COVID Guidance for Local Historical Societies

Reopening and Reenergizing Local Historical Societies After COVID-19

Please note that this is provided for informational purposes only. Changes in state guidelines or mandates related to the pandemic are still possible. We encourage you to visit for the latest information from the state government, and to be aware of any additional requirements or guidelines from your local municipality.

After over 15 months, the state of emergency has been lifted in Vermont. As we move into what are hopefully the later stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, how do we regroup, reopen, and reenergize as local history organizations?


If you haven’t finalized your plans for reopening, here are a few questions and considerations to take into account when deciding on your approach for the remainder of 2021.

Main Considerations

  • Overall health, safety, and comfort levels of staff, volunteers, and patrons
  • Changes or restrictions needed in your physical spaces to allow for safe staff/volunteer and/or public access.
  • Communications within the organization and with patrons
  • Continuing your mission
  • Preservation of collections
  • Impacts on resources and funding

Who is involved in the decision-making process, and how are decisions being made?

What modifications can you make to physical spaces, programs, or fundraising initiatives to make them safer and more accessible at this time?

How does your audience/visitor profile impact the risk level to the virus for your staff/volunteers and patrons (e.g.- do you serve mostly children who cannot be vaccinated)? How might that impact your reopening plans?

What mission-based activities can be accomplished virtually and/or in a digital format, rather than in-person? What activities are unable to be completed digitally?

How can you best plan on a short, medium, and long-term basis to be able to take into account changes in guidelines and the impact of the virus?


“Normal is just a setting on the dryer.”

It is clear that we can’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, return to exactly the way things were before the pandemic. Forced creativity in what and how we engaged with our communities has led to some potentially very positive new avenues for programs and services. Here are a few pandemic changes we think might be worth keeping.

  • Outdoor programs
    History doesn’t have to be bound by four walls. We can continue to use the outdoors successfully for things like interpretive trails, programs, exhibits, arts/music events, and more.
  • Virtual programs
    Longer term, these can offer opportunities for engagement especially in the winter months, as well as for audiences beyond our immediate communities who can’t make in-person programs.

  • Health Measures
    Encouraging mask wearing for sick staff/patrons, as well as more consistent cleaning of items in the museum like interactives have the potential for decreasing a variety of transmissible illnesses.

  • Online Buffet
    Alongside virtual programs, digital content can continue to be a valuable way to share community history. Online collections, videos, articles, podcasts, educational resources, and publications are evergreen resources you can create and share.

  • New Funding Models
    Overreliance on income from in-person visitation and activities left many organizations struggling during the pandemic. Monetizing virtual programs and services and diversifying funding streams will be essential for long-term resiliency.


While we all relearn how to behave in social situations, we can also take the opportunity to release ourselves from having to do things the way we always have. Here are some ideas for new approaches and activities.

  • It is ok to have been dormant during the pandemic. You can, literally, make a fresh start with a little spring cleaning, or metaphorically with a social gathering for trustees, volunteers, members, or the community.

  • Be ready for new funding opportunities, which may include more federal and state programs, especially for infrastructure. Now may be a great time to assess your building/facilities, technology, and energy needs and be “shovel ready” for grants.

  • Follow-up with those who may have engaged with you for the first time during the pandemic. What did they like about the new things you did? How can you make sure they know about what you’ll be doing in the future?

Links & Resources

REALM Project research for libraries and museums 

Resources from the American Association for State & Local History (AASLH) 

Resources from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) 

Article credits: Created June 15, 2021 by Eileen P. Corcoran, Community Outreach Manager


Find us on Instagram