Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012 Update

Free Grant-Writing Workshops
I mentioned last month that the CNSA has received funding to deliver a number of workshops around the province on grant-writing. If you have questions about how to set up a successful funding application, this is your chance to get answers! Here's the schedule for the remaining sessions:
November 2 - Antigonish
November 9 - Yarmouth
November 23 - Dartmouth
November 30 - Baddeck
Click here for more details and to rsvp.

Database Info
Things have definitely calmed down for the winter. I know that database work will be sporadic at best during the coming months, but as we make plans for next year's work I have a small request. When you are looking at a record, double check to make sure there is a date of manufacture in the date field, and if you can map the object (for example if you know where a photograph was taken), plug in the location on the georeference page. We have told the province and the feds that we will focus on these areas over the next two years as a way of enhancing the search capacity of NovaMuse. These may seem like funny things to work on, but having this information will open up a world of possibilities for us through gps and chronological displays of search results. If you want some tips on dating artifacts, check out this blog post.

Even with the seasonal slowdown, another 706 records and 1,039 images were added to the databases this month. Regionally, that means:
Southwest: 98,182 artifacts, 31,561 images
Central: 35,295 artifacts, 13,289 images
Northeast: 30,553 artifacts, 17,368 images
Cape Breton: 25,234 artifacts, 7,422 images

Congratulations to Cape Breton for adding the most records this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!
Commemorative Plate
Anne Murray Centre

Your image of the month was chosen because I feel like I've been seeing a lot of commemorative plates lately. And they've all been photographed differently. I've seen little plates and big plates, monochrome and polychrome, old and new; some are of churches and others are of Anne Murray's face. While plates aren't exactly two-dimensional, they're pretty close. So we want to photograph them straight on, and with our scale in the lower left. Don't forget to use a contrasting backdrop. The image should be neatly cropped to look centred. Doesn't she look lovely?

I apparently spoke too soon when I said that the equipment issues we were having with our server were all settled. As many of you noticed, the site was down for 4 days this month. We have replaced every piece of equipment and (knock on wood) things are running much more smoothly, no random short circuits or malfunctions have occurred since everything was moved to the new drive. I've also updated everyone's profile page so that people can see the street address of the museum as well as the Google map pin.
We've started to see a few comments on the site; some from people who want to share information, and others from people who just want to congratulate a particular museum on their good work. I have also received a couple questions from people asking when the remaining images will be added. I am of course explaining that this is an ongoing process, but this is a good reminder to include digitization work in your plans and funding applications for next year.
I've also had a few questions from museums about when records will disappear from the site after they've been deleted from your CollectiveAccess database. Seth is working on this as we speak, and hopes to have it settled by the end of the week.

If you haven't already added a link to NovaMuse on your website I strongly encourage you to do so. This is a great way for you to remind the public that you are still "around" in the off-season.

Random Stuff
I've been trying to catch up on some age old tasks from my to do list, so here's a random list of other stuff that's been going on in October:
1. We now have a catalogue worksheet that aligns with the archival view in CollectiveAccess. Download it here.

2. CHIN is planning some upgrades to Artefacts Canada, so I have been talking to their staff and giving feedback on their plans based on our experiences over the past two years in preparing for NovaMuse. Rest assured that I shared feedback I have received from contributing institutions over the past 6 years (wow, I can't believe I've been doing this for 6 years!).

3. I attended the CCI workshop on Modern Information Carriers at the Nova Scotia Archives, and will be sharing highlights in a blog post in the near future. We have also added one of the handouts (more like book) to our reference lending library.

4. I attended the Southwest Curator's Group meeting in Yarmouth on October 19th. There were 14 people present and lots of tasty treats provided by the Yarmouth County Museum. On the agenda was a big long talk about CMAP,travelling exhibitions, heritage skills, and lots of other good points to ponder.

5. This isn't really new, but I've never mentioned that ANSM members are eligible to participate in the Cultural Federations of Nova Scotia Benefits Program. So if you are without a health or pension plan, you might want to check out the program. Read more here.

6. And finally, in case you haven't already read them, I'd encourage you to check out the guest posts by the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame and Randall House Museum. Both of these organizations have come a long way in a relatively short time with their collections management practices. They've set clear goals and worked very hard, and the results speak for themselves. Since we always hear about the importance of networking and the fun of sharing success stories, I thought this would make a nice addition to the blog. If you've got a success story to share from your museum I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure your colleagues would as well, so drop me a line.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Review - A Museums & Community Toolkit

It has been far too long since I've written a book review. But in my defence, we've been a tad busy with some other minor projects, like this little website called NovaMuse. So now that the dust is settling a bit, it's time to get back to our reference library (among other things).

A Museums & Community Toolkit was published in 2002 by the American Association of Museums (now called the American Alliance of Museums) as a companion piece to Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums. The initiative came from the acknowledgement that museums have often focused on one-way dialogues, of spreading the word that they determine to be important, rather than real conversations and activities that speak to the community's needs and desires.

The introduction makes a very valid point: "the museum-community relationship is one that must be nurtured if our institutions are to succeed at their mission to serve the public good." Opening a dialogue with the community can be eye-opening, and not always in a positive way; how we view ourselves is almost always different from how the public views us. Once you begin this dialogue and process, the internal enquiry must be a sincere exploration of the entire organization that involves everyone - staff, board members, and volunteers. Without buy-in and honest input from all levels and roles, it will be much more difficult (if not impossible) to make a change. The external enquiry must be handled with grace and open minds. If the public has a certain perception of the museum or society, disagreeing or trying to convince them otherwise may end up further distancing the museum from its goals of community partnership.

The toolkit walks you through the entire facilitation process, beginning with the museum's role in civic dialogue - what can it offer its community in terms of collections, activities, exhibits, space, expertise, etc. From there it talks about how to design a community dialogue event, identification of goals, participants, the role of a steering committee, logistics, and then the actual event itself. Knowing what to expect from the discussions, how many people should attend, what kind of homework needs to be done before and after...there are a lot of questions to ask and things to prepare. In looking at potential participants, the toolkit provides very general terms such as "youth organizations" and "transportation providers" so that the reader will be able to identify who from their community fits a particular category.

Perhaps the hardest part of this work is figuring out what questions to ask once the stakeholders are in the same room. Again the toolkit provides exercises and questions that have been tried and tested through the AAM's sessions. What may be surprising to some is that the questions are not focused entirely on the museum itself, but ask questions about all of the organizations and services in your community to help identify what makes it tick. The discussion time is an examination of current realities and issues as well as a time for dreams and vision work, and by the end of the day you will see clear, recurring themes and ideas that might make you a little excited. At this point, the key is to ensure that the dialogue continues, that people know this was not just a one-time event to pick their brains.

The toolkit also includes an in-depth case study from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester NY. In this case, a specific event that rocked the community became an opportunity to build bridges and facilitate partnerships where none had previously existed. Everyone in the community wanted to be involved and agreed that the museum was the best location to hold services and events; the museum's response was a simple "use us". Museum staff referred to the experience as inspiring, and said that "it was a chance to look at how our values have been strengthened or changed by these terrible events. It also was a wonderful opportunity to make new friends."

The nice thing about this toolkit is that it is just that - a toolkit. It asks as many questions as it gives tips. It forces the reader to stop and think about their own situation and figure out who to approach and how to set up a dialogue in their community. The examples and suggestions spark the imagination, and the case studies and exercises and helpful hints set you up for a much better chance at succeeding.

As I read this book, I thought about a number of museums who have been struggling with community engagement in one way or another. While I don't live in those communities, I could envision how such conversations would play out. In some cases I think the museum/society boards are not ready to tackle this sort of work or hear what their community has to say, which is sad. But in other cases, I think going through such an exercise could be just what the doctor ordered. The thing to remember is that the reason the toolkit formula works is because participating institutions believed in and were open to the process - whatever the outcome.