Saturday, August 4, 2012

An Introduction to The Small Museum Toolkit: Book 3, Organizational Management

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.

While money matters, money isn’t everything. A museum may be well funded, but if it is not organized and well managed it will en­counter many problems. The contributors to this book delve into several areas that require astute management in a museum.

In chapter 1, Claudia J. Nicholson likens a museum’s building to an important artifact; it must be cared for and made safe and secure for the collections, staff, and visitors. She discusses policies that help to achieve such security. Part of this involves obtaining proper insurance, and Nicholson writes about the types of insurance that are recommended in a museum. Another aspect of ensuring security is the generation of income. Renting out the museum facility is sometimes a good way to accomplish this. Nicholson lists considerations that will help a museum evaluate whether this is a desirable move.

The remaining chapters of book 3 are devoted to management of the people inside the museum building. Patricia Anne Murphy writes in chapter 2 about human resource administration. She covers policies and procedures that will enable the small history organization to build and manage a great administrative team. She tells what a personnel manual should contain and shows how to write meaningful job descriptions for both paid staff and vol­unteers. Murphy gives tips on evaluating job applicants and then providing an environment in which employees and volunteers can flourish. In chapter 3, Patricia L. Miller concentrates on the importance of volunteers, who make a museum’s programs possible. While a board member is the most important of volunteers, she writes, many other types of volunteers are needed, including nontraditional ones such as youth, families, and even distance volunteers, who may help via the Internet from their homes. Miller tells how to recruit, train, nurture, evaluate, and recognize volunteers. She advises about the legal and ethical con­cerns of dealing with volunteers, and even covers how a volunteer may be let go, if that should prove necessary.

Chapter 4 concerns the ways interns can assist a history organi­zation. Amanda Wesselmann provides valuable information on establishing an internship program. After defining internships and discussing the characteristics of interns, who are usually undergraduate or graduate students, she gives specific steps for recruiting and managing interns. Unpaid internships are increas­ing in the corporate world, but they have been commonplace for small museums. However, Wesselmann suggests creative ways that interns can be compensated, including through course credit. A good internship program should mutually benefit the intern and the organization, and the author suggests meaningful projects to accomplish this. She also recommends intern evalua­tion and feedback.

In the final chapter of book 3, Eileen McHugh ties together many sources that can be organized to ensure a small museum’s survival, especially in times of dwindling financial resources. Collaboration with other organizations—for example, nearby museums, libraries, human service organizations, business as­sociations, schools, and fraternal organizations—is the key. After a museum examines its own strengths it can create a successful partnership program with realistic goals. In the end, all collabora­tive partners can learn much from evaluating the project. McHugh gives details of two successful real-life collaborative programs that can guide others.

Book 3 concludes with three appendixes that relate to several of the foregoing chapters. Appendix A presents an application for employment; appendix B is a sample application rating form for museum education and tour coordinator candidates; and appen­dix C is an employee evaluation form.

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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