Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 2011 Update

Museums 101 Workshop
On May 26-27th we held the inaugural workshop in our new museum studies program.  We had 18 participants in all, representing each of the 4 regions.  We've received some very positive feedback and many people said they're already looking forward to the next workshop.  You can read more about Museums 101 here.

Database Renewal Project
With the Museums 101 workshop out of the way, I will now be focusing on this a whole lot more.  This month we migrated another 10 databases, bringing our grand total of CollectiveAccess users to 17.  What I'm hearing from users is that the system is far easier than our old one, one person even calling it "a thing of beauty".  Seriously though, we are very happy with the new system and so grateful for all the help we're getting from the Whirl-i-gig gang.  You guys rock!

As you can imagine, this is a very fast-paced project, so please keep that in mind when I call to get your database for migration.  I really need you to respond promptly.  Also remember that once I get your database, you cannot continue to work in the old database.  Until I get the database file, you can continue to enter and edit records, but cannot attach photographs.  Should you experience any weird error messages or issues, it is crucial that you stop using the old database and call me right away.
Our goal is to have everyone migrated by the beginning of August.

QR Code Usage Stats
We've cracked the 1000 view mark!  We now have statistics coming from 11 of the 12 participating sites.  Most notable this month were the additions of the Army Museum on Citadel Hill in Halifax, and the North Highlands Community Museum in Cape North, Cape Breton.  Both have only had their codes up for a couple weeks now, but are seeing at least 2 views every day.  While this may not be very impressive, I am encouraged by the steadiness of usage.  I'd be very worried if we saw a complete drop-off in use.
The most popular qr code this month was the Army Museum's Lewis Gun. 

If you have qr codes in your museum, please make sure your interpretive staff mention them to visitors.

Site Visits
I am now starting to schedule site visits for the season.  This year will be a bit trickier than others because of our major database renewal project.  This means that I won't be visiting until your database has been migrated to CollectiveAccess.   So I'll be in touch soon, and look forward to a fun summer of travels and database training. 

Provincial Museums Associations Meetings
Fyi, Anita and I will be in Ottawa next week for the annual PMA meetings so the ANSM office will be closed from Monday - Wednesday.  This is a great networking opportunity where we can meet with the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), Canadian Museums Association (CMA), and staff members from the other provincial associations to talk shop, share notes, and see how we can partner more.  Stay tuned for pics and posts.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Museums 101 Workshop - Halifax edition

You knew it was coming, and now it has come and gone.  We just completed our first workshop of our new Museums Studies Program...Museums 101.  For the past two days I've been hanging out and talking shop with some great people from across the province.  We had a diverse group of 18 participants - some were brand new to museums, and others have been working in the field for years.

Museums 101 was designed to introduce people to the complexity of the museum world, so we touched on a lot of subjects.  We talked about the public perception of museums, and what implications this has on our work.  We went back in time and discussed how museology has evolved over the years, and we looked at the current lay of the museum land in Nova Scotia.  We talked about the laws, policies, and ethics that guide us in our work.  On day two we looked at the five key functions of museums, and how the lessons learned on day one play into the way we collect, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit.  We also admitted that there are a few challenges in the museum world, but we stayed positive and focused on how to overcome them.  To top it all off, we looked at where the museum field is headed, and what trends and opportunities exist.

Participants were very positive and we had a lot of great discussions over the course of the
two days.  I know there will be things to adjust before the next Museums 101 delivery, but given the feedback, I think we're on the right track.

Here's what people had to say:

"The basics were really valuable to me as I have not had much museum experience - so knowing the ethics and formats of collecting was very good to know."

"Made the responsibilities of museums much clearer."

"All information was helpful. The importance of basic established policies and mandates to operate your site stood out as important. The ideas of engaging, provoking and revealing were great and I will use more of that. Great 2 days. The sharing of ideas was very important."

"It showed me areas that need a lot of improvement."

"An overview was most valuable to me. I am new to museums and needed the basics. It was great! I look forward to more workshops."

"Everything I found was interesting and relevant."

"Great content, good pace, interesting range of participants."

"It was nice to see how ethics can apply to the museum work. I also enjoyed going over the process of how to take artifacts from donation to exhibit/interpretation using examples of artifacts. Well run workshop. Looking forward to attending more."

"The history of museum collections was fascinating. The activity about accepting donations, research & display of artifacts was also very engaging. I found all of the info given very useful/valuable. The course was very informative & time well spent."

Thanks to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 for hosting the workshop! 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Museums and Youth

While some people may not believe it, I do actually have a life outside of work.  This recently involved chaperoning a group of middle and high school kids at a weekend youth event in Moncton.

As I was driving to and through New Brunswick, listening to hip hop and made up rhymes about camels and dragons and tomatoes, wondering if 6 kids rocking an SUV back and forth while doing 110km/h could possibly tip the vehicle, I couldn't help but think about work...nice, safe, quiet work.  I was thinking how very far away a typical Nova Scotian museum is from the world of these kids.  They're fun, easily excited, very intelligent and critical thinkers, and just want to be taken seriously as individuals.  Ok, so some museums can deal with people like that.  But what about a mob of teenagers like that?  And did I mention that they come from very diverse backgrounds?  Almost half weren't even born in Canada.  So how are Nova Scotia's museums relevant to them?

At our recent conference we asked attendees to fill out an evaluation form, and part of that was voting on next year's theme.  A lot of people asked for a conference on engaging youth, which makes me really excited.  We all seem to understand the concept of "getting them while they're young", but few of us are really good at this.

Whenever I talk to people about teenagers and museums, I share one of my favourite museum stories.  A couple years ago I was doing a site visit and the curator was telling me how worrisome it is that kids these days just aren't interested in museums, that the schools never bring them anymore, and that if nothing changes we'll start to see museums closing because there's no one to continue the work.  Before I could respond she started to complain about how a group of teenagers were hanging around the front yard of the museum and "scaring off" potential visitors, and that she was having to spend a lot of time chasing away these troublemakers (literally, she even used a broom).

Photo by Evan
On the off-chance you encounter something like this, let me enlighten you. These teens are interested.  You have a space that they recognize as being safe, and the reason they chose it is because at least one person in the group really wants to check out the museum.  They just need to know this is okay.  So go out, introduce yourself, tell them it's totally cool to skateboard and practice their bboy routines in the parking lot (without blocking entrances or getting in the way of traffic of course).  Let them know you've got water and washrooms and weird old stuff inside if they want to check it out.  And if they say they don't have the money for the entrance fee, who cares.  Is the loss of $5-$10 really going to break the bank?

Monday, May 9, 2011

April 2011 Update

Membership Renewal
We've received all but a few Passage renewal payments/contracts.  If you are one of the few, please note that renewal is now past due.  For those in Cape Breton, please bring the signed contract and cheque to this Saturday's Heritage CB Connection meeting.  I will be sending out final notices this week, after which any remaining sites will be contacted by the chairman of the IMAC committee.

Database Renewal Project
Four more museums were migrated to CollectiveAccess this month, and another four databases were cleaned and prepped for migration.  I recognize that we're in a bit of a time crunch now as sites begin to open for the season, and I promise that we are moving as quickly as possible to accommodate your summer staff training and work schedules.

I've had similar questions from a number of people about what work they can/should be doing in the old database before they get migrated to the new one.  You can still enter records and information, and edit whatever textual information you want.  What I ask that you don't do, is attach any more images.  You can scan and photograph to your heart's content, but don't attach these to the old database.

Seth came to visit in April, which allowed IMAC and a few other people to sit down and discuss the database renewal project.  In case you missed it, my blog post about his visit is here.

Museums Studies Certificate
Registration for the first workshop, Museums 101, is now open.  The workshop will take place at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 on May 26-27th.  Space is limited and the registration deadline is May 19th.  If you have new staff, volunteers, board members, or if you would just like to take a refresher course on museum history, functions, ethics, trends and challenges, this workshop is for you. 

QR Code Usage Statistics
Usage seems to be picking up a bit, as this month we had 307 views at 6 sites.  That makes for a grand total of 887 views.  The Museum of Natural History's bullfrog video is the most popular.

Annual Conference
We finished off April with a very successful annual conference in Tatamagouche.  Congrats to the local arrangements committee for a job well done.  In case you weren't able to attend, you can check out my review of the museum tour and conference, and see photos on our Facebook page.

Goodbye Josh & Katie
Well, it's back to just Anita and I.  Josh finished his contract with us on Friday, which means we're back to being an all-female office.   Josh took our qr code project to a whole new level of professionalism with his great graphic design skills.  No matter how stressful things got, he remained positive and dedicated.  We wish Josh all the best in his upcoming adventures, and have a feeling we haven't heard the last of this boy...  Since we managed to not take a photo at Friday's going-away dinner, I thought I'd share something from our conference adventures.  If you see him around, feel free to congratulate him on all his good work.  And if you're looking for a graphic designer, I hear he has business cards to hand out.

Katie was around for a 3-week practicum from the Dalhousie University MLIS program, so she came and left us in April.  She was a great fit for our quirky office, and while her practicum focus was our reference library she also helped out with the conference.  Best wishes to Katie as she works for Dal this summer, and we hope to see her again soon.  For those who didn't meet her, here's what she looks like, so if you see her on the street, feel free to stop her and say "good job Kate!"

ANSM Conference 2011 - Part 2

Having to work at the conference meant that I didn't get to hear each presenter, but from talking with the attendees, I think it's safe to say this conference was a success.

Our keynote speaker was Scott Mair from the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary.  He sang songs, he dressed up as a dragonfly, and he gave some really great advice on how to develop interactive and engaging programming.  He shared some solid stats that prove your visitation, revenue, and community buy-in will drastically increase if you take yourself a little less seriously and have a bit of fun.  He also provided a host of inexpensive ideas that any museum can incorporate into their work.
For the past couple of years we've had best practices panels - show and tell 2.0.  These sessions are always very popular since the presenters are all ANSM members and are very open about successes and challenges of their projects.  This year we had two panels - Out and About, and Close to Home.  In Out and About, we heard about Ross Farm's re-enactment of the New Ross Freighters, ox teams that carried goods from New Ross to Chester.  We also heard about Digby's annual fundraiser SAILabration, and about a group of museums along the Yarmouth-Acadian shore that joined forces to update interpretation and create a more cohesive network.

Josh and I presented on our qr code project while the second best practices panel was taking place, but I've heard that people learned a lot from the Glooscap Heritage Centre, Highland Village Museum, and Memory Lane Heritage Village speakers who addressed the issue of creating culturally relevant and engaging programming.  The other session that I missed was David Carter's - looking at what constitutes a good interpretive idea, and why some things that sound good may never work.

Dr. Dean Oliver (Canadian War Museum) delivered a general address on how to tell difficult stories.  Dr. Oliver reminded us that a difficult story can be anything that is "an important, visible, contested subject, challenging, yet within one's realm of professional competence, having high audience or public interest, and the possibility of substantial institutional impact".  This is what museum visitors are looking for, and is reflective of the shift from "tell and know" institutions to "help and understand" institutions.  As the Canadian War Museum continues to make this transition, it is finding that its audience-base is expanding.

Sally Warren ended the day with a talk about designing accessible programming for schools.  She gave us some very good points to ponder:
1. Schools want kids to learn how to think and to learn by  doing.  Museums have the primary resources to enable this.
2. Teachers want to clearly see how museum activities link to curriculum so they can evaluate their students' participation in the program.
3. Start small - develop one program and do it well.
4. School programs need to include on-site and off-site work, pre- and post-visit activities for the teacher to facilitate, and on-site activities led by museum staff and volunteers.

The AGM was attended by a dedicated and engaged crowd on Saturday morning.  It was a pretty standard meeting with one exception.  It was voted to move our annual conference to the fall.  Anita has been talking to our members about this for some time now, and what we've heard is that this will work better for everyone.

See you next year in the Southwest!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

ANSM Conference 2011 - Part 1

2011 Spring Conference Bannerr

It's great to be back at the blog after a two week hiatus.  Things got very busy in the office juggling some pretty big projects and preparing for our annual conference.  While things haven't really settled, I think it's time to take a step back, breathe, and review.

We focus a lot on geography in our work.  In order to provide fair and equal services to the four heritage regions (Cape Breton, Central, Northeast, Southwest), we move our conference around the province.  This means that it should be in your neighbourhood once every four years.  This year it was the Northeast's turn, and we were in the lovely town of Tatamagouche.

Thursday's afternoon activities divided the group.  The studious crowd stayed at the Tatamagouche Centre for a workshop on museums and insurance.  This is an issue that we've been hearing a lot about over the past 2 years, and it was great to be able to bring in some experts to share their insights.  The adventurous crowd went on a tour of local museums.  We visited the Creamery Square Heritage Centre, Wallace and Area Museum, Balmoral Grist Mill and Sutherland Steam Mill.  Yes, there were oatcakes and apple cider.

Having never been to the mills, it was great to finally check them off my list of Nova Scotia museums to visit.  I also thoroughly enjoyed our local tour guides and their insights as we drove from site to site.  I miss that during my lone travels around the province, and while I've spent a fair bit of time in this region, I'd never noticed the extensive Acadien dyke system or knew what old settlements were hiding in the woods.

So here are some pictures from the tour.  Thanks to the local arrangements committee for pulling the tour together.  It was a job well done!

Brule fossil collection,
Creamery Square
Sally posing beside a reproduction of Anna Swan's dress,
Creamery Square

one of two 2-headed calves,
Creamery Square

hiking trails,
Wallace & Area Museum
mural in progress,
Wallace & Area Museum

Darrell teaching milling 101,
Balmoral Grist Mill

inside the Balmoral Grist Mill
Balmoral Grist Mill

school desk graffiti,
Sutherland Steam Mill
milling about,
Sutherland Steam Mill

There are lots more photos on Facebook, so feel free to check them out.