Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 2015 Update

An alternative title to this post could be Thoughts & Lessons from 2015. It's been a pretty hectic year here at ANSM. The Evaluation Program, Advisory Service, First World War digitization focus, Museums 101 and Collections Management worshops...the list is pretty intense and those are just some of my projects, let alone other ANSM activities that have been or are still in the works.

Throughout my travels, I've made note of various thoughts and lessons and had every intention of blogging about them earlier - of sharing info in a timely fashion after I attended the AAM conference or the Tamarack workshop on community engagement, or just had a good conversation with someone inspiring. The funny thing is, the same themes kept coming up. So let's take a little look at these hot topics:

1. Commemorative Funding - is anyone else sick of hearing that you have to tie in your activities with "approved events" in order to get special project funding? I think a lot of us have felt pretty discouraged by this at one point or another. But I heard a great quote at a conference this year, "Local stories are relevant so can always tie to national narratives". I can't argue with that, so if we need to think a bit harder and write a bit more in applications about how our stories tie in, I think it's worth it. Our goal is to share information after all.

2. Community Asset - You've heard us use this term at the evaluation orientation sessions, but I promise you we aren't the only ones. Time and time again I've heard people say that we need to identify our museums as community partners and catalysts for positive change rather than as attractions. We shouldn't be proud if we are considered a hidden gem; we should be a local hub where people come together. And this includes focusing on the hyper-local, ie our immediate neighbourhood. It turns out, this also makes good business sense.

3. Crowdsourcing - A few museums in Nova Scotia have stepped into crowdsourcing, by funding the purchase of an artifact, the feeding of animals, or almost anything else. One of the coolest crowdsourced museum projects I heard about this year is Virginia's Top Ten Endangered Artifacts. Crowdsourcing isn't just about finding funding, but about community engagement, raising awareness, and being more transparent about museum work.
On a personal ANSM note, we've just backed a kickstarter project about strategic planning for museums and are pretty excited to put this into play (literally) in Nova Scotia. More on that in the new year!

Room of Martyrs
Center for Civil & Human Rights, Atlanta GA
4. Creativity - I know, super broad right? But this year I saw some great examples of museums troubleshooting issues in creative ways, be it in storage, exhibit design, or programming. And you don't have to break the bank. My example here is a pretty small room where the important stories of individuals are being told in an interactive way. Easy to change out content, easy to add more, and allows your visitors to get up close and personal with history.
In the areas of preservation & storage, I saw museums using fibreglas screens on windows while fundraising to purchase proper UV filters, conversion of garment racks and carpet tubes to awesome rolled storage units...the list goes on and on.

Those are just some of the things I've seen this year, and for the most part they give me hope and get me excited about where museums are headed next year (aka tomorrow). So I'm going to wrap up this quick little post with some of my favourite one-liners of the year:
"Ask yourself what you do better than others in your region"
"Pick three things you're good at and focus efforts there. Don't try to be everything to everyone"
"We need to take time to reflect on our work in order to learn from it"
"Sometimes your longest term employee is your database"
"Exhibitions do not equal engagement"
"Diversity in your board is a marker of success"

"A museum is good only so far as it is in use" ~John Cotton Dana

Happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November 2015 Update

serious crowd in Truro
Evaluation Preparation
The final four orientation sessions took place this month, in Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Cole Harbour, and Truro. When all was said and done we entered all the names & new contact info on our handy-dandy evaluation spreadsheet, and we're feeling pretty pleased with the turnout. We're also feeling a lot more confident in our ability to get in touch with people. So thanks to all who came out, for asking such great questions, and for being so positive about the new evaluation process.

Questions and requests for assistance are trickling in, and I'm keeping track of these in the aforementioned handy-dandy spreadsheet for a couple reasons. One - it shows where we might need to clarify questions, and two - we're curious to see if there will be a correlation between scoring and who reached out for help.
If you're looking for inspiration or wondering where to begin, here are some simple things that your colleagues are working on:
1. Reviewing the floor plan and updating locations in the collections database. Most people are saving the inventory portion of this work for summer students or volunteers since this is a super fast & easy job. 
Anita being dwarfed by Port
Hawkesbury's projection screen

2. Updating policies, manuals etc. As you heard at the orientation sessions, we want to make sure you're reviewing these documents regularly, confirming that they still meet your organizational needs. This includes seeing a "last reviewed" date, so some museums are sitting down and reviewing and adding this little date detail, and checking the boxes in the pre-evaluation review to make sure they aren't missing any sections or details. Don't forget that we have a lot of templates on our website that you can refer to, covering the subjects of collections & access to info, management, and marketing & revenue generation. For governance info, we recommend you check out the resources on Dalhousie University's website.

My biggest and best advice for you here is to reach out. Don't wait until you have a big list of questions you want answered, and don't debate them internally for weeks on end. Just fire off an email and I will help you out. From a support perspective, it is a whole lot easier (& faster) for me to handle these sporadic questions than to address a big list.

Collections Database Info
Our big news here is that we're expanding the server. The final set-up work is being done today, and then we'll have quadruple the space we had before. We'll also have nice new machines which will help keep things running smoothly. This upgrade was one of our big jobs to accomplish before the holiday break, and it's huge relief to have it settled. 

Quiet puttering is a good way to refer to database progress. As expected, a lot of museums are shifting their focus to evaluation preparation. So what we're seeing the most in database work is editing of existing records - reconciling duplicates, updating storage locations, adding missing information & images. Remember, every bit of work you do here will increase your chances of a good evaluation result. So even though it can feel like you're getting nowhere fast, believe me when I tell you that you are making noticeable improvements. This month's improvements mean we now have 221,948 artifacts and 104,885 images online. I wonder if we'll crack 222k and 105k before the end of the year...

And now here's that regional tally you're all waiting for:
Southwest - 121,115 artifacts, 48,770 images
Central - 42,250 artifacts, 24,136 images
Northeast - 30,933 artifacts, 21,464 images
Cape Breton - 27,650 artifacts, 10,515 images

For the second month in a row, congrats to Cape Breton for adding the most records this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images.

Your image lesson of the month is about detail shots; a very particular kind of detail shot. Every museum I visit has dishes or other ceramics that include lovely maker's marks on the bottom. And yet, these regularly get missed during photodocumentation. I know that sometimes the ceramic will just be a blank void of nothingness and make you cry "ARGH!" when your hopes of a research shortcut have been dashed. And I suppose some people think that the bottom of a plate is pretty boring so there's no need to photograph it, but trust me, these marks are absolutely crucial to include.
These marks are gold mines of information - where the ceramic was made, when, by whom, what kind of ceramic it is, etc etc. I like to go old school when researching ceramic marks. I have three special reference books that my aunt gave me and they are my go-to sources. They let me search by symbol, by country, or by company. There are also a lot of great websites that can help you with ceramic marks, such as Kovels, The Marks Project, and The So the next time you pull out a ceramic for digitization, flip it over and check the bottom. If there's a mark, say GOLD MINE! and snap a few detail shots using your macro (flower icon) setting. Trust me, it will be worth your while.

Odds and Ends
In random news, with 14 office days this month I was finally able to get through the bulk of my remaining site visit homework. It feels great to look at my to do list and not see August as a heading. It was also great to get to two regional meetings this month. The Black Cultural Centre hosted the Central Regional Heritage Group (affectionately referred to as crug), and the Colchester Historeum got to show off its interpretive renewal project as host of the Northeast regional meeting. In Truro we were honoured to have MP Bill Casey join us, and gave him our best crash course in Nova Scotian museum news. I wouldn't be surprised if his hand cramped from all the note-taking.

In general ANSM news, we are so very close to wrapping up the $100 from 100 campaign and would love to see this completed before the end of the year. Since tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, please consider helping us reach our goal. You can read more about the Museum Fund on our website.

Also, a friendly reminder that our office will be closed for the holidays from December 19th through January 3rd. I will sporadically check messages, but you should expect a delay in response time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2015 Edition

As my long-time readers know, I tend to get a little introspective when Remembrance Day rolls around. I've shared stories from my family's past, my personal experiences, and try to tie these in with the work we do as museums. This time I'm stepping away from my family's story, because this past week was Holocaust Education Week. Here in Halifax, this has meant special speakers and events, one of which I attended at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. It commemorated the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht through song, video, and a first-hand account by author Sidney Zoltak.

When he was a teenager Sidney and his family escaped from the Warsaw ghetto just prior to the ghetto's "liquidation", ie when the people were all transported to concentration camps. While his father was careful to shield Sidney from the truth of what was happening, Sidney remembers being aware of rumours circulating that "something bad, something significant was going to happen soon." In the middle of the night, his father cut through the barbed wire fence and people ran for their lives while being shot at by Nazi guards. After hiding out in the forest, his family made their way to a rural area and ended up being hidden in a barn for 14 months by another family. After the war and his father's death, Sidney and his family came to Canada to join his mother's sister in Montreal. They maintained contact and sent care packages to the family that hid them, and eventually had the family added to the Righteous Among the Nations list.

That is obviously a very brief synopsis of what Sidney shared with us on Sunday afternoon. And it is impossible to convey the emotion with which he spoke, and the response and reaction of the audience. But what I want to do is really focus on his musings as he wrapped up his talk. He shared that when he meets with other survivors they ask each other what the memories will look like when they are gone. They are worried about the distortion of historical accounts, Holocaust deniers, Nazi sympathizers, and that no one will be present to provide a first-hand account when questions arise.

There's no way around it, we all know it to be true; there are fewer and fewer survivors and veterans every day. As Sidney put it, "we leave future generations an important legacy". I could not help but feel that he was issuing a call to action to heritage institutions. I talk a lot about the need to personalize our collections - that each item has a story to share and we need to be more proactive in capturing those stories. But here was a man with far more clout than I have, tearfully pleading with his audience to never forget, and to seek out these memories and important stories and ensure that they are documented for future generations.

As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. Whether it is a Holocaust survivor's story or the life story of a local farmer who never left Nova Scotia, people's lives and experiences matter. We can learn a lot from those that came before us. They deserve our respect, especially as museums. Our mandate includes preserving our heritage right? This is literally our job. Again Sidney put it very poignantly that if we "don't do it now, tomorrow might be too late. Our stories are important historical facts." Truer words were never spoken.

We, the museum community must acknowledge this call to action and step up to the plate. We know that each story captured is another piece added to the puzzle that is our past. We know that we are ethically bound to be socially conscious institutions and that we have an active role to play in sharing life lessons with next generations. We know that sometimes our history is none too pretty, and that this can quickly and easily result in disbelief by our visitors and audiences. But we also know that sometimes we fail. Sometimes we shy away from telling the difficult stories in our history, we disregard teachable moments, and we don't take advantage of opportunities to capture personal, first-hand accounts. And frankly, if I had to explain to this wonderful gentleman why my museum had failed to capture and share these personal, difficult, and oh-so-important stories, I would be left feeling embarrassed and speechless.

The words honour, respect, responsibility and duty all immediately spring to mind. However you think of it, or whichever reasoning makes the most sense to you, let's all agree. As museum workers and as institutions that preserve societal memory, the least we can do is help those that are left to share their stories in the way they want, and in their own words.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

October 2015 Update

Odds and Ends
This is going to be a big update, so I'm going to keep this section brief. Since I took two weeks off in October, it meant cramming a whole lot of work into 12 days. The good news is that I survived. The bad news is that I've got tons of messages to respond to and my site visit homework is still incomplete. According to that to do list, it is still August 22nd. But now that I am almost entirely back in the office, I hope to make some serious progress over the coming weeks.

Evaluation Program
evaluation orientation
Anita and I have been on the road again, this time conducting orientation sessions on the new evaluation process. As one person said to us yesterday, this is the first time there has been this kind of communication about evaluations, and it is immensely helpful. We've had great turn outs at each session, and people have almost always said after the session that they felt better about next summer's evaluation. Yes it is still going to be a lot of work over the coming months, but I'm here to help you and I'm confident that together we'll be able to accomplish a whole lot before July rolls around. If you haven't already done so, be sure to download the new evaluation documents on our website. Look through and treat these as a self-assessment - answer what you are confident in, and then figure out what you'd like to work on next. If you have any questions at all, please be in touch.
If you are not a CMAP museum, you can still use this evaluation tool as a way to assess your operations. As we mention during the orientation session, museum workers are always busy, and it can be hard to get feedback or take a step back and assess yourself. This process is meant to help.

I taught two workshops this month as part of our Museum Studies program. Both workshops were our two-day session on Collections Management, but this doesn't mean we'll be offering multiple sessions for our other workshops in the future. We took advantage of a unique opportunity, and as a result 39 people were trained in collections management. We had great groups at both workshops. Middleton was uneventful, but we ended up having an adventure in Sherbrooke. Maritimers had a pretty interesting time on Thursday because of the wind and rain, and for those of us in Sherbrooke, that included a 7-hour power outage. Thankfully we were a pretty stalwart group, so we used our laptop batteries to the last drop, enjoyed a turkey dinner à la propane stove, and spent the rest of the evening in candlelight. It was actually quite lovely and relaxing.
Thursday night in Sherbrooke
cloudy Sherbrooke Village

Collections Database Info

We had a rather quiet month in the world of databases. I'm still seeing a lot of editing work being done, but additions are lower than they have been. We now have 221,947 artifacts and 103,253 images in the system which represents 237 new artifacts and 552 new images. As I've mentioned in the evaluation orientation sessions and collections management workshops, the best way to get through data entry backlogs and improve existing records is to just keep plugging away at it. So kudos to everyone as they do this. Every improvement increases the likelihood of a positive result in your evaluation.

Southwest - 121,069 artifacts, 47,047 images
Central - 42,172 artifacts, 23,970 images
Northeast - 31,205 artifacts, 21,721 images
Cape Breton - 27,501 artifacts, 10,515 images

Congrats to Cape Breton for adding the most records this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images.

For your image lesson of the month, we are talking about scanning. We are also talking about staff/volunteer training. The lovely ladies in this photo are going to help us out with this lesson. Very fun picture right? Unfortunately, it breaks a bunch of our digitization rules, and as a result has left this museum with more headaches than progress. Firstly, When the photo was scanned the student didn't define the scanning area, resulting in a lot of dead space that needs to be cropped out. But when you crop out dead space, you lower the image resolution. This limits re-purposing of the content. Secondly, this photo was plunked down in the middle of the scanning plate instead of along an edge, which means when you crop it, your image will be off kilter. Thirdly, the image file name is a mess with extra details and dots instead of underscores or dashes. That means we can't easily batch import the images to the database, that the image files won't be stored in order by accession number (ie the way we look things up).
My biggest problem with this scan is probably the one you've identified as well. Someone did a whole lot of work, and now the museum will have to spend just as much time fixing or redoing the work. We are swamped. We need to ensure that our limited resources are being used efficiently and effectively.

So, let's review our rules:
1. If your scanner doesn't automatically read the edges of your item, use the scanning preview option to define the scanning area.
2. Check your scanner settings. Make sure your image is going to be high resolution so you can use it in numerous ways. An easy guideline to follow is 600dpi.
3. Line up the item with whichever corner edge the scanner suggests. There is always a little arrow to show you where to position your item. If you don't use it, the scan won't be square.
4. When naming your images, do not include dots. The only dot should be prior to the file extension (ie jpg or tiff). Also, remember that your image name is supposed to align with the accession number. In this instance an additional number was added which means the file names have to be edited in multiple ways before the image can be attached to the database. This image file should read 2007_9_43.jpg or 2007_9_43.tiff.
5. Supervise your staff/volunteers! Don't assume that someone understands digitization just because they know how to use a computer. You've got to show people how to do a job, and then check in with them regularly to make sure that it is going well and you're happy with the results.

So there you go. Long lesson, but I really hope I never see this problem in a museum again.

And now by request, something completely different. I mentioned last month that I was going on hiatus for a personal adventure. Well, the cat is out of the bag. I got married. Thank you for the cards and gifts and messages. My new hubby has been thoroughly impressed by the kindness and support of the museum community. Thanks for celebrating with us as we embark on this great adventure.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 2015 Update

ALM Conference Attendees
Halifax Central Library
ALM Conference
For the first time ever, archives, libraries and museums of Nova Scotia held a joint conference, and around 240 people attended. In a nutshell, they loved it. Lots of smiling faces and realizations that as information holders and service organizations, we have a lot in common. So many people told me they were learning a lot and having fun and meeting all kinds of new people. Anita got to give a lightning talk about our educational offerings, and I was part of a panel that talked about online databases. I could have talked for at least another 30 minutes, but it was nice to share our news and talk shop. I got especially positive reactions to our new timeline feature, our partnership with Fleming College, and the sheer mass of data that we are sharing online. In case you missed our tweets or Facebook updates, we received a number of compliments, as did our friends with CollectiveAccess. The provincial archivist said that NovaMuse has set the benchmark for sharing collections online, and the NS Museum's Manager of Collections said that ANSM and particularly our work with NovaMuse is pushing the Nova Scotia museum community forward. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees, but we really are doing some pretty cool work, and it keeps getting better all the time.

Evaluation Program
Well, it is officially official. ANSM will be conducting the museum evaluations on behalf of the Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage (or as we fondly call them, CCH). The announcement was made at our AGM, and based on the questions and feedback, museums are ready to hit the ground running. So, without further ado, here is some much anticipated info.
Mandatory evaluation orientation sessions will be taking place this fall in 6 locations around the province. If you are a CMAP museum you will receive notification & invitation to these sessions. You don't have to go the closest one, but you will need to rsvp so we know who will be at which session. We want to see two people from each museum; the more ears the better. And now for the moment you've all been waiting for, here is a link to the new evaluation tools.
As I've mentioned before, if you do not have your previous evaluation scores, please be in touch and I will send them along. While the evaluation tool has changed, these old scores are still a great litmus test for your institution.

Site Visit Homework
I know that my goal was to wrap up site visit homework this month, but a few things got in the way and bogged me down. According to my to do book, it is August 20th. And everyone thought summer was over...ha!
One of the things that has been coming up a lot over the summer is the lack of begin/end dates. Yes I know we've talked about this in the past, and to some people I might be sounding like a broken record. But here's the deal:
1. We just impressed a lot of our professional peers with our timeline feature, so we want it to be the best it can be.
2. We've been focusing digitization efforts on First World War era items and realizing that a bunch of this stuff was either missing dates, was misidentified as Second World War, or had a really broad date range that could easily be narrowed down by reading the artifact.
3. We're facing a new evaluation and increased expectations around our documentation practices.

There are other reasons of course, but we basically need to make this field a priority when it has never been one before. And as I have been going through my homework and processing images to add, time and time again I've encountered records with no date when one is clearly visible or obvious. Like this postcard. The postmark clearly says 1913, and yet nothing was in the database. In 2 seconds I had the record updated and now we have this postcard sitting in its appropriate spot on the timeline. So let's just get into the habit of checking the date field when we look at a record, and see if we can narrow down that date a bit. 9 times out of 10, it's really not that hard to do.

One of the other time-consuming pieces of my homework is revisiting customized game plans for a lot of museums. This is something I started doing a couple years ago and have greatly expanded given its effectiveness. I've heard about and seen a lot of documentation improvements from those using a custom game plan, and am confident that this will result in better scores in the collections section of the evaluation. Summer students and volunteers have a better understanding of tasks, goals, and how these fit into the big picture. Efforts are focused and old issues are being methodically cleared up instead of just sporadically noticed and fixed.

Collections Database Info
The yo-yo effect seems to have settled down and we are back to adding new records rather than deleting duplicates or otherwise erroneous entries. Some of the smaller museums are now closed for the season, but progress continues to be made. There is a big push on right now to clean up storage locations and conduct inventories, in preparation for the dreaded collection spot checks in the evaluation. There is also a push to get the backlog of paper records entered in the database, also helpful for that spot check. And of course digitization (scanning & photographing) continues. I checked the numbers on that and since we switched to CollectiveAccess, we've seen a 137% increase in digitization. How awesome is that?! This month in particular, another 509 artifacts and 1,780 new images were added to the databases. We are now collectively hosting 221,710 artifacts and 102,701 images. Go team!

Southwest - 120,994 artifacts, 46,660 images
Central - 42,139 artifacts, 23,868 images
Northeast - 31,182 artifacts, 21,711 images
Cape Breton - 27,395 artifacts, 10,462 images

Congrats again to the Southwest region for adding the most records and images this month.

Since this is getting pretty long, let's just use the above postcard as our image lesson. Look for clues about the artifact's age and be sure to enter these in the database!

On that note, I'll be taking a two-week hiatus starting on Monday. Time for a little break and personal adventure before work stuff gets even crazier. If you need help with anything please be in touch with Anita, or leave me an email and I will get back to you later in October.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 Update

Wow. How is it the end of summer already?

Odds and Ends
First and foremost, I hope to see you all at our first ever joint conference for archives, libraries and museums. Read all about it and register online:

Secondly, a tip from Sheryl in Digby. Did you know you can preschedule Facebook posts? As you power down for the winter, this is a great little tool that can make your lives a bit easier. When writing your post, instead of clicking publish, click the little down arrow next to publish and select schedule. From here it's just a matter of picking the date & time you want to share the info.

And finally, for those of you preparing to close for the season, please stay tuned to the Beacon, email updates, etc. It's shaping up to be a very busy fall and we don't want you to miss out on key info.

IMAC Meeting
We ended this month with an IMAC meeting. Your illustrious peers got together to talk about NovaMuse, digitization efforts, conferences, internships, partnerships, and most excitedly, to review a couple applications from museums wanting to join in all this fun. We also talked about committee membership and feel that it is a good time to bring in some new people, so if you are curious about this committee or the Advisory Service in general, check out the policy on our website. If you'd like more info about the committee please let me know. We've got terms of reference and I can answer any other questions about it.

Evaluation Project
Unfortunately we're back in a holding pattern, waiting for news. So I will repeat what I said last month. It's been a long time since we've had to think or talk about evaluations. Even though a new evaluation tool has been developed, you can still learn a lot from your old scores and reports. For now, the best way to prepare for your next evaluation is to review those old documents and talk about what changes you've made since the last evaluation. If you scored low in an area, would you still score low? If you scored high, would you still score high? Don't assume that you will get the same score as last time. A lot has changed in the past 4-6 years. New board members, new staff members, new volunteers, new projects and websites and school kits and programs and buildings....the list of changes is almost endless. So don't hold off on starting these discussions. It's a healthy exercise in general, and a great way to get a jump on things. If you have questions about interpreting your previous scores feel free to give me a call.

Site Visits
I can't say that I'm officially off the road, but I'm pretty darn close with only two sites left. This month was a much better balance of office time and site visits, but not enough to get me through all my site visit homework. According to my infamous "to do book", it is only early July. On the one hand this is great news, because it means there's so much activity in our museum community that I've got all sorts of stuff to follow up on. On the other hand, it means I'm way behind in my work. Sincere apologies to all those who are waiting, and sincere thanks to everyone for your patience. I will be devoting this month to wrapping up site visit homework so you will be hearing from me.
85th Highlanders Badge
Kings County Museum

One of the fun things I'm behind on is First World War-era images. I have a great stockpile from all my travels, and these are slowly making their way online. I encountered a good variety of items, saw the typical/expected military stuff, and just thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see stuff that has been tucked away in storage for many moons. As we discussed at this morning's IMAC meeting, there are so many different kinds of objects in our collections, we could easily pick a different focus each year and it would take a long time to run out of stuff to digitize.

Collections & Database Info
The yo-yo effect is still in play as museums clean up old records. As a gentle reminder, you don't necessarily want to delete something from your system when it has been deaccessioned. You need to be able to quickly and easily answer any questions that come in about your collection - past or present. Having said that, I know that most of the clean up work is getting rid of duplicate or otherwise mistaken entries, which is great to see being done. So while it looks like only 86 new records were added this month, the reality is that our shared resource is more accurate than ever. I can also see that a whole lot of effort went into scanning & photographing collections. 3,341 new images went in this month. I love that number. We have now passed the 100,000 images mark, and not just by a little bit. We flew past it.

So, the regional tally looks like this:
Southwest - 120,581 artifacts, 45,631 images
Central - 42,077 artifacts, 23,418 images
Northeast - 31,172 artifacts, 21,595 images
Cape Breton - 27,371 artifacts, 10,277 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most records and images this month! The record count was super close, with 3 regions within 30 records of each other.

Your image of the month is a lesson in tags. I quite like this shot looking into the basket. It is a secondary image, showing the colours that haven't faded as much as on the outside, the nice square base, and the handles poking out.  What I don't like is that there is a big, distracting museum tag in the photo. These tags are so easy to remove, and their removal gives such a better image. Consider this to be your reminder. Take off the tag, photograph the item, and then put the tag back on. Also, smooth out those creases in the backdrop fabric. Trust me, you'll be much happier with the photograph if you do. And so will I :)

That's enough for me. Thanks for all the wonderful visits, and we will be talking again very soon.

Friday, July 31, 2015

July 2015 Update

Evaluation Project
The report has been submitted, and the ANSM board has met with the Deputy Minister and senior staff to discuss it. Now there's a lot of planning and talking going on to determine the best way forward. I know this means a bit of a waiting game and you're tired of hearing "stay tuned". So, if you want to be proactive, dig out the old CMAP evaluation files for your museum and see what kind of feedback you got on your last couple of evaluations. Your board should be having conversations about any identified weaknesses and strengths and be very honest about what kind of progress has been made over the past 5 or so years. Most of the museums I've been visiting are in totally different realities now - different staff, different volunteers, different board...a lot has changed. So let's get those conversations started, and when the new evaluation is released you'll already be in a good head space to really prepare for it.

Site Visits
July is a total blur. I only had a few office days and was otherwise running the road, visiting 26 museums. As per usual, I have lots of homework from these site visits. Unfortunately with so little office time I have fallen very far behind in my homework. So thanks for your patience. It may take a while, but I will follow through on it all.

I have been really encouraged by progress made at a number of museums. To paraphrase the classic song, what a difference a year makes. I encountered new & thriving volunteer programs, totally overhauled exhibit spaces, super fun fundraisers, and a lot of fantastic collections & database work. This has reminded me why it's so important to go to professional development and networking opportunities - like our fall conference, workshops, and regional meetings. If you are struggling, you would greatly benefit from hanging out with the amazingly creative and resourceful museum professionals in this province.
Great-Grampie Charlie's license
Admiral Digby Museum

The focus on First World War-era digitization has been going very well. The majority of it has been 2-dimensional, and my portable scanner has definitely earned its keep, but my camera has also gotten a good workout. My favourite item from this month is pretty close & personal. As many have already experienced, I've sent ahead lists of relevant items so that they can be pulled for my visit. This is a pretty quick search process since I need to do it over 50 times. Well, in Digby we pulled open a folder to reveal this gem of a certificate. Why is it such a gem? It's my great-grandfather's Canada Food Board license. I knew he didn't fight in the war, was a farmer and was active on the home front, but I've never known the details. And my advance searches haven't been focused on the details of each item aside from ensuring that it falls between 1914-1918 and needs to be digitized. So I hadn't noticed that it belonged to a relative at all, let alone Mom's Grampie. This beautiful find absolutely made my day and motivated me to keep on digitizing so that other people can experience the same excitement when they suddenly find something with a personal connection.

Collections & Database Info
So much clean-up work is being done in the databases that it's actually a little funny when you look at the numbers. Some museums go down, others go up. We're like a veritable data entry yo-yo. But it's all improvement. Those pesky duplicate entries are disappearing, and inventories are clearing up a lot of questions and issues. Aside from the regular digitization work, our First World War digitization project is resulting in a big stockpile of images to be added to the databases. Those numbers are going to climb pretty quickly in the near future. Speaking of numbers, in July we've seen 899 new records and 2,793 new images get added to the system. That has us sitting pretty at 221,115 artifacts and 97,580 images. We're inching ever closer to the 100,000 images mark. That will definitely be a celebration cake day.

Regionally, here's what it looks like:
Southwest - 120,337 artifacts, 43,674 images
Central - 41,846 artifacts, 22,731 images
Northeast - 30,963 artifacts, 21,187 images
Cape Breton - 27,969 artifacts, 9,988 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most records & images again this month!

For your image lesson of the month, I want to talk about detail shots. I've been seeing a lot of medals, ribbons, books and objects with fine print and other details that get lost in the big overall image. You don't want these details to get lost; you want to highlight them. This is when your additional detail photos come into play. The database can handle as many images as you want to add. And for a lot of items, one image just isn't enough to do it justice. When photographing something, remember to think like a researcher. What kind of markings or angles help you to really understand the object - its use, maker, manufacturing technique, and the story that all of these details tell.

Well, that's all from me for now. It's been a rather hectic month so I'm going to settle into a nice long weekend. Happy Natal Day and Happy Museuming :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 2015 Update

CMAP Evaluation Project
After spending only a month on the road, I've learned that this is at the forefront of people's minds. So, let's get it out of the way shall we? As some of you will have read in our Beacon e-newsletter, today we wrapped up the CMAP project. The past 8 months have just flown by, but as we discovered while writing the final report, we have done a lot of work and learned A TON in the process. We have incorporated all of the lessons learned into the final report as a series of recommendations on moving forward. Special thanks to the CMAP advisory committee for being so fantastic - thoughtful and determined to develop a great evaluation tool and process.
For anyone concerned about the new evaluation, you will be notified as soon as it is released and can then start working through the new questions in preparation for your next evaluation. So as we've said before, stay tuned and be at the ready.

Site Visits
In addition to the CMAP work, I've also been on the road a lot this month, crossing off 12 sites from my travel list. I've been really impressed by how many museums have settled into a really good work flow and are making steady progress with the database, digitization, and research. I'm really glad to see that the customized game plans we worked out last year are proving to be a big help, and that more sites are asking for game plans this year. They are designed to address existing documentation issues, ensure that the database has a solid foundation, and then build on that foundation in a logical way. Some of the tasks are a little tedious, but once they are done you can just focus on the fun stuff and looking ahead.

Halifax County Council, 1916
Cole Harbour Heritage Museum
Our focus on First World War-era digitization is slowly progressing and has already uncovered some very cool stuff. I'm seeing some really fantastic soldier portraits, a nice variety of certificates, books, postcards, uniforms, and all sorts of other odds and ends. I've also discovered a few issues during the process - that some people are having trouble finding the requested items in storage, and that a number of military items have been misidentified as WWI when they are in fact connected with the Second World War. And I've encountered a few people who thought I was only interested in military objects and so didn't pull out the non-military stuff. Let me assure you, I'm very interested in anything that dates between 1914-1918, and that's why I have included these items on your list. Please do your best to pull these objects for my visit so that we can get a few more things digitized.

Collections Database & NovaMuse Info
As I've already mentioned, we're seeing some great progress in database work. This doesn't necessarily translate into huge numbers of new records or images, but it means that a whole lot of stuff is getting cleaned up and improved. And we are still seeing steady increases in numbers. This month 965 new records were entered and 1,308 new images were attached. That means we've collectively got 220,216 artifacts and 94,787 images. Just like the customized museum game plans, we've established a really solid foundation and are now gearing up for bigger and better things.

Southwest - 119,681 artifacts, 41,807 images
Central - 41,681 artifacts, 22,384 images
Northeast - 30,742 artifacts, 20,567 images
Cape Breton - 28,112 artifacts, 10,029 images

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

Remember that our goal for this year is to digitize artifacts that were made between 1914-1918, with a special focus on 2-dimensional items that can be scanned (hence the Year of the Scan). So once again, remember that you should be scanning books and other 2-d items. Do not treat them like 3-dimensional objects like this book has been treated. Think about online booksellers and how they present a nice cover image. That is what you should have attached to your database. In thinking about our WWI-era theme, all those discharge papers, certificates, postcards, books, photographs...they should all be scanned. Yes I know I sound like a broken record, but this is still a problem and it is making our collective collection look bad. This summer I am traveling with a portable scanner and my camera equipment so that we can review digitization standards. We've got to step it up a notch.

In general database reminder news, please remember to take advantage of the data dictionary and "problems browse" features. There is really no excuse for making mistakes about the different fields or not following professional standards. These are built into the system. You should be checking your students' work, and telling them to use the "i" for info button or hover over the field names for every record. Just because someone can use a computer doesn't mean they understand professional museological standards.

That's all for now. Sorry for getting a little ranty there, but it had to be said. I'm on the road a lot right now, but am checking email, have my cell with me, and as usual am slowly working my way through site visit homework. See you on the road!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review - Small Museum Toolkit 5: Interpretation: Education, Programs, and Exhibits

I can't say that I was really excited for this book. I'm a collections kid, so while I appreciate a good program or exhibit when I encounter them, my creative juices don't often get flowing at the idea of developing a new educational offering. Having said that, I learned a bit from this one, and can definitely appreciate it as a resource for museum workers whose job it is to tackle this subject. This book consists of 5 chapters and lots of check lists and case studies - it's easy to see how you can apply the lessons on interpretation to any museum setting. I like that.

The first chapter uses the analogy of a concert to talk through interpretive planning. A big piece of this is the museum tour. So let's talk tours. When I was a summer student, I worked with someone who liked to compete over the length of a tour, their idea being the longer the better. Was this person reading his audience and engaging in meaningful conversation with visitors? If so, at some point did the tour of the museum stop being a tour and become a visit between people? Don't scoff; it happens. To bring this back to the book, the first chapter talks about conducting audience-centred interpretation that aligns with your interpretive plan and adjusts to the situation. "A good interpretive plan should offer multiple options and vehicles for the visitor and the tour guide alike". The author doesn't pull any punches, and even says not to do a three, two, or even one-hour tour. Yes! Let's quit the cookie-cutter tour game. Let's be more flexible, ask our visitors more questions about their interests, and pay attention to body language and other clues about how much they are enjoying their museum experience.

The second chapter is on interpreting difficult issues. It talks about the old method of single perspectives being described with artifacts tucked safely behind plexiglas cabinets, and how museums have been very gradually breaking down those physical & invisible barriers. Different viewpoints are being shared - culture, gender, age, philosophy - and as a result we are providing the public with a more holistic view of history. This is obviously a very difficult area to navigate, but as the author puts it: "to ignore or even sidestep these types of local issues is inauthentic and will undermine the interpretive goals you have set."  I've heard a few museum people say that their community doesn't have any difficult issues or shady history, but trust me, it's there. Every community has it. The author acknowledges this as well, and remarks that in some cases the public is well aware of the sketchy history, basically saying "it's about time you caught up" when the museum starts to incorporate this information in its interpretation. She has also dug up some great case studies to show how museums can dip their toe or dive right into this world. She makes some great statements in talking about opportunities and gathering input from your community, and how this can become an avenue for the museum to assist in addressing serious, long-standing societal issues.

Chapter three talks about researching historical exhibits. If you've never developed an exhibit, this chapter really walks you through the steps, from potential resources to organizing ideas to what kinds of questions to ask about the artifacts you're including. If you've never analyzed an artifact, it can be a very enlightening process. From this we roll into a broader chapter on developing exhibits as a whole. The author walks you through identifying the topic, defining the audience, determining the main message, developing the content, and then organizing the exhibit. Extra time is spent on the nitty gritty of exhibit label writing and installing the exhibit. One of my favourite pages in this chapter is on exhibit materials. We get questions about this regularly - what is safe to use and where you can buy it. A list like this can be especially helpful when you have some local volunteers who want to build stuff for you and need some guidance. My other favourite page in this chapter is when the author wraps it up all by advising readers to remember these 5 guidelines:
1. Exhibits are a medium for communication with special characteristics.
2. Every exhibit tells a story, but just one. Don't overdo it. There will be other exhibits to tell other stories.
3. Be green. Reduce, reuse, recycle. You don't have to break the bank when constructing a new exhibit.
4. Be sure to provide adequate protection of artifacts.
5. Make sure the exhibit is both fun and informative. Never sacrifice one for the other.
(I paraphrased here. Each point goes into more detail in the book).

The final chapter is on the nuts and bolts of program management. There's a lot of talk about logistics and sourcing supplies and resources, marketing...basically this goes over all the pieces of the plan. And as we've seen elsewhere in this book series, the question of assessments is raised. You've got to evaluate your programs - how many people are coming, did they learn what you hoped they would learn, did the venue work the way it was supposed to logistically, how would you change things if you did it again, etc etc. I think at this point we can all just say that the moral of the story is regularly evaluating our work. Maybe it's a casual assessment and maybe it's really formal, but we've got to stop and ask questions instead of just working away with our heads down. To bring this point home, the author wraps up this chapter (and therefore also the book) with a program management checklist. It's general enough that you should be able to see any program within the list, but specific enough to help you tighten up your planning, execution, and assessment tasks.

Other posts in this series:
Book 1: Leadership, Mission and Governance
Book 2: Financial Resource Development and Management
Book 3: Organizational Management
Book 4: Reaching and Responding to the Audience
Book 6: Stewardship: Collections and Historic Preservation

Monday, June 1, 2015

May 2015 Update

Jake & Vanessa in Malagash
CMAP Pilot Evaluation
Well, we survived the pilot and we learned a lot. I now have copious notes to sort through and more adjustments to make to the evaluation. I'm happy to say that the timing seems to work, museums were able to pull together their homework pieces without too much difficulty, and by talking through the process with evaluators and museum workers, we were able to clarify a number of questions and areas. A few points of interest:
1. Museums are ready and eager to be evaluated again and feel this is a crucial component to self-improvement.
2. Giving museums 30 minutes of orientation & "show-off" time means evaluators can be much more effective and accurate in their evaluation.
3. When conducting the artifact inventory check evaluators expected decent descriptions and digital images to leave no doubt that the items & records matched.
4. Evaluators are watching and noticing the smallest details even when you don't think they are (how creepy is that?!).
Teamwork test at MOI
Thanks to the Colchester Historeum, Cole Harbour Heritage Farm, Creamery Square Heritage Centre, Malagash Salt Mine Museum, and the NS Museum of Industry for being our guinea pigs. Everyone was very professional and honest as we poked and prodded around their museums, and gave us some great feedback on the evaluation process.
Thanks to Jake, Valerie, and Vanessa for joining Anita and I on this crazy adventure, for taking it so seriously and yet always maintaining a sense of humour, and for making great travel companions. We couldn't have done it without you.

Site Visits
That's right. It is time to hit the road again. I don't feel like a year has passed, but I guess it has. What's on the agenda for this year? First World War-era artifacts are this year's focus. And it's the year of the scan, so this means we will be taking a look at your collection and reviewing digitization techniques for these early 20th century items. We will look at the new features of NovaMuse, how your records appear online, and talk about how you can improve your online presence. For anyone in CMAP, we will also chat about the new evaluation tool and how you can prepare for your next evaluation. It's a full agenda, but please feel free to add items to the list.
Please keep in mind it is not my job to train your summer students or new staff members. The museum board and senior staff are responsible for this task. I get grumpy when I have to repeat the same basic instructions year after year after year and don't see any forward momentum at a museum. Please don't make me grumpy.

Collections Database & NovaMuse Info
A funny thing happened this month. We went down in record numbers. This has happened before but it is extremely rare. Apparently a few museums have been cleaning up duplicates and sorting stuff out, and as a result, we went down by 68 records and now have 219,251 records. But 413 new images were added so we're creeping closer to the 100k mark - sitting pretty at 93,479.

Regionally, this is how we're kicking things off for the 2015 season:
Southwest - 119,192 artifacts, 41,214 images
Central - 41,497 artifacts, 22,037 images
Northeast - 30,522 artifacts, 20,306 images
Cape Breton - 28,040 artifacts, 9,922 images

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

We recently updated NovaMuse to the new version of Whirl-i-gig software. Basically we have added more flexibility to the site; we've linked to our social media pages, the site automatically adjusts itself to whatever people are viewing it from (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop, etc), and we finally have the ability to see search results on a timeline or map. As with previous system updates and our migration to CollectiveAccess in general, seeing our data in a new/different way has enabled us to identify holes and issues. The timeline especially shows just how bad it looks to not have an image of the artifact, and how crucial it is that we have accurate begin/end dates in our records. It's super cool, but would be a lot cooler if we put in some more work. Since my go-to example of this feature has been a researcher looking up wedding dresses, here is a little snapshot of how this appears on the timeline:

The section of the timeline without any images was just too depressing for me to include as an image here. So I want you to imagine how bad this would look if none of these dresses had photographs. Just a date, object name, accession number and brief description (this particular dress is missing a description - not good). On the right hand side you will notice that you can refine your search results, but when you do that you aren't getting full results any more. Sure it's great if you only want to check out wedding dresses in Cape Breton museums, but you will still have the issue of missing images and spotty descriptions. This is why I've been helping museums develop game plans for accomplishing database work and why we've declared it the Year of the Scan. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, people expect high quality images of your collection to be in your database and available online. We know the reality of how time- and resource-consuming this work is, so it's important that we keep on eating that elephant one bite at a time.

All for now. I am hitting the road this week and look forward to some one-on-one time at our lovely community museums across the province. It's gonna be a good summer!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review - Small Museum Toolkit 4: Reaching and Responding to the Audience

Round 4! Reaching and Responding to the Audience

This one has 6 chapters that address marketing & communication, visitor studies & evaluation, community advocacy, accessibility, visitor services, and finally new opportunities in community engagement.

Some people may not expect it, but in the first chapter about marketing & communications a decent amount of time is spent talking about the museum's identity. If you don't have a solid sense of self, it can be difficult to explain your activities to the public. The other lesson in this chapter is the need to identify affinity groups. We return to this point time and time again - collaboration, partnership, cooperation...these are not just buzz words. This is the reality of contemporary museum work. Looking for potential partners and interest groups helps to build your audience, develop new stakeholders and advocates, and builds relationships with potential partners.
One of the nice little text boxes in this chapter talks about establishing brand identity. So many community museums are lacking in this area. Be succinct, convey your uniqueness, use a standard & easy-to-read font in your communications, get a logo designed that will work online & offline, on t-shirts and postcards and receipts and websites...flexibility and aesthetics count. Also, I know it's tempting to come up with clever little tag lines, but be careful with these. I can think of a couple that actually sound contrary to museum work, although I'm sure the museum board thought they wrote something fun.
Another helpful section is the one on public relations. This is not my area of expertise, and isn't something that gets a lot of attention in museum school. The author's advice on how to best share media releases and take advantage of the various advertising options is much-needed.

We've been talking a lot about visitor statistics and really using the information garnered, and that's what chapter 2 is all about. I think I've said this already in reference to an earlier book in the series, but I appreciate the brutal honesty of this series. This is very true for the visitor studies chapter. It provides talking points for convincing sceptical colleagues of the importance of this work and gives tips on how to get useful, accurate info from your visitors.

I hate to admit it, but the chapter on community advocacy got off to a rocky start for me. It begins with the statement "community service is essential any small museum", and I disagree with this. It isn't essential, it is why we exist. If you don't exist as a community service, then what on earth are you doing? The author rallied a bit though and went on to make some very valuable remarks on "being a good neighbour". I love the statement that "becoming a strong advocate within the local community is not just about promoting your small museum or historic site as an engaging venue" because. I think this has often been the motivation for community involvement and can end up doing more harm than good. We need to stop thinking about what we might gain and remind ourselves that we exist to improve our community, however that is best achieved.
One of the key points in this chapter is community communication. This means having conversations. I love what one director had to say, "what we realized is that the only way our museum can survive is to not ust look back, but to look forward as well". She doesn't just mean collecting modern objects. She means looking to the future of the community as a whole.

Back on the plus side, there is an entire chapter devoted to making the museum more accessible to people with mobility, hearing, vision, or other issues. It walks you through the process of conducting a site audit focusing on these issues. While some of the points about wheelchair accessibility and parking are well known and understood, it delves into many other areas, from exhibit text font & type size, to lighting, tours, the gift shop, and even your marketing efforts. I also really like that the author points out that every museum can improve on accessibility. No excuses. It doesn't matter how small you are or what kind of building you are in. There are some great tips for addressing specific issues, such as hearing and vision impairments, and then in the resources section a list of checklists that you can refer to as another means of assessing your offerings.

The book finishes off with a chapter by our good friend Candace Tangorra Matelic. She makes a great case for this shift and explains it very succinctly; "new roles for museums emerge through honestly engaging the community, discovering what the community cares about, working with other organizations to address community needs, and rediscovering the spirit or passions that uniquely define each individual small museums". One of my favourite things about this chapter is the neat little table that talks about what is and what is not community engagement. This serves as a great check-in when you're planning activities, and gives suggestions on which areas need improvement. For institutions that have never delved into this work, there is another nice table that gives you some basic ideas on how to work toward community engagement - baby steps that you can work through as an organization. Honestly, I think that if you were to only read one chapter in this book, it should be this chapter.

One of the nice things about these books is that they include a lot of case studies from a wide variety of museums. It's a lot easier to understand a theory when you can see it put into practice. I've learned about a lot of 'new' places and museums by reading these books, and have drawn comparisons between them and a number of Nova Scotian museums.

Reviews of other books in the series can be found here:
Book 1: Leadership, Mission & Governance
Book 2: Financial Resource Development and Management
Book 3: Organizational Management
Book 5: Interpretation: Education, Programs, and Exhibits
Book 6: Stewardship: Collections and Historic Preservation

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review - Small Museum Toolkit 3: Organizational Management

"Effectively managing people, facilities, and partnerships can make or break an institution." Truer words were never spoken. As the author goes on to state, this isn't why we got into the museum business, but it is an integral part of the game. So with that in mind, here we go for round 3 of this book review series. Five chapters and 3 appendices later, this book should shed some light on how you can improve the management of your museum, no matter how long you've been in the museum business.

The first chapter is a real bricks & mortar look at the building, its use and maintenance. It encourages you to think about your visitors' first impression of the site, having a regular maintenance schedule, pest management plan, looking for ways to "green" the museum, and have solid financial plans to accomplish your goals. And how does it suggest you do all this? Through an operations manual (we often call this a facilities management plan). It should contain architectural drawings (and descriptions/drawings of any renovations), a site map, lighting and alarm map, floor plan (with labels), circuit breaker map, fire suppression system map, plumbing map and/or info on water shut-off valves. It's a good place for your Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), equipment warranties and manuals, and contact info for vendors or service providers. This is also where you should outline your maintenance and cleaning schedule - everything from when filters need changing to when the trees need trimming to when the cases need dusting. And last but not least, your key log should be here, along with your key & alarm code policy (or at the very least a few lines stating who gets keys). You absolutely have to know who has keys to which doors, cabinets, etc., for pretty obvious reasons. You may feel like some of this information is obvious, but as my mother likes to say, common sense isn't as common as it used to be.

Now let's talk Disaster Plans, or Emergency Preparedness Plans if you prefer that term. This isn't something you can buy nor is it something that should just be sitting on some shelf. This is a living, breathing document. If it is more than 5 years old, if it wasn't revised the last time there was a board or staffing change, if it doesn't account for a new & major acquisition, then it is out of date. And the thing about emergencies is that when they strike, it can be a pretty scary and emotional thing, so having a plan to guide you through the process is crucial. Knowing who is responsible for what, and having checklists, phone lists, and basic instructions will be your best friend when something bad happens.

There were two other areas in this chapter that really jumped out at me - insurance and facility rental. These are areas that I know some museums struggle with - insurance is an expensive headache and renting out the museum space can be terrifying. This wasn't in the book, but we always point people to the CMA's insurance program. As for facility rentals, I really appreciated the author's discussion on mission-based building use and the list of questions to address in shaping a policy. There is a lot of inconsistency in how museum's handle rentals, and there often seems to be a reactionary approach to policy development, so forcing some discussions in advance and comparing notes a bit more sounds good to me.

The next three chapters in the book deal with people - staff, volunteers, and interns. There are some common threads through these chapters and tons of great info in good detail, such as the need for job descriptions, hiring qualified people, and regular evaluations. There is often a fear that setting goals and evaluating volunteers will be "asking too much" or might "drive them away", but it is just part of operating a professional organization. You need to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of your staff and volunteers, and provide constructive feedback and opportunities for growth. We are not hobbyists, we are professionals. The section on internships is very transferable to other roles; ensuring that projects and tasks are matched to the person's skill and knowledge levels, and ensuring that the internship is mutually beneficial.
And don't forget to keep this personnel info on file to protect all parties involved.

The final chapter in the book talks about collaboration. As an intro, the author says we need to collaborate because "times are hard, sharing resources helps them go further, collaboration can increase your audience, and collaboration can make your project more attractive to grant-making agencies." This is all true. I would also add that collaboration is a way to gain an outside perspective on your museum. We're always so busy that it can be tough to take a step back for perspective or a step out into the unknown, and collaborating can help you get over those hurdles. When we think about which museums are thriving, our list consists of museums who connect with other museums, community groups, businesses, etc., and aren't afraid of trying non-traditional museum stuff. It can be difficult to capture the myriad ways we could be collaborating. But this book does a good job of arguing the point, providing suggestions on how to start, how to identify potential partners, and how to manage and assess the partnership. It includes a sample management agreement and case studies for inspiration. It's a heavy topic, but the author does a great job of breaking it down.

One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind as I was reading this book and writing this post was that we need to better document what we do for future museum workers. If you've got a good system figured out, then you should write it down so everyone can be on (and stay on) the same page. Those organizational documents can then serve as excellent training resources for summer staff, volunteers, board members, and new staff. If/when you leave the museum, they serve as foundational and crucial guides for your successor(s).

So that's it for book 3. All in all, a very impressive read that I will definitely be recommending.

Check out my reviews of the other books in the series:
Book 1: Leadership, Mission and Governance
Book 2: Financial Resource Development and Management
Book 4: Reaching and Responding to the Audience
Book 5: Interpretation: Education, Programs and Exhibits
Book 6: Stewardship: Collections and Historic Preservation

Friday, May 1, 2015

April 2015 Update

Odds and Ends
Well, first and foremost I have sad news to report. Our intern has finished his time with us and we are back down to 2.5 people in the office. Thanks to Kevin for all his hard work over the past 4 months. He snuck off without writing his goodbye blog post, but since he got himself an interpretation gig at the Halifax Citadel for the summer, we look forward to still hearing from him and seeing him from time to time.

Museums 101
Antigonish Heritage Museum
IMAC met this month to talk all things Advisory Service. Gary hosted us at the Citadel and there was much planning and scheming (in a good way) and of course cake eating.

Our Museums 101 workshop took place in Antigonish and got rave reviews. And remember how I said that you should always ask to be put on the waiting list if the workshop is full? Well, we actually got 4 people in off the waiting list this time. So it really is worth being on the list. Interpretation I is coming up very soon, as is the Stone Soup Symposium. Having just returned from the AAM conference (stay tuned for a separate blog post on that), I can't stress enough the importance of such professional development opportunities. Good for morale, good for networking, and good for inspiration.

The Museum Fund is coming along nicely. We have now raised 72% of our goal. Let's keep the momentum going for a better future for Nova Scotian museums. If you still haven't contributed, click here to read about it and see how you can help.

The CMAP committee met again this month and I am pleased to say that we have definitely turned a corner. It feels like things are coming together nicely and making a lot more sense. We think we have found a way to make the evaluation process easier on the museum while garnering better quantitative and qualitative data on museum operations. I'm hesitant to go into too much detail until we've piloted the new process, but I think it's going to work well. And speaking of piloting, it's coming up quickly! May 28-29th we'll be hitting the road and testing out the new evaluation. Our friends and colleagues Val Lenethan and Barbara Wentzell are joining us as pilot evaluators. Both have years of experience with museums in Nova Scotia and with CMAP in particular. They and the participating museums are eager to provide feedback on this new process and make sure that we end up with a great new system.
James House Museum

Fleming Project
This year's project has officially wrapped up. I will be sending along the student reports next week, but right now am just feeling a nice sense of accomplishment in knowing that 300 database records got some help from these students. That's a pretty decent drop in our bucket of 200,000 records. And we were all over the map in terms of what kinds of objects were included in the project. We targeted some WWI-era stuff, but everything else was pretty random - artworks, books, furniture, magazines, newspapers, clothing, accessories, dishes...the list goes on and on. The students all said they enjoyed the project and the chance to use a state-of-the-art database system. So once again we are really pleased with how this project turned out. Is it weird if I'm already looking forward to next year?

Collections Database Info
As museums prepare to open for the season, I am looking forward to seeing spikes in our database activity. This month 358 new records were entered and another 639 images were added. We're making good and steady progress all the time. As you do prepare for the summer, don't forget about our 2015 scanning challenge. Let's get those photos and postcards and 2-dimensional objects scanned and attached to the database. We're sitting at 219,319 artifacts and 93,066 images. It would be great to pass the 100,000 images threshold this summer.

Southwest - 119,161 artifacts, 40,968 images
Central - 41,389 artifacts, 21,892 images
Northeast - 30,747 artifacts, 20,284 images
Cape Breton - 28,022 artifacts, 9,922 images

Congrats to Cape Breton again for adding the most records, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images.

All for now. Good luck to all the museums preparing to open their doors for the season. I look forward to visiting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review - Small Museum Toolkit 2: Financial Resource Development and Management

Here we go, round 2 of the AASLH Small Museum Toolkit. I have to admit that I wasn't really psyched about reading this one. Sure I can write grant applications and deal with budgeting and all that, but it is definitely not my favourite area of museum work. 

This book only has 4 chapters so in a way felt shorter than the first one, and two of these chapters contain a lot of uniquely American content regarding legal issues. Chapter one is all about budgeting and money management in compliance with IRS regulations. Chapter two discusses fundraising but in a very holistic way (two thumbs up). Chapter 3 talks about writing those never-ending grant applications, and chapter 4  reviews legal issues (again very USA-focused so not super applicable). 

Because of the American focus of some of this book, I'm going to skip over those parts and just share highlights of internationally relevant content (ie the info us Canucks can use).

Chapter two was definitely my favourite of this book. I was reading through museum reports recently and there were a lot of fundraisers mentioned, and almost all of them brought in very little money, especially when compared against the time & resources required for the activities. This chapter walks you through a development game plan - assessing the philanthropic culture in your community, making a plan (including assigning duties), and developing a key statement about your fundraising goals. And then comes the part where you start talking to your membership. This is a fantastic section. I've had a few conversations recently with museum board members about their membership numbers and models; basically consisting of an admission that something isn't working any more. And that means it's time to review what we offer our members. Newsletters, free admission, gift shop discounts...we need to take a step back and ask what makes membership to our institution different from other museums & societies. Whatever membership benefits we offer should be reflective of our museum & its unique work. There is a great example in the book of a museum with different membership levels. Each level has a special name connected with the site, and the higher the membership level, the more perks you get. This kind of personalization will take some extra work, but it is a lot more engaging than the traditional "send us a cheque and we'll mail you a newsletter" approach.

This chapter also had some great info on sponsorship, a particularly hot topic in the museum world. I can think of a few examples where I wandered through a museum, saw a big panel or sign thanking a company for sponsoring an exhibit or program, and felt a little dirty. Even if all they did was sign the cheque, I wondered what sort of input/influence they had. We've all read the letter asking museums to break ties with oil companies over the issue of climate change. That's just one example. But this is when our code of ethics comes in handy, and the guidance in this book works for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

As with many things, the key to success is in the planning. No matter how big or small the museum, your board should have a fundraising plan. From endowments to events to government grants, it is the board's responsibility to ensure the viability of the museum. But sometimes people (including board members) are reluctant to fund-raise. Part of what I like about this book series is the admission of such issues. "Simply put, if your board isn't willing to fundraise, you're in a bit of a pickle. But it's not hopeless. The nonprofit sector functions because board members and staff fundraise side by side in their communities, and if you let the board off the hook, the organization is in jeopardy." Yes! A thousand times yes! But as the author said, all is not lost. She goes on to provide ways to ease a board into seeing the varied methods of fundraising and how everyone can play their part. A little education and forthright conversation can go a long way.

The other broadly useful chapter is on writing grant applications. One of the first keys to success is the relationship - "people give to people, not to organizations". I know at first glance this might sound more applicable to other types of fundraising, but it is also relevant here. Foundations are run by people, program officers are get where I'm going with this. You've got to familiarize yourself with the granting agency and program officers; not just the funding guidelines. If you've never written a grant proposal there are some great tips here about how to write your abstract and goals.

I think my favourite section in this chapter is the time management section. Yes we are all really busy and it is hard to carve out time to write grant proposals. But there can be dire consequences if we don't take this point seriously. You need time to research, time to review with the program officer and staff or board members, need time to write the application and develop the budget, need time to just need time.

The message in this chapter (and really in this entire book) for small museums is to not be scared by the process, talk to other museums, look at what projects have been funded in the past, talk to the program officers, and take the time to research and plan your efforts.

Check out my reviews of the other books in the series: