Friday, January 31, 2014

January 2014 Update

ANSM Workshops
It's that time of year again! We've opened registration for our Spring workshops. The CCI workshop on storage reorganization filled up super fast, but there are still a few spots available in Museums 101. Why should you care about an intro to museums workshop? Because it's a great way to initiate new volunteers, staff, and board members. And who doesn't want to hang out with me for two days? There's lots of info on our website about it, but it will be held at the Port Hastings Museum & Archives on April 24-25th. And yes, there will be cake.

IMAC Meeting
Your illustrious peers gathered in Halifax to talk shop. It was a long meeting with a very full agenda - database improvements, disaster planning, manufacturers database work, marketing...the list goes on and on. We're updating the committee terms of reference and had a big long discussion about how the advisory service meets the needs of small institutions with extremely limited resources. We also welcomed a new committee member - Laken Delorey of the Port Hastings Museum & Archives. She's our new Cape Breton regional rep and we're really excited to have her on board.

NovaMuse & Social Media
We're really happy to announce the launch of two new social media offerings. is now on Pinterest and Twitter. We're really excited about this for a few reasons. First and foremost we just love to get the word out about NovaMuse and how so many great museums are working together to make collections more accessible. Our Facebook page and Twitter feed will be very similar, and this year we'll be profiling some of the weird and impressive stuff that we encounter as we go through databases. Pinterest is where we're having a bit more fun though. We've already put up some rather well-loved stuffed animals, and have our favourite Olympic items ready to help cheer on Team Canada. So check us out and tell your friends.

12 Enrichment Sites
Fleming College Assignment
I mentioned in my December update that we've established a healthy partnership with Fleming College, enabling their students to get some real world database experience. This month we kicked off the same research assignment, but the students will be looking at 350 artifacts from 12 sites across the province. That's the good news. The bad news is that I had a hard time finding sites to work with this year. This wasn't because the museums weren't willing, but because I need to make sure the chosen records cover a variety of artifact types and have decent images attached. This is yet another reason why high-quality digitization needs to be a priority for your institution. Without it, you are missing out on opportunities for extra assistance.

Collections Database Info
We may only be at the end of January, but we've made a lot of progress in the Southwest region's databases already. We're continuing with the update work - Nomenclature 3.0, dating & mapping of records. Our goal was to get through 8,000 records, but I'm really happy to say that we surpassed a lot. We processed 23,492 records from 4 museums. While we'd love to take credit for it all, we actually had some help for two weeks from a fantastic volunteer while she was between work contracts. One of our big clean-up issues this year is the 20,000+ records listed as "unclassifiable". I for one disagree with this list and am hoping to get it down into the hundreds by the end of the year.
So, we ended 2013 with 197,017 artifacts and 81,951 images in the databases. January was a fairly quiet month as we expected it to be, but another 185 records and 641 images were entered which gives us a grand total of 197,202 artifacts and 82,592 images. That's not a bad way to start the year.

Here's the regional tally:
Southwest - 101,686 artifacts, 36,864 images
Central - 39,765 artifacts, 17,119 images
Northeast - 29,564 artifacts, 19,156 images
Cape Breton - 26,188 artifacts, 9,453 images

Congrats again to the Central Region for adding the most records and images this month!

Your image of the month is one of many WWI artifacts we'll be seeing this year - an RCAMC uniform. As you can tell, this is a lovely image that is crisp, clear, and has good colouring. It is also only one of 10 images of this uniform. The photographer took side shots, a back view, and detail shots of the buttons and shoulders. But doesn't this look better than seeing something on a hanger? You can almost picture her walking around. So this year as you digitize, don't forget to take your time, and be both patient and thorough. Let's make those collections come to life through good photography.

Manufacturers' Database
Chris has been compiling lists of companies mentioned in collections databases that we don't have included in the manufacturers' database. He's emailing museums to see if they know anything else about this organizations and would really like some local help to answer questions. Yes, this means we've been actively linking manufacturers to artifacts. So far we've got 1104 records linked to 162 manufacturers. These include objects made by a person or company, photos of factories, mills, etc., and other odds and ends like receipts and company letterhead. It's really satisfying to see this work coming together. We know this is one of those projects that will be never ending, but we've come a long way baby!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review - The Social Work of Museums

During our 2012 workshop "Museums 101", I posed the question to the class of whether museums should be engaged in social justice or controversial issues. It sparked a big discussion. Two individuals were especially passionate about it - one thought that museums needed to stay very detached and merely present the facts to the public, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. The other individual argued that as citizens it is our responsibility to speak about social issues and that the museum provides an excellent forum for those discussions.

This brings me to a fairly new addition to our reference library. Lois Silverman's The Social Work of Museums, published by Routledge in 2010. This is a subject that greatly interests me. I see huge and untapped potential in museums' capacity. I also think that we don't give ourselves as much credit as we deserve.

The book wasn't quite what I expected. The author studied social work and so talks a lot about parallels between museology and social work, and how the two could work more together. She references theories and methodologies that will probably be new to a lot of museum workers. But even though we might not have the lingo down, it sounds awfully familiar. Silverman draws on a number of very well known museums and museologists to make her case.

She argues that social work is at the core of our museum identity, dating back to the earliest mousieon. Museums have always been in the business of "meaning-making".
In thinking about how an individual seeks identity and self-awareness, museums contribute to personal growth through the following "key opportunities: group affiliation and membership, role enactment, personal meaning-making, storytelling, and exhibit making. Museums also support self-identity at the societal level by fostering stability and providing support for change". I especially like that last bit about support for change. All too often museums are seen as stale and static institutions. I think we all need to regularly ask ourselves what we are doing to support positive change in our communities. If we can't think of any examples, then we're not realizing our potential or meeting our mandate.

Fostering partnerships and positive group dynamics are also at the core of what we do. Museums offer a safe space for people to bond; to feel like they belong. And when museums partner with other institutions, organizations, and individuals, all parties grow and change and strengthen. Silverman put this quite eloquently in stating that "...groups cannot live by their members alone. Even the most self-sufficient group needs linkage, connections with other groups for resources, support, and the exchange of energy". I'm sure we can all think of a museum or historical society that focuses too much on its internal workings. Maybe they say this is only temporary "while we get our house in order", or maybe this is just how things have always been done. But the fact of the matter is, partnerships are a necessity of life.

There were a number of projects and ideas mentioned in the book that museums are using in Nova Scotia, and I suspect that some of these aren't thought of as social work. Included were partnering teens and the elderly for various reasons (oral history interviews, helping with household chores, etc.), displaying relevant items when family reunions are in town, and helping people research their family tree. All of these services help build connections within the community, help people to understand their identity, and in some cases alleviate hardship.

When I finished reading this, I couldn't help but think that what we really need is a mental shift in the field. We so often state that "museums improve the quality of life", but we rarely position these statements within the realm of social work. So the next time you're in a workshop and someone poses a question about museums' involvement in social work, think about the ways your museum is making your community a better place. I think that will spark an even better discussion.