At SLA 2020, Lucidea hosted a panel titled LAMs: More Alike Than Different, with panelists Margot Note, Sonya Fogg, and Rachael Woody (myself). The discussion offered much to dig into; in this miniseries I’ll present the four main issues we covered and my response to them.
Those issues are: disaster preparedness, precarious labor, the physical versus digital nature of the work, and generational change.
When the Libraries Archives Museums (LAM) panel was initially planned it was pre-COVID and we already had several large issues we wanted to tackle. While the onset of the pandemic didn’t change the entirety of our focus, it did lend an additional lens to view the challenges and opportunities LAMs face together.
This post will focus on the first of the four main issues we covered: Disaster Preparedness.
Disaster preparation is usually focused on events that directly impact the collection—the COVID-19 pandemic has other implications for LAMs not being open and losing financial stability. What is LAMs’ role in regard to the public? Examine the knock-on effects that we’ve never prepared for.
The Museum Mission During the Pandemic
For museums, their role in the pandemic has been to continue their mission by offering education and engagement opportunities online and, when safe, in person. Museums have discovered with COVID-19 that if they want to reach their community they must go online. For some this was merely a slight adjustment to business-as-usual, and an opportunity to get creative with online content. Others, who did not have much of an online presence, were faced with an urgent and unanticipated need to find ways and resources to put collections content online in addition to getting up to speed with what COVID-19 would mean for museum operations, and how they would surmount the major funding chasm of an as-of-yet-unknown duration.
LAMs Had Warning, But Did Nothing to Prepare for an Economic Crisis
What’s frustrating is that we’ve gone through an economic crisis before and just 12-years ago with the US Great Recession of 2008. Museums as a whole (as well as the larger professional organizations that support museums) showed little to no preparation for the COVID-inspired economic disaster, despite suffering a recession as recently as 2008.
The Inadequacy of Relief Funds
As of this writing, the only aid package passed to assist LAMs was the CARES Act; which only funded 5% of the $5-billion requested by the American Alliance of Museums and others. And there’s the added issue that the CARES Act funding distribution is inherently inequitable due to the lack of staff and financial resources available to smaller organizations—usually those who are located in and/or display collections of under-represented communities.
Advice to Get Through
This is a complicated, overwhelming, and traumatic situation. It’s already too late for LAMs to prepare for a financial disaster. From a financial relief and resources perspective, it’s an inequitable mess. To put it simply: there are not enough financial resources made available by the government to help all LAMs survive and it’s an unfair playing field. My advice is to network with community leaders, acquire grant writing skills, and ask the community for help. Find out what resources are available to you (at the local, state, and national level) and do what you need to do to stay alive—financially speaking.
For more information and resources on LAMs navigating the pandemic-inspired economic collapse please see these posts from Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog:
Rachael Cristine Woody
Expert Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for virtual presentation of collections and visitor engagement.
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If museums can just financially-survive COVID-19 there is a tremendous opportunity to get incredible digital collections management platforms.