Aid to museums, libraries, and preservation organizations is at the core of the Illinois Heritage Association’s purpose. The IHA helps to preserve the cultural heritage of Illinois. Its mission is to stimulate an interest in this heritage and to provide technical assistance to organizations and individuals who work to preserve it. In the IHA’s view, cultural heritage encompasses historical records, decorative and fine arts, folk arts, material culture, and the built and natural environments. The IHA was established as a nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) status in 1981, when state support for cultural institutions was at a low ebb. The association’s founders believed there should be a history-related service organization independent of state government.
The IHA’s first project was a statewide survey of museums to determine needs for services. The resulting 1982 survey report guided the IHA in developing programs to meet these needs. While almost half of the IHA’s three hundred members are museums, the organization also serves historical societies, libraries, genealogical organizations, preservation groups, park districts, educational institutions, and individuals.
The IHA’s services are provided free or at low cost to members. The IHA maintains an extensive circulating library with materials relating to nonprofit operation; collections management and care; research and interpretation; historic preservation, and local and Illinois history. The library contains more than two thousand titles and is especially strong in vertical file material, with current articles on approximately three hundred topics.
The Illinois Heritage Association offers on-site and telephone consultations about museum governance and administration, strategic planning, and collections management and care. These consultations focus on subtopics such as board training; assistance with updating constitutions, bylaws, collections policies, and other policies; and expansion, site selection, space allocation, and long-range planning.
A bimonthly newsletter is mailed to members and to potential members, such as teachers, nonmember museums, libraries, historical and genealogical societies, preservation groups, and tourism agencies. The technical inserts that accompany the newsletter disseminate practical and useful information on a variety of timely topics. The IHA also issues a monthly electronic newsletter.
The IHA conducts collections management courses for small museums and has been funded by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Courses or workshops have addressed registration of objects, policy development, cataloging, handling objects, environmental concerns, and applying numbers to artifacts.
Collaborative projects with the University of Illinois Library and the Illinois State Library have allowed the IHA to assist museums and libraries with digitization projects. The IHA has received Technical Assistance Grants from the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) to support workshops on exhibit planning and development and on fund raising. The IHA works with the council to provide docent training for sites hosting the Museum on Main Street (MOMS) exhibits from the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES).
Support for IHA
Support for the IHA comes from grants, memberships, donations, and earned income projects that conform to the IHA’s mission. Sales of archival supplies and selected publications from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and from the American Association for State and Local History generate some income and introduce members to useful products that assist them in their work. The IHA purchases archival supplies in large quantities and repackages them in smaller amounts to meet the needs of smaller institutions. IHA members may buy supplies directly from Gaylord Brothers using an IHA discount. Two award-winning books written and published by the IHA—a county history and a book of postcards of local scenes—have served as income producers and as models for local organizations to follow in publishing books of their own.