Notes from IHA
Meeting professional standards for cultural heritage organizations such as museums, historical societies, libraries, archives, and preservation groups requires having fundamental documents in place. The American Alliance of Museums, the body that awards accreditation to museums, recommends that all museums (regardless of whether they seek accreditation) have five key documents. Most would apply to other cultural heritage organizations, as well.
The first document is a mission statement. An organization’s mission is often linked to its statement of purpose, in many cases the first document filed, perhaps when incorporated. The statement of purpose tells why an organization exists. Using this model, the mission statement defines what an organization does to fulfill the purpose. The purpose and mission are often combined or may overlap in language. In the case of a museum, it is often considered essential that the mission not only expresses what the organization does, but for whom. Who does it serve? Like a mission, museums, and most other organizations, need to have an ethics statement. An ethics statement builds on the purpose and mission, offering guidelines for ethical conduct. For a museum, much of the guidance relates to collections, but there are other issues, as well. The collections policy goes into more detail about acquiring, managing, caring for, and disposing of collections.
Taking a broader perspective, the strategic plan is an important document in helping an organization look towards and manage the future. Such a document often puts a defined period of time (perhaps five years) into a structured framework, proposing broad goals and more defined objectives that can contribute to some goals in the near future. As a matter of basic responsibility, it is also recommended that museums create a disaster plan. This may build on generic advice about common problems (how to deal with wet objects), but also include advice specific to a museum’s particular situation.
In addition to these basic documents, museums and other cultural-heritage organizations might be well-advised to create these documents: collections plan, interpretative plan, board/staff/volunteer manuals, social media policy, and a development plan.
Resources that can help a museum create written documents that define basic strategies to help manage its operations include the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), The Standards and Excellence Program for Historical Organizations (StEPS), and the Museum Assessment Program (MAP). The Illinois Heritage Association (IHA) is also a resource that can personally help members develop the key documents that provide the fundamentals that can help organizations meet professional standards. Some of the organizations listed above have further written resources for sale or loan. The IHA has an excellent circulating library available for members to use in pursuing the topics described above. These are achievable goals.