Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Introduction to The Small Museum Toolkit

Carol Bolton Betts, editor for the Illinois Heritage Association, wrote an overview of The Small Museum Toolkit as part of the IHA’s Technical Insert series.  The IHA has graciously allowed The Small Museum Toolkit to share this introduction in seven blog posts during July and August. The posts will help you to get to know about the content of the Toolkit from an outside perspective.

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Stacy Klingler, editors of the six-volume Small Museum Toolkit, note that small museums have all the responsibilities of larger institutions but lack the resources those organizations enjoy. Small museums of all types must engage in strategic planning, fundraising, collections management, exhibit plan­ning, programming, and many other tasks, but they must do so with small staffs made up of few, if any, trained professionals. Catlin-Legutko and Klingler, along with the American Associa­tion for State and Local History (AASLH), recognized a great need for a way to help small museums to achieve and maintain high museum standards and best practices. They have produced a boxed set of books that admirably fills this need. The set is part of the American Association for State and Local History Book Series.

Although the word museum appears in the title of the set and shows up frequently in the texts, much of the information in the books will be useful to staff and volunteers in other types of non­profit organizations. The books in The Small Museum Toolkit are packed with helpful information. This series of blog posts offers just a sampling of what they contain.

Each 6" × 9" paperback has a cover of a different bright color, addresses a different topic, and contains chapters by authors from different museum backgrounds, but there are features shared by all six. All of the books, which average around 153 pages in length, are clearly written and accessible; when specific terms are used, they are explained. The chapters are augmented by tables and textboxes that present items such as forms, checklists, outlines, and tips for accomplishing recommended procedures. The books contain endnotes and resource lists, and all volumes are well illustrated and well indexed. Most important, the authors of the essays in all of the books are recognized authorities who have extensive experience with small museums, which is detailed in the notes on the contributors that conclude each book. These authors uniformly recognize many others who aided them in their work on The Small Museum Toolkit.

The books in The Small Museum Toolkit are more than how-to manuals. While they give invaluable advice for a hands-on ap­proach to museum issues, they also offer thoughtful discussion of the reasoning behind the advice.

Adapted from Carol Bolton Betts, “An Introduction to The Small Museum Toolkit,” Illinois Heritage Association, Technical Insert 177 (May-June 2012). As a volunteer, Ms. Betts has done editorial work for the Illinois Heritage Association ( since 1982. She was an editor at the University of Illinois Press for twenty years, working primarily on books about art and architecture, film, women’s history, and subjects related to the history of Illinois. Earlier she served on the staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and taught art history at Villanova University and at California State University–Los Angeles. 

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