Small Museums

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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)
Heritage Trail Association, Bridgewater, 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)
Stonington Historical Society, Stonington, CT

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 Museums Forum

Please see the “Join the Community” tab for more details on how to get involved with the Small Museums Forum or click here.

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.

Small Museum Pro! Certificate

AASLH offers many professional development opportunities for staff, volunteers, and board members of small museums including the Small Museum Pro! (SMP!) professional certificate program. The SMP! Certificate is for history practitioners who work, or would like to work, in small history-minded organizations. Online courses provide practical guidance and education on a variety of topics.

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 about small museums on the AASLH blog.

How to Join AASLH Affinity Communities

Can I join an AASLH affinity community using my current account?

Everyone will need an individual AASLH account to join one of the communities. This includes active AASLH individual members, those who have staff accounts at active institutional members, academic student and faculty accounts at active Academic programs, and even nonmember accounts.

Institutional members, including partners, must create staff profiles for their employees, volunteers, and board members if you want them to be able to join and participate in AASLH communities. There is no charge for creating staff profiles and no cap on how many staff profiles can be attached to your institution.

Please refer to the Creating Staff Members Flyer for information on how to add these profiles

Academic Programs can refer to the Creating Faculty and Student Profiles Flyer to create profiles for people in their programs

Lapsed AASLH members or people who have never had an AASLH account are welcome to create a nonmember account from the Membership Center page. There is no charge for creating a nonmember account.

Signing in to the AASLH Membership Center

To sign in to your individual account, go to to login to the Membership Center. Links to reset your password or join AASLH are also available at that page. If you do not remember your username please email

Once logged in, choose the Communities tab to navigate to the community you would like to join. There is no limit to how many Affinity Communities you join. A community showing 0 registered members will still have members, this message appears because AASLH does not share members’ contact information with other members in the Membership Center.

To join the group, select Join Group at the top of the page. You will then be able to participate in the forum discussions. Even if you do not plan on participating in the forums, we recommend you join the Community so you don’t miss out on important community announcements

Small Museums Forum

Looking for a way to connect with Small Museum colleagues across the country? The Small Museums Forum is a place where history practitioners can ask questions, share advice, and stay up-to-date with their peers. Please see the “Join the Community” tab for more details on how to get involved with the Small Museums Forum or click here.

Small Museums Scholarship
DEADLINE: August 26, 2020

The Small Museums Committee of AASLH is offering up to 25 scholarships to this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting. AASLH will hold its Annual Meeting online this fall. Scholarships are available to full- or part-time paid/unpaid staff of small museums (annual budget of up to $250,000). Each scholarship will cover one Full Conference Pass.

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

For questions, please contact Alex Collins at AASLH, 615-320-3203.

Donate to the Small Museums scholarship fund here.