32 Years and 25 Linear Feet of Hand To Hand

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This post first appeared on Jeanne Vergeront’s Museum Notes blog on May 23, 2018. 

By Jeanne Vergeront

During InterActivity 2018 in Raleigh (NC), tables stretched across the convention center lobby. Over the 4 days of the conference, participants, presenters, and vendors moved around the tables loaded with stacks of back issues of Hand To Hand (H2H), the Association of Children’s Museums’ quarterly publication. Boxes and boxes of back issues, as far back as 1986, had been shipped from ACM’s Arlington (VA) office to allow members to browse and collect issues and hopefully reduce storage for back issues in ACM’s new offices.

Some conference goers passed and glanced; others stopped, browsed, and selected issues to take home. Yet with so much happening during the conference–colleagues seen only once a year; multiple sessions and study tours; and a MarketPlace full of vendors–absorbing what these stacks of issues mean for our field–its growth, change, and increased potential–was a challenge.

Thirty-two years is a long time, more than a generation. When thirty-two years of a field is explored in four issues in each (or most) of those years, countless stories and threads emerge making our field’s interests, concerns, and growth visible. And impressively so.

Initially Hand To Hand was a newsletter with a mix of long articles and short bits of information about exhibits, museum openings, people. From 1986 to 1993, Linda Eidecken was publisher/editor; she wrote the newsletter in cooperation with the AAYM (American Association of Youth Museums) board. In 1993, what had evolved into the Association of Youth Museums (AYM) bought Hand To Hand from Eidecken. Mary Maher took over as editor and designer and has continued in that role for twenty-five years. A few other changes came with this transition. The news and information portion became AYMNews and H2H strengthened its focus on substantive articles, case studies, museum initiatives, and reports.

Scanning the stacks of issues on the tables, H2H design changes were easy to catch. For years, H2H was a duotone (black plus 1 PMS color), tabloid size (11 x 17), and usually eight pages. Decisions about color and size changed as web and PDF formats gained in use. In 2007, H2H was a 16-page, 8-1/2 x 11 publication. The first full color issue was printed in Spring 2015. The most recent issue, a 32-page double issue, covered the history and culture of children’s museums.

These stacks are more than a “fire sale,” more than a publications list, and more than cardboard boxes in storage. These approximately 120 issues of Hand To Hand tell something about where we started, where we are, where we are going, and how we are getting there.

In scanning issues of H2H, some consistent areas of interest come through, as do the evolving ways in which children’s museums–and increasingly other types of museums–work and engage to address them.

An enduring interest in children and their wellbeing is evident in issues on play (Summer 1998, Fall 1999, and Winter 2008), humor (Fall 2000), health and wellness (Fall 2006), and cognitive development (Fall 1990). Strong roots in early childhood are reflected in a research review on young children in museums (Summer 1996) and a Great Friend to Kids Award to Head Start Founders (Summer 2007). From the beginning Hand To Hand has served as a way to look reflectively and critically at what a children’s museum is (Spring 1987, Fall 1992, Winter 2014/2015) and has given us the opportunity to be a community of learners around topics like these.

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The most recent issue of Hand To Hand chronicles the history and culture of  children’s museums

Several topics such as planning, exhibits, research, visitor services, and play appear in the very first issues and again over the next decades. This is not simply repeating a topic with new titles and authors. Rather, topics are reframed and reflect greater understanding of a topic and how to address it.

Following one topic, research, across 32 years shows the focus recurring and shifting in how it has been addressed and what it suggests about the field’s maturation. In the Spring 1989 issue that explored research and evaluation in children’s museums, Mary Worthington wrote, “Who Should Do Evaluation?” The Winter 2004 and Spring 2005 issues focused on research, in particular, integrating it into museum practices. When the Fall 2014 issue, Revving up Research, came out, the focus was on composing a research agenda for the field. By Spring 2016, an entire issue was dedicated to the Children’s Museum Research Network that has been active in conducting research across 10 research network member museums.

Early on, themes and articles in H2H focused internally on the museum, an understandable interest of museums that were just opening, growing fast, and figuring out what a children’s museum was. Some articles such as “Running a Non-Profit” (Winter 1991) were nuts-and-bolts. Others looked at setting up a children’s advisory board (Winter 1988 and Winter 1989) and conducting self-studies (Spring 1992). Profiles of exhibits and museums in most issues offered information and examples of exhibit topics and design to staff hungry for ideas.

Over the 32 years, more articles and issues have reflected the complex nature of children’s museums’ interests. Topics that may have initially seemed well defined, like play, programs or audience, have been increasingly understood in greater depth intersecting with other interests, like culture, partnerships, leadership, and sustainability. This awareness comes through in issues on Enhancing the Visitor Experience to Increase Revenue (Summer 1993), Planning for Change (Winter 2002 and Spring 2003), and The Cultural Meaning of Play and Learning (Winter 2008).

Just as a museum makes a journey from self-interest to a common good, so has the children’s museum field. This is apparent in an increasing focus on the larger environment in which museums operate. World events came to the forefront in 9/11 Response (Winter 2001) and After The Disaster following Hurricane Katrina (Winter 2006). With time, the global stage assumes a higher profile in Children’s Museums Around the World (Fall 2008) and Global Issues Impact, Local Impact (Spring 2013).

This journey towards a common good, of being useful in their communities is increasingly noticeable across 32 years of Hand To Hand. The Summer 1990 issue, Museums in Downtown, was the first to place children’s museums on the community landscape. A growing sense of responsibility to be engaged with the community and a deepening understanding of their potential impact are evident in the focus of somewhat more recent issues. Do The Right Thing: Children’s Museums & Social Responsibility (Winter 2000); Shared Values, Many Voices (Summer 2002); a double issue on diversity (Spring and Summer 2007); Declare Your Impact (Summer 2009) and Social Justice (Fall 2016) have probed these topics from more perspectives and emerging contexts.

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The first issue of Hand To Hand
featured a profile of Elaine Heumann Gurian

In “Looking Back 23 Years” (Spring 1988), Mike Spock reminded us that our field is for somebody, not about something. His insight has been invaluable in understanding who we are as children’s museums. It is equally helpful in recognizing the source of children’s museums’ strengths to which every single issue of Hand To Hand attests. Our field is defined by people, their collegiality, and generosity. By-lines, photos, and interviews amplify the centrality of people in this enterprise whether it is an interview with Brad Larson (Winter 1997), Elee Wood’s byline (Fall 2016), or Elaine Heumann Gurian’s photo on the first issue of Hand To Hand (Winter 1986-87).

Hand To Hand fully relies on the people who contribute to every issue. In fact, without them, there would be no Hand To Hand. The publication has benefited greatly not only from the contributions of colleagues in our field but also from many outside the field. They have shared personal insights, professional knowledge, organizational lessons, and sometimes, personal loss. They have also generously shared their time and writing talents. While the circle of authors keep widening, there are many who have written several H2H articles.

Thirty-two years of issues also demonstrate that children’s museums have a wealth of friends who have helped the field and enriched Hand To Hand. Loyal friends like George Hein, Professor Emeritus at Lesley University, have written on many topics for Hand To Hand over the years. The voices of researchers like Karen Knutson and Kevin Crowley, UPCLOSE (Spring 2005); museum professionals from outside the field like Kathryn Hill at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Winter 1993); and museum planners like John Jacobsen (Summer/Fall 2017) and designers like Peter and Sharon Exley (Spring 2008) have extended the range of expertise and perspectives covered. Countless authors including Jim Collins, Richard Florida, Tom Kelley, Richard Louv, and Neil Postman have shared their work with the field through InterActivity presentations highlighted in Hand To Hand.

Hand To Hand would not have grown and evolved, guided and reflected our maturing field were it not for its steady-handed, word-loving editor, Mary Maher. Working closely with ACM staff she frames issues, finds writers, and works with each one. She designs each issue, and transforms an often fuzzy but promising idea into a quarterly publication that goes to museums, members, and authors, across the U.S. and the world.

So, when the next issue of Hand To Hand arrives, spend some quality time with it. In the meantime, pull out some of your favorite H2H back issues or go on-line and have a look. Take time to reflect, enjoy, and appreciate the contributions of so many in our field. And think about contributing yourself.

Jeanne Vergeront is director at Vergeront Museum Planning, based in Minneapolis, MN, and blogs at Museum Notes.