails with Nova Scotia Museum staff to continue planning and prep work for the NSM's evaluations in 2021. It's nice to talk through logistics this early in the process.

CollectiveAccess Updates
Last year we welcomed some new members to the Advisory Service, so over the winter we are working with them to review collections info and come up with a plan to introduce CollectiveAccess to their operations.

Digitization and documentation efforts of other members remain active, even when a lot of museums are closed and grant application deadlines approach. Collectively, we now have 307,794 artifacts documented with 219,229 associated images.
Regionally, this translates as:
Southwest - 136,842 artifacts, 83,905 images
Central - 103,073 artifacts, 63,488 images
Northeast - 36,680 artifacts, 53,542 images
Cape Breton - 31,199 artifacts, 17,294 images

We're in the final stages of testing the new Transcription feature for NovaMuse (funded by MAP), which will let users help museums read and transcribe documents and inscribed artifacts. We're really pleased with how this feature has turned out, and look forward to using it to highlight stories and commemorate Nova Scotian history and its relation to broader historical events.

Educational Partnerships
As we get ourselves organized, we've been talking with museum studies programs across the country and identifying new opportunities for partnerships. We have a much better sense of what programs are out there, how they work, and how/when to reach out to promote internship opportunities with ANSM. We've even added a new element to our website to admit that we actually really enjoy hosting interns.

We're also getting our ducks in a row for this summer. We've applied for funding to help museums develop collections-based online resources for teachers, and so have recruited a group of museum people with teaching experience as well as teachers who love museums to serve as our Teacher Advisory Group. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that this funding comes through. It's an exciting project to think about.

Our strongest educational partner is Fleming College. On January 14th we launched this year's Fleming/NovaMuse project. Students are currently reviewing 320 database records for 11 museums
and making sure professional standards are being followed. Through our Facebook support group, we're having conversations about databases, collections management, and documentation issues. Students are providing great help to participating museums by reviewing some of the earliest collection records, and as a result are getting a much stronger understanding of the range and scope of information in record holdings.

Keeping Fresh
One of the things we promote through all our activities, is the notion of continuous learning, aka keeping fresh. For us, this meant participating in some webinars this month. One from Connecting to Collections Care about caring for clocks, one from the Canadian Evaluation Society on evaluation and sustainable development goals, and two from the Tamarack Institute on community development. This is obviously quite the range of topics, but isn't that reflective of museum life? So keep an eye on our Facebook page where we promote this range of online learning opportunities. We know we need to keep fresh, and we want to help you do the same.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review - Pest Management in Museums, Archives and Historic Houses

First published in 2001 and reprinted in 2004, David Pinniger's Pest Management in Museums, Archives and Historic Houses is a great resource for people who are responsible for pest management in their institutions. Written in the UK, not all of the common North American pests are included, but the advice and information in this book is still invaluable, especially when you consider climate change and how new pests are arriving on our shores.

The introduction makes special mention of the illustrations that were commissioned for this book. I confess, I sort of rolled my eyes over those statements. But once you get into the actual book you quickly realize just how amazing and immensely helpful the illustrations are. When you're trying to figure out what kind of bug has made the museum its new home, you've got to be able to identify it. The level of detail in the magnified and actual size illustrations is fantastic. Sorry I rolled my eyes. I was wrong.

The lessons on just how quickly pests can multiply are covered in each pest profile. Information about their life cycle, how they look and act at each stage, favourite environments and foods are important for museum workers to be aware of, and are covered in good detail. 

In addition to all the identification information, Pinniger gives very sound advice on how to monitor for signs of pests. He outlines types of artifacts and materials that are particularly susceptible (ie yummy or cozy) for pests, and so require more frequent monitoring. Gaps between walls and floors, blocked fireplaces or unused chimneys, and old/discarded display materials are all prime targets for pests. He talks about exhibit case design and how you can make some slight tweaks to displays that will let you more readily notice problems like frass or casings. He is also a realist, acknowledging that when we have so much on the go, it can be easy to delay an inspection or cleaning, thinking that it won't make a difference. Unfortunately, this can have a cascading effect and end up aiding the pests in their infestation schemes.

Pinniger encourages museums to not put off cleaning or inspections, saying that "the investment of time and effort in creating a clean, pest-free environment will immediately benefit the care and conservation of objects." He also reminds of the importance to keep the temperature and relative humidity low and try to limit variations. Generally speaking, pests want it to be warm and humid. I know that as "Canada's Ocean Playground" it can be very hard to maintain low RH levels, but that doesn't mean we can't try.

In terms of prevention, Pinniger cautions how sneaky pests can be, and how important it is to isolate new objects before they are really introduced into the museum. This reminded me of a museum director who told me that she would notice if something was problematic so they don't worry about isolating new acquisitions. The truth is, you can't always see the signs. You need to assume the worst of each item as a precaution. He also gives advice on where and how to set traps, and what kind of traps work best for different kinds of pests. He even considers which options are more humane than others.

He also preaches the importance of documentation. When new acquisitions come in, where are they isolated? For how long? Where did you put the traps? How often do you check them? What are the results? If you catch pests in the traps, are they adults or larvae? Who is responsible for doing inspections, checking traps, changing traps, etc? If someone notices a problem, who do they notify? Does the museum have a contract with a local pest management company? All of this needs to be written down and readily available to staff and volunteers.

While it may appear that this book is all about bugs, there is a nice 'bonus' section on rodents. In discussing prevention techniques, the author outlines a goal of making "the museum environment as inhospitable as possible for rodents." He then outlines a variety of simple things that anyone can do to make sure rodents don't see the museum as a potential home. Most of the list relates to good hygiene/cleaning practices and regular inspections. Again a lot of it seems like common sense, but should still be documented in policies and procedures so that new volunteers and staff won't inadvertently invite rodents by leaving food on counters, not taking out the garbage as often as they should be, or letting tree branches grow too close to the roof.

One statement that really jumped out at me is about succession planning. What does that have to do with pest management? Pinniger warns that "continuity is essential and the loss of staff who have not kept records can lead to complete failure of the pest strategy and all the effort which has been previously expended." How true is that? Not to mention applicable to all areas of museum work. If you don't document things adequately, be it the collection, incidents, procedures, or whatever else, it will be really difficult for someone new to walk in and keep the museum moving forward.