Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review - Crafting Effective Mission & Vision Statements

Back to the reference library we go, this time for a look at mission & vision statements. This is another area that we discovered needs to be addressed after last year's museum evaluations. A surprising number of museums are still using 1980s-styled mission statements - templates that had a few blanks to fill. Unfortunately, all those museums that still these mission statements "to collect, exhibit, interpret, research, and preserve" aren't actually saying much any more. People know what museums do. They understand we are collecting and exhibiting and preserving and all the rest. What they don't get from those old standard missions is the actual mission of that particular, unique museum. What makes it different from the museum "next door"? What is the museum really trying to accomplish in and for its community?

So without further ado let's take a peek at Emil Angelica's book, Crafting Effective Mission & Vision Statements. As soon as I opened this one I knew it was going to be good. Why? Because it kicks off with a cartoon of people in a boat, rowing in opposite directions. The person at the centre is wearing an ED (Executive Director) shirt and saying, "C'mon, put some muscle into it...we're not getting anywhere!" I love it when an author uses humour to address a serious subject. And yes, there are cartoons throughout the book. They will make you smile, nod in agreement, and maybe even remind you of a meeting or situation from your own museum.

The book is divided into 3 parts officially, but actually has 7 sections to it. The main parts are Understanding and Using Mission & Vision Statements, Developing the Mission Statement, and Developing the Vision Statements. In addition to these there is an introduction that explains why these statements are important, and at the end there is a sort of conclusion that explains the leadership benefits of crafting them and reviewing them regularly. The other two sections are appendices; one being the standard additional resources, and the other being worksheets that walk you through the statement development processes. These are fantastically helpful in tackling what can often feel like a daunting task.

The author has extensive experience in consulting with nonprofits, so launches the introduction by looking at three typical problems experienced by organizations that are lacking well-defined mission statements. I've added my peanut gallery thoughts after each of Angelica's points in an attempt to make them more concrete to museums.
1. Disjointed and competing programs (has anyone ever asked you why the museum is having a certain event? Have volunteers been at odds over which program/activity should get more resources or attention?)
2. Decreased funding (think of this as decreased support in general...fundraisers going poorly, being denied funding for summer students or special projects, difficulty finding new volunteers, etc.)
3. Poor decision-making (this isn't about any individual person, but if the board or staff tend to struggle with making changes or moving forward, or just making decisions in general, it shows the lack of direction in the museum's mission & vision statements)
While they may not use those exact words, I can think of museums that express frustration in one or more of these areas.
By comparison, states Angelica, organizations with clear and focused mission and vision statements are able to deliver unified services to their public, see an increase in funding (remember to read this as support too), feel confident in decision-making and often experience cool collaborations. Basically, people can tell when you're a healthy organization and will want to support that. But just like we try to avoid hanging out with someone who has a cold or the flu, the public doesn't want to hang out with an unhealthy museum.

Part 1 - understanding and using mission & vision statements - kicks off with a great reminder that mission statements should be short, snappy, and fit nicely on letterhead and/or business cards. They need to answer the question "what good, and for whom", and be so easy to remember that your volunteers, staff, and board can easily recite it to anyone and everyone they meet. Thinking back to all those "collection, preserve, interpret..." statements, Angelica says it best when he says that "a mission statement should separate your organization from the rest of the pack by distinguishing its work from the work of similar organizations." Once you have your mission statement, you should be using it in planning exercises, interactions with the public, marketing and fundraising efforts. Your name should become synonymous with the statement.
In thinking about the vision statement, this is big picture. It "sketches a picture of the organization's desired future in a few paragraphs. It answers two questions: What will be different in the world in three to five years because our organization exists? And, what role will our organization play in creating that difference?" Your vision statement is used differently; it should serve to keep everyone in the museum (volunteers, staff, board) focused on the same goals, can be used as a supporting document in funding applications to show how your project aligns with goals and serves your vision, and finally it serves to inform everyone in a broader way than your mission.

Part 2 reviews the steps in developing a mission statement; selecting a writing team, clarifying core values, reviewing the [museum's] underlying strategies, evaluating the current mission statement, drafting the new one (or tweaking the old), circulating it for review, and then finally adopting the new statement. Each step is reviewed in detail so you can easily understand the process, kinds of tasks to tackle and questions to ask. If you've never been part of an exercise like this before, those detailed steps will be really helpful to you.

Part 3 initially sounds like it is the same as part 2, but for the vision statement. However there are some key differences. Angelica acknowledges that not everyone has a vision statement, and sometimes people aren't sure if they should develop one or redevelop an old one. He uses a checklist of conditions to determine if it's time to create one:
- if the organization has significantly changed its mission statement
- if the organization has no agreed-on vision for the future
- if the current vision statement is at least two years old
- if staff and board changes indicate that it's time for the new leaders to create a vision statement of their own
- if so many external or internal factors have changed that the current statement is no longer valid
He also cautions that it's important to talk to your community and stakeholders before embarking on this exercise. This is a good time to think back on the organization's history, current reality, and capacity for growth. Focus groups, interviews, reading research reports, and other methods can be really helpful as you prepare for your visioning session. The steps to the development process will be similar to those in part 2; selecting a team, generating alternate visions, identifying common threads and themes from these, drafting a vision statement, circulating for review, modifying, and finally adopting the vision statement. Again each step is discussed in detail so the book really walks you through the entire process.
One of the most powerful points (at least to me) in this section was about drafting the statement. It reminds the reader of the need to keep the vision focused on the customer/client/visitor/whatever term is appropriate to your situation. Rather than talking about what your museum will do, shift the language to serving the community. For example, rather than saying you will expand kids' programming, say how many families will be supported by your "after-school at the museum days." Always remember that museums are community service organizations.

In the final summary section that outlines the benefits of crafting these statements, the author again reminds about the importance of the actual process, and how much can be learned from it. It provides you a chance to work together as an entire organization, to get valuable feedback from your community and stakeholders, and to really come together and get re-energized about your organization's work. Again this reminds me of all the conversations I've had with museums that are frustrated and feel like they're stalled; that every forward step is a battle in some way. That's when I think the worksheets in the appendices become invaluable. Instead of you having to come up with questions to ask, or a process to work through, you've got an expert (through the book) who can guide you through the process. It's not you saying the same thing over and over again. It's someone on the outside who is totally unbiased.

Honestly, I think a lot of museums need to borrow this book from us and work through its processes. Sometimes you've just got to go back to basics to give yourself that booster shot and refocus energies.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Book Review - Living Folklore: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions

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As some of you may already know, I have a strong appreciation for the study of Folklore and, as a result, I am passionate about telling the stories of people, places, and things through the presentation of artifacts in museum collections. One of my personal goals this year is to share ways that you can highlight these stories in your museums and, for our partnering sites, on NovaMuse. You may be asking yourself, "What is Folklore?" In Living Folklore: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions, Sims and Stephens provides a great working definition of folklore in the first Chapter:

Folklore is informally learned, unofficial knowledge about the world, ourselves, our communities, our beliefs, our cultures and our traditions, that is expressed creatively through words, music, customs, actions, behaviors, and materials. It is also the interactive, dynamic process of creating, communicating, and performing as we share that knowledge with other people.  (8)

The study of Folklore will inspire you to identify objects that are telling of things like, tradition and performance in your collections. Everyday objects are often the best objects to start with because they help tell the stories of people, places, and events in your community. Think about how an object would have been used, who would have used it, and what it meant to that person. Ask yourself, the five W’s-who, what, where, when, and why?

Brass Band of the 112th Battalion Windsor 92.19.4
Do you have a trumpet in your collection? Was it used by a member of the Brass band of the 112th Battalion Windsor? Was it used in a parade? If there is a personal narrative for that object, be sure to fill in your narrative field in CollectiveAccess. It is those stories that speak to your audience at a museum. Did you know you can also link related objects on CA under Relationships? Neat stuff! Now all we need is a trumpet to link to this photograph. Any takers?

Another great example provided by Sims and Stephens is quilting:

Quilts are a type of material culture you may already identify as folklore. Folklorists have studied the artistry of quilts, examining the designs and colors used by different individual quilters and groups of quilters. In addition to examining the material objects themselves, folklorists have studied the informal learning process by which quilters have taught each other techniques of quilting and elements of design. Extending the community's interactions further shows how the practice of quilting can be an opportunity for social interaction, the women who are quilting sharing values and cultural knowledge while they stuff and stitch. (13-16).

I encourage you to ask yourselves how items in your collections have helped shape your community, are used within folk groups, and are telling of practices and beliefs. Sims and Stephens explore the term "folk group," a folk group "requires special knowledge of its language, behavior, and rules-spoken or unspoken. These types of communication convey and express the group's attitudes, beliefs, values, and worldview to other members of the group and often to outsiders" (31). Consider folk groups in your collections, such as the Brass Band of the 112th Battalion Windsor and link them to other artifacts in your collection to help expand the narrative. More often than not, there are already experts in your community that want to share what they know with you. I encourage you to make these connections and ask them to help you fill in the gaps in your records. Here at the office we call them our SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). Working with SMEs will not only help beef up your records, it will also build stronger ties between your institution and community.

Living Folklore also covers the following topics: Tradition (Chapter 3), Ritual (Chapter 4), and Performance (Chapter 5). I have pulled definitions for each term. I encourage you to explore your collections and ask yourself, "do artifacts in my museum speak to traditions, rituals, and/or performance?"

"What is Tradition? Both the lore we share and the process by which we share it. Something that creates and confirms identity. Something that the group identifies as a tradition" (65).

"What is Ritual? Rituals are repeated, habitual actions, but they are more purposeful than custom; rituals are frequently highly organized and controlled, often meant to indicate or announce membership in a group. Most rituals bring together many types of folklore: verbal, such as chants, recitations, poems or songs; customary, such as gestures, dance or movements; and material, such as food, books, awards, clothing and costumes" (95). 

"What is Performance? So far, we've been talking about people, texts, behavior and the many ways that folklore communicates, and now we want to consider in depth the moments in which all these pieces come together, enacted through performance ... Most often, though, performances of folklore happen naturally within daily conversations and situations. ... Performance is an expressive activity that requires participation, heightens our enjoyment of experience, and invites response" (128). 

In chapter 6, Sims and Stephens explore the different approaches to interpreting folklore: Functionalism, Structuralism, Psychoanalytic Interpretation, and Post-Structuralist Approaches. If these approaches peak your curiosity, I encourage you to explore this section of the text further. If you are interested in learning how to conduct fieldwork, Sims and Stephens do a wonderful job outlining the importance of collecting data in Chapter 7. There are great examples of general questions you can ask SMEs that will help you learn more about the history of artifacts in your collections (209):

Opening Questions:
"What do you remember ..."
"Can you describe what happens ..."
"How did you learn this process? Who did you learn it from?"

Follow-up Questions:
"You mentioned earlier ..."
"Other people have told me about their memories of the flood. What do you remember about it?"
"What does it mean to you to participate in this? [talking to a crafts person, participant of an event, etc.]
"How old were you when you learned about this?"

Feel free to experiment with these kinds of questions to fit the needs of your conversation. It is important to provide open-ended questions and leave room for casual conversation. Another important thing to do when working with your SMEs is to take fieldnotes. Sims and Stephens state that "the primary purpose of field notes is to provide the folklorist with an in-the-moment record of what happened during fieldwork" (211). It is much easier to reflect on what you have learned from your informants when you document your findings.

Sims and Stephens leave us with suggestions for activities and projects in the final chapter. A great way to grasp what folklore is and how it shapes your community is to analyse the role it plays throughout your own day-to-day routine. I challenge you to complete at least one suggested activity for personal reflection. I will leave you with one of my personal favourites:

Image result for question markWrite about a folk group of which you are/have been a member. Focus on who's in the group, how one becomes a member, group hierarchy, why members are members, etc. What characteristics do the members of each group share? How did the group form? Is it an interest-based group? Proximity? Occupation? What special traditions, customs or verbal expressions do the group members share that let them and others know they are members of the group? (275)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review - Mould Prevention and Recovery: Guidelines for Heritage Collections

Back to the reference library we go, and this time we're looking at something completely different from the last few books. This time we're going to talk about mould, or rather, we're going to hear what the Canadian Conservation Institute has to say on the subject. Published in 2004 and written by Sherry Guild and Maureen MacDonald, this technical bulletin might just be enough to make your skin crawl. 

The bulletin is broken out into two main sections - mould prevention and collection recovery. The first section provides basic explanations of what mould is, how it grows, how to prevent its growth, as well as the steps to go through if/when an outbreak occurs. Fair warning that some science is involved here, so if you've been out of that sphere for a while you might feel like you've been suddenly thrust back into a biology or chemistry class. 

The authors review the basic requirements for mould growth - nutrients, temperature, pH, air circulation and light. In thinking about museum buildings, especially those in Nova Scotia (ie next door to the Atlantic Ocean), it's easy to understand that we need to be vigilant about this threat to our people, collections, and buildings. In terms of the buildings, a handy table on building maintenance and engineering systems provides guidance on preventive practices that will greatly reduce the risk of mould. Whether it's immediately repairing water leaks, regularly replacing filters, or using dehumidifiers to keep humidity levels down, any museum would be able to see what risks are involved in various areas, and how to mitigate these risks. 

The authors are quick to caution that mould spores can only be reduced rather than eliminated. They are also quick to point out that mould is a serious health risk and must be treated as such. This thread weaves throughout the bulletin, giving the clear message that people are more important than artifacts. This might sound like a funny statement to you, but in years past this principle was not taught, and museum professionals' health suffered as a result. Some simple ways to reduce spores include closing windows and doors, using central air-conditioning, and using electrostatic filters. 

As you can imagine, having proper storage spaces is critical in keeping mould at bay. The storage crisis in museums is such that more and more items are crammed into storage areas, greatly inhibiting air circulation. It is also common for cardboard boxes and other non-archival materials to be used that can trap and encourage moisture buildup. 

I've mentioned before that I love checklists and workbooks that let you figure things out really quickly and easily, and this technical bulletin doesn't disappoint in that regard. A preventive measures checklist provides you a quick bullet list of actions that can be incorporated into disaster plans, facility management plans, and other such guidelines. Maintaining RH below 60% (I know this can be next to impossible sometimes on the coast), having good air circulation, routinely inspecting artifacts for signs of issues, removing dust, isolating incoming artifacts, keeping food and plants away from the collection...lots of simple things that anyone can do. 

The second section, on collection recovery, focuses first and foremost on personal protective equipment and measures. The authors describe each piece of equipment, their benefits, and proper use. There is also another handy table to help you decide what kind of PPE is required based on the extent of the mould outbreak. Once it has been determined that people are safe, guidelines move on to the cleaning of artifacts. Again there are quick lists - things to consider before you start, how to prevent mould spores from dispersing further, and then specific instructions on cleaning with various tools and equipment. 

Just as the bulletin quickly addresses health risks at its start, it ends with similar disclaimers and warnings. Just as certain types of materials and artifacts are more susceptible to mould than others, some people are more sensitive to mould than others. The key is to treat all mould as dangerous, to address issues early on, and to call in the professionals when in doubt. 

As is the case with other technical bulletins by CCI, this one includes a lot of great extra info at the end. From the quick list on how to remove mould from different types of artifacts, to a list of suppliers of personal protective and cleaning products, to the list of other sources of information, ample opportunities are provided to further investigate issues around mould.

If you'd like to read the bulletin yourself, you're in luck. CCI has it available for free on their website as a pdf. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tribute to Martin Boston

Celebrating Martin's birthday, ANSM-style
We have lost an icon of Nova Scotia's museum community; Martin Boston, founder and long-time volunteer of the Orangedale Station Museum. While he has not been active with the museum during recent years because of illness, his fingerprints are still throughout the museum. 

Orangedale was always a highlight of my Cape Breton museum travels because of Martin. Not only would he greet me with a huge grin, but he wanted to make me and our team feel truly welcome and at home. He really was the epitome of Maritime hospitality. Heaven forbid we leave without being fed. The smell of a full Thanksgiving-style chicken dinner would already be wafting from the "freight shed" kitchen when we arrived in the morning. Making sure you could stay for a proper meal was just as important to Martin as confirming which date and time you'd be visiting. 

Martin was such a sweet, gentle soul that you couldn't help but be in a good mood when you were around him. When he mentioned to me that our digitization team's visit would coincide with his birthday, we decided to repay his hospitality and make him a cake he'd appreciate. He might not have been able to identify the engine (a favourite game of his when looking at old photographs of trains), but I think it's safe to say he was tickled pink by the surprise. 

The language Martin used in describing the museum, railway history, and the people who visited the museum is a lesson to all of us. There was a passion and appreciation so sincere that it's no wonder the museum's Facebook page was flooded with messages of condolences and memories of Martin when it announced his passing. It's also no wonder people joked about Martin being the museum's best interactive exhibit. His life was the railroad. He didn't want to just tell you about statistics or historical factoids. He wanted to describe his life to you so that you could really understand what life was like during the railroad's heyday. He wanted to show you how the telegraph and the mail bag hoop worked, which forms you'd have to fill out on a daily basis, and what it was like for the station master and his family to live in a bustling train station. He loved the look of surprise on people's faces when he'd tell them what the train schedule used to be in Orangedale, and how many people would pass through the station.

One of Martin's biggest concerns was that people were losing their understanding of how critical the railroad was in the development of Canada. This, in addition to his being so sociable, really motivated his work with the museum. From the restoration work in the 1980s to the development of the archives and exhibits, Martin desperately wanted to preserve this important piece of our history. It was always interesting to hear about how the museum was established and how it evolved from one of its founding members, an opportunity that just isn't possible for many museums. Until his health deteriorated, Martin's memory was impeccable. He could relay stories from his Uncle Bob of his days on the railroad, describe in detail the excavations and restoration of the unique station, explain the ins and outs of operating a museum next to an active railway line and the safety measures that were required, and could tell you a story about every single artifact in the museum's collection. He was the corporate memory of the Orangedale Station Museum. 

Martin loved being a mentor to summer students, and hoped to instil an appreciation for history in them during their tenure. Quick to praise, Martin would shrug off his own contributions but talk at length about all that the students had accomplished that summer, of what the board was planning and pursuing, and of the wonderful stories shared by the museum's visitors. He was especially proud of the work Jessie did in documenting the collection when the museum was first established. He would show off her artifact drawings and index cards of handwritten details, and muse that those were big shoes to fill.

Martin was more in tune with the telegraph era than the computer era, but he was always eager to participate in outreach opportunities that would showcase the museum, Orangedale, and railroad history in general. He often expressed sentiments about museums being much stronger when they worked together. So it's no wonder that the museum created a Community Memories virtual exhibit on Railroading in Cape Breton, or joined the Advisory Service to work cooperatively with other museums and showcase the collection on NovaMuse, or became one of Heritage Cape Breton Connection's "Heritage Voices". 

But that's enough from me. Let's give the final word to this beautiful soul. May you rest in peace Martin, and enjoy all those afterlife reunions with Uncle Bob and all your railroading buddies.