About The Author

David Grabitske

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

Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums held its 20th anniversary meeting at the Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud on Friday, October 28, 2011. This was a very good time reflect on the many accomplishments the organization has made for local history in Minnesota. One of the sessions was a retrospective panel with past board members Irene Bender, Sue Garwood, Bob Gasch, Chris Schuelke, and chaired by Mike Worcester.

MALHM essentially started when Irene Bender from the Cokato Historical Society and Kevin Britz from Stearns History Museum would meet regularly to discuss museum work. Together they sent out feelers to other historical organizations about forming an alliance, which led to the first annual meeting at the Stearns History Museum in the fall of 1991. Early projects included successfully building a membership base and presenting a session at the American Association for State and Local History Conference in Miami in 1992.

A Team of Voices

Sue Garwood perhaps summed up MALHM’s strength quite succinctly when she said, “The Minnesota Historical Society with all of its staff has a team of voices to address challenges, and that’s what local historical organizations became through MALHM.” Working together the one or two active volunteers or occasional paid staff from each historical organization could pool their knowledge, skills and abilities to solve problems.

Indeed, MALHM was there to aid their peers when a tornado struck the Cokato Historical Society, a fire gutted the Humphrey Museum in Waverly, and flooding devastated the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society in Granite Falls in the 1990s. MALHM reached out to Isanti County Historical Society following its arson fire this year. Thus MALHM focused on disaster recovery and preserving museum collections.

Perhaps most importantly MALHM raised awareness and adherence to the standards with its “Alliance for the Millennium Collections Initiative” in 2001-2002. The result was a comprehensive manual that demonstrated the standards for all aspects of museum collections.

Always Been Practical

When MALHM started there were about 350 or so historical organizations – today around 500 – in Minnesota. The idea was to get practical tools into these organizations, and to meet them where they were.

Chris Schuelke noted that MALHM saw from the beginning that “relevance of what we do is dependent on adherence to the standards.” The practicality of relevance is that meeting standards is basic to survival, but meeting standards can be done through a variety of practices.

Among more recent accomplishments have been being instrumental in getting the Museum Property Act of 2004 passed and participating as a founding member of the Minnesota History Coalition to advocate for money from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund to be spent wisely on history. Both statewide measures are very practical tools to build from a legacy of success.

Peers Helping Peers Serving the Public

MALHM has been a tremendous asset to the local history community in Minnesota for the last 20 years because of its emphasis on “peers helping peers.” Because of MALHM’s accomplishments the field is stronger, the state is admired, and most importantly the public is far better served because MALHM has spread standards, increased relevance of local history, and encouraged continuous refinement to the way history is preserved and accessed.

Well done, good and faithful servant, and happy birthday!

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