Friday, November 30, 2012

November 2012 Update

Interpretation Workshop
Eager Students
We kicked off November with a workshop about public programming, hosted by the Wallace and Area Museum. Sally Warren shared her insights on creating school and general public programs, and everyone seemed pretty excited by the end of the two days. The workshop was very interactive and participants were coming up with all sorts of creative ideas about bringing history to life and tying programs into curriculum outcomes.
Next year our Museum Studies workshops will include Facilities Management, Interpretation II: Exhibitions, and Marketing & Revenue Generation. We will also be offering a special advanced workshop on telling difficult stories. So be sure to stay tuned for more info and sign up early since we have very limited spots available.

IMAC Meeting
The Information Management & Access Committee met on November 9th at the Citadel and had a very full meeting. We of course talked about "what's next" for NovaMuse and the Advisory Service, and came up with a couple of changes to things. For anyone who wants to join the Advisory Service at the full level (database, site visits, participation in special initiatives), they will first need to spend at least one year at the supporting (non-database) level. This will let us do some proper analysis of any data that may need to be migrated, and figure out if there is any other work that should be done before the museum joins - updating policies and procedures comes to mind. We don't want anyone to feel overwhelmed by the shift to a new database, and we need to make sure we have the time and resources to accommodate a smooth transition for all involved.
We will also be approaching Fleming College about internship possibilities and database projects for their museum management & curatorship students. Last year's project was a big success and we look forward to further developing this partnership.

Database Info
As we get ready to start a new project year, we're scheming and working on all sorts of plans. Thanks to everyone for plugging away at improving collections records and adding new images. Please keep working on those georeferences and manufacture dates. In the new year I will be conducting targeted reviews of databases in Cape Breton, the Northeast, and Central regions. The following year I will tackle the Southwest databases. This will prepare us for the launching of the georeferencing and timeline views of search results, and drastically increase the search capacity of NovaMuse. I have determined the order of sites and will let you know before I start working in your system.

We now have 189,893 records and 71,061 images in the databases, an increase of 629 records and 1,421 images from last month. This means that 37% of the collections have images. Regionally, that means:
Southwest: 98,205 artifacts, 31,754 images
Central: 35,615 artifacts, 13,488 images
Northeast: 30,643 artifacts, 17,569 images
Cape Breton: 25,430 artifacts, 8,250 images

Congratulations to the Central Region for adding the most records this month, and to Cape Breton for adding the most images!

Kings County Museum
Last month we looked at a commemorative plate for your image of the month so I thought we'd continue with that theme. This time we're looking at a souvenir creamer depicting the Point Prim Lighthouse in Digby. Remember that for 3-dimensional artifacts you want to see the depth to them, so while this image focuses predominantly on the side of the pitcher, it also shows us the top and some of the pitcher's interior. The only thing that I would change is to make sure the pitcher is positioned evenly with the scale - bring it a bit closer to the bottom and twist it a bit so you can see more of a side angle. The colours are true, it is neatly cropped, and the contrasting background lets the object pop. Well done.

NovaMuse is chugging along and we are gradually building up our audience. One of the things that we've heard from visitors is that with over 140,000 records they aren't sure where to start looking. So, we've just launched a NovaMuse Facebook page. We'll be showcasing one or two artifacts every day, picking items that commemorate a historical event, connect with current events, or are otherwise relevant. Within the first few hours of the page being established we garnered 50 fans, and it doubled the daily website traffic. So, we encourage you to connect here as well and share the page with your facebook friends and fans. This is the modern word-of-mouth marketing platform. Special thanks to IMAC for stepping up to the plate in helping manage the page. The committee has agreed to take turns monitoring the posts and comments so that ANSM staff can continue with other work-plan items.
It has also been suggested that this is an opportunity for some contests and giveaways. We've already had an offer by the McCulloch Heritage Centre (formerly Hector Exhibit Centre) to donate free membership for a year as a Facebook prize. If you'd like to do something similar please let me know.

Again, 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
As I mentioned last month, I've been working through my to do list and running around with other tasks now that NovaMuse is up and running. The whole reason I started this blog was to increase communication and transparency - to let people really see how their $250 subscription fee is put to use. A lot of people still wonder how I fill my days and what it is that I actually do since I'm not working right in a museum. So here's what else I got up to in November:

1. I went back to school and took the Dalhousie University "train the trainer" 3-day workshop. It was essentially a crash course in adult education, so we'll be incorporating this info into our workshop offerings and on-site training sessions.

2. In case you missed it, I shared a Remembrance Day blog post. In thinking about next year's "telling difficult stories" workshop, I got to pondering how museums can help people mourn and heal from their war-related experiences. Far too often museums shy away from the personal side of difficult stories.

3. I am very slowly working my way through our reference library as we are planning to get it online some time in the future (we're still not ready to commit ourselves to a date). We have about 500 books in our collection that talk about everything from conducting oral history interviews to fundraising to managing staff to collections management get the idea. So this means I'm doing some reading to make sure any books we lend out are still relevant, and I'm updating our CollectiveAccess database (yes, we use it for our collection too).

4. I also took a bit of a break this month. As many of you know, I've pushed myself pretty hard over the past couple of years as we were migrating databases and building NovaMuse (I've even heard that some people were taking bets on when I would crack). So I used up some of that overtime to just get away and decompress. I'm not gonna lie, it was much-needed and I'm feeling far more relaxed than I have in a long time.

5. I ended November by attending the Central Regional Heritage Group meeting this morning. There were 15 representatives from 11 organizations present, and we spent most of the morning hearing presentations by two speakers. The first was about Culture Days (check out the website for tips and resources on organizing community activities), and the second was about hosting a Doors Open event in Halifax in 2013. We also heard about some funding programs from the department of Communities, Culture & Heritage. So if you aren't sure what kind of funding options are out there, check out this link.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2012 Edition

Years ago, people actively and visibly mourned. They wore mourning clothes - dressed all in black with weeping veils, no jewelry, and black armbands or ribbons - for extended periods of time. They would weave intricate hair wreaths and craft other memorial objects to always have a keepsake of the person they lost. But today outward signs of grief and/or struggles are few and far between, and let's be honest, society basically has a 3-6 month window where they think someone can legitimately dwell on any particular difficulty. Then society gets bored with it and moves on, while the affected person is still in a whole lot of pain and confusion.

Canadian War Museum
When I go through the Canadian War Museum, I am extremely stressed out by the end of it. The chronological journey through the exhibits, through Canada's history of conflicts, is very difficult. Sure it's easy to stay detached when all you see are paintings and weapons and uniforms from bygone centuries, but the further along you travel, the more personal items and stories are integrated. Suddenly you're reading letters sent home that were received after the 18 year old boy was killed in action, or you're watching news footage about our recent participation in peacekeeping efforts. At this point you can't escape the reality of it. Even if it's an official military statement being read at a press conference, it is very clear that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye - the invisible effects of service.
In thinking about these invisible effects, I've thought of a number of stories from family members and friends who have served or are currently serving in the military. Since this list includes contemporary events, I've decided to refrain from the use of names.

1. The woman at home, waiting for her man to return. But instead he disappears, never to be heard from again. How did having someone unexpectedly ripped from her life affect her? She never got the chance to say goodbye, let alone tell him she loved him one last time.

2. The tank driver who survived the war but wasn't quite the same when he came home. He was the only survivor of a trap that saw several of his friends stabbed to death. While he was recuperating in the hospital his tank was sent on a mission and hit a mine, killing everyone inside. He had survivor's guilt for the rest of his life because he wasn't there to drive and keep his buddies safe. These days we'd probably call that post-traumatic stress disorder. Back then, "the war changed him".

3. The aircraft mechanic who had to pull the dead pilot from the cockpit and take over flying the plane so they didn't crash. What kind of impact does staring through a bloodied and broken windshield have on a person?

4. The parents who received the official notice that their youngest son was "missing in action". What is it like to be stuck in that sort of limbo? Was he dead? If so, would his body ever be found? Was he alive? Was he captured as a POW or hiding out somewhere?

5. The peacekeeper who just couldn't reconcile the financial compensation given to a family whose child was accidentally killed when he ran in front of a UN jeep. Their son was gone; no amount of money would ever change that.

As museums, we are the keepers of both the tangible and intangible evidence of difficult times. We conduct oral history interviews with people to learn more about the personal side of military service (and many other things). We collect the uniforms, mementos, badges, medals, log books, ration cards, magazines, newspapers, journals and diaries, letters, many things that shed light on the invisible realities of war and military service.
It's not about any particular campaign or mission or battle, or how many people from our community have served. It's about acknowledging the personal sacrifices made by those who serve, and also how this service is supported on the home front and how it affects life on the home front. Canada has been greatly affected by the personal experiences of our military personnel both past and present. We will never understand what these people have gone through. But by doing this work we become the tangible vessel for our intangible heritage - the outward sign of grief and the visible effects of service. Museums are a place for people to come and mourn, to get a bit of closure and healing from these awful experiences, regardless of how long it has been or how much society tells them they need to "move on". It's ok if our exhibits or programs make people uncomfortable or elicit an emotional response. That means we've succeeded in truly honouring these brave men and women.