Review of AAM Session: And Other Duties as Assigned

Alison Wright, one of the four SMAC-AAM Annual Meeting Fellowship awardees has written this review of the SMAC-AAM sponsored session:

“And Other Duties as Assigned: Prioritizing Collections Management in Small Museums” – A Review of the Session Presented at the American Association of Museums Conference in Houston, Texas
-Alison Wright, Curator/Collections Manager Montgomery County Historical Society, Crawfordsville, Indiana

As a small museum professional, the title of this session produced a well-deserved chuckle out of me. We museum folk—both small and large institution alike—are well-versed in wearing many hats. I would like to point out that we at small museums wear many pairs of gloves as well: white gloves when handling artifacts are certainly a given. Additionally, there are work gloves that we don when clearing foliage and other natural debris left behind after wicked spring-time storms from around our historic structures, and for any small construction projects that we undertake. Likewise, there are yellow rubber gloves we wear when, for example, we must clean the one and only staff/public restroom at our site! These clearly fall under the “other duties as assigned.”

This presentation, I was pleased to discover, focused strictly on collections. During this session, I found myself equally nodding along in agreement and furiously taking notes to what Lindsay Borst, Sarah Price and Lisa Worley were explaining. I, too, am involved with a digitization project at my museum, so it was gratifying to learn from these ladies that my process was on par with theirs. I could also relate to some unanticipated outcomes, such as the example of becoming a “tech expert” during the endeavor.

Listening to the Managing Expectations portion of the session, Lisa’s quantitative finding of three hours of staff time per object including accessioning, cataloguing, photographing, etc. was one of those “ah-ha” moments for me. It provided a small sense of relief to understand my backlog!

As we are currently experiencing some staffing changes at my organization, we must tap other resources for volunteer help. The panel’s suggestions and experiences in their Staffing portion will be considered. Lindsay’s case in point about non-museum trained people moving furniture as if it were “regular” furniture sounded quite familiar. I have established those volunteers with whom I feel comfortable around artifacts. Sarah discussed the pros and cons of University student assistants; we had a very successful internship relationship with our local college, but sadly the state funding expired last year. This discussion reminded me that we need to reinvigorate the program and pursue financial support from another source.

This session was highly educational, providing some ideas to explore, and satisfying, reassuring me that many of us have the same problems! The structure of having a single PowerPoint presentation with the three panelists contributing in a rotating fashion worked quite well for this topic. My attendance at this session, as well as the conference as a whole, was truly valuable.