In September, thanks to the Small Museums Scholarship, I was able to attend my first AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

Like so many others at AASLH, I was coming from a very small institution, the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library, with a staff of just three. SBMAL is an archive with a unique collection that tells the story of early Spanish Colonial California and the Franciscans in the Southwest. Right after graduation, I was lucky enough to secure an internship at SBMAL. Several years later, I am now a full-time Archivist and Programs Coordinator.

Personally, as a relative newcomer to the professional field, I am constantly learning new skills and I found a lot of the practical tips and lessons from the sessions particularly helpful. It was wonderful to connect with other professionals who “had been there” and chat one-on-one about their career paths, successes, and obstacles.

As a small institution, partnership-building has been pivotal to achieving those big dreams we do not have the resources to realize on our own. These partnership projects can feel as if they will never quite fall into place and it can take a long time to achieve our goals. Each of the sessions covering partnerships, such as the one discussing the Bullock Museum’s Butterfly Project, offered insight into tactics that I could incorporate into our own programming and relationship-building.

I attended a session called “Race, History, and Archives: Strategies for Community Archives and Museums” run by two community archivists. This session prompted me to reflect more deeply about the place and purpose of my institution, and how it can serve my community and be more inclusive and mindful while doing so. Most of the collections at SBMAL were brought here in the 19th and 20th centuries and our mission has been to collect and preserve these collections, but this session made me rethink what collect means, what type of collecting we had done in the past, and how we can be more inclusive in the future.

At AASLH it was amazing to connect with so many other professionals who understand how the “other duties as needed” part of our job tends to take up the bulk of our time. There was such a sense of community, camaraderie, and welcome at the Small Museums Luncheon.  It was inspiring to realize how much everyone had accomplished with so little and I learned a lot about all of the possibilities for my own institution.