Friday, November 29, 2013

November 2013 Update

Is it just me or did Movember just start? And yet suddenly we're at its close. Goodbye moustaches. It's been fun seeing you around and I can't wait to hear how much money was raised for this great cause.

Collections Database Info
Last month I was really impressed by how much database review we did, but this month was even better. This month we went through and updated 16,633 records from 6 museums. We are now 5000 records ahead of schedule, and only have 2 museums left to do this year. We're feeling pretty great about this, and can't wait to cross the last two off our list. Now that we've done this work, it's really REALLY important for museum staff and volunteers to keep up the high quality. Check out my other blog posts that outline various tips and be sure to share this with all your friends.
I think people are starting to settle into winter holiday mode since data entry dropped a lot from last month. This month 303 new records and 685 images were added across the province and to, giving us totals of 196,867 records and 81,353 images. And we now have 22,749 georeferences tagged.
Regionally, this looks like:
Southwest - 101,615 artifacts, 36,556 images
Central - 39,580 artifacts, 16,465 images
Northeast - 29,532 artifacts, 18,996 images
Cape Breton - 26,140 artifacts, 9,336 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most records again this month, and to the Southwest
region for adding the most images!

Shaving Mug
Our image of the month is in honour of Movember and the many men that will be shaving off their moustaches on Sunday. Mugs can be tricky to photograph since you want to do it at an angle that will show both the top and side. This mug is angled very well. We can see the decoration on the side, the details of the handle, and the all-important divider inside the cup. How could the image be improved? I would have used a dark background fabric so the mug wouldn't look so washed out, and I would have moved the scale a bit closer to the edge of the mug. As a final touch, I'd crop excess space so that the mug is perfectly centred and the sole focus of the photo.

Manufacturers Database Project
Caryn finished up her technical guide which includes instructions on how to use the database and add or update information, and we have established a great group of experts who will review new info before it goes into the system. The 7000+ manufacturers have been reconciled with our fancy classification system that Chris developed, which means it will be very easy for researchers to browse through mills or shipyards or coopers or whatever. We've just started linking collections to manufacturers which is proving to be an interesting process since we've run into a few companies or people who aren't listed in the system yet. So there's a lot of back and forth and running around to sort it all out. But we're getting there, and are really excited to see things continuing to shape up.

Random Goings-On
It felt like this month had more meetings and discussions than usual. We started off with an ANSM marketing workshop in Truro. Then I was off to the Black Cultural Centre for a site visit as they recently joined the Advisory Service. It's always interesting when a new site comes on board; lots to learn about eachother and figure out how ANSM can help the museum move forward.
In keeping with tradition, I wrote a Remembrance Day blog post with a sort of personal twist. You can read that here.
I also wrote a little book review from our reference library on an anthology about the evolution of museology, titled "Reinventing the Museum". I really enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it. You can read my review here.
I had two education committee meetings this month - one with our Education & Training Task Force and the other with the CNSA's Education Committee. It's really great (and super important) to collaborate with our sister organization on educational offerings. It's kinda nice to not have workshops or conferences scheduled on the same days.
One of the more interesting discussions of the month was an expert panel teleconference call to discuss CHIN. Just as CMAP & SDI are being reviewed at the provincial level, the federal government regularly reviews its departmental programs. So here's hoping that us "experts" gave good enough feedback to the evaluators to result in some positive changes.
One of the more exciting things that is happening in the Halifax area is that a new social group has started up that fits in with the "Drinking about Museums" phenomenon. This is basically when a bunch of museum workers go out to a pub together to talk shop. We all know how easy it is to just keep our heads down and focus on our own work, so it's nice to see something starting up that will cultivate some more cross-pollination and awareness of eachother's work.
And finally, this morning we ended the month with a Central Region Heritage Group meeting. I stuck to the office, but Caryn and Anita went and just informed me that it was a really great meeting.

Ok, that's all for now. There's one more meeting this afternoon and then that's it for this month. Happy weekend everyone!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review - Reinventing the Museum

Well, it has once again been a very long time since I delved into our reference library and did a book review. This time I've pulled out a nifty anthology edited by Gail Anderson - Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift, published by AltaMira Press in 2004. As with any such anthology, sometimes a statement or viewpoint will make you cringe or go "WHOA! They were so far off with that prediction!" But overall, these are the people who have shaped the museum field, and they had/have lots of great things to say.

I'm not going to spend my time going into detail about the contents as someone else has very ably reviewed the book and focused on its contents. Instead I thought I'd focus on a number of quotes that jumped out at me. If they don't whet your appetite to read this, I don't think anything will.

Alma Wittlin, in her article on museum renewal, drew attention to John Gardner, who "is credited with having stated that "most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they can't solve their problems, but because they won't see their problems."'

Duncan Cameron called us to action: "Where museums, be they of art, history, or science, have the knowledge and the resources to interpret matters of public importance, no matter how controversial, they are obliged to do so."
He also gave us a grave warning: "Museums and art galleries, like the majority of other cultural institutions, must institute reform and create an equality of cultural opportunity. Society will no longer tolerate institutions that either in fact or in appearance serve a minority audience of the elite."

For anyone who has attended our Museums 101 workshops, we talk about the "five functions of museums", which has been an accepted museological concept for the past 40 years. The functions include collecting, conserving, researching, interpreting and exhibiting, and almost always show up in museum mission statements or mandates. Well, Stephen Weil figures it's time to simplify that: "The essential functions of museums are reduced to three: to preserve (to collect being viewed as simply an early step in that process), to study (a function that remains unchanged) and to communicate (this third function being a combination interpret and to exhibit)."
When we think about our online activities via social media,, the Virtual Museum of Canada, and other avenues, are we not communicating truths that have been preserved and illuminated through study?

Harold Skramstad focused more on the educational aspects of our work: "The closely controlled environment of the school, open during very limited hours and not available to all members of a family or community-based group, cannot match the environment of the museum for encouraging groups of all kinds to learn together."

Lois Silverman continued with the theme of education and interpretation: "...the paradigm itself broadens our notion of the museum educator's role to be one who is knowledgeable in the ways people make meaning of objects and skilled in facilitating dialogue and negotiation."

Stephen Weil had a lot to say on the relevance of museums in today's society: "...a museum's collections - which might once have been thought of as its 'end' - can now be seen as a 'means', as an instrument for the achievement of a larger end and simply one among a number of resources that the museum can employ to carry out its service obligation to the public."
He also cautioned that "...a museum may only be considered essential so long as its impact is perceived to be both valuable and incomparable."

Will Phillips' article was one of my favourites; full of great reality checks: "Organizations that are not exploring and using [new technologies]...will move more and more slowly at higher and higher operating costs."

Robert Janes wrote on the subject of leadership and the future of the field: "Simply put, patriarchy and control foster isolation; while individual responsibility and stewardship nurture the web of community relationships."
Perhaps his most blunt statement: "Are there too many museums? In short, yes there are."

So there you have it. If you've been working with museums for 20 years or more, you should probably read this book. Or if you're new to the field and want to learn more about the evolution of museums, this is a great place to start. I guarantee it will help you understand how and why certain changes have taken place, and give you solid suggestions about how to adapt to current realities. These great thinkers were not afraid to tell it like it was/is. There's no sugar coating, just a serious analysis of our profession. I like that.
If you want to read another book review that goes into detail about the book's contents, click here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2013 Edition

Walter's Attestation
Papers from Library &
Archives Canada
Lately there's been a lot of talk about war. Not because of where Canadian soldiers are currently serving, but because of the looming centenary of the Great War - World War I. Museums are in exhibit & program planning mode, digging through collections for interesting local stories to share with the public. At least once a week I have a conversation with a museum about their work; an interesting discovery, an update on the digitization progress, or questions about funding applications for their proposed commemorative project. So as the centenary of the Great War looms closer and closer, I've been thinking a lot about how quickly it has slipped from recent memory.

When I was young, discussions about war always meant talking about grandparents - whose grandfather served where and in which branch of the services. So when Remembrance Day rolled around, it was a time to be proud of our grandfathers as they visited the school wearing their medals earned during WWII. Standing next to them gave us such pride, even though we were too young to really understand their sacrifice.

I can share many stories about my family's contribution to the war efforts of 70 years ago, but WWI is a lot more difficult. How did that information fall to the wayside? Is 100 years really so long? So difficult to recall?

I love to visit my grandmother's cousin Hilda. She's now 92 years old but her mind is still as sharp as a tack. Her father served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces during the Great War and was wounded at Vimy Ridge. He spent the rest of his life walking with the aid of two canes. I never met Walter, nor have I prodded Hilda for information that he may have shared about his war-time experiences. From what I have heard, he was a very quiet man and didn't have a lot to say on the subject. But I can't help but wonder at how his life was changed. He left rural Annapolis County a healthy young bachelor farmer, and returned home a permanently wounded man.

Listening to Hilda's stories about years gone by always involves a bit of detective work - she'll tell you a grand tale but never what year it happened, and sometimes she won't even name names. That's not a lot of information to go on. And she's 92 years old. The daughter of a WWI veteran is 92! And while I know she has some scrapbooks that surely document the Great War, the stories have not been passed down to the same extent as those of WWII. Besides, she says no one would be interested in such drivel.

The responsibility of museums to revive these lives and tales of a century ago is daunting. The realization that we've lost so much first and second-hand knowledge; terrifying. Our job is to connect people with the past - to facilitate dialogue and enable people to make meaning of objects and other material remains. Without the personal stories associated with the objects, it is far more difficult for people to connect with and appreciate this heritage. Unless we can personalize the material evidence, a division photo is just a bunch of guys in uniform, the uniforms are just some old clothes, and badges are just cloth patches. So as we continue to prepare for the upcoming centenary, I hope that we are able to uncover some of these lost lives and stories. I hope that we can prove dear Hilda wrong - that people are interested and do care about the great sacrifice paid by her father and his many compatriots.