In November 2008, a Request for Proposal, was sent out to members of the museum community, asking for help in a ground-breaking new project:
The Small Museum Book Series (title to be determined) is a single collection of short, readable books that provides the starting point to realize key responsibilities in the small museum environment. Each book stands alone, but as a collection they would represent a single resource to jumpstart the process of meeting museum standards and implementing best practices as proposed by AASLH and AAM.
The RFP went on to point out that, while small museums have all the responsibilities involved in running a larger museum, they have considerably less time, money and manpower. Additionally, staff members of small museums have multiple jobs, many of which are outside their areas of expertise or training.
Clearly there was a need for such a series of books, but the editors – Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Stacy Klinger — had an even more inspired idea. The books wouldn’t just be about small museums, they would also be written by people working in small museums.
Ultimately more than 30 individuals took up the challenge to produce the six-volume Small Museum Toolkit, published by AltaMira Press in 2012*. As proposed by its editors in the RFP, each book in the Toolkit focuses on a major area of museum operations:
…strategic planning, securing and managing human and financial resources, stewardship of collections (including historic buildings), providing excellent exhibitions, programs, and publications, and responding to changing community and visitor needs…
The individual chapters provide clear discussions of specific topics within those areas. “Textboxes” and tables are distributed liberally throughout the books. This allows more detailed information on everything from a Volunteer Job Description (Volume 3, Chapter 3), to Exhibit Conservation Guidelines (Volume 5, Chapter 4), to a Fundraising Plan Outline (Volume 2, Chapter 2). And the photographs show real examples from real small museums.
But wait, there’s more ! The Small Museum Toolkit‘s collaborators have gone on the road. At last year’s AASLH Annual Meeting, several authors participated in the first of the “Toolkit Talks”sessions.
Five more Small Museum Toolkit authors will participate in a “Toolkit Talks” session at AASLH‘s Annual Meeting in Birmingham. After they briefly highlight a section or provide an update of their chapters, each will lead a roundtable discussion on their chosen topic. This year’s speakers (and their chapter topics) are:
- Allyn Lord – Not Above the Law: Museums and Legal Issues.
- Janice Klein – Creating Exhibits: From Planning to Building
- Patricia Miller – Collections Management (Know What you Have, Know Why You Have It, Know Where You Got It, Know Where It Is)
- Rebecca Martin – The Nuts and Bolts of Program Management
- Stacy Klingler – In Lieu of Mind Reading: Visitor Studies and Evaluation
The goal of this session is not just to make sure that the small museum community is reminded of the valuable, first-hand information available to them in the books. Just as importantly, everyone at the session will have the chance to ask questions and share their insights.
Thirty-plus authors may have written down their experience, but there’s no end to the collective wisdom of the small museum community.
And should you want even more, you can also show your pride in small museums with Small Museum Toolkit clothing and gifts available at Café Press (http://www.cafepress.com/dd/64298509).
Janice Klein is a former small museum director. She has also served as Chair of AAM’s Small Museum Administrators Committee and on AASLH’s Small Museums Committee. You’ll find her wearing her yellow Small Museums Toolkit T-shirt at the “The Toolkit Talks.”