Although I worked around museums for the past 25 years, I had not worked in a museum until 2007 when I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. With only four full-time staff, supplemented by part-time University of Memphis graduate assistants, we definitely qualify as a small museum.
In 2007, our Museum was a member of the AASLH and a few other professional organizations. I immediately came to appreciate the benefits of our AASLH membership through the following:
- History News, published four times each year, is a 40-page magazine that contains a half-dozen or so articles of interest to cultural heritage professionals. To me, the most valuable part of the magazine is the eight-page Technical Leaflet insert in each issue that gives a comprehensive summary of topics such as Copyright Issues with Digital Collections, Program Management, and Professional Development.
- The Dispatch is a monthly online publication with current grant, conference, webinar, and other opportunities.
- I am consistently impressed with the AASLH website. For example, when I searched the website for “evaluations” I found a webinar on the subject, complete with survey forms! http://community.aaslh.org/small-museum-special-event-survey/ This resource was exactly what our museum needed to evaluate our special events.
- Publications sponsored through the AASLH such as the Small Museum Toolkit are ideal for the small museum professional. Each of the six 150-page volumes is a comprehensive summary of a topic such as finances, interpretation, mission and planning.
- The Small Museum Affinity group through its blog, scholarship, and resource center is filled with ideas and opportunities.
I attended my first AASLH Conference in 2010 when awarded a Small Museum Scholarship. This event sealed the deal in my enthusiastic support for the AASLH. Over the past 30 years I have attended many professional meetings ranging from city-wide to international to organizations. While not dismissing the importance of any association, as a small museum professional, I find that AASLH conferences are a perfect fit for my needs. Conferences such as the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), while certainly of value, tend to focus on the needs of the medium to large museums. City and state conferences, while wonderful networking and experience sharing opportunities, cannot marshal the resources of a national organization. However, for my small museum needs, the AASLH conference is perfect. Although sessions often cover the same topics as both larger and smaller professional meetings, the AASLH application is more inclusive of small museum contexts. Of critical importance is understanding that the AASLH application is not lesser than, but rather more inclusive and relevant to my needs as a small museum professional.
I value my membership in other professional organizations. For example, I belong to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) where I serve as chair of the Public Education Committee. When seeking educational programs in archaeology, the SAA’s For The Public webpage is my first stop. I also value my AAM membership for the comprehensive coverage of the museum field. However, for cultural heritage applications, particularly in small museum settings, the AASLH and the Small Museum Affinity Group remain my primary resource.
If you are not a member of the Small Museum Affinity Group, join us!