I’m a museum professional in the DC area and am doing research on community life and the role that museums and libraries play in sustaining and building community.
I’m searching for some information, a guide, or some chart or model that breaks down the parts of a community or the infrastructure of a community.
I hope that these questions make sense, and I appreciate the help.
Thank you for writing to us your question. To speak generally for a moment, we think it’s tremendously exciting to be a museum professional in your position, because there’s so much opportunity to make creative, significant, and lasting accomplishments in that role.
For us, and perhaps for you as well, a museum is not simply a place to display artifacts of the past, but rather a place that can analyze and celebrate the present, and consider the future of our society as well.
Perhaps at least as important is that the museum can and should be a gathering place where people can (hopefully) meet each other in person. The connections thus formed, both planned and unplanned, both formal and informal, can add up over time, with enduring consequences in strengthening community life.
Here's one of many examples expressing this general point of view: https://artmuseumteaching.com/2018/10/01/towards-a-more-community-centered-museum-part-3-defining-valuing-community/
We suspect you may know much of this already, in which case please take these comments as encouraging and validating your work.
As for an understanding of the nature of community, that’s of course a very big question, on which one could easily spend a lifetime of study.As we see it, understanding the community bears resemblance to the parable of the seven blind men and the elephant. Meaning that people will tend to view communities based on their particular backgrounds of experiences. So for example, politicians will see a community in political terms; economists in economic terms; demographers, criminologists, and educators from the perspective of their respective disciplines. All that is natural, and can be seen as good.
Here at the Community Tool Box many of us are community psychologists, this being a small subfield of psychology which focuses on applying principles of psychology to strengthen community life. So we tend to see communities through a psychological lens, and focus on such topics as civic participation, community problem solving, leadership training, conflict resolution, and community skill development.
One difference between our work and that of others is that we tend to deal more in things that are harder to measure. So, for instance, you can measure population in the community, or tax base or crime rate quite objectively and without great difficulty. But then consider your own neighborhood for example, and the sense of community you may feel within it. It’s important, but less easily measured. Yet as community psychologists, that’s what we try to do, and have in fact done with some success.
We cannot point to any single model or chart that puts all of these together. We do think it’s good to look at the community from many different perspectives, certainly including of course the perspectives of your potential audiences. In your museum work, if you can work together with those audiences in shaping future exhibits and activities, so much the better.
We hope some of these thoughts may be helpful to you. Thank you again for writing – and all best wishes as your important work proceeds.