The Small Museums Community assists America’s small museums in their endeavors, helping to make them stronger and more responsive to their communities. The Committee encourages small museums to share successful strategies in workshops and national meetings and demonstrate what the field can learn from small museums. Through its programming and initiatives, AASLH plans to strengthen the small museum, an important steward of local and national history.
If you’re looking for a place to network with your peers, find answers to questions, explore opportunities to learn, and more, you’ve come to the right place. This community was created by Small Museum professionals and their colleagues.
What is a Small Museum?
The majority of museums in the United States are considered small and include historic house museums, history museums, art museums, historic sites, general museums, and much more. Our definition is simple, “If you think you’re small, you’re small.” We welcome any and all interested in our mission of making America’s small museums the very best they can be.
In 2007, the Small Museums Committee created a working definition of a small museum:
A small museum’s characteristics are varied, but they typically:
- Have an annual budget of less than $250,000.
- Operate with a small staff with multiple responsibilities.
- Employ volunteers to perform key staff functions.
Other characteristics such as the physical size of the museum, collections size and scope, etc. may further classify a museum as small. Is it the end-all, be-all of definitions? Certainly not, but it’s a start and gives us a rallying point for our efforts.
Where did that definition come from?
In 2007, the Small Museums Committee distributed an electronic survey to the membership and received 455 responses out of 6,500 sent. It was designed to create a working definition for the Committee so it could better respond to the needs of small museums. Results from the survey provided the definition above.
Meeting the Needs of Small Museums
The Small Museums Committee is composed of AASLH members who work for and serve small museums, their staffs, volunteers, and ultimately, their constituencies. The Committee’s major charge is to oversee AASLH’s work with the Small Museum community. We are focused on working with AASLH to provide thoughtful and useful resources for the unique needs of small museums. As a result, AASLH is a valuable resource for small museums, members and non-members alike.
To accomplish our charge, the Small Museums Committee focuses on the following:
- Encouraging and supporting small museums in their efforts to reflect and engage with the diversity of their communities. Recognizing that multiple voices and perspectives enrich the stories all museums tell, in our work the Small Museums Committee promotes the full inclusion of historically underrepresented people, their histories, lives, and experiences.
- Creating and fostering Annual Meeting activities that are valuable for small museums. In addition to encouraging a variety of sessions geared towards small museums, the committee also works to ensure that the voices of small museums are heard alongside larger institutions in germane sessions. Each year, the Small Museums Committee raises money in order to offer scholarships for the AASLH Annual Conference. It also sponsors a luncheon at the meeting.
- Developing Original Content for Small Museum Practitioners. Through the AASLH website blog the committee strives to help small museums be the best they can be by providing the kinds of resources that small museums need and can benefit from.
- Providing Learning Opportunities for small museum staffs and volunteers. The Small Museums Committee works with AASLH to offer, from time to time, online events on topics relevant to small museums.
Small Museums Committee
The AASLH Small Museums Affinity Community is led by the following committee:
Sean Blinn, Chair (2022-2024)
Heritage Trail Association, Bridgewater, NJ
Elizabeth Beaudoin (2022-2024)
Broomfield Depot Museum and Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum, Longmont, CO
Alana Dunn (2021-2023)
Eagle Museum of History and Preservation, Eagle, ID
Joseph Govednik (2022-2024)
Cowlitz County Historical Museum, Kelso, WA
Julia Gray (2021-2023)
The Wilson Museum, Castine, ME
Shelby Henderson (2022-2024)
Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum, Seneca, SC
Erik London (2021-2023)
Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, AL
Nicklaus McKinney (2022-2024)
Seneca City Museums, Seneca, SC
Sara Phalen (2022-2024)
Warrenville Historical Society, Warrenville, IL
Kisha Wilson-Sogunro (2022-2024)
Manassas History Museum, Manassas, VA
AASLH Staff Contact
Bethany Hawkins, Chief of Operations
Small Museums Resources
Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (STEPS)
The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (STEPS) is a self-study, self-paced assessment tool designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, organizations enrolled in STEPS review their policies and practices and benchmark themselves against national standards. AASLH created the program in 2009 with the help of dozens of institutions and more than 140 volunteers. Revised in 2020, the program is part of the Continuum of Excellence used by the American Alliance of Museums. Organizations considering STEPS are encouraged to watch a recording of a brief webinar (22 minutes) that provides an overview of the program.
Small Museum Toolkit
As a small museum staff person, you are responsible for a lot, including areas outside of your expertise or training. You need a quick reference that makes the process of becoming a sustainable, valued institution less overwhelming. The Small Museum Toolkit is a collection of six books that serves as a launching point for small museum staff to pursue best practices and meet museum standards. Find it here.
Small Museum Pro! Certificate
AASLH offers many professional development opportunities for staff, volunteers, and board members of small museums including the Small Museum Pro! (SMP!) professional certificate program. The SMP! Certificate is for history practitioners who work, or would like to work, in small history-minded organizations. Online courses provide practical guidance and education on a variety of topics.
Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning
Are you thinking of starting a museum? Starting Right has been helping non-professionals learn the basics of museum planning for nearly three decades. This fully-revised, third edition will help you understand what you are getting into, evaluate prospects, avoid pitfalls, and take advantage of many kinds of available help. Find it here.
Read about small museums on the AASLH blog.
Small Museums Scholarship
2023 AASLH Annual Conference, September 6-9, Boise, Idaho
Check back for more information.
AASLH’s Small Museums Committee offers several scholarships to AASLH members who are full-time, part-time, paid, or volunteer employees of small museums. Each $700 scholarship will cover the cost of Annual Conference registration. Acceptance of the scholarship is contingent upon recipients submitting a post to the AASLH blog about their conference experience.
The scholarship is open to AASLH individual members or people working for institutional members and is a benefit of membership.
For questions, please contact [email protected] at AASLH.