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Best Practices in Preparing for the Worst: Florida's Connecting to Collections

Monday, October 30, 2017

Volunteers replicate water damage and salvaging techniques
Activities that replicate water damage and salvaging teach institutions how to anticipate and plan for water events, such as hurricanes, that may be damaging to collections.

Project Snapshot

Grant Program Name: National Leadership Grants for Museums
Grant Log Number: MG-30-14-0035-14
Year Awarded: 2014
Recipient: Florida Association of Museums Foundation
Project Name: Florida's Connecting to Collections

“Taking what they learned through Florida’s Connecting to Collections, people are not just prepared professionally for hurricanes – they are prepared personally. When you work in this field, your professional preparedness also spills over into your personal preparedness. Emergency planning reiterates over and over best practices for keeping things you hold important safe and planning for what’s to come.” – Malinda Horton, Executive Director, Florida Association of Museums

Florida is under constant threat of weather challenges. From hurricanes to extreme humidity, collections are significantly affected by the state’s climate. Most recently, Hurricane Irma’s destructive path up the Florida peninsula put into high relief the threats and challenges facing the caretakers of the state’s museum, library, and archival collections.

The Florida Association of Museums (FAM) took what could have been a hurdle for many collecting institutions and transformed emergency planning into a broader statewide discussion on proper care and stewardship. Through Florida’s Connecting to Collections program, FAM challenges museums, libraries, and other organizations with collections to address potential natural disasters by creating more comprehensive collection policies and emergency plans.

Bridging the Divide of Collecting Institutions

FAM’s work began in response to a 2005 survey of America’s collections by Heritage Preservation and IMLS, which found that the nation’s collections were at risk. With a history in both collections care and emergency planning, FAM embraced the opportunity to address inadequate preparation, insufficient emergency plans, and lack of collection blueprints that left Florida’s museum, library, and archive collections in jeopardy. The resulting three-year program, Florida’s Connecting to Collections, trains museum and library staff on how to create policies and plans for safeguarding collections while also promoting best practices by allowing these professionals to learn from each other.

Color coded spinning Cardboard wheel
Hands-on activities used in Florida’s Connecting to Collections workshops emphasize topics important to collection and emergency planning

In the planning stages of Florida’s Connection to Collections, FAM collaborated with the Florida Library Association, the Florida Public Archeology Network, zoos and aquariums, and private collections to develop tools for all of Florida’s collecting organizations to use to elevate the standards of their collection policies and emergency planning.

A tall flip board with visual text and drawings
A visual used during a small group exercise puts discussions topics about collection loans in context. Hands-on activities and visuals made collection practices more applicable to everyday situations and proved to be integral components of the program.

“We could have easily created Florida’s Connecting to Collections for museums,” said Malinda Horton, Executive Director, Florida Association of Museums. “But in time, we saw the close ties and connectivity of all the collecting institutions. By offering the program to all collecting organizations, partnerships were created that encouraged them to seek support and learn from each other. It made the field stronger.”

Bettering the State’s Collection Stewardship

Florida’s Connecting to Collections provides hand-on training in collections care and emergency preparedness. In-person and webinar workshops are offered in three to four regions across the state, focusing on developing collection policies or emergency plans and ways to put them into action.

The initiative offers the opportunity for all interested institutions at any point in their collection or emergency planning to come together and learn best practices for making a collection or emergency plan from scratch or improving an existing plan. All participants, whether they are involved in one or all workshop units, also participate in an online forum that encourages conversation about current trends and the exchange of ideas. “We structured this program so that institutions were surrounded by others in their community,” said Horton. “The program brings organizations into a regional conversation about topics important to all collecting institutions. In turn, all those institutions learned from a regional network of professionals they can now call on for information, expertise, and leadership.”

Florida’s Connecting to Collections also involves touring the host facility’s collection and assessing the institution’s collection plan. These tours and discussions offer institutions a practical example of topics discussed in previous workshops, and a safe space to talk about issues they face in their own institutions.

Emergency Preparedness: Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

A key component of Florida’s Connecting to Collections is helping collecting institutions prepare for natural disasters and emergencies by developing their own institution-wide emergency plans. An element of Florida’s Connecting to Collections workshops, emergency preparedness training is divided into easy-to-use, approachable modules that detail topics such as threats and priorities; emergency personnel; salvage and recovery; supplies; and training and practical applications.

Workshop activity tub with water damaged material.
Workshop activities, such as salvage rescue, prepare institutions to think about all the possible scenarios when creating emergency plans.

Workshops also included hands-on exercises that bring to life the scenarios that face Florida institutions during hurricane season. These hands-on activities allow institutions to grasp the reality of protecting their collection against natural disasters.

“I can’t tell you how many comments I have seen after Hurricane Irma alone that emphasize the impact Florida’s Connecting to Connections has had on their collections, and the institution’s preparedness,” said Horton.  “And that to me is one of the most rewarding things about this program and one of the ways we see success.”

Connecting Smaller Institutions with Mentors

Two women at workshop table
A workshop facilitator helps a participant during an emergency preparedness workshop. Florida’s Connecting to Collections emphasizes the importance of learning from one another’s experiences, especially between large and small institutions.

Woman participating in salvage activity
A workshop participant learns the best ways to rescue a water-damaged book during an emergency preparedness workshop. On the heels of the workshops’ successes, FAM would like to engage more Florida institutions as well as out-of-state institutions.

As collection policies and emergency plans are constructed, FAM wanted to make sure that training and workshops were relevant to large and small organizations. To encourage larger, more established institutions to participate, FAM constructed a mentor-mentee component to encourage larger organizations to play a leadership role in the program. FAM reached out to participating organizations and gave them criteria to use in assessing whether they saw themselves as mentors or mentees. FAM also structured the pairings regionally so organizations did not have to travel great distances to participate.

“Mentor and mentee selection was very self-appointing,” said Horton. “While it was pretty obvious who would be a mentor and who would be a mentee, it was important for us to give all organizations the space to identify that for themselves.”

Connecting to More Collection Institutions

Florida’s Connecting to Collections is compiling the final round of feedback from its last year. At the same time, the organization is looking forward to continuing to make the program sustainable and expand its reach. This includes emphasizing their webinar-based workshops to reach more isolated institutions across the state and out-of-state institutions that could benefit from the instruction. In recent months, New Jersey and North Carolina have inquired about using program components in their states, two states that are also heavily affected by natural disasters.

“We are always open to share,” said Horton. “We want to continue sharing what we have learned with as many people as possible and offering education in collection and emergency planning to the entire field, in and out of Florida. It is the reason we have structured Florida’s Connecting to Collections the way we did, so that distance or skill did not deter any institution from excelling in collection practices.”

New Networks for Shared Capacity Building

In the Florida Connecting to Collection’s first and second year, 51 collecting organizations in Florida made improvements to their emergency planning policies and processes. These institutions included museums, library special collections, and archeological institutions. Additionally, 77 state members at these institutions participated in dialogue for the purpose of improving emergency strategies, formed new networks, and found solutions for challenges that made it difficult for participants to complete their projects.

Small group, hands-on activities
Small group, hands-on activities encourage regional participants to learn from each other, spark conversations, and assess other institutions’ practices.

“We were able to bring a broader segment of collecting institutions together to discuss something that affects all of us: natural disasters. Through those conversations, people realize that the struggles they face with collections and emergency plans are faced by many,” said Horton. “More importantly, this program allows participants to learn from each other, cross-collaborate, and apply lessons learned to their home institutions.”

 

About the Project

Grant Program name: National Leadership Grants for Museums
Grant log number: MG-30-14-0035-14
Year Awarded: 2014
Recipient: Florida Association of Museums Foundation
Website: Florida Connecting to Collections Program
Project Contacts:
Malinda Horton, Executive Director, Florida Association of Museums
850-222-6028
fam@flmuseums.org
Robin Kilgo, Special Projects Manager, Florida Association of Museums
954-661-8260
robin@flamuseums.org
 

Programs: 
National Leadership Grants for Museums
Log Number: 
MG-30-14-0035-14
State: 
FL