Thursday, September 30, 2010


Two SMAers rock out at AASLH's event at the Oklahoma History Center. Is that former board member Kristen Harbeson singing and last year's plenary speaker Kate Marks with the white guitar? Why, yes... Yes, it is!

So, how was the conference itself? SMA Board Member, John H. Verrill, gives a great report, highlighting sessions of particular relevance to small museums. Take it away, John!

"The annual meeting of the American Association for State & Local History was held in Oklahoma City last week. The meeting was really very well organized for the 900+ museum staffers that attended. Because it was held in the West a special series of programming was offered for Native American museums. The keynote speaker was NPR's own Susan Stamburg who spoke of her long association with and appreciation of museums and the work they do. Gerard Baker, a Mandan-Hidatsa indian from North Dakota also made a keynote address. As the recently retired superintendent of the Mount Rushmore National Park, he spoke of his long association with the Park Service and his fight to include Native voices in the interpretation of our National Parks. Mr. Baker's talk was the highlight of the "Tribal Track" presentations.

"All of the sessions that I attended were well organized and offered good information. I helped facilitate a session on "which history, whose history" which offered participants an opportunity to discuss what truths their visitors would like to know and whether they are the same as those that we offer in our interpretations. It was a lively and thoughtful discussion that helped participants think about what is important to their visitors. Following this same theme I attended a strategic planning session for small museums which uses survey and other forms of communication with audiences to help formulate the vision of the museum. And then attended a session on money vs mission which discussed staying true to one's mission while developing new sources of funding.

"A session called "small museums, big impact" talked about using social media, school programming and high quality public programming to increase the exposure and to improve the community support for small museums. The General Tommy Franks Museum in Hobart, Oklahoma was used as an example as they have programming that extends far beyond the doors of their small town museum and have even built a travelling trailer that visits schools around the country to introduce school children to the concepts of leadership.

"I attended two other sessions that dealt with cyberspace, one talked about the use of cell phone technology to provide interpretive information to visitors via their cell phone and the other was on the usablity of web sites. Technology was talked about quite a bit among the participants and it is generally accepted that a web site is or should be a priority for all museums as the first line of introduction to one's mission.

"As a graduate of the Seminar for Historical Administration, I attended a reception for graduates and those interested in participating in this 3 week intensive museum training program sponsored by AASLH, AAM, the National Park Service and others which is held at the Indiana Historical Society each fall. It's new director, John Durel, was introduced and it was a great time for graduates to enthusiatically inform those interested in the program all of the merits of this "museum boot camp."

"I have worked on the AASLH Mentor Committee for the last year, the program had faded away and our committee sought to revive the program which is so helpful, especially for those new to the field who need a "leg up." The program was reintroduced at the meeting and information about it is available on the AASLH website (

"There were programs to fit every need, but as you can see I tended to seek out those programs most important to small museums. I was impressed by their content and the fact that the presenters were small museum workers who are in the trenches every day producing quality programming  and great interpretation with small staffs of both paid and unpaid workers. Next year the annual conference will be held in Richmond, Virginia, I would recommend attending both for the quality of programming but also for the networking opportunities."

Any other SMAers at AASLH and want to share? Email us at

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