I recently asked a few people what they thought the phrase “field services” meant. Those who knew that I work in a Local History Services office immediately associated it with my department. For those who didn’t, it was apparent that the term can be a little ambiguous. I heard answers like “services out in the field,” “mobile services,” and “community engagement.” But the truth is, these answers are all correct. Essentially, field services–relating to the field of museums and historical
organizations–is really all of these things. My field services colleagues and I provide services to organizations in our respective states, regions, or even nationally. We are generally very mobile; that is, we spend a lot of time on the road. And our goal is to engage with this community of history practitioners. The question, then, is what exactly do we DO?
Well, it depends. The Field Services Alliance, an AASLH affinity community (of which most of us are members), sums it up pretty well by stating that we “provide training opportunities, guidance, technical services, and other forms of assistance to local historical societies, archives, libraries, and museums in [our] respective regions.”
There are currently field services providers in 39 out of 50 states (that we know of), and each one is a little different. Some, like mine, operate out of a nonprofit state historical society. Others are part of a state government managed museum or historical society. And still others function as part of a humanities organization, museum association, archives, preservation office, conservation center, or other organization.
How we go about providing services can also look somewhat different, depending on our parent organization’s mission, funding, resources, and other factors. The interesting, and sometimes confusing part, is that field services offices don’t really “do” history–instead, we provide services and resources that help other organizations practice history. And most of the time, we charge very little, if anything, for our services.
Generally, field services offices primarily: present professional development training and workshops on a variety of topics relevant to running a history organization; conduct site visits and in-depth consultations to delve into any questions an organization might have; provide networking opportunities for local history practitioners; and offer a variety of resources in many different forms. Some field services offices also offer grants, traveling exhibits, historic markers, or other services.
No matter what services we are able to provide, the common thread among all field services offices is that we love museums and local history organizations. We come from many backgrounds, but we always stay up to date on the relevant issues in the field, and we are constantly adapting to help the organizations we work with thrive. We meet together as a group twice a year at a Field Services Alliance spring training and again at a meeting during the AASLH Annual Meeting.
So next time you are interested in resources, have a question, or just want to say hello, contact your local, regional, or national field services offices. We’d love to hear from you! And, as I once heard a field services professional state, “it’s our job security!