By Katie Nowakowski
I have been very grateful for my opportunity to work with Heritage Sylvania, a history center and museum in Sylvania, Ohio, in 2019. Because it is such a small organization, I got to witness in depth how it is managed, what kind of workers are involved, and how a non-profit operates financially. Heritage Sylvania is run primarily by the executive director and I was the only other “office” employee. For this reason, I had a variety of tasks that were all important to the organization.
As an intern, I took inventory of some of our items, cleaned and organized closets, and kept exhibits in order. From this I learned how important it is for a museum to keep track of its artifacts and inventory and where they came from. My boss told stories about how important it is to have a record of the people who have loaned the museum items for displays, because people might call wanting their items back years later. Therefore, my boss said she always keeps records and has a waiting period before she gets rid of anything.
I enjoyed meeting the group of ladies that takes care of the inventory and records. They are known as the Sylvania Historic Society and have existed since 1993. Recently, with the merger of three separate organizations their official role is to keep track and document all inventory. They are a group of passionate volunteers and because we are a non-profit, the work they do is vital. They conduct research and also organize the records so that the public can have access to them upon request. I have learned that their work is invaluable because they graciously donate their time and keep the museum organized and efficient.
My boss gave me overlying projects throughout the summer and always provided me with all the information I needed to accomplish them. I was able to complete all of my goals. My main task for the internship was to create orientation manuals. The two main manuals that I created or updated were the Volunteer Manual and the Board Member Manual. The Volunteer Manual serves as a convenient location of all the information a new volunteer would need when they start. This is important because there is a lot to know about the organization and our programs and it could be overwhelming to learn all at once. Therefore, they will now be able to reference the manual and it will hopefully be able to answer any questions they may have. I learned that you can never be too specific or include too much information because some people may be trained differently than others. The volunteer manual now contains scripts for volunteers who give presentations in the Historical Village buildings. I believe the volunteers will value having the Volunteer Manual with all of the scripts in one convenient place to study before presentations.
I do like our training process; every new volunteer is able to shadow another presenter to see how they conduct their programs. Everyone does theirs slightly differently but it gives the trainee a good example of how they can organize theirs. No one is ever asked to do a program they have not experienced yet. I think this is a perfect way to train people since they can see exactly what they will be doing and it allows them to ask the experienced volunteers questions about the session. Shadowing a session and having a printed script is a great way to train new people and give them more confidence for their own presentations.
The Board Manual I updated will also be beneficial for the organization. The board will now have a convenient place to review important documents and see what was discussed in previous Board Meetings. Through making the manual, I learned the responsibilities of a board member and how much they can influence decisions about the organization such as approving funds for projects. These two manuals were my greatest contributions to the organization since they will be useful for years to come.
My internship was a great starting point to see how a non-profit museum runs. For my career, I plan to work at a much larger museum. I was able to tour larger museums as part of my internship and ask questions about how the larger museums operate and what they are able to do with a bigger budget. What I disliked the most about working for such a small non-profit organization is that people would have good ideas for events or activities, but because of limited resources we are unable to put them into use. Even simple maintenance projects or updates around the museum would require a grant to accomplish. I did learn a lot about the grant writing process and how difficult it can be to manage.
I also noticed many skills that I needed to accomplish my job that will be useful to me in my future careers as well. I researched historical facts for our pioneer programs; for example, a typical school day in Ohio in the mid 1800s and the different subjects children were taught. This is the first time my research will have a practical implication for an organization and I know my researching skills will be useful in any job I pursue in public history. Communication skills are also very important for a career in public history. It is very important to present information that is clear and easy to understand because you have a wide age range of audience. This comes into play especially when verbally giving presentations because younger kids may not understand concepts that the older kids or adults would. For younger kids we usually give them more hands on tasks such as playing games or passing around something and for older kids or adults we are able to include more information, fun facts, and games in the presentation.
For my next job or internship, I would like to try working at a larger organization and to be more involved in a specific area of the museum. Working at Heritage Sylvania, I really liked the educational outreach program and hosting field trips, so I would be interested working in a department such as that at a museum. I hope to stay in touch with my boss because she is knowledgeable about the field of public history and is always willing to give me tips and introduce me to other people she knows in the field. I know the internship will be beneficial to my long-term career.