Curator to help relocate, transform Lebanon County museum

The Stoy Museum in Lebanon County needs a new home. Inadequate exhibit and storage space, limited parking options, outdated plumbing and electricity — the list of reasons goes on.

The Stoy Museum in Lebanon County needs a new home. Inadequate exhibit and storage space, limited parking options, outdated plumbing and electricity — the list of reasons goes on.

In 2005, the Lebanon County Historical Society’s board of directors decided to move the museum to a new, modern facility somewhere in the Union Canal Tunnel Park. About a year ago, the board decided to hire a professional curator to help with the process.

Shelly Wiles took her post as curator June 25. She comes to the museum with more than 20 years of experience in the museum industry.

“The largest challenge that the board had was to make the decision to move. Their second challenge was to (decide) to hire a professional curator. Those were two enormous, positive steps that they took,” Wiles said.

Wiles, 40, most recently was collections manager for the Holocaust Resource Center of New England. She has also worked at the San Diego Museum of Man and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. She has a museum-studies degree from the Harvard University Extension School.

“Before we can move to a new site, we have to know how much space we need. What items are we going to take along, what are we going to get rid of, and what are we going to keep? We needed an expert. This is really the first step,” said Philip Feather, president of the historical society’s board.

While a timeline has not been set for when construction will begin on the new building, Feather said he would like it to open before Lebanon County celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2013.

Wiles recently spoke with the Business Journal about her plans for the museum. Her comments have been edited for space and clarity.

CPBJ: What’s your game plan for the museum?

Wiles: My personal game plan is to assess the collections for exhibit pieces that will be part of the new exhibits at the new museum, to assess the present condition of the collections and make preservation and conservation recommendations, (and) to address the members and staff and board and the community at large on what they would like to see in the museum.

CPBJ: How will your experiences help you to mold the museum into something that will bring more tourists to Lebanon County?

Wiles: I have very good leadership skills and grant-writing experience. I am, personally, a very approachable person (who is) interested in people’s ideas (and) both positive and negative feedback. We are looking to make the new facility a place that brings to life the great history of the Lebanon Valley and involve corporations, various governmental organizations, schools, religious (groups) and ethnic groups. With so many corporations in the area that are looking for recruitment incentives, we want to work with them in having this be a center of culture for their new employees to enjoy.

CPBJ: What most attracted to you to this position, and what’s your connection to the museum?

Wiles: I’m originally from Reading, Berks County, and I have Pennsylvania heritage, myself. What attracted me most was (working) on a museum that was starting over the right way. We have wonderful exhibits and collections here that all have been produced and maintained on a volunteer basis. With my museum-studies experience and also my experience moving and assessing a large collection before coming here, I was very interested in having an important position that will shape the museum from the ground up.

CPBJ: What do you anticipate will be the most challenging part of pulling the museum together?

Wiles: I think one of the main challenges will be overcoming the perception that some museums and historical societies can be a place where dead, old things are and making it a fun and exciting, educational, interactive place to come and learn about the area. Definitely raising the funds for this endeavor is a major challenge, but not insurmountable. None of these things are insurmountable.

CPBJ: Are there any tourism trends that could affect the new museum? How do you plan to overcome it?

Wiles: Since I’m new to the area, I can’t really speak of tourism trends here. I think a positive for people in the Valley is since traveling has become expensive because of gas prices, it’s definitely a local thing that they can do. We don’t have the staff at this point to be open on the weekends, and that’s when most tourists come.

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