The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.
Validating What We Do
The conversation about credentialing local history workers tends to be periodic. It often revolves around momentary needs to assure employers, the public and funders of the legitimacy of local history work. American Association of Museums' Emerging Museum Professional Survey provides a glimpse of new museum worker needs, which could inform the discussion as credentials not only need to help the public understand what we do but also serve the worker.
The purpose of credentials really is to build trust in a knowledge base; in other words, credentials establish legitimacy. While some credentials require a degree from an accredited educational institution, in many fields these often come from a variety of sources that demonstrate the integrity of the worker's skills and knowledge.
How might the local history community in Minnesota certify its trustworthy workers? Would local history workers benefit from a credential? Here are a few (mostly) do-it-yourself credentials that spring to mind, with both pros and cons:
Awards Programs: Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, American Association for State and Local History, Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, and Friends of Minnesota Barns all offer awards programs. These are free to enter, but remember only the work that truly represents the best of the field gets recognized. Projects and functions that do not go above and beyond a routine generally do not receive recognition. However, sometimes it is the discipline of routine that needs recognition most.
Small Museum Pro!promises certification for workers in small and rural museums throughout the country by focusing on practical museum training. All-online courses cover Museum Administration, Collections Management, Collections Care, Exhibitions, and Museum Education and Outreach. Small Museum Pro! program should affordably fill gaps in professional training common to among small, emerging and rural museum workers. Courses cost $195 each. To receive Small Museum Pro! certification, participants must complete all five courses.
Continuing Education: A survey conducted at the Minnesota Local History Workshops this past spring revealed the preference among survey respondents statewide that, to stay current, local history workers should be accomplishing 15 hours of continuing education annually. That means reading trade publications, attending workshops and classes, participating in conferences, teaching classes, being active in other meetings (such as serving on the board of the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, on a Minnesota Association of Museums committee, etc.). Keeping track of time spent improving skills could inspire trust in potential funders. Doubters may, however, dismiss your records as not measuring to a common standard.
Let's continue the conversation. While time is a limited resource, it is necessary to spend time validating what we do in the eyes of the public and funders. How do you do that? Would it be useful to have some organization set a common standard? If so, should that organization be broad (e.g. a museum or nonprofit association) or focused (e.g. a history organization)? National, or statewide? How might credentials matter to your board, the public or funders?