About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

It has been 23 years since the Minnesota Historical Society hired Nina Archabal to be its director. Much has changed in the way that local history is preserved and made accessible. The most noticeable change might be in how common electronic systems have become, such as cataloging software like PastPerfect. There are many other ways, also, that the times have changed. The way in which local history attempts to tell a more inclusive story is one, just as the expectations of our patrons is another. You might be able to name a few more.

Now would be a good time to reflect on those changes and to provide some encouragement to the board of the Minnesota Historical Society as it begins the search for a new director.  What will be important to the local history community in Minnesota to accomplish in the next 5 to 15 years? What kinds of qualities might you expect to see in a new director of the Minnesota Historical Society?

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10 Responses to Looking ahead

  1. David Carlson says:

    Nina is one of the most energetic, influential women I’ve ever met. My wife, Denise, worked for her, and I benefitted by association.
    Nina understands the big picture, the 30,000 foot view, bring it down to earth and make things happen.

    From a different perspective, having worked the seasonal job as Tour Guide/Interpreter at Split Rock Lighthouse, the next Director of MHS needs to spend time at the Sites (Nina does). Get out of the History Center, and engage the visitors.


  2. Mary Warner says:

    One thing that concerns me about museums and nonprofits in general is the push for them to act more like for-profit businesses. Chasing dollars and blockbuster shows have become all the rage on the national museum stage. I’d like to encourage the MHS board to keep the mission of Minnesota history in mind and find someone who appreciates the important and unique role that nonprofits play in concert with the for-profit and government sectors.


  3. Denise E. Carlson says:

    Nina’s energy, enthusiasm, integrity and dedication will be hard to match. The new director will face continuing budget challenges, as Nina has dealt with so ably for so many years. It will be important to remember the core activities of the Society – collection, preservation and education. The Society’s library has suffered severe cuts and in the long run that hurts all three core activities. I hope there is a way to restore some of those cuts in the not-too-distant future.


  4. Bruce White says:

    I have had many many disagreements with Nina Archabal over the years, but I never doubted her energy and enthusiasm in achieving her aims for the Minnesota Historical Society. I just have had a different vision for the institution. I hope that the next director renews a commitment to the gathering and study of history. Bringing people to the building is an important part of the Society’s mission, but without the collections and the historians who know them, the building is an empty shell.


  5. While the MHS is certainly the premiere historical institution in the state, we must not forget that there are over 300 other organizations whose mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret the state’s diverse history. The next director should be ready and willing to work with those partner organizations to ensure that as little as possible of our state’s story is lost or forgotten.


  6. I would like to see the next director bring in an innate sense of the importance of collections, and their value to a well-rounded historical society. As we have discussed here before, an historical society CAN exist without collections, but great collections, well-managed, and well-used can improve 1000% the workings of a great historical society.


  7. MHS is an important state institution that we look to for support and guidance, but most people experience and engage with history on a local level. I hope the next director recognizes the importantance of local history organizations to the preservation and dissemination of Minnesota history.


  8. Peter Clark says:

    As a historic site interpreter, I know how important it is to greet the people who visit the site and make their experience worthwhile. The new Society director must have, aside from the knowledge of the job and place he/she is coming to, a kindness and compassion for all the MHS employees. They should, if possible, travel personally to as many sites as possible and meet their employees, one-on-one, if possible. The new director must show that the employees are the backbone of the Society and show kindness and compassion,yet firmness. There should also be an obvious love of history of the state and a desire to see and push for whatever improvements at each site need to be made. IU hyope that the new director greets everyone, from the site workers up, with a cheerful greeting. Take time to ask us how we are doing and what we feel the particular site needs. And push for state funding for this very important educational part of our state’s history. In other words, be proud to be a Minnesotan and willing to show it always.


  9. Connie Lies says:

    The new director must never doubt. They must emphatically believe that History is vital to the future. They must not let any other body or person beleive otherwise. A pleasent competent personality would also be helpful but not over and above the first part.


  10. Patty Dean says:

    Here’s a very interesting view (“Growing CEOs from the Inside”) on CEO succession per the Harvard Business School’s November 2007 weekly on-line (FREE!) newsletter: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5772.html


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