WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) welcomed three visitors from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and provided them with a tour of the NHHC headquarters and the National Museum of the U.S. Navy at the Washington Navy Yard, Dec. 3.
AAM is an advocacy organization that supports the museum community in a number of ways including the development and assessment of museum standards and best practices. Accreditation from AAM is sought as the museum field's mark of distinction. It includes high profile, peer-based validation of museum operations and impact. Of the nine museums operated across the Navy's history and heritage enterprise, four have achieved accreditation and the remaining five are on the path to achieving that distinction.
"An accredited museum is able to say that it meets the highest standards of the museums of the world." said Dr. Ford Bell, American Alliance of Museums (AAM) president. "Only about six percent of the museums in the United States are accredited, so that six percent are the top of the pack - the cream of museums."
According to NHHC Deputy Assistant Director for Museum Operations Cmdr. Jeff Barta, the purpose of the visit was threefold.
"First, we wanted to stress the commitment of NHHC and Navy leadership to the nine Navy museums," said Barta. "It's well-established that our museums benefit from support and oversight of a higher echelon organization. When that higher level headquarters in one that is focused on history, as NHHC is, the network museums are often more successful than when museums have no support or are supported by non-history focused institutions."
"We also wanted to show AAM that we are committed to continuing the professional development of the people that serve within the naval museum network in accordance with the standards and practices of AAM and the museum community," Barta continued.
"Finally, we wanted to thank them for their efforts in helping us and the staff of the Puget Sound Navy Museum, the most recent NHHC museum to earn AAM accreditation. We also wanted to show them the NHHC resources the museum's director used to help achieve that benchmark, and demonstrate NHHC's ability to earn that accreditation for our remaining five museums," said Barta.
Julie Hart, AAM senior director of museums standards and excellence, Dana Twersky, AAM assistant director of accreditation and Bell were escorted around the command by Barta, Edward Furgol, PhD, Deputy Director National Museum of the United States Navy and acting NHHC director, James Kuhn. It was the AAM members first visit to NHHC headquarters.
"As the headquarters for the nine Navy museums and Navy's history and heritage enterprise, we are fully committed to provide the right levels of oversight and support to make all of our museums successful," said Kuhn. "We continue to execute Navy leadership's charge to us to re-invigorate navy history and heritage and demonstrate the relevance of that history to today's challenges," he added.
AAM leaders believe museums benefit from the accreditation process. Those benefits include credibility that comes with the approval of nationally recognized professional organization, a clearer sense of the museum's strengths, goals, priorities and mission, and a more sustainable institution.
"If you are looking for an artifact from some other country that you want to use as an exhibit, they know immediately if you are accredited, that you meet the highest standard for care of objects," Bell said. "They will be more willing to lend objects because they know that the object is going to be kept under the best possible conditions of light, temperature, humidity and security."
To Bell, that accreditation is part of understanding that museums are essential learning tools.
"The reality is that museums tend to be viewed as amenities - they are nice to have but museums are not necessary," Bell explained. "We want people to understand that museums are core educational institutions in our society. Museums provide 18 million instructional hours and spend over 2 billion dollars on educational programming every year in the United States. Accreditation is part of that credibility."
However, according to a letter to NHHC from AAM Board of Directors Chairman Meme Omogbai, they recognize that it is not an easily achieved goal.
"As Chair of the American Alliance of Museums' board of directors, and as chief operating officer of an accredited museum, I am fully aware of the serious and rigorous nature of the accreditation program and of the time and effort required of your governing authority and staff to participate," stated Omogbai in the letter congratulating NHHC's Puget Sound Navy Museum. "A museum can only achieve the distinguished honor of accreditation if there is institution-wide collaboration for the evaluation, monitoring, and continuous improvement of performance. In undertaking these steps, you strengthened not only your institution and its public image, but also excellence among all museums."
After his tour of NHHC holdings, Bell was impressed.
"It's just amazing," Bell said. "I haven't been here before and I could spend all day here easily. It's a really fabulous collection."
The largest museum organization in the world, AAM was founded in 1906. Today the organization has some 20,000 members, including 3,000 museums, zoos, aquariums and public gardens all contributing to its mission of enhancing the value of museums to their communities through leadership, advocacy, and service.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. Naval history and heritage. It is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy history, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
For more information visit the NHHC website at www.history.navy.mil.
For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/navhist/.