LOUDONVILLE - The Cleo Redd Fisher Museum of the Mohican Historical Society has reached another milestone in its quest for excellence.
The museum recently received six certificates from the American Association for State and Local History. The certificates signify the museum has reached bronze level in all six categories of the national organization's Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations, also known as StEPs.
The Cleo Redd Fisher Museum one of just 20 of Ohio's more than 800 historical organizations to have received any StEPs certificate. It is among just three museums in the state to have earned a certificate in all six categories.
Categories include Mission, Vision and Governance; Audience; Interpretation; Stewardship of Collections; Stewardship of Historic Structures and Landscapes and Management.
StEPs certificates are not certifications or awards but rather recognitions of an organization's efforts to meet various indicators of quality performance. Certificates indicate that a museum is keeping up with national best practices to maintain the public's trust and preserve its collections.
To receive certificates, organizations perform self-assessments and submit documentation to the American Association for State and Local History.
Just because the program is self-guided and self-assessed does not mean it is easy or lacks value, said Cleo Redd Fisher Museum Curator Kenny Libben.
Participation in the StEPs program is a motivator for museums as to achieve continuous improvement, and the documentation required provides support material for funding requests and grant applications.
With help from StEPs committee members Carol Cummins and Linda Marks as well as support from the museum's entire board of trustees, Libben led the charge to meet all the requirements for bronze level certificates and to submit documentation to the national association.
Even before working on the StEPs requirements, Libben said, the museum was well on its way to the bronze level. That's because the museum recently updated its documents and processes in order to receive a Core Documents Verification from the American Alliance of Museums.
But Libben is not content to stop at bronze. He and the museum leaders are now working to achieve silver level in each of the six categories. Eventually, they aim to earn gold status.
Already, the work Libben and the museum's board has put into StEPs and the AAM Core Documents program has paid off.
"There have been a few things we have done that we had never even thought about," Libben said. "Some are as simple as every year encouraging all your board members to make a donation."
Another tangible impact was the museum's preparedness for a recent water leak in the archives. Because the museum had an updated disaster and emergency response plan, everyone knew what to do to act quickly and preserve important items.
The changes the museum has made so far have been relatively quick and easy, Libben said. But tasks will get progressively more difficult on the path to the gold certificates.
Loudonville's museum may be small, but it has a strong reputation and a wide reach. The museum brings in 7,500 to 10,000 people each year, and its events draw an average of about 186 people.
Leaders at Cleo Redd Fisher plan to invite leaders from other museums in Ashland and surrounding counties to have a discussion about the StEPs process and to help each other improve by sharing ideas and resources.
If other museums or historical societies have questions about best practices, Libben said he and his museum's team are happy to help.