StEPs Toward Improvement
The Standards and Excellence Program (StEPs) is a self-assessment curriculum and certificate program designed by American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) experts. There is a modest cost ($175) to enroll and buy the StEPs workbook, but it can serve as an informative and lasting resource for small museums. As staff members work through each of the sections at their own pace, they can register their self-determined progress with AASLH and receive bronze, silver, or gold certificates. These levels reflect institutional accomplishments in “basic,” “good,” or “better” categories, respectively.
The point of the program is to help small museums, many of which rely on unpaid staff, understand national standards in museum administration, collections care, and other essential topics and guide them toward making the improvements they can with available resources. Many of the smallest cultural heritage institutions do not qualify for other national assessment programs, such as MAP or CAP, since these require institutions to be open to the public at least 90 days each year. Learn more about the StEPs program in this free hour-long webinar, “What is StEPS?”
Recently, AASLH put out a list of all institutions that had earned certificates in the program. No North Carolina institutions are included, although we know of two—The High Point Museum and the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University—that have begun the program. In fact, watch the short informational video, “Why Enroll in StEPs?” to spot a fun photo of the Mountain Heritage Center staff, including Anne Lane and Pam Meister.
The Mountain Heritage Center began working through StEPs in an effort to gauge the institution’s readiness for AAM accreditation. Staff had gone through a MAP in collections stewardship and felt that a comprehensive review of additonal institutional functions would be useful preparation for the more intensive accreditation process. Meister, the interim director, established a StEPs working group that met weekly and consisted of staff, WCU faculty, public history graduate students, and community members. The group was effective and found the StEPs workbook to be a terrific educational tool that helped them focus on making necessary decisions for institutional progress. The process also sparked deeper examinations into key issues about interpretation and audience. Another plus about the StEPs assessment is that it is self-paced. After earning some certificates, staff put the StEPs project on hold when they learned that the Museum will have to move out of its current building and eventually relocate to a new campus visitor center. They plan to reconvene the working group eventually, but in the meantime, the StEPs work they did accomplish will serve them during the important planning stages as the new facility takes shape.
StEPs is versatile enough to be useful for the smallest museums as well those with more staff and institutional resources, like the Mountain Heritage Center. Their example shows how StEPs can dovetail with established AAM programs and keep staff and other stakeholders focusing on institutional progress. Also, don’t forget that the North Carolina Museums Council offers a free on-site consultation service for all museums, regardless of numbers of open days or full-time staff. This, as well as the services our C2C team can provide, means that no North Carolina institution should feel isolated or unsupported. Understanding national standards is worthwhile, as is being part of a nationwide community of practice. Consider StEPs as means to both ends.
Thanks to Pam Meister for her contributions to this post.