The Challenges Faced in Small Museums

May 9, 2019

As I was looking through resources on the museum and public history field, I noticed that there were articles that explain why small museum professionals get the credit they deserve but there were not many articles that discuss the physical challenges working in small museums present. I decided that this week’s post I will introduce the physical work small museum professionals have done to help make the museum and historic sites. In previous blog posts, I have shared my memories of working in small museums and historic house museums that I also recommend reading to comprehend what the physical work is like at small museums. With this perspective, I understand the challenges faced by small museum professionals.

At the historic house museums, I have not only worked in education programs but I was also involved in the interpretation and preservation of the collections and maintain some of the upkeep of the historic houses. For instance, at the Connecticut Landmarks’ Hartford properties I was responsible for dusting and cleaning items, tables, et. cetera. Then I took an inventory of the collection and filled out collections conditions paperwork. These tasks I worked on took a lot of time and physical demand to accomplish so the historic houses were well-maintained to make sure we still preserved for future generations.  Also, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience using the collections in the house. At other small museums, I took on other projects such as grant applications, social media posts and analytics, responding to donation request letters, invoice for summer program, and purchase supplies for education and museum supplies. Each responsibility I had took a lot of time to dedicate to, and may not be accomplished in one day because of other responsibilities that would need to take priority depending on what is going on at the moment.

Small museum professionals deserve a lot of credit for all of the work that they put in to keep the museums running for the visitors and the rest of their communities. In a blog post “The Value of Small Museums” by Aimee E. Newell, the Executive Director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, she talked about her experiences in working small museums and what she valued in her experiences working in small museum based around a question that was posed to her one day: “Why don’t you have a better job?” My blog post in which I reacted to Newell’s post delved into my own experiences that answered that question:

The problem with defining museum jobs as “better” than others is it devalues the hard work museum professionals contribute to the small museums. All museum professionals have so many challenges and other things to accomplish that we are reminding ourselves to not take self-care for granted. As a museum professional who works in a small museum, I argue that museum professionals in smaller museums have even more responsibilities since we are required to wear multiple hats to accomplish varying projects on a regular basis.

Working in small museums do help museum professionals like myself to be able to learn quickly skills they need to complete projects that will ultimately fulfill the overall mission of the museum. In my experience, I have balanced administrative, financial, and educational projects by prioritizing the ones that are most dire at the moment. A lot of times priorities have to change in order to meet the demand of what is happening in the current situation. The importance of these experiences is knowing that while these museums are smaller they are making a difference.

While previous articles have discussed how they had to wear multiple hats to accomplish what bigger museums do with a larger staff, we should address more the consequences of this work ethic. It could be impressive at first how the small museum professionals get so much accomplished in multiple roles, we cannot forget that like all museum professionals small museum workers need to take time to practice self-care and have equitable workplace to help combat burnouts. If we encourage museum staff in small and large museums to wear multiple hats and expect them to put one hundred percent into all of those hats while being underpaid and a lot of times underappreciated, then we end up losing dedicated museum professionals. The question I pose for everyone who reads this post and I really want everyone to consider the answer: when we wear multiple hats, do we really accomplish every task effectively and completely?

Resources:

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/08/16/reaction-the-value-of-small-museums/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/07/museum-memories-connecticuts-old-state-house/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/21/museum-memories-stanley-whitman-house/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

https://aaslh.org/the-value-of-small-museum-experience-or-why-i-dont-have-a-better-job/

https://museumhack.com/mighty-small-museums/

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