A Crititical Resource for Small Museums


The Small Museum Toolkit, edited by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Stacy Klinger and published by Alta Mira Press is the latest offering in the American Association of State and Local History Book Series.  The toolkit consists of six 150-page topical volumes each comprised of a half-dozen articles.  The six volume topics are:

  • Leadership, Mission and Governance
  • Financial Resource Development and Management
  • Organization Management
  • Reaching and Responding to the Audience
  • Interpretation
  • Stewardship

Initially, I was reluctant to spend 150.00 for six short volumes covering topics for which I already had several hefty volumes sitting on my bookshelves.  However, when I examined the volumes at a recent museum conference I became convinced the set was worth the investment.  My change in thinking resulted from recognizing, as the title implies, the set is specifically geared to small museums.

For example, in Volume 1 a 20-page article “DIY Strategic Planning” by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko provides examples, guides and a general discussion on all aspects of strategic planning.  The last page of the article lists eight recommended resources, including the standard strategic planning texts, for further consideration.  But important point is this – the article is not a less than, watered down version of what the large museums reference.  Rather, the article specifically addresses the needs of the 79% of North American museums that are small.  In the remaining chapters of Volume 1, the small museum professional will find discussions of assessment tools for evaluating a museum, the relevance of small museums, the importance of mission statements, along with developing and maintaining a museum board of directors.  Each of the six chapters has between eight and twenty references for more information, many of which are available online.

In Volume 5 Eugene Dillenburg and Janice Klein’s “Creating Exhibits: From Planning to Building” is a surprisingly comprehensive introductory guide for creating an exhibit from the “big idea” to conservation guidelines.  The resource lists for this chapter include many of the standard exhibit references such as Serrell’s Exhibit Labels and Falk and Dierking’s Learning From Museums.

I also used  several of the Toolkit chapters as readings this past fall in my Museum Practices graduate seminar at the University of Memphis.  For example, in Volume 5 Madeline Flagler’s “Interpreting Difficult Issues” draws on her first-hand experience of incorporating multiple voices into historic house museums in Hawaii and North Carolina.  Again, it would be a mistake to consider Flagler’s twenty-page article as a watered down version of how the Smithsonian tackles a controversial issue.  Rather, the article covers several steps and resources specific to a small museum context such as the importance of community input, community relations, and the training or retraining of docents who might have told the story a different way for years.

An added bonus I discovered while writing this post was a Blog based on the Toolkit that seems to publish regularly.  A quick scan of the recent posts shows that many of the chapter authors offer further discussions on the topics taken up in the Toolkit.

The Small Museums Online Community of the AASLH is also a superb site for networking with other small museum professionals and gaining access to an abundance of resources.

The Small Museum Toolkit is a resource that would likely be as relevant to the Director of the Field Museum as the new 720 page Third Edition of the Manual of Museum Planning is for the director of a small county museum with a staff of two.  That is, both directors will gain useful information from both resources, but as a primary go to resource, the two titles are addressed to different audiences.

If you are a small cultural heritage venue or interested in learning about what it takes to run a small cultural heritage venue, check out the Small Museum Toolkit.  I am certain you will not be disappointed (as certain as I am that I get no percentage of the sales).

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Museums, Anthropology, Bicycles, Recovery, Cancer, Retired

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