A museum consultant who has been reviewing Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum operations since last September has concluded that a lack of planning is hampering the institution.
Karen Witter, former associate director of the Illinois State Museum and now an independent museum consultant, made those and other findings detailed in a 44-page report sent to museum and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency officials late last month. […]
She said that loss of staff, vacancies in key positions and the overall state budget situation have created additional pressure on the remaining staff, a deficiency cited by library advisory board chairman J. Steven Beckett in his call for divorcing the library and museum from IHPA. […]
She said the library and museum’s lack of a strategic plan causes multiple problems for the organization.
“There is no unifying set of priorities across the various entities involved with the ALPLM,” she wrote. “There is no strategic direction to address staff shortages and financial resources. There is no clear set of priorities to guide staff activities and allocation of time in accordance with the highest strategic priorities.”
* But that’s barely scratching the surface. Illinois Times…
Witter questioned the expertise of staff and found that vacancies in key positions, particularly the lack of a director of education and a director of exhibits, are hindering the institution. ALPLM also lacks a state historian to oversee the research and collections department. IHPA director Amy Martin has said that the hiring process is underway and that filling those positions is a priority.
“There are many talented staff members with diverse and relevant experience, but fewer people with the museum experience and expertise which are essential for an institution of the scope and caliber of the ALPLM,” Witter wrote. “There is not a culture of supporting ongoing professional development to provide staff members training in museum best practices and other relevant issues.”
* There’s even friction between the people at the museum and the people who run the museum foundation…
The foundation, which sells memberships that come with free admission to the institution, must pay a fee to IHPA each time a member visits the museum. Witter found tension due to a perception that foundation memberships are costing the ALPLM revenue it might otherwise realize from paid admissions.
“The membership program is perceived to be ‘the Foundation’s’ program that benefits the Foundation rather than ‘our’ program, which benefits the overall ALPLM institution,” Witter wrote. “There are missed opportunities for engaging members. It appears the Foundation plans member events, and the ALPLM plans public programs/events independently of each other. … The requirement for the Foundation to pay a fee to the state each time a member visits the museum is highly unusual. It appears to create a disincentive for the Foundation to encourage members to become repeat visitors, which is contrary to practices in other museums where members are encouraged to visit frequently.”
The payment arrangement fuels a “yours vs. mine” situation, Witter wrote, and would probably be “perceived negatively” by outside reviewers tasked with evaluating ALPLM for accreditation.
* Back in 2010 evaluators from the American Association of Museums found many of the same problems as Witter. But…
“There is little evidence that ALPLM has followed up on the valuable recommendations and resources referenced in the report,” Witter wrote in a summary of shortfalls.
These warring factions appear to be frozen in place, and it ain’t a good place, either.
* And finally…
“The three boards (IHPA, foundation board and library advisory board) operate relatively independently from each other and aren’t aligned around a common vision and shared strategic priorities,” Witter wrote. “(T)here is not a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each entity.”
* I took a friend to the museum a few months ago. We’re in the midst of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, but you’d never know it if you were at the museum. The missed opportunities with that alone make me wanna tear my hair out. The NY Times has an excellent day by day blog about the Civil War. With the amount of material at the library, the museum could’ve highlighted the war month by month with artifacts, documents, photographs, etc. already in its collection. But, no. They took a pass.
It’s mind-boggling to me why those people can’t get their acts together over there. Stop fighting over the state’s crown jewel before you ruin it, folks.
* ALPLM Management Report
* ALPLM Management Report Appendices
* Mackevich’s response