Sask museums


Q. How do we start a museum? (Okay, here's where we turn it around and ask you the questions)
Q. The grant applications keep asking me for policies. Why does our museum need to have written policies?
Q. So, once I write a policy, it's good forever?
Q. Why do I have to have job descriptions for volunteers?
Q. Why is cataloguing the collection important?

Q. How do we start a museum? (Okay, here's where we turn it around and ask you the questions)

A. Plan, Plan, Plan 

  • What do you want - precisely?
  • Why do you want it?
  • Who is it for?
  • When do you want it for?
  • Where do you want it? 
  • How will you pay for it?

Step one if you decide to go ahead:

Establish a steering committee to:

  • create a comprehensive plan for the museum's development
  • ensure the organization is legally established
  • develop a fundraising plan
  • create the basic museum policies and procedures

What do you want?

What type of institution do you want for your community? Natural history? European settlement? Aboriginal? Fine Art? What kind of organization will it be? Incorporated non-profit? Committee of the town? Will it be all volunteer-run or will you have paid staff?

What do you need?

Do you have a plan of action which includes when you want all these things to happen?

What committees will you need to establish?

What rules need to be in place before you start?

What resources do you need to do the job?

You need both money and people to not only create a museum, regardless of the building(s) available, but also to maintain it over the long term. Where will you find them? There is no start up money specifically for museums. Even with grant money, you still have to cover at least half the costs yourselves. The fact is, fundraising locally will be required.

Long-term Plans

A written long-term (3 year) plan is essential to the healthy development of a museum. When you set long term goals for the museum, you can often anticipate problems and minimize their impact. You can also decide how best to budget limited volunteer time and money to maximize the benefit for the museum. 

When working on a long-term plan for the museum it is important to include both ongoing and large capital projects. It is necessary to clearly identify what you expect to complete in a given year, how you will know whether you were successful, who will be responsible for the activity, and approximately what the cost will be. You need work to make it more comprehensive (include all areas of activity the museum is involved in, not just the big things) and include more detailed information on specifically when things will be completed, by whom, at what cost.

It is necessary to also go beyond reporting only capital activities. It is understood that this is a hugely important part of your museum's activity. It is critical that you also include the other activities of the museum (documenting your collection, caring for artifacts, exhibits, programming activities, etc). The comments noted above regarding the need for looking at the entirety of the museum's activities when evaluating and planning on an annual basis is equally important when preparing a long-term plan. You must look beyond your capital projects, however important, and include the full range of museum activities in your plans.

MAS has produced a manual Planning for Small Museums to help you through the process. Contact MAS if you are interested in purchasing a copy.

Q. The grant applications keep asking me for policies. Why does our museum need to have written policies?

A. Regardless of the size of a museum, it is necessary to have written policies to guide decision-making from year to year. A policy is simply a written guideline which everyone follows. It is very important that the museum board recognize the importance of writing down policies for all areas of museum activity. Written policies need not be long and complicated but they must take into account all aspects of the activity including why it's being done, who is responsible for seeing it's done, as well as, what is included in the activity.

Policies should be developed for ongoing activities such as Fundraising, Care of Collections, Programming, Building/Site Maintenance, as well as for once a year activities such as the Spring Tea.

Q. So, once I write a policy, it's good forever?

A. A review of your existing policies should be undertaken to ensure they meet the museum's needs as guides for decision-making. Generally, policies are reviewed every two years to ensure they are still providing guidance for decision-making. 

A package of material on policy development can be obtained from the MAS office. Contact MAS if you are interested in receiving additional information.

Q. Why do I have to have job descriptions for volunteers?

A. A written job description is as important to a volunteer staff person as it is to a paid staff person. Job descriptions do not have to be long and complicated. They need to include a description of what the specific job is (eg. grounds maintenance, collection cataloguer or tour guide), what the specific tasks involved are, and who will provide supervision (who will the volunteer go to if they have a question and who will give them directions). Here are points to consider while writing a job description:
  • brief (1-2 sentences) introduction describing exactly what the job is
  • if this is a paid position, include things like: hours of work per week, pay periods, holiday pay, etc
  • state who the supervisor for this job will be. Who has been given the authority by the board to tell this person what to do and to whom they can go when they have questions or concerns
A package of information on job descriptions for volunteer positions is available from MAS. If you would like to obtain a copy please contact the office.

Q. Why is Cataloguing the collection important?

A. It is very important to catalogue each artifact in the museum's collection as completely as possible. This includes not only the physical description of the object, but just as importantly, the stories surrounding its use.

This ensures that you know what artifacts are in your collection and specific information about each artifact.

MAS has produced a Collections Documentation system which includes a manual and a variety of forms. If you would like to purchase the system, contact the office.