Back to the Future: Bringing Berks History into the 21st Century

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Not all history is meant to be preserved. Here at the Berks History Center we are taking a close look at our organizational history, business practices, and overall institutional well-being. We are taking stock and cleaning house – in more ways than one.

“It’s time to bring history into the 21st Century”, says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “This year we are getting our house in order.”

Collections Management Initiative

With several initiatives started last year, 2017 promises many positive changes for the Berks History Center. Most notably, we invited former curator of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Bradley K. Smith, to spearhead a new collections management initiative. The initiative aims to inventory, organize, and evaluate our entire collection of museum artifacts.

Mr. Smith kicked off this privately-funded project last fall and will continue his efforts into 2018. By conducting a collections management initiative in our museum this year, and subsequently in our library archives (2019), Berks History Center will be fully equipped to share Berks County’s most important history with our community.Getting our collections organized means that we can tell more accurate, exciting stories about the history that matters to you.

We will continue to share more about Curator Bradley K. Smith’s work in the coming months on social media, NewsBits, and our website. Also, tune in to BCTV on Monday, February 6th at 8:30 p.m. as Mr. Smith gives a behind the scenes tour of what he has discovered in our storage rooms and attic!

High Density Shelving Project

Because preservation is a huge part of what we do here at the Berks History Center, we take storage seriously! At BHC’s Henry Janssen Library, our archival storage facility is getting an upgrade. We are installing two new high-density shelving units that will help our archivists optimally organize and safely store thousands of precious historical documents. The improved shelving will not only keep our shared local history safe, it will also make our collections more accessible for archivists and researchers to find the information they need.

Organizational Assessment & Sustainability Planning

In addition to getting our archival collections in order, Berks History Center is redefining how we do business. In more ways than one, we have a long history in the field of history. Berks History Center, formerly the Historical Society of Berks County, has been an institution in Berks County for 148 years. That’s a long organizational history! Looking back on our legacy, while we are proud of many of our accomplishments, we have to acknowledge that we also have shortcomings. That is why we are taking a close look at our organizational history, business practices, and overall institutional well-being.

Led by Executive Director, Sime Bertolet and our new Communications Director, Alexis Campbell, Berks History Center is taking stock with an organizational assessment. Ms. Campbell, who took on the Communications position last fall, is also a sustainability consultant with over 10 years of experience working with systems analysis and design. Drawing upon her expertise, Berks History Center has discovered which parts of our business practices we would like to preserve, and what needs to be left in the past.

With a clear understanding of our shortcomings as well as our assets, we have developed a strategy that first and foremost focuses on connecting with the people who matter most to us: the citizens of Berks County! We know that not everyone has had a good experience with us. We know that we have sometimes been perceived as exclusive, stuffy, and standoffish. However, Berks History Center is committed to positive change. We want to innovate so that we can continue to carry out our mission to preserve, educate and inspire. Because we know that Berks County’s rich history matters to you as much as it does to us, we are rolling up our sleeves.

Here are some of the things that we have evaluated and started to change in our organization:

  1. Membership Benefits – Our dedicated members deserve better attention. Therefore, we revised our membership benefits to reflect how important our members are to us.
  2. Communications Plan – As a member organization and a non-profit that seeks to serve the residents of Berks County, we want to better connect with our community. By stepping up our game on social media and implementing a multi-faceted communications strategy, we are making it a priority to engage in conversation with our members, patrons, and followers as much as possible. If you have feedback or suggestions for us, please email us directly at newsbits@berkshistory.org
  3. New Programming & Education – Using valuable feedback from our members, volunteers, and patrons, we scheduled a dazzling number of programs this spring. This year we are holding our 2nd Annual Berks History Conference, participating in Berks Country Fest, and we are rolling out a series of “Double Header” Second Saturday programs, where we will host both morning and afternoon programs. Also, we are revising our Educational Programs, reaching out to new Berks County school districts and planning to enhance the educational experience in our museums.
  4. Team Building – Positive culture goes a long way in helping an organization to achieve their goals. Especially with a staff of just 8 professionals, Berks History Center staff and volunteers are becoming experts in teamwork. It hasn’t always been this way. However, with positive leadership, the Berks History Center is becoming a creative, collaborative work environment.
  5. Community Partnerships – As a small organization with a huge mission, building relationships is a priority. By working with other local businesses and organizations, we can support one another to accomplish our goals. Last year we collaborated with ReDesign Reading, Penn Street Market, Oakbrook Brewing Company, and Reading 120. This year we plan to partner with Reading Public Library, Barrio Alegria Co., Pollen Consolidated, The Central PA African American Museum, the 88th PA Volunteer Infantry, as well as a number of local social clubs, churches, and associations.
  6. Sustainability Planning – In addition to short-term planning and implementing new ideas, we are taking a good look at the longevity of our organization. We are asking ourselves: “How can we continue to preserve Berks County’s legacy for generations to come?” In the face of economic uncertainty, changing cultural values, and evolving technology, the Berks History Center needs to continue to adapt and grow. BHC’s Executive Director is leading the effort, along with our Board of Directors, to develop a sustainability plan for the Berks History Center.

 

2017 is an exciting year for us. We hope that you are excited too! All of these changes mean an end to “business as usual” and bring a new attitude to the way we preserve, educate and inspire. We hope that you will continue to share the journey with us. Together we can be the stewards of Berks County’s unique heritage.

 

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One thought on “Back to the Future: Bringing Berks History into the 21st Century

  1. Not just a “Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame but a Berks Musicians Register of both living and deceased. When I taught in the Reading School District, I had a project for my 9th grade music elective – identifying those in the local music world who made a living in music. We used the then Yellow Pages of the phone book to tract down all who advertised there in. We even visited some of the locations using a school bus. The students then wrote reports outlining what was sold. repaired, reviewed, taught, etc. in these music-oriented businesses.

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