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Report Cards – They’re Not Just For Kids

Do you ever give your small museum a report card?

Okay, okay. You may call them “performance reviews,” “progress reports,” or some other term from the world of human resources. It doesn’t matter when you do them – every year, or three years, or five years – as long as you do them (and keep doing them) regularly.

So what’s the point? You want to see how well your actions, your programs, and your consultant’s recommendations correspond with your mission. Report cards help you see on paper how far you’ve come since your last evaluation. They also help you plot long-term and short-range goals, chart your energy savings, develop realistic budgets, and raise more money.

Here are some practical tips:

  • Keep a pocket tablet with you at all times. Take notes about anything and everything you see and every idea you and your colleagues have. Turn these notes into a running journal or file.
  • The more information, the wiser the decision. Solicit as much feedback as you can from every member of your staff.
  • Start your inspections from the top of your structures, and work your way down to ground level (and even below, as in the case with water drainage).
  • When setting priorities, try to do the worst first. (Or, as my dentist says, “Pay now, or you’ll pay later.”)
  • Nothing lasts forever. We history workers are aware more than most mortals that “All things must pass.”

Let’s face it. You can’t look at maintenance work as ever being “done.”  It’s a series of band-aids, except that some band-aids are better and longer-lasting than others. One band-aid may take the form of cutting grass, even though you know it will grow back in a week or two. Another band-aid may be in finally replacing your roof. Remember, that roof – or anything else, for that matter – may be new, but someone will need to replace it someday. And, believe it or not, now’s the time to plan for that.

We often hear how a historic house museum is the jewel in a community’s crown, but these treasures only have as much value as their owners give them. Jewels need polishing and a proper setting if they are to last.

Good stewardship is an ongoing process; it is timeless and holistic. By issuing periodic report cards, you’re developing and ensuring a sustainable path toward the future for your small historic house museum.

For a more detailed discussion, check out “Straight Talk About Historic Structures and Landscapes,” in the Small Museum Toolkit, published by AltaMira Press.

Bruce Teeple is a freelance writer, editor, local historian, speaker, gardener, wine maker, chicken farmer, and columnist for the Centre Daily Times in State College. Pennsylvania. A graduate of Penn State in history and political science, he served for nineteen years as curator of the Aaronsburg Historical Museum before joining AASLH’s Small Museums Committee. He is currently researching and writing As Good as a Handshake: the Farringtons and the Political Culture of Moonshine in Central Pennsylvania. His latest work is “Slavery In Post-Abolition Pennsylvania….And How They Got Away With It.”

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