Musarians: Libraries, Museums, and Archives

The Centre for the Future of Museums blog featured an interesting guest post by  AAM staffer Lauren Silberman, entitled  “Musarians: The bastard children of museums and libraries.”

Silberman paints an interesting portrait of a combined Librarian/Museum professional and highlights some of the overlapping interests of both professions.  Silberman’s post also sparked my thoughts about the overlap between libraries, archives, and museums.

One of the first cultural heritage organizations I worked in contained a museum, archive, and a local history library.  However, despite containing all three types of institutions the organization was dominated by museum practices — the archive was more of a paper museum than an archival institution.  Librarians, archivists, and museum professionals all have different skill sets and strengths, there are overlaps but I can see value in each distinct profession.  The idea of a Musarian is interesting but I think would be more of a compromise between professions than an ideal sharing of resources.

Inspiring Heritage Moments

Today’s #reverb10 prompt is :

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

I have adjusted the prompt slightly to include moments where I have felt the most inspired and alive by events relating to history and heritage.


One of the most inspiring moments this year was during a digitization day held by the Huron Shores Museum. This museum is run purely by a dedicated group of volunteers. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers. The event allowed me to see the value of local history in small communities and the pride of this community’s history was tangible in the air that day. The Museum’s photos digitized that day and as part of the Community Digitzation Program can be seen here.

Another moment which sticks out from 2010 occurred a little over a month ago. I was invited to participate in the laying of wreathes and a smudge ceremony held in the Shingwauk cemetery. The laying of wreathes and smudging were done in memory of Shingwauk residential school students. It was a moving experience that provided me with a sense of commemoration and connection to the past.

Built Heritage in Danger: Sudbury’s Flour Mill


The Moulin à Fleur neighbourhood Sudbury located immediately north of the downtown core was one of the first neighbourhoods to develop outside of the original settlement. The most well known landmark in the area is the flour mill which gave the community its name. The mill silos will be 100 this year.

This mill has long closed and the mill’s silos were designated a city heritage site in 1973 and recognized under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1989. Additionally, the mill’s foreman house was converted into a community museum in 1974.

Despite these positive preservation efforts the flour mill landmark in Sudbury is in a state of disrepair. The silos that the city has previously deemed a heritage property have received no maintenance work in many years, and the entire structure is nearing a state of demolition by neglect.

The neglect of the silos has left the city with a choice to either repair or demolish the silos, as they are becoming a safety hazard. Demolition costs have been estimated at $520,000 to $850,000, and refurbishment at $1.7 million. However, based on the age of the silos there are a number of heritage grants which local organizations are applying to in hopes of helping finance the repair. Many Moulin à Fleur community members see the mill as been a valuable part of their local heritage and are against the demolition of the silos. Hopefully the city can be convinced of the value of this local landmark.

Exploring Fort St. Joseph

A few weeks ago while my parents were visiting me, we made a trip to St. Joseph’s Island. Part of this day trip included a visit to Fort St. Joseph. This site was strategically located on coastline of St. Joseph’s. The fort was occupied by the British until 1812, when the fort was taken over by American troops during the war of 1812. The abandoned fort was later burned by American troops. The fort has been designated as a national historic site, the site includes a small museum and the public is able to explore some of the excavated fort’s remains.

The staff at the site recommend that visitors start off by watching an educational video about the fort. This video provides a lot of context on the site, explains why the site is historically significant and examines a lot of the artifacts found on the site by archaeologists. The major downside of the video is that is 15minutes long. Children and even some adults may find the video too long, and a bit too dry. Case in point, my Dad who tends to enjoy military history, fell asleep about 10minutes into the video.

The exhibit portion of the heritage site focuses on what life was like in the fort. It highlights the life of the typical solider, how the officers lives, and includes some information on neighbouring First Nation communities. The majority of the artifacts mentioned in the educational film are on display in the portion of the facility. Somewhat lengthy text panels feature predominately in the exhibit hall. However, there is a small interactive section where children (or big kids…like my parents and I) can dress up in period clothing. This provided a bit of a break to the more traditional forms of historical interpretation which are prominent in the exhibit hall. If nothing else, the dress up corner resulted in much laughter and some amusing photos.

Visitors to Fort St. Joseph are also able to look at the ‘ruins’ of the old fort. A good portion of the fort has been excavated, and pieces of almost all of the original stone buildings can be seen. The ruins provide a nice physical example of the information learned about the fort through the educational video and the exhibit hall at the site. Overall, the visit was well worth the drive down a horribly weathered road.

Summer Whirlwind

After completing the course work portion of the UWO Public History program, I packed all my bags and moved to Ottawa. I spent the summer working as an intern for The History Group and volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature. I enjoyed my time at both organizations, and was able to gain a number of valuable experiences.

The History Group (THG) is a historical research company that focuses on a variety of research topics including: archaeological, first nations, anthropological, and civil litigation. While working with THG I worked on various source identification, and research organization projects. This work was primarily involving collections held by Library and Archives Canada. Working with these collections was both time consuming and interesting. My experience with THG allowed me to gain an understanding of how to organize huge amounts of material effectively, and which research techniques work best for me.

While volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature I assisted in the botany collection. Prior to volunteering my knowledge of botany was limited at best. Spending hours mounting various types of grasses from British Columbia, forges a new interest and appreciation for botanists. Additionally, unlike many of my past experiences the Canadian Museum of Nature was not comprised soley of those from the historical field. A large portion of the staff at the Museum of Nature are scientists and researchers. This mix of professionals was interesting and exposed me to a facility which combines history with numerous other fields.

Overall, my summer was filled with diversity. Historical research and museums collection work are drastically different. This diversity is something which speaks to the field of public history and the variety of fields which a public historian can find employment in.

National vs. Community Museums

In many of our public history classes earlier this year we examined some of the pros and cons of working at small and big museums. The point most often brought up was that small museums often lack funding to hire many (or any) full-time employees. Conversely, the bureaucratic structure of many large museums does not appeal to all public historians or museum professionals.

Spending the summer in Ottawa has made me look at this issue from another perspective. Ottawa has numerous national museums and the city of Ottawa is also home to many community based museums. How many tourists to Ottawa visit the smaller local heritage sites and museums over the national museums? Most school or bus trips focus on visiting the large museums. These museums are representing the entire nations history, and are one of the main tourist attractions in Ottawa.

So who do the smaller museums cater to? Many of these smaller museums focus on the unique heritage of various smaller communities within Ottawa. For example the Bytown Museum preserves the history of the original city of Bytown and the early years of the city of Ottawa. Similarly, the Nepean Museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Nepean and the former township of Nepean. Most of the community museums in Ottawa strive to interact with visitors and the community at large. Many offer a variety of weekend and summer activities. Until moving to Ottawa the unique combination of national museums and community museums available in the city had not occurred to me. This unique combination is ideal for anyone looking to expore a combination of national history and local history.