Monday, October 31, 2016

October 2016 Update

Regional Heritage Group Meetings
Southwest Curator's Group Meeting
Yarmouth County Museum
Anita and I hit the road a fair bit this month; twice for regional group meetings. The first was the Central Regional Heritage Group. Thanks to the NS Sport Hall of Fame for hosting this one. They have a pretty sweet board room, and Katie even had sweets ready for us. Cake culture is alive and well. 12 people from 10 organizations were present, and there was lots of talk about how the summer went, and closing down for the season. Kellie McIvor joined the group in her new capacity as Cultural Asset Manager for HRM, and she gave lots of info about various HRM work and activities. The second regional meeting we attended was the Southwest Curator's Group, hosted by the Yarmouth County Museum. Bria brought some much-appreciated mini chocolate bars, which were shared while everyone did a roundtable on their summer activities. The scope of programs and fundraising efforts was impressive. At both meetings, we talked about the various ANSM work on the go - upcoming workshops and training, the evaluation program, MuseFund, NovaMuse and the advisory service. It's so important to get around a table and talk shop. If you aren't attending these and are wondering when they are, you can get in touch with us, or sign up for the Beacon e-newsletter since we advertise them there as well.

Museum Evaluation Program
As I mentioned last month, my big job for this month was analyzing statistics and writing a report for the Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage and the ANSM Board of Directors. But before I could really dive into report work, I had to dig my way out from the vacation email backlog. I/We received a lot of feedback from museums. 54 of the 67 museums (80.6%) responded to the evaluation reports in some capacity. A number of museums said that they will be using the report as a guide to assist in developing plans for the coming years, which is really encouraging to hear. We really wanted the reports to be helpful.
In terms of the big report for CCH and our board, it's still growing. There are some very interesting trends in the scoring, and as I have mentioned to a few people, it is far more complex and nuanced than just a matter of museum size. We can see which areas museums struggle with the most, and are already talking about how we can provide more and better support in these areas. Once the report is done we will put some snapshots on our website for all to see.
making weird gestures while talking
about evaluation in White Point

The other thing we did this month for this program was more orientation sessions. Back on the road, Anita and I led 3 orientation sessions for Nova Scotia Museum sites - in Halifax, White Point, and Port Hawkesbury. We had good attendance at each session and some really good questions and conversations. Since a lot of NSM work is coordinated from Halifax, we will be meeting with people over the coming weeks in order to see how we can coordinate and be efficient in providing support to the museums as they prepare for their 2017 evaluation.

Collections Database Info
October has been a bit of a blur, but the backlog of images from #ProjectVicky has been worked through, and museums have continued picking away at collections work. I took a peek at last year's numbers because it seemed to me like everyone has been very productive this year, and I was right. I won't spoil the surprise, but you'll definitely want to read the year-end review because it's been a good one for database work. You should all pat yourselves on the back and take a cake break - it is well-deserved.
On that note, let's check out this month's regional stats:
Southwest Region - 123,942 artifacts, 55,803 images
Central Region - 46,481 artifacts, 30,436 images
Northeast Region - 32,804 artifacts, 24,367 images
Cape Breton Region - 29,324 artifacts, 13,771 images

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

Your image lesson of the month is this adorable 1930s costume that was worn by a little girl named Grace. I think you'll agree it's looking a little flat these days, even though it's easy to imagine Grace twirling and skipping as she was trick-or-treating. We were recently talking about Hope's textile project from a few summers ago, so this seems even more appropriate to share. When photographing the collection, remember to put the item in its natural position. In the case of costumes, this means dressing up a mannequin. The sleeves will puff out, the skirt will billow, and the costume will really come to life. It will be so much easier for you to understand it. There are a couple other things I would adjust in this, both along the right side of the image. One is the scale - I'd put it in the lower left corner just like it is for all the other images in the databases and on NovaMuse. Consistency = professionalism. And I would have cropped out the extra dead space from the right side of the image, aligning the centre of the dress with the centre of the image so that the eye is naturally drawn there instead of being skewed off to the left a bit. A good lesson from this photo: the light backdrop is perfect for dealing with this brought and colourful dress, especially since the dark colouring in the skirt would make some details disappear.

That's all for this month. We are working on a number of funding applications and plans so stay tuned for developments. In the meantime...

Happy Halloween!!

Book Review - A Handbook for Museum Trustees

Photo courtesy of Amazon
A Handbook for Museum Trustees, by Harold and Susan Skramstad, is set up in a way to help board members grasp the vital role they play in museum operations. It outlines the important steps board members must take collectively in order for operations to run smoothly. It also stresses that board members come from all walks of life, which means it is extremely important that they communicate by sharing their differing ideas to ensure everyone is on the same page. These ideas should also reflect a common goal and the museum mandate. Topics of discussion in this text include: expectations and roles of the board of trustees; improving museum and board performance; recruiting trustees and staff; and, lastly, how to address difficult board issues.  Overall, the Skramstads provide thought-provoking insight on board operations with supporting notes on how to proactively improve board relations. The points I would like to focus on include: board makeup, board operations, and board mandate.

The Skramstads help us envision the board of trustees as a human body, comprised of separate operational parts that work together for the greater good of the whole: “A board is an organism, not unlike the human body. The parts that make up the human body-eyes, ears, nose, arms, legs, teeth, feet-are different and distinct, each with a separate function, contributing to the health of the whole in a different way … The same is true of a museum board.” (16) So if you are on a board, it is safe to say it is crucial to analyse your role and the impact it has on how the board operates. Unfortunately, many times this is an oversight in the museum world. In order for a board to be successful, members must actively work towards a common goal; one of the first steps in doing so is the analyse and understand what each board member contributes. Once you understand your role on the team, you can actively identify goals, contribute ideas, and collaborate on projects together.

Many times the board remains static instead of fluid, concentrating on set ideas with little movement. I am a strong believer that one of the best ways to gain a fresh perspective is to open the line of communication between the board of directors and frontline staff. Those who work in the trenches everyday know what your community likes and they too like to share ideas about how to fulfill your museum mandate. And do not forget, this includes your volunteers as well. This text repeats the importance of ensuring that you do just that: “board members would be well served to get to know some of their museums’ best and most active volunteers [and staff], who will have great insight into the institution and its visitors. They know what the visitors like and don’t like better than anyone, and they’ll be glad to tell you all about it. For board members to provide this kind of listening post for the museum is not micromanagement but good stewardship of resources” (53). One of the best ways to do this is to communicate and collaborate with your frontend staff. Remember, all decisions must reflect the museum mandate and focus on sustaining the wellbeing of the museum collections, exhibits, and other assets when working collaboratively with others in your institution. It is important to know what your core values are, what your mission statement represents, and where you plan on heading in the future. As a board member, is it crucial that you work on this vision with those in your museum in order to be successful.

Boards, like museum staff (paid staff, volunteers, etc.), are comprised of people with different personalities, backgrounds, and levels of training. Yes, it is important that we embrace diversity but sometimes with diversity comes differences of opinion, which can lead to negative board culture if not monitored properly. The Skramstads dive into different ways to eliminate negative board culture, which include: motivating the board and retaining good board members, addressing terms of service and succession, performing exit interviews and evaluating board performance (86-95). It is healthy to put structure in place and I am an advocate of this in the museum field. People succeed when given direction because their work is now serving a purpose. Much like in your museum, this text suggests to assign a mandate for the board as a way to provide added direction and support:

While the magnet for all museum activities and for all staff and board activities should be the institution’s mission, the board should have its own mission. A mission provides a rationale, and a charge for the board’s work and may help prevent misunderstandings amoung trustees. Similar to a museum’s mission statement, the board’s mission should clarify three things: what the board does, the outcome of that activity, and the value of that activity (76).

So, in conclusion I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions: What is your mandate? What goals have you set? How will you reach these goals? What do you have planned for the future? What are the expectations for each board member? Do they understand what is expected of them? Is the board’s performance being monitored? Do board members actively work with museum staff (both paid staff and volunteers)? And, are ideas and opinions shared in a positive and supportive environment? I agree with the Skramstads belief that when an institution starts asking themselves these kinds of questions, they are one step closer to creating a unified and supportive board and museum.

Sandi Stewart
Advisory Assistant

Monday, October 17, 2016

September 2016 Update

Museum Evaluation Program
It was a monumental task, but we managed to send out Evaluation Reports to all the sites by the second week of the month. And then I left the country. Okay, so it was for a much-needed vacation, but it still makes a good joke. The reports ended up being a lot longer than we initially thought they would be, in part due to comments and photographs from the evaluators, but it sounds like the museums on the receiving end were appreciative of all this extra effort and input. 

The next step is to conduct various analyses on the scoring and write a report for the Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage. Due at the end of October, this is a chance to identify trends and share feedback that we have received from museums and evaluators with CCH. As you can imagine, having such a vast array of information for 67 museums across the province gives us a lot of data and statistics to work with. We already have several ideas and plans to address the results and help museums move forward. We will also be having a meeting with the Steering Committee to review the process and discuss how things could be improved (date tbd). As you can imagine, taking on this program has been, and continues to be, a major adjustment to ANSM life. Just like researching museum evaluation programs around the world, getting feedback from all the stakeholders is extremely helpful to us.
SME Update
I have been thoroughly impressed by the response Sandi has gotten to SME (Subject Matter Expert) discussions with everyone during site visits. It didn't matter where she went, she always came back with suggestions and contact info for potential SMEs. This is awesome. It shows how invested everyone is in NovaMuse, and how eager we all are to address holes in our collections documentation. Now here comes the bad news. We're a very small office. We wanted to reach out and do some information gathering, a little recon project if you will, but it's impossible to commit to working with all of these newly identified experts immediately. Funding deliverables and other existing commitments require our focus right now. I have spoken with both Algonquin and Fleming colleges about our work in this area, not to mention our other projects on the go that would be great experiences for interns. We think this will be a nice enticement for potential interns, and until other projects settle down a bit, this is the approach we will be taking. Thanks again for the interest. It's really exciting to think about all the possibilities here. 

And now, handing things over to Sandi: 

Desbrisay Museum collection
Hello everyone! Can anyone else believe how quickly September went by? To our partnering sites, I hope you had a busy and fun summer and a smooth transition into September. The leaves are now changing, which means we have been bundled up in ANSM headquarters working away at editing and uploading photographs to CollectiveAccess from our annual site visits, responding to inquiries, and making headway on exciting future projects!
In the month of September, I visited another 6 sites. Again, I want to thank the teams at all of our partnering museums for their dedication and passion in the field. I have been fortunate enough to work with motivated staff and volunteers on the road this summer. And as you start to unwind from your busy season, I look forward to seeing all of your hard work pay off as your records grow and flourish on NovaMuse! Keep a look out for your photographs from this year’s visits, they should all be uploaded shortly. The photos turned out very well!

Collections Database Info
We've had a pretty busy month with database activity, partially because we helped a museum import a photo collection into their database, and partially because of all the #ProjectVicky digitization work that took place over the summer during site visits. It was great to be able to sit down and work through the backlog. Here are the regional stats:
Southwest Region - 113,419 artifacts, 55,468 images
Central Region - 39,704 artifacts, 30,181 images
Northeast Region - 24,900 artifacts, 24,300 images
Cape Breton Region - 22,864 artifacts, 13,771 images

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

Canada 150 
We will leave you with a quick update about ANSM’s Canada 150 Project. We have received a number of responses from our partnering museums regarding interest in participation. We are excited to see such a positive response and an already deep understanding of how large of an impact a project like this can have on our communities. We look forward to reviewing inquiries from interested museums in detail and will be making selections in the near future. For those of you wanting a refresher on our vision and goal for Canada150, please see below.
Our Vision:  The purpose of this project is for students throughout Nova Scotia to be given the opportunity to choose 150 artifacts from NovaMuse that they feel best represent Nova Scotia’s story and the province’s role in Confederation. From these artifacts, a community engagement piece will be created and circulated through participating high schools. The result will be a performance piece inspired by Nova Scotia’s story. Using mime, puppeting, digital presentation techniques and informed by your artifacts, students will explore and experience our story in a new and participatory way. There will also be an opportunity for two participating museums to host the performance piece, either at their site or in their community.
Our Goal: Is to establish a sense of community amongst participating partnering museums as we work towards sharing the benefits of NovaMuse as an educational platform within Nova Scotian classrooms. Canada 150 has given us the opportunity to celebrate Nova Scotian heritage and culture in new and exciting ways. We will use NovaMuse to help circulate the history and stories of everyday objects found in the database. By broadening our audience and focusing specifically on sharing the benefits of this learning tool with students and teachers, we are encouraging our wider audience to engage, learn, and share ideas about objects found within museum collections one of our focuses in the NovaMuse User Engagement Plan. The goal of NovaMuse is to help tell the story of Nova Scotia through its material culture, and Canada 150 is giving us the opportunity to take this idea one step further. It is now time for us to give students the opportunity to help tell the story of our province and its role in Confederation by sharing objects that highlight this monumental moment in Canadian history. We believe that this project will engage youth and ignite a passion for Nova Scotia’s history, the same passion that many of us already share in the heritage sector.

That is all for now folks! We look forward to working with you in the cooler months. Please reach out anytime if you have questions about CollectiveAccess and NovaMuse, we are here to help!
 Sandi Stewart, Advisory Assistant