In late June I went to Milwaukee as a Peer Reviewer for the MAP program. MAP is a museum assessment program offered through AAM for small to mid-size museum of any variety to help them strengthen operations, plan for the future, and meet standards through self-study and a consultative visit from a confidential peer reviewer. Since 1981 over 4,300 museums have gone through MAP in order to increase level of professionalism among museum staff; improve communications between staff, board and constituents; gain a clearer focus on the museum’s mission and planning; gain greater credibility with potential funders and donors; and receive national recognition of the museum’s desire to achieve excellence through self-improvement. MAP is also a first step toward AAM accreditation. (http://www.aam-us.org/museumresources/map/index.cf) My peer review focused on collections stewardship.
In the months prior to my visit, the Museum conducted a self-study, identifying their strengths, weaknesses, and outlining their overall concerns. I received an enormous notebook of information and began reviewing the material a few weeks before my trip. I also evaluated their financial records, collections management policies, and print material. Naturally, I took a lot of notes and wrote down questions to ask in-person. Once I arrived on-site, I had to make sure that everything described in their assessment was indeed what is happening in real life.
So what did I do on my assessment? First, I met with the museum Director to find out if there were any problems or concerns that stood out. This could be anything from staffing issues and security concerns, to HVAC and expansion, or and the quality of their programs. Next I took a full tour of the museum. That meant from that attic down to the basement I got to go in and see every nook and cranny, closet and floorboard, and the museum grounds—as well as the galleries and public spaces. Then it was into collections storage — the main thrust of my assessment! I was given a pair of white gloves in order to handle the artifacts, but I asked the registrar to do most of the object handling for me (which took a bit of restraint on my end.) And of course I poked around in their database to make sure that everything was cataloged properly.
I also met with the board members of the Museum to see what their perception of the museum was and to understand their plans were for the museum. The board also had a lot of questions for me: How was I qualified to assess them? How many assessments have I done before? How are they doing? In order, the answers are: 1) Anyone with 5 years of museum experience including extracurricular experience in the field (such as sitting on a board, being involved in an association, presenting/publishing, etc.) can apply by submitting their resume to MAP, identifying areas of specialty, and then waiting. Why wait? Generally, there are more assessors than there are museums asking for assessment. Once museums turn in their self-study evaluation the MAP creates a list of several candidates who would be appropriate to assess the museum. The Museum then ranks the assessors in order of preference (usually based on relevant experience) and the MAP team makes an offer. 2) This is my first official assessment as a MAP Peer Reviewer but taking behind-the-scenes tours of museums as a major part of the JMM internship (and staff development) program. 3) You can read all about it in my final report!
Speaking of reports, in addition to a 1-2 day site visit, the reviewer has to complete their report and assessment within 30 days. The report details my observations about the Museum, confirms that the answers provided in the self-study are accurate, and provides tangible, actionable suggestions for improvement. Writing the report is a bit daunting, but MAP provides a template to follow and I can consult my notes and the self-study. Once I submit the report, my work is officially done. It will be up to the Museum to implement the changes and improvements that I recommend. Fortunately for them, there is no deadline.
Once all of the on-site work was done, I went out and explored a bit of Milwaukee.