Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review - Starting Right: a basic guide to museum planning

I usually steer clear of writing book reviews, but over the past few months I've been delving into our reference library.  Part of my motivation is that some of these books are getting older and outdated, and should perhaps be retired from the lending library.  Another reason is that I enjoy reading and so this is a casual way to do some professional development.
I decided that I'd share some thoughts from these books since I think they offer great thoughts and advice for the museum community.  These reviews will be an intermingling of the authors' thoughts and my own, ie what the book made me think about when considering our situation in Nova Scotia.

Starting Right: a basic guide to museum planning by Gerald George and Cindy Sherrell-Leo is the first on my list (for review anyway).  Over the past year, I've lost count how many times Anita and I have heard about a group wanting to start a new museum, or an existing museum debating about closing its doors.  How, in such a small province as Nova Scotia, can this be so common?  Perhaps it's time for a little reality check.

image from
Starting Right is an excellent book that I think all museum workers should read.  While it is written for those who are thinking about opening a new museum, it also serves as a great reality check for those of us who have been working in the field for awhile.  It's so easy to get caught up in the myriad tasks of running a museum; reading such a reality check is a great way to ensure that your organization is still on the right track.  Its purpose is to "help anyone who lacks a museum background but is taking on museum responsibilities, particularly anyone who is considering creating a new museum."  What the authors don't want to see is "museum mayhem through the creation of museums that are poorly operated or cannot be sustained."  Given current realities, how close are we to 'museum mayhem'?

In a nutshell, it boils down to respect for a community's history (or the particular theme) on which a society focuses.  This book defines museums as the stewards of tangible material culture, but it is just as important to consider the intangible.  It reminds us that having a collection of any kind does not mean that it has to end up in a museum, let alone a new museum.  There are lots of existing organizations in the province with whom partnerships can be formed. Further dividing our resources will only weaken the museum community and burden an already overstretched volunteer-base.

The first section of the book walks the reader through a reality check to see if they are really ready, willing and able to start up a new museum.  It also asks some serious questions about whether or not starting a new museum is even a good idea.
  1. What local or provincial organizations can we talk to about our ideas/plans? Museums, historical societies, funders, name a few.

  2. Can you afford the necessary museological training through workshops, webinars, conferences etc., both in terms of finances and human resources?  Remember that this isn't a one-time expense, but will be ongoing.

  3. Does your community support you?  Once you're up and running, will the community regularly visit and pay entrance fees or leave donations?  Will they donate artifacts?  Will they volunteer?

  4. Who is your targeted audience?  Do you want to reach families, students, seniors, or will the museum cater to a special-interest group?  How will you attract these people?

  5. How much will it all cost?  Where will the money come from?  What other fundraising activities take place in the community, and how will these affect the success of your own?

  6. Should you really start your own museum if there is an existing museum nearby with whom you could join forces?  Are you asking your community to support a new museum when there are already two in town?
If you get through the first section and still want to start a new museum, the book then reviews 20 questions to consider in museum operations.  These questions run the gamut, discussing missions and mandates, facility and security requirements, governance and policies, human resources, research and interpretation, and marketing.  I especially like that they cover museum ethics and staff training.  And finally, my two favorite questions are:
1. How will you cope with change?
2. How will you keep your museum alive, dynamic, creative, even visionary, and closely connected to your community?
As I said at the outset, this is not only a great book for people who want to start a new museum, but is a great way for the more practiced professionals to take a step back, look at themselves critically, and see how they measure up.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Hints and Tips for Shooting Video

    Alexandra here. The QR code project is chugging along nicely. A huge relief was hearing word that the project has been extended until the end of March, which means we can breathe a little easier, even when Windows Movie Maker crashes for the umpteenth time

    Speaking of Windows Movie Maker, one of the nice things about this project is the insight is has given us into the “dos” and “don’ts” of amateur videography. YouTube channels are a great way to reach out to potential visitors who can’t make it your site, or to offer additional content. Here are some things about shooting video we have learned the hard way, so you don’t have to:

    Know your equipment

    Some of the first video we shot was done using my iPhone. While the quality is great, at the time I didn’t realize that I was shooting the wrong way! As a result, all of the video we got from that day is sideways, and turning it is a real pain. The lesson to take away from this? Before you’re planning on recording anything, take a few test shots with your camera and upload them to your computer. Spend time familiarizing yourself with how everything works: how to record, stop, playback, and how long your camera will let you record for. Then, when you’re shooting for real, you won’t risk making small errors that will cost you lots of time later on.

    Be Consistent

    It’s a lot easier to learn how to deal with just one set of equipment, file formats and software than to have to deal in multiples. Find one camera and stick with it.

    Test Before You Delete

    This might seem obvious, but keeping it in mind can save you major headaches down the road. Never delete anything off of your camera without making sure it’s properly uploaded to your computer! Video files are big and prone to file corruption when you’re moving them from your card to your desktop. Use the software that came with the camera, or if you’re directly moving things from the SD card or other media, be sure to copy and paste rather than drag and drop. Then, watch the file all the way through to make sure that both the audio and video have transferred properly. If not, play back the file in your camera to make sure it’s not a problem with the video itself, and then try again.

    Back Up Your Files

    It’s much easier to burn a CD or DVD than it is to try and recover something that’s been deleted, and you never know when you’ll want to revisit something that you shot previously. This is especially true for things like oral history interviews, which become a part of your collection.

    Bring Extra Everything

    Make sure you have extra batteries and memory cards, and that your batteries are fully charged and your cards are empty BEFORE you start to shoot. Nothing is worse than a camera going dead right in the middle of something exciting—like a snake finally eating a salamander after many minutes of coaxing (sigh).

    Hopefully these tips prove helpful, and happy shooting!

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    December 2010 Update

    Well I managed to miss sending a December update.  Oops.

    December 9th was a fun morning for Anita and I.  We invited Paul Collins and Valerie Lenethan to the ANSM office to review the new database system.  Not only was it fun to play with the new system, but being of similar collections manager mindsets, we enjoyed our little geekfest.  We came up with a pretty big list of adjustments to be made to the new system which we're confident will make it even better and easier to use.  Remember that migration will begin in January, and before you can be migrated I need to get all of your artifact images from the Originals folder.  Please send these right away so we can get the migration going.

    On December 10th we held our second social media workshop in Wolfville at the Acadia University Library. We had a great turnout and feedback from participants was good.  Tracey and I enjoyed working together and hope that this is just the beginning of an ANSM-TIANS partnership.  A special thank you to the Wolfville Historical Society who opened the Randall House Museum kitchen to us for our picnic lunch.  It was a great chance to see the Christmas displays and newly acquired Nova Scotian prints, especially for those workshop attendees from further away who had never been to the museum.
    Lunch at Randall House Museum

    ANSM dessert platter
    Even though our office closed on December 17th for the holidays, we had three very action-packed weeks, ending in a lovely potluck with the other Cultural Federations office staff.  While there were lots of healthy food options, I always think the desserts look the best, so thought I'd share a couple images of that.  Congrats to our interns Alexandra & Josh who proved their baking skills with this event.  This is a tradition that has changed slightly over the past few years, but has quickly become a favorite event in our building.  With such amazing food this year I'm not sure how we'll top it for the 2011 potluck.

    DANS dessert basket
    That's all for December.  I hope everyone had a great holiday break and is feeling refreshed and ready for all the exciting things that 2011 brings.