Minnesota Local History

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Advice and help with building history capacity.

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.

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MALHM 20 Year Retrospective

By: grabitsdm | November 2, 2011
Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums held its 20th anniversary meeting at the Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud on Friday, October 28, 2011. This was a very good time reflect on the many accomplishments the organization has made for local history in Minnesota. One of the sessions was a retrospective panel with past board members Irene Bender, Sue Garwood, Bob Gasch, Chris Schuelke, and chaired by Mike Worcester.

MALHM essentially started when Irene Bender from the Cokato Historical Society and Kevin Britz from Stearns History Museum would meet regularly to discuss museum work. Together they sent out feelers to other historical organizations about forming an alliance, which led to the first annual meeting at the Stearns History Museum in the fall of 1991. Early projects included successfully building a membership base and presenting a session at the American Association for State and Local History Conference in Miami in 1992.

A Team of Voices

Sue Garwood perhaps summed up MALHM's strength quite succinctly when she said, "The Minnesota Historical Society with all of its staff has a team of voices to address challenges, and that's what local historical organizations became through MALHM." Working together the one or two active volunteers or occasional paid staff from each historical organization could pool their knowledge, skills and abilities to solve problems.

Indeed, MALHM was there to aid their peers when a tornado struck the Cokato Historical Society, a fire gutted the Humphrey Museum in Waverly, and flooding devastated the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society in Granite Falls in the 1990s. MALHM reached out to Isanti County Historical Society following its arson fire this year. Thus MALHM focused on disaster recovery and preserving museum collections.

Perhaps most importantly MALHM raised awareness and adherence to the standards with its "Alliance for the Millennium Collections Initiative" in 2001-2002. The result was a comprehensive manual that demonstrated the standards for all aspects of museum collections.

Always Been Practical

When MALHM started there were about 350 or so historical organizations - today around 500 - in Minnesota. The idea was to get practical tools into these organizations, and to meet them where they were.

Chris Schuelke noted that MALHM saw from the beginning that "relevance of what we do is dependent on adherence to the standards." The practicality of relevance is that meeting standards is basic to survival, but meeting standards can be done through a variety of practices.

Among more recent accomplishments have been being instrumental in getting the Museum Property Act of 2004 passed and participating as a founding member of the Minnesota History Coalition to advocate for money from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund to be spent wisely on history. Both statewide measures are very practical tools to build from a legacy of success.

Peers Helping Peers Serving the Public

MALHM has been a tremendous asset to the local history community in Minnesota for the last 20 years because of its emphasis on "peers helping peers." Because of MALHM's accomplishments the field is stronger, the state is admired, and most importantly the public is far better served because MALHM has spread standards, increased relevance of local history, and encouraged continuous refinement to the way history is preserved and accessed.

Well done, good and faithful servant, and happy birthday!

Steve Elliott delivering keynote address MALHM Annual Meeting

By: Joe Hoover | November 1, 2011
Minnesota Historical Society Executive Director Steve Elliott, delivers the keynote address at the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museum's well-attended annual meeting Friday, October 28, 2011 at the Stearns History Museum.

FYI: This was filmed with an iPhone with a mic adapter.

MHCG: Spray Room Installation

By: Joe Hoover | Preservation & Facilities | September 27, 2011
An old coal room was retrofitted with a compatible reuse where the intake has been reversed to exhale. This special facility will enable the Winona County Historical Society to be more intentional and responsive with its exhibits, which before the addition were fairly static. Their stated intention in the final report is to have exhibits that change more often and therefore prompt the Society’s building to be used a more frequent gathering space.

MHCG: Eastman Johnson Collection Storage Cabinets

By: Joe Hoover | Collection Management | September 19, 2011
The Saint Louis County Historical Society used MHCG funds to provide appropriate storage for the nationally significant ethnographic Eastman Johnson collection.

MHCG: Scriver Building-Accessibility Project

By: Joe Hoover | September 13, 2011
Support from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund enabled the Northfield Historical Society to complete a project that has been part of their long range plan since NHS was established in 1975. The $200,000 grant leveraged over $400,000 of additional money to provide full access to the Scriver Block, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, for all Minnesotans. Additionally the elevator will enable the NHS to safely move objects that it holds in public trust, ensuring those objects will be around for future Minnesotans to enjoy. The project also created jobs for construction workers in the short term, but should provide a catalyst for further development that was not possible if the building had remained largely inaccessible.

MHCG: Historical Mobile Walking Tour

By: Joe Hoover | September 7, 2011
Jennifer Weaver, the assistant director at the Winona County Historical Society describes how the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grant funds will help augment a National Endowment for the Humanities exhibit at the Winona County Historical Society museum with mobile electronic access to the historic built environment. The mobile tour uses the open source application, Tap Tours.

Grand Army of the Republic Hall, Lichfield

By: Joe Hoover | June 28, 2011
The building was built in 1885 for the U.S. Civil War Veterans of the Frank Daggett GAR Post No. 35 in Litchfield and has been preserved in its original condition as nearly as possible. Grand Army of the Republic Halls were once as ubiquitous as VFWs or American Legions and now very few intact halls are left in the nation. Jim Milan, Director of the Meeker County Historical Society gives a tour of the hall. Filmed with an iPhone 4, the sound was recorded directly through the camera's internal microphone.

Higher History Wages on the Horizon?

By: grabitsdm | June 21, 2011
With a massive state deficit, looming government shutdown and layoffs for thousands of Minnesota state workers, now seems an unlikely time to talk about salary.

As is often said, those who work in local history have as part of their compensation an enormous amount of job satisfaction. Others respond that job satisfaction hardly feeds a family. The last salary survey (2006) conducted by the Minnesota Historical Society showed the average leadership salary at about $29,390 per year. There's no question that those who work in local history are undercompensated for the amount of training, experience and skill brought to these critical jobs.

However, local historical organizations are not exactly flush with dollars, or they likely would compensate better and offer more universally things like retirement, health, and dental coverage. How often isn't a director both female and married to someone with family benefits? With a lack of resources, some organizations rely on situations like this even though such organizations express a desire to compensate for work performance. Work, rather than other circumstances, should dictate compensation. Pay the worker what her work merits.

Economist Richard Florida wrote about How the Crash will Reshape America. (Atlantic Monthly, March 2009) In this essay Florida notes that it took a number of manufacturing job incomes to make a household cash flow prior to World War II. As laws improved so did compensation. He believes that the service industry - local history jobs included - is roughly in the same situation that manufacturing was some 65 years ago, and that the federal government may be wise to focus on improving conditions for service industry compensation. He terms this "The Great Reset."

The reset cuts two ways for local history. For the workers, improved compensation will make it far more possible to earn a living. For communities improved compensation means both retention of skilled workers and more money in the local economy. However, for local historical organizations this encouragement means a 'heads-up' that more financial resources may be needed in the future if the federal government pursues this suggestion.

As with many reforms, if this were to be adopted, it might not occur for a number of years. Indeed, the essay itself is a few years old, but was re-aired on Minnesota Public Radio two weeks ago from a July 2010 broadcast. Perhaps the delay in implementation will be sufficient to start the hard work of enhancing revenue streams through more robust membership rosters, wider opportunities to donate, expanded earned income, and more productive endowments.

Esko Historical Museum Tour

By: Joe Hoover | June 8, 2011
The Esko Historical Museum is maintained by the Esko Historical Society which had its start as the Finnish American Memorial Foundation in 1952.

The museum complex includes a cluster of historic buildings moved to the site over the years.

The site includes a 1897 School House, a Grist Mill, a Log Farm House, a grain-drying shed and a smoke sauna.

Video tour was made during a site visit on April 21, 2011.

Digital Imaging Guidelines for Small Organizations - Part 1

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | May 23, 2011
DIY Book Scanner- original on Flicker, by Hardware Hank

DIY Book Scanner- original on Flicker, by Hardware Hank

The creation of digital assets in order to preserve and create access to collections is confusing enough for large libraries, museums and organizations. This audio podcast - (covers of the first half of the document) and PDF document is based on the Western States Digital Imaging Best Practices (PDF) but  has been simplified and edited down and is aimed at the smaller museum/organization in their quest to digitize their own collections. Interested in feedback and suggestions for version 2.0 of the guidelines. Please leave your comments!

Download PDF of the Guidelines