Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Fever

When I arrived last June, I was told that the volunteers and
membership at LHS expect a break over the summer.

I like that idea!

But apparently, it is harder to take a break around here than I thought.

This summer we're slowing down our programming. In June we only had 1 program--a very successful 1950s style fair. July is free of programs. In August we're doing 2 low key programs, none of which take the planning effort on our part that other programs like the Taste of Laurel require.

But some how we're still very busy!

Every Wednesday we will have Junior Docents at the Museum. Our Junior Docents are a group of several girls and now one boy who have helped us with programming in the past. Whether helping show visitors how to complete a paint by number or explaining 19th century games, these JD's are enthusiastic and engaged. This summer they will be working on a video project. They will learn more about Laurel History and write script for a series of short videos that they will then star in. Last Wednesday was their first day learning, but it won't be too long before we're shooting video.

But that's not it for our Wednesdays at the Museum. We now will have Laurel Parks and Recreation Camps coming to the Museum every Wednesday at 1 pm. For an hour the campers will enjoy learning about Laurel history. We're going to have to steer away from the 1950s (since many of them already saw that exhibit with Laurel Elementary School). But I'm pretty sure they'll have a lot of fun learning about Laurel History and what life would have been like in the nineteenth century.

We also have an intern, a high school volunteer, docents, and volunteers completing specific projects (like photographing the collection). And that is just on our average week.

So in the end, we don't seem to have taken the summer off. Oops!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Important Part of the Community

Since the beginning of the Laurel Horizon Society (the precursor to the Laurel Historical Society) in the 1970s, community members in Laurel have come together to save Laurel's history.

This dedicated group became quite close as they overcame the obstacles to saving their local history. They worked hard to build a quality Historical Society. Our supporters knew of all the great things we were doing for the community preserving and presenting the history and culture of Laurel.

But there was more work to be done!

When I began here last June 2008, I was told that one of the goals of the Laurel Historical Society was to extend our reach further into the community. We needed to let everyone know what great things we had to offer here. And we also needed to know what else we could do for the community.

So for a little over a year now, I've talked to as many people as I can in the community to find out what people know about us and what we can do for them.

In these conversations, I've learned many interesting things.

1) We're often confused with the Historic District Commission.

We are not the Historic District Commission. From what I understand, they work hard to preserve the integrity of the City. From what I understand, they might be the people to contact when you want to put a 20 foot neon sign outside your business.

But I actually don't know all too much about them--because I work for the Laurel Historical Society, not the Historic District Commission. For more information about what the Historic District Commission, visit Karen Lubieniecki's blog. For more information about what the Historical Society does, visit this blog.

2) Many Laurelites don't know there is a Museum.

When I meet people in Laurel--at the dog park, at the grocery store, around town, etc I often hear the same thing: "There's a museum in Laurel?!?"

Yes, there is a Museum in Laurel. And we're here for you! For those of us who know about us, we've become a city treasure.

For those of us who don't know about us, we're a complete surprise. As one little girl told me last week: "I thought I would really hate this place, but I had so much fun!!"

Some of you might be hesitant to come into the Museum--saving it for a raining day when there isn't much else to do. For those people I say--come in! visit! You'll be even more surprised when you see all the fun you've missed out on.

3) Those who know about the Museum have placed our role in a little box. We give tours, we're a good place to drop off the stuff from Grandma's attic and sometimes you can attend a lecture at our Museum.

We're trying to break out of that box. Yes, we have an exhibit. And yes, we do have lectures. We also offer creative children, adult, and family programs. Ever been to a film series at your local Museum? How about entered into a pie-eating contest? Or sampled local businesses food? Our special events have become creative and diverse in their offerings--we'd love to see you try your hand at our next egg toss contest or sit back with some popcorn and enjoy "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

As fun, educational, and lively as our events have become, we are trying to go beyond even the walls of our Museum. We're looking into the community to see what else we can offer to our constituency. We've built partnerships with a diverse group of community organizations. From local libraries to local schools to local businesses, we're working to provide the community with what they need. Whether it is putting together an exhibit for the Library's walls or holding a paper raiser for the local elementary school, we're working to break out of the expectations of what a local Museum should be.

No longer will we sit back and wait for you to come to us. We're coming to you. And asking you what you need. So please, let us know--we're listening.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Volunteers at the LHS

When I tell people I am the only full-time staff member at the Laurel Historical Society, I get a pretty predictable reaction.

Eye brows are raised and there is a quick intake of breath. Followed by a sarcastic "That must be a lot of fun."

I reassure these concerned people that I have a part time assistant, a very active board, and a critical mass of dedicated volunteers.

But I know that even though I say these things, people imagine me running around the Museum like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get everything done.

In reality, some days I do look a little like a flailing chicken. But that is because of my own craziness and does not reflect on the work of my wonderful volunteers.

Monica, the part-time assistant to the Director, and I are joined daily by dedicated volunteers.

Some days it is our resident grumpy registrar, Charlie. He comes in and makes fun of me for being loud, but constantly works hard to make sure our collection is in order. Without his hard work and the hard work of his cohort, Marlene, our collection would be a mess.

Other days, the volunteers that join us are the Docents that keep the Museum open for visitors. They sit patiently waiting for visitors chatting about this or that, but as soon as that visitor comes through the door they are ready to impart knowledge on them. It's amazing how quickly they can go from debating the best way to cook eggplant to telling the history of the Mill.

For special events, I call upon our Public Programming Committee. This committee works hard to provide quality program for all of our audiences--young and old alike. We have junior docents on this committee that like to wear period dress for our kids events.

We have 2 mother-daughter teams that are essential to our success. We have teachers (both active and retired), a principal, a human resources specialist, a public relations specialist, and more. This committee is willing to get dirty with the kids or set up a laptop for a lecture. Without them, there would be no programming at the LHS.

We have volunteers who are in charge of the Museum Shop, the Research Library, the Landscaping of the Museum, and more.

We have so many volunteers doing so much that sometimes I wonder what is left for me to do.

I guess it leaves me time to brag about them.

But instead I just spend my time coming up with more work for everyone to do!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Good Day with the LHS

Not everyday with the LHS is a good day. Some are great. Some are fantastic. And some are...less than fantastic.

But some days are good. Today was one of those days.

When our volunteers started arriving at 10 am, it seemed like any other Wednesday. They put the flags out. One of our volunteer coordinators came upstairs and gave me a lunch she'd brought from home for me. Yummy! We chat shortly about the weather and I watch while one of our volunteers sets up a network between my desktop and our laptop.

Then there is a slight panic. A group of special needs adults has arrived. The group did not call ahead for a group tour and we really aren't prepared with hands-on activities. I tell the volunteers to use some scavenger hunts we have available. After the group leaves I find out that the scavenger hunts weren't able to be used--the group was mostly non-responsive. But they seemed happy to be out and about.

We discuss the challenges of adjusting tours for special needs group with varying abilities of interaction. I mosey back upstairs and continue working on some development things.

The next thing I know, the Museum is abuzz. I come downstairs and there are several groups of people in separate parts of the galleries keeping our docents busily occupied. I learn that one group has a son translating from english to spanish for his mother and father. Another person has just moved into the area and wants to learn more about the community. Another visitor has visited before and volunteers at a local museum himself. They are all excitedly talking and pointing to parts of the exhibit that sparked their interest.

I attempt to flex my spanglish and interact with the family whose son is translating to them. In the basement I explain the use of the wash basin with "como se dice bath?" to the son. I then attempt to explain where ice (hielo or "yellow" as he explains to me) was brought from. The son and I both struggle to find the word for river in spanish, but I get the point across with a wave of the hand and a wooshing sound.

Afterwards, the family makes a purchase in the gift shop. Great for our budget, not so great for my own technical abilities in the shop. (Delawareans always forget sales tax!)

But something even more exciting happens! The mother asks for our open hours--she'd like to bring her other sons back to the Museum.

Satisfied, I eat my yummy lunch upstairs with some of the volunteers. We talk about important things like how to brown meat and how great it is to have visitors come by. As we're chatting in the main gallery another family of four walks in. They look fresh and young and eager to learn all about Laurel history.

I leave my docents to do their work without me intruding.

But I'm very happy because I've finally thought of what I should name the new blog I've been planning: A Good Day with the LHS.