First things first: What is StEPs?

StEPS stands for Standards and Excellence Program [for History Organizations]. It’s organized by those marvelous folks at the AASLH (that’s American Association for State and Local History, in case you’re in a post-holiday stupor). I’ll let them describe it in their own words:

StEPs is a voluntary assessment program for small- and mid-sized history organizations. The program, created by AASLH with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, encourages awareness and achievement of national standards. Organizations that enroll in this new self-paced, self-study program use assessment questions and performance indicators (Basic, Good, Better) to rate their policies and practices in six standards sections. Participating organizations can clearly identify their strengths and areas needing improvement, and begin taking steps to plan for positive change.

StEPs is extremely affordable – $150 for institutional members and $265 for non-members (and that increased fee covers the cost of a one-year institutional membership, bargain!).  With that membership, organizations receive materials and support designed to take them through the assessment process.

To go along with that affordability and accessibility, AASLH is also producing a great series of FREE webinars focusing on different topics. Two of them have gone by and the third is yet to come, but you can register for past webinars and watch recordings, and still get in on the action for the third.

Telling a Good Story (recorded November 17, 2011)
A good guided tour is a good story told well, says guest speaker Linda Norris. What can you do to transform a guided tour from a recitation of facts into a meaningful story that connects with visitors? It’s all about research, attitude, and a commitment to engaging visitors. What tools can you use? How can volunteer guides or docents become a part of the development process rather just a delivery system? What makes a good story and how do we show multiple perspectives? Join us to learn the basics of developing meaningful tours and to explore creative ways guides can connect with visitors who arrive at your site with many different interests.

Instructor: Linda Norris is a consultant who works with museums, historic sites, and communities on interpretation, strategic planning, and a variety of other topics. She also enjoys writing her popular blog, the Uncataloged Museum where she thinks, writes, debates, dreams, and wonders about museums and their place in the world. Linda was a Fulbright Scholar to Ukraine in 2009 and 2010 where her work has included teaching a course at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, developing workshops for museum colleagues throughout the country, and direct work with several museums.

StEPs Connection: This workshop may help institutions achieve the standards in the Audience and Interpretation sections of AASLH’s StEPs Program.


Creating Historic House Interpretive Plans that Connect
Originally broadcast December 8, 2011. Registration is now closed but will reopen as soon as the recording becomes available
Participation is free, but pre-registration is necessary
Creating engaging historic house interpretation that really connects with your audience begins with a solid understanding of your site’s important stories.Guest speaker Nancy Bryk will show you how to develop a research plan includingresearch on the historical characters who lived in the house, the important events that took place there, and changes in the site over time. She will discuss where and how to look for this information and then how to use worksheets to develop your interpretive plan based on that research.

Instructor: Nancy E. Villa Bryk served as Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan from 1981 through 2005. There, she researched, reinterpreted and reinstalled over a dozen buildings in Greenfield Village including R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, the D T &M Roundhouse, Firestone Farmhouse, Wright Brothers Home, Henry Ford Birthplace, Noah Webster’s House, Sarah Jordan Boardinghouse, and the Hermitage Slave Quarters. Nancy is now an Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation in Eastern Michigan University’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation.

StEPs Connection: This workshop may help institutions achieve the standards in the Interpretation section of AASLH’s StEPs Program.


Redefining Audiences (Registration Now Open)
January 27, 2012
Time: 2-3:15 pm eastern
Participation is free, but pre-registration is necessary
Who is your current audience and how can you engage new ones? Our country is undergoing dramatic changes as Baby Boomers age, immigration shifts take place, and household incomes struggle to keep pace.Looking at the most recent U.S. Census, Susie Wilkening will discuss demographic change and the valuable ways in which your organization can use census data to think about current audiences, future audiences, and their motivations and constraints. We’ll explore:

  • How shifts in household composition may affect who you try to attract to your organization
  • How growth OR constraints in household income may affect your development efforts or your tourism base, and
  • How an aging population may mean boom times for history organizations . . . or not.

We’ll explore these trends and ideas, and much more, and discuss how history museums can effect change in their communities by understanding these important demographic shifts.

Instructor: Susie Wilkening is a Senior Consultant and Curator of Museum Audiences with Reach Advisors. Prior to joining the firm in 2006, Susie worked for ten years in museums including tenures as the Executive Director of the Saratoga County Historical Society and Development Director of Historic Huguenot Street. Susie’s insights are featured frequently through her work as a speaker at leading museum conferences including AASLH. She is the lead author of Life Stages of the Museum Visitor and editor of the Museum Audience Insight blog.

StEPs Connection: This workshop may help institutions achieve the standards in the Audience section of AASLH’s StEPs Program.

So go, register, and watch the past webinars and look forward to the third! (If you’ve been lucky enough to hear Susie Wilkening speak in a Tufts class or read her work, then you know that time spent listening to her is well worth it.)