Maryland Historical Society cuts operating hours, staff

Budget gap of $670,000 to blame

museum, library open on Thursdays, Saturdays only

December 03, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | liz.kay@baltsun.com

A $670,000 budget shortfall caused by the dismal economic climate has prompted the Maryland Historical Society to cut hours at its Baltimore museum and library and to eliminate several staff positions, according to the president of its trustee board.

In addition, Wednesday was director Robert Rogers' last day with the society, board president Alex G. Fisher said. Rogers' departure is unrelated to the 165-year-old organization's budget problems, according to Fisher. The board will name an interim director until it can conduct a search for a new leader.

The society was able to close nearly half of its budget gap by cutting the equivalent of seven full-time positions. To make up the rest, it also limited operating hours at the museum and library to noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and the 28 trustees agreed to double their gifts to the society's annual fund.

Many charitable organizations have been struggling to remain solvent during the economic downturn.

"It's no secret that all nonprofits are suffering as a result of the economy," Fisher said.

Although financial markets have recovered somewhat, they are still lower than they were several years ago, which affects the income drawn from the historical society's endowment, as well as the confidence of supporters who make contributions, Fisher said. State funding for the society has also decreased by $450,000 in the past three years, according to Fisher.

He described the decrease in hours as "regrettable." However, "if you're going to be fiscally responsible, you just have to do that," Fisher said. The library and museum were formerly open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, though the library would close during lunch.

Scholars and historians worry that the decision to reduce hours will make it difficult for researchers to conduct their work.

"If you're an out-of-town researcher, you can't even go back-to-back days," said Jessica Elfenbein, an associate provost and professor of history at the University of Baltimore. "It's going to be very hard for any researcher to do justice to Baltimore if you can't get to the collections it supports."

Said Robert Brugger, senior editor at the Johns Hopkins University Press: "That means that people who would like to be doing research are not going to do it, or need to find more money than would otherwise be needed to get work done."

Fisher acknowledged that was a legitimate concern. The society is hoping to restore some operating hours at its Mount Vernon facilities by relying on volunteers.

"But it will take time to get that accomplished," Fisher said.

The society is also revamping its Web site.

"Once that's done, access to library material will expand dramatically to anyone off-site," courtesy of the Web, Fisher said.

Education programs in Maryland schools will also be curtailed through the remainder of the school year, according to Fisher. As student tours of the museum have dwindled in recent years, outreach in schools has filled that void, he said, and the society would send staff to train teachers to use replicas of museum holdings for Maryland history lessons. But next summer, the society will transition to offering more Web-based resources.

New society hours
12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays

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