Wednesday, September 12, 2012

State Museum Association Conferences – For Connections and Conversations, Too!

Departing a bit from the standard Small Museum Toolkit blog format, this post includes personal reflections from one of the Toolkit co-editors, Stacy Klingler, on the importance of attending state museum association meetings.

September is state museum association month. Well, at least for me it is, as I'll be presenting at both Indiana and Illinois state museum association conferences. But it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a month to celebrate the good work that state museum associations do and to remind you to take part in your state museum association's activities.

Most state museum associations have an annual conference. I went to my first Association of Indiana Museums conference in 2003, about a year after I started working in the field. I remember distinctly the session on collections care on a shoestring, which featured aluminum foil as an inexpensive barrier layer, and a presentation by a foundation director on what makes an outstanding grant proposal. These sessions opened my eyes to the practical solutions and real life perspective on museum theory that I was just digging into. They also opened my eyes to how many really smart people were working in small museums around my state and what I could learn from them.

I'd like to say that I did a good job of making connections at this conference – getting business cards from speakers and other attendees and having interesting conversations about theory and practice – but I didn't.  I was shy and I didn't know anyone, so I kept to myself and took good notes. While I learned a lot, I missed out on the most valuable part of attending an in-person conference or workshop – networking.

Museum associations offer all sorts of services – training, newsletters, advocacy, salary surveys, preservation supplies discounts, technical assistance, site visits, and more – but the most important service they offer is access to your nearby peers. These colleagues will almost always share what has worked and what hasn't, they'll show you their storage areas (good and bad), they'll talk with you on the phone about how to manage a problematic board member, and they'll be just as enthralled with a new way to hang labels or a deal on unbleached muslin as you are.

So, even though I hope to see you in the sessions I'll be presenting in on visitor studies and jumpstarting your small museum, I'll be happier to see you swapping business cards and stories during the breaks and events.

Stacy Klingler currently serves local history organizations as the Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society. She began her career in museums as the assistant director of two small museums, before becoming director of the Putnam County Museum in Greencastle, Ind. She chairs the AASLH's Small Museums Committee (2008-2012) and attended the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2006. While she lives in the history field, her passion is encouraging a love of learning in any environment.

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