The Small Museums Community

The Small Museums Community assists America’s small museums in their endeavors, helping to make them stronger and more responsive to their communities. The Committee encourages small museums to share successful strategies in workshops and national meetings and demonstrate what the field can learn from small museums. Through its programming and initiatives, AASLH plans to strengthen the small museum, an important steward of local and national history.

If you’re looking for a place to network with your peers, find answers to questions, explore opportunities to learn, and more, you’ve come to the right place. This community was created by Small Museum professionals and their colleagues.

What is a Small Museum?

The majority of museums in the United States are considered small and include historic house museums, history museums, art museums, historic sites, general museums, and much more. Our definition is simple, “If you think you’re small, you’re small.” We welcome any and all interested in our mission of making America’s small museums the very best they can be.

In 2007, the Small Museums Committee created a working definition of a small museum:

A small museum’s characteristics are varied, but they typically:

  • have an annual budget of less than $250,000,
  • operate with a small staff with multiple responsibilities,
  • and employ volunteers to perform key staff functions.

Other characteristics such as the physical size of the museum, collections size and scope, etc. may further classify a museum as small.

Is it the end-all, be-all of definitions? Certainly not, but it’s a start and gives us a rallying point for our efforts.

Where did that definition come from?
In 2007, the Small Museums Committee distributed an electronic survey to the membership and received 455 responses out of 6,500 sent. It was designed to create a working definition for the Committee so it could better respond to the needs of small museums. Results provided the definition above.

Meeting the Needs of Small Museums
The Small Museums Committee is composed of AASLH members who work for and serve small museums, their staffs, volunteers, and ultimately, their constituencies. The Committee’s major charge is to oversee AASLH’s work with the Small Museum community. We are focused on working with AASLH to provide thoughtful and useful resources for the unique needs of small museums. As a result, AASLH is a valuable resource for small museums, members and non-members alike.

To accomplish our charge, the Small Museums Committee focuses on the following:

  • Creating and fostering Annual Meeting activities that are valuable for small museums. In addition to encouraging a variety of sessions geared towards small museums, the committee also works to ensure that the voices of small museums are heard alongside larger institutions in germane sessions.  Each year, the Small Museums Committee raises money in order to offer annual meeting scholarships. It also sponsors a luncheon at the meeting.
  • Developing Original Content for Small Museum Practitioners.  Through the AASLH website blog and the Small Museums online community, the committee strives to help small museums be the best they can be by providing the kinds of resources that small museums need and can benefit from.
  • Providing Learning Opportunities for small museum staffs and volunteers. The Small Museums Committee works with AASLH to offer, from time to time, online events on topics relevant to small museums.


The following volunteers manage AASLH’s Small Museum Community:

Jacqui Ainlay-Conley, Chair (2018-2020)

Melissa Prycer, Past Chair (2013-2020)
Dallas Heritage Village, Dallas, TX

Ann Bennett (2018-2020)
Laurel Historical Society, MD

Sean Blinn (2018-2020)
Bedminster Township Historic Preservation Commission, NJ

Alison Bruesehoff (2017-2019)
Rancho Los Cerritos, Long Beach, CA

Laura Casey (2018-2020)
Texas Historical Commission, Austin, TX

Brian Failing (2018-2020)
Aurora Regional Fire Museum, IL

Nate Meyers (2017-2019)
Chandler Museum, AZ

Aimee Newell (2017-2019)
Luzerne County Historical Society, Wilkes Barre, PA

Liz Stewart (2016-2020)
Renton History Museum, Renton, WA

Bruce Teeple (2018-2020)
Union County Historical Society, Lewisburg, PA

AASLH Staff Contact
Alex Collins

Small Museums Resources

Small Museum Toolkit

As a small museum staff person, you are responsible for a lot, including areas outside of your expertise or training. You need a quick reference that makes the process of becoming a sustainable, valued institution less overwhelming. The Small Museum Toolkit is a collection of six books that serves as a launching point for small museum staff to pursue best practices and meet museum standards. Find it here.

Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning

Are you thinking of starting a museum? Starting Right has been helping non-professionals learn the basics of museum planning for nearly three decades. This fully-revised, third edition will help you understand what you are getting into, evaluate prospects, avoid pitfalls, and take advantage of many kinds of available help. Find it here.


StEPs is a voluntary assessment program for small and mid-sized history organizations. Encourages awareness and achievement of national standards.

Read our blog.

Sign up for our listserv.

Looking for more? Browse through Small Museum resources in the AASLH Resource Library.

Stay tuned for info on getting involved!

Small Museums Scholarship

2019 AASLH Annual Meeting
Philadelphia, PA – August 28-31

The Small Museums Committee of AASLH will once again offer scholarships for the AASLH Annual Meeting. Scholarships are available to full- or part-time paid/unpaid staff of small museums (annual budget of up to $250,000). The $700 scholarship covers the cost of conference registration and the Small Museums Luncheon with any remaining funds to offset travel and/or lodging expenses.

Apply now

The scholarship is open to AASLH individual members or people working for institutional members and is a benefit of membership.

For questions, please contact Aja Bain at AASLH, 615-320-3203.

Award notification will be made in June by email.

Donate to the Small Museums scholarship fund here.