Supporting Local History Groups

I recently attended a half day seminar presented by Museums Australia (Victoria) on supporting Local History Groups. The seminar was primarily aimed for local government employees, but would have been of interest to people across the GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums).  The seminar was held at the Kathleen Syme Library, Carlton. A number of speakers were on the program.

Gabby Haynes, Community Heritage Officer, Creative Communities, Yarra Ranges Council

Gabby facilitates about 15 local history groups who represent about 55 townships in the area. They have recently produced a Guide to Heritage in the Yarra Ranges (A PDF is available here and hard copies can be collected from Eastern Regional Libraries)

Gabby outlined some particular qualities needed working with local history groups:
Persistence
Be prepared for long time frames, in developing a Memorandum of Understanding It took a number of workshops addressing the specific language of the MOU in addition to one on one meetings over three years to get all groups on board. The document addresses such things as cross promotion, use of shared facilities and following museum standards. The MOU was seen as a framework of trust and the council seen as valuing the work of local history groups.
Empathy
Realising that heritage is personal but it is not about you.
Trust
Build with a commitment of money and time. Yarra have employed local historians as paid consultants. Council staff have helped sort collections and supported grant applications
Gabby discussed a case study when the Council re-developed the Healesville Memorial Hall 
Towards the end of the development, it was realised (brought to the attention of the Council) that there was no recognition that the Hall was indeed a War memorial  a hall built by public subscription. As a result a public art sculpture was commissioned.

Sally Robins, Local History Co-ordinator, Mornington Peninsula Shire
The Mornington Peninsula Shire Local History Network meet six times a year. The network is supported by the Local History unit at Council which provides services to groups including cataloguing, digitising, managing communications, policy and procedures, grant applications, project management and any business related to the use of Council buildings. They have been involved in major events such as township celebrations, tree planting ceremonies and time capsule projects.  A travelling postcard exhibition resulted from 8 groups working with a professional Curator to highlight local stories the groups wanted to tell. Together with a professional designer, education kits and a DVD were also developed. Visit the Culture Victoria portal.

The network has undertaken oral history projects resulting in a DVD and videos online. Transcripts of the interviews were also undertaken and personal copies given to the subjects who were nominated by the local history groups. A documentary is being considered as a follow up project. They have supported improving the presentation of marketing collateral and signage including onsite heritage markers.  Training has been provided to groups in the areas of cataloguing, collection policy, exhibition development, conservation, significant assessment and joint ventures.

A digitisation service is available for groups to book the local history officer to book an on-site visit with equipment to digitise collection items. Attention is also given to converting older formats. Reach has extended to identifying and scanning private collections, including a local fire brigade and a church group archive. Digital items being retained by the relevant local history group. 

Cameron Auty Burke Museums Indigo Shire
Cameron spoke at short notice off the cuff when a scheduled guest speaker failed to appear. Cameron has worked previously with Victorian Collections. He has observed a pressing need for local history groups to future proof - protect, preserve and share their collections – which they can do via digitisation. He has facilitated a grant project to put together a digitisation kit which together with onsite training can be rolled out to interested groups. This empowers groups to undertake their own digitisation programs and to develop policies for this.
Local History networks can include community collecting organisations such as RSL’s and Schools.

Kitty Owens Exhibitions Services Manager, Museums Australia (Victoria)
Kitty outlined some useful resources available via the Museums Australia (Victoria) website. Click on the “Resources” tab.  These include but are not limited to the Small Museums Cataloguing Manual and National Standards for Museums and Galleries.  The Museum also facilitates the Museums Accreditation Program. A framework used by museums, galleries, historical societies, heritage sites, and archives to improve operations and increase organisation profile.

Victorian Collections includes a story telling platform. (The most recent story is Prisoner of War & Internment Camps: Tatura and Rushworth) and a training program to use the free collections management system.
Other sources of information include 

Western Australia Museum See links from "Support" tab – "Community Museum Support"

Royal Historical Society of Victoria 

National Archives of Australia 

National Library of Australia Community Heritage Grants

PROV Local History Grants 

The Bendigo Post Office Gallery is a terrific model. A renovated rejuvenated space with rotating exhibitions of local interest.

Kitty also highlighted some ideas drawing on local history collections including our very own Wikinorthia - Documenting life in Melbourne’s north. A partnership between Darebin Libraies, Moreland Libraries and Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

Museum Australia (Victoria)’s reminsicences kits

Reminiscence Cottage – Geelong Wool Museum

Grandmothers Project 

Hoardings Artwork – City of Sydney 

City of Yarra Public Art Project for 100 years of Maternal Health Service

State Library Victoria on Instagram #vicinpics #remixvic

Simone Nolan, Gallery Director, Wangaratta Art Gallery
Wangaratta Stories 

Simone has supported council partnerships with local history groups and organised exhibitions. Grant applications need to refer to the organisation plan, strengths of the collection (for example in Wodonga it is industrial history) and significant items (A lutheran bible and a collection of glass plate slides)
Simone also reminded us that local history group networks can go beyond local history groups and can include schools and RSL’s and noted that many sporting groups are celebrating and approaching centenary anniversaries.

The afternoon was very enlightening and validated the work YPRL is doing as co-facilitator of the Yarra Plenty Heritage Group which was formed in 2006.

Liz Pidgeon Local and Family History Librarian

Photo: State Library Victoria image digital pool

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