By Connie Bodner
Senior Program Officer, IMLS
Several IMLS staff traveled to Richmond, VA on September 14-17 to attend the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) annual meeting. Each fall, devoted and passionate members of this group, representing history institutions of every kind, get together to commune. Wearing our official name tags festooned with colorful ribbons that identify speakers, exhibitors, award winners, and long-term members, we immerse ourselves for four days in topics of mutual interest. In between sessions and lectures, we honor each other’s accomplishments and of course try to tuck in some socializing.
This year, in addition to our booth in the Exhibit Hall and a session on grant-getting, IMLS sponsored the Connecting to Collections Continuing Conversation Exchange, a gathering of representatives from across the country who have been working on statewide collections care plans. In a rare opportunity to work side by side, staff and volunteers of libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies have identified the challenges in taking care of the things that give our communities a sense of place and identity. In many cases, with the surveys and analyses done, groups are now collaborating on implementing solutions.
Representatives of 17 states made formal presentations, and participants from 47 states and 2 territories shared stories in sessions, over coffee, and in the hallways. The excitement was palpable. “That’s us TOO!” people would say, thankful to learn they weren’t the only ones trying to figure out how to do a lot with a little. “Wow! Can I steal that?” was another favorite. I learned that “R&D” doesn’t mean “research and development” as I’d always thought. Rather, it stands for that sincerest form of flattery—“Rip Off and Duplicate.”
While it was validating to discover common ground, there were differences too, and these were often the topic of good-natured kidding. Hearing Delaware reps report success in surveying “every single county in the state”—all three of them—brought a predictable response from residents of states with more—like Texas with 254 and Georgia with 159.
We heard about Connecticut’s hands-on salvage exercise using a simulated disaster to teach techniques for handling a museum full of water-damaged materials. Virginia reported on their Top Ten Endangered Artifacts initiative, using social media to engage the general public, and Colorado gave us a peek at their YouTube series on collections care. Delaware detailed how their Museums Studies graduate students helped a small historical society create a sustainable system for collections care and acquired some real life experience in the process.
These conversations will continue through the Connecting to Collections Online Community managed by Heritage Preservation. Designed to help smaller collecting organizations locate reliable preservation resources and engage with each other and top professionals in the field, it’s open to everyone. Sign up online to join in.
The Connecting to Collections group will gather at next year’s AASLH meetings in Salt Lake City in October. The Saturday morning session in Richmond was devoted to brainstorming what next year ought to include. The ideas were numerous, and enthusiasm was high.
Like the Connecting to Collections programs across the nation, this effort was the result of a highly effective collaboration. We thank the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, AASLH, Heritage Preservation, and all the grantees for bringing so much to the week and for sharing so freely. Speaking for all of us here at IMLS, and most especially Kevin Cherry, Nancy Rogers, and Steve Shwartzman who shared the AASLH experience, we are grateful to be playing a part in this, and we look forward to seeing what’s up next.