Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 Update

What a month! It feels like I just wrote February's update. Why is time flying by so quickly?

Goodbye Chris
In sad news, our office is now back down to 2.5 people. Chris finished his contract on Friday, which of course meant we had to enjoy some cake, and also Thai food, and home made get the idea. It was tough to see him go. He's been such an integral part of the ANSM team for the past year. His work on the Nova Scotia manufacturers' database has been phenomenal, and I'm not sure what I would have done without his help in reviewing & updating database records from across the province. Before I go into full obituary mode for someone who is still very much alive, I'll just say that we will really miss this guy. And we look forward to him visiting the office because he still owes us a pie.

ANSM Workshops
I mentioned last month that our workshops have been selling out like hotcakes. Well, the trend is continuing. The Museum Management & Governance Workshop in Bridgewater only has 1 spot left. This is a chance to brush up on the legal, ethical, fiscal and accountability issues associated with being on a board, staff & volunteer recruitment & management, strategic & business planning, etc etc. I sat in on this workshop last time and noticed that attendees were frantically writing notes and had some great questions for presenters. It was very clear that people learned a lot, and I'm sure that the same will be true this time around. So seriously, if you haven't signed up, now is the time.

New Loan Resource
I mentioned last month that we had a new resource ready and waiting to be put online, but that it got delayed by our sick day. Well, let's talk loans. I've done this in the past, but now we've adapted my blog post into a step-by-step guide to reconciling old loans. These are the loans that have been sitting around in the museums for years. For whatever reason, regular review & renewing of the loans hasn't been happening. That's a bad thing. It leaves the museum open to liability issues. So, check out our handy guide to addressing this problem. It's not nearly as scary or daunting as you might think. Click here for the resource.

NovaMuse Statistics & User Engagement
We've been talking a lot about social media and how our visitors are engaging with NovaMuse. We are gradually building up our twitter audience, and were helped this month by the UK's #MuseumWeek - a week full of fun museum facts being shared on Twitter. It was an opportunity to share things that we might not otherwise feature, and with everyone using the same hashtags, had more people checking out our tweets & links than usual. We also created a Pinterest board for St. Patrick's Day, featuring a lot of fun green objects. Over the coming year we'll be looking at how other museum & collection websites engage with their audiences and working at developing a plan to improve visitor engagement. There are a lot of options and opportunities, and since the website will be turning 2 in September we figure it's a good time to apply some lessons we've learned.

Fleming College Assignment
The students are now wrapping up their assigning after reviewing 350 artifacts in 12 museum databases, and the site reports are starting to trickle in. The reports outline which records were reviewed, which were researched further, and the information discovered. They also include suggestions for how the museums can improve their collections management practices. So a big thank you to the students for all their hard work, and also to the museums for opening their databases to the students. We think this is a great addition to the museum studies curriculum, and look forward to doing the project again next year. If you haven't participated in this yet, there are a few things you can do over the summer to set yourself up for inclusion. First, you need to have images of your artifacts in the database. We look for a variety of objects so the students don't just get 10 books or photographs or dresses...a mix is ideal. We also look at whether or not you own the items in question. We will not have students working on things that aren't owned by the museum, so feel free to go back to that loan reconciliation resource if you need help sorting that out.

Collections Database Info
As I mentioned last month, I sort of cheated in my count of records reviewed...we were so close to the end of one that I wanted to include it. As a result, and because we were working so much on the manufacturers database and other end of fiscal year tasks, we "only" reviewed three museum databases this month. They were all fairly small so only totalled 7,157 records. The pace is going to slow significantly now that Chris is gone and site visit season is coming up, but we're still well ahead of schedule and on the final stretch - only 9 more databases to go.

At the museums, after another 165 artifacts and 478 images were added to the databases, we now collectively have 197,391 artifacts and 82,979 images in the system.

Here's the regional tally:
Southwest - 101,704 artifacts, 37,098 images
Central - 40,096 artifacts, 17,724 images
Northeast - 29,565 artifacts, 19,179 images
Cape Breton - 26,191 artifacts, 9,456 images

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

Manufacturers' Database
Guess what?! NovaMuse has a new feature. You can now browse through over 7300 local businesses and artisans, and see artifacts that they made. As you know, this is one of those never-ending projects, but so far we've linked 292 entities to 2,374 artifacts. We've found links to people we never thought we'd link - such as a small-town cooper whose business ledger and receipts have all ended up in the museum. My personal favourite to date is the Romkey Fish Plant of West Dublin. Not only can you see artifacts that were used in the plant, but there are also some great photographs of people working in the plant. This new feature is really making our local industries come to life. And, we've only processed half of the museum databases so far. That means there will be many more connections made.

That's all for this month. I wonder what shenanigans we'll get up to in April...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review - Standards for Saskatchewan Museums

Time for another book review. That's right, it has another province in its title. But that's okay. Museum standards are pretty transferable. I've heard through the grapevine that our friends in Saskatchewan are actually in the process of updating this, which means a fifth edition is in the works, and I for one look forward to seeing how they improve on this handy dandy guide.

The structure of the book is well-defined, and meant to provide museum workers with a very quick and easy method of checking information. Topics include everything from risk management to intellectual property, care of collections to communications. If you have questions about security, jump to that page and scan through the 1.5 pages of quick tips for your answer. There are 18 pages of additional resources, again broken down by subject which makes it very easy to dig deeper into an area using books or online info.

I've read a number of these books from other organizations, provinces, and countries, so I can't say there were any surprises in terms of content. What I can say though, is that certain points or tips jumped out at me as issues I've seen in our Nova Scotia museums.

First and foremost, First Nations are presented as important partners and this is sadly lacking in other similar Canadian resources. The shift is gradually taking place, but as with many things, it's slow going. Building relationships takes time. So the seamless integration of First Nations' approaches and priorities was most welcome.

Maybe it's because of our upcoming workshop on Museum Management & Governance, but my favourite tips came from the management section. A number of standards jumped out at me:

  • The governing authority monitors and evaluates the museum's performance on a regular basis in order to assess if the museum is fulfilling its mandate.
  • Where the governing authority is a board of directors/trustees it specifies staggered terms for its members. [This means you can't have someone on your board for 85 years in a row]
  • The museum board and staff develop an ongoing relationship with policymakers and actively seek opportunities to discuss the museum's position with them. [Board members need to be in on this, otherwise staff members can be accused of just trying to save their jobs]
  • The museum has adopted a code of ethics which sets out accepted practices and rules of conduct. [CMA Ethics Guidelines can be found here]
  • The museum has a written long-term or strategic plan that is monitored and updated on a regular basis. [There's no such thing as status quo, only moving forward or moving backward]
  • The museum has a written dissolution policy. [Nothing lasts forever]
  • The museum has a financial resource development plan in place to ensure it has enough money to fulfill its mandate. [Hint: cutting back hours & staffing isn't going to work forever]

Staffing can be difficult in smaller museums, and I can think of numerous conversations and issues that have surfaced because museums haven't been following the following standards:
  • The museum recruits and retains well-trained paid and volunteer staff. [One of my biggest pet peeves is when a museum doesn't (properly) advertise a job]
  • There is at least one person, either paid or volunteer, working in the museum with professional museological training. [This means you shouldn't just hire Bob because he's president Fred's nephew and is a fast learner]
  • The museum has identified critical positions and succession plans are in place to ensure ongoing operations. [What are you going to do if someone gets hit by a bus?]
  • The museum supports training and development opportunities that meet the needs of both the individual and the institution by allocating funds on an annual basis.

As I mentioned above, there are lots of other areas covered in the guide. For anyone thinking about starting a museum, or wondering about joining their local museum society, this is a good orientation of the complexities of museum operations. And for existing museums, it's a nice reality check to make sure certain areas haven't become a little relaxed over the years.
So that's it for this book review. Maybe I'll revisit this one when the fifth edition is released.