Guide to Managing Historical Societies


Royal Historical Society of Victoria

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) is the peak body for local history in the state and has a long tradition of supporting historical societies. Indeed from the moment of its foundation 1909 with the purpose of collecting the history of Victoria, the RHSV encouraged the formation of regional societies to do the same. In 2010 more than 300 societies are affiliated with the RHSV.

The RHSV is a community organisation and is independant of any government agency. It is governed by a council from within the history community of Victoria with the purpose to providing services, programs and networks to historical societies and individuals. The RHSV is managed and run by volunteers and administered by paid staff. It is also a city based historical society making its collections, publications and programs accessible to the public. Although it is a member organisation its activities are open to all.

The RHSV provides well established networks and support for volunteers responsible for looking after collections as well as groups coming together with a shared interest in history and its promotion to the collection but which do not have collections. For more than one hundred years the RHSV has delivered grass roots services for historical societies.

Guide to managing historical societies

Guide to the establishment and operation of historical societies was originally published by the RHSV in the 1980s and revised in the 1990s. In 2006 the Royal Historical Society of Victoria received a local history grant from the Public Record Office of Victoria to develop the Guide for managing historical Societies

Since the last edition of the Guide several factors have energised the local history world:

  • the vast uptake of computers with the exciting opportunities for organising collections, digitisation and publication
  • the enormous amount of online primary and secondary material
  • excellent online guides and manuals
  • the implementation of national standards for museums including the Museums Accreditation Program (MAP) operated by Museums Australia Victoria
  • increased communication and networking opportunities
  • Government agenda at all levels providing support for community collections, interpretation of Victorian history and the recognition of the role that historical societies can play in community identity.

However two things remain the same:

  • volunteers in historical societies bring with them a hinterland of experience that can be applied to the managing of historical societies
  • historical societies are generally underfunded.

The information in this Guide has been collated by members of the History Victoria Support Group – a committee of the RHSV who are themselves members of historical societies. The content, references and examples have been selected by members of this group because of its relevance to historical societies. The Guide works at two levels:

  • laying down the principles with reference to additional information
  • provision of examples including sample forms, policies and procedures.

Historical societies are as diverse as the history they interpret. Some societies have no collection, some societies have a museum, some societies have a resource centre and a museum, some societies own a building, some societies have well established policies and procedures.

This publication has not been designed as a definitive chapter and verse account of how to run a historical society. This publication is a Guide providing general information then leading the user to other references, ideas and networks. It is up to the volunteers in historical societies to adapt and adopt the ideas as required. But above all this Guide is provided to help historical societies reach out to their communities, make their research, collections and programs accessible to their communities and to contribute to their community’s interest and excitement in the history of our state.


Managing the organisation

Incorporation – Model Rules – Roles of Office Bearers – Mission Statement

Policies and Procedures

Planning – Strategic Plan/Forward Plan – Business Plan

Notes for Treasurers plus Income Generation

Grants & Sponsorship

Occupational Health & Safety

Risk Management

The Building

Computers and historical societies

Involving people


Is the organisation ready for additional volunteers?

Community engagement (Interpretation, Publications, Working with schools, Heritage trails, Cultural tourism)


Visitors and accessibility

Exhibitions on a shoestring

Style guides for local history publishing


Partnerships and networking

Website design and maintenance

Communication – email, forums and mc2

Web 2.0 and social media


Online exhibitions

Developing a significant collection

Collection management

Safe storage of collection items

Conservation and Collection Management Plans

Conservation suppliers’ list

Cataloguing collections

Provenance – Significance – Preservation surveys

PODs – Museum Accreditation


Archives in collections

Indexing for historical societies




Policies, Procedures, Guidelines and Forms

The following sample policies, procedures, guidelines and forms are provides as guides only to assist groups preparing documents for managing their own collections


Sample collection policy for artefacts

Sample collection policy for a research collection

RHSV collection policy

Sample volunteers policy

Sample grievance or complaints policy

Sample privacy policy

Sample OH&S policy

Procedures and Guidelines

Sample acquisition procedure for artefacts

Sample acquisition procedure for items in a research collection

Sample deaccession and disposal procedure

Sample loans procedure

Sample copyright, reproduction rights and access rights guidelines


Potential donations form

Potential donations receipt

Outward loans form

Inward loans form

Photograph information form

Copyright form

Oral history interview form

Recording authorisation for podcasting form

OH&S forms

Ergonomic checklist

OH&S audit checklist for volunteers

General safety checklist

Incident information form

Volunteer safe work plan OH&S

Emergency evacuation checklist

Risk management forms

Example of a risk management plan

Risk management template

More information examples, checklists and tools

Incident register

Risk register

Job safety analysis

Volunteer forms

Is organisation ready for volunteers? – checklist

Developing volunteer roles

Volunteers review form

Volunteer Co-ordinator’s checklist

Volunteer induction form

Volunteer information form


MAP collection policy template (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Developing a conservation plan (Museums Australia (Victoria))

MAP forward planning template (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Links to resources

Museum Management

Fact sheets on museum management (Museums & Galleries NSW)

Museum methods (sections) (Collections Australia Network)

National standards for Australian museums and galleries (National Standards Taskforce)

MAP forward planning template (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Museums and galleries collections law (Shane Simpson)

Legal information for community organisations (pilchconnect)

Guide: Community organisations and Victoria’s occupational health and safety laws (pilchconnect)

Collection management

Information sheets – caring for collections (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Caring for collections (Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material)

Preserving Australia’s documentary heritage (National Library of Australia)

Conservation information guides (State Library of Victoria)

reCollections: caring for collections across Australia (Collections Australia Network)

Preventative conservation fact sheets (Museums & Galleries NSW)

Guidelines for environmental control of cultural institutions (Collections Australia Network)

Safe in the shed: caring for historic farm machinery (Collections Australia Network)

Conservation standards, policies, strategies and guidelines (Collections Australia Network)

MAP collection policy template (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Developing a conservation plan (Museums Australia (Victoria))


Small museums cataloguing manual (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Cataloguing guidelines for historical societies (blog)


Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers


Significance 2.0: a guide to assessing the significance of collections (Collections Australia Network)

Significance training (Collections Australia Network)


Creating and keeping your digital treasures – a user guide (State Library of Western Australia)

Image digitisation of local history collections (State Library of Victoria)

Guidelines for digitization projects (International Federation of Library Associations)

Copyright and cultural institutions: guidelines for digitisation (Centre for Media and Communications Law – University of Melbourne)

Electronic media collections care for small museums and archives (Canadian Conservation Institute)

Capture your collections – a digitisation course for remote and regional museums and galleries(Collections Australia Network)

Information technology for local history – digitisation (blog)


Australian Copyright Council

Copyright and cultural institutions: guidelines for digitisation (Centre for Media and Communications Law – University of Melbourne)

Copyright in cultural institutions


Designing and maintaining websites


Creative volunteering: work with collections (Volunteering Australia)

Exhibition fact sheets (Museums & Galleries NSW)

Significant events (Collections Australia Network)

MAP interpretation policy template (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Display interpretation and writing (History Trust (South Australia))

Box making

Box making fact sheet (Museums & Galleries NSW)

Make a box with lid ()

Make a clamshell box ()

Make a flapped folder ()


Victoria’s Volunteering Portal

Volunteering Victoria

Volunteering Australia

Volunteers fact sheets (Museums & Galleries NSW)

Willing and able (Museum & Gallery Services Queensland)

Disaster preparedness

Be prepared: guidelines for small museums for writing a disaster preparedness plan (Collections Australia Network)

DISACT – disaster recovery planning weblinks (DISACT)

Disaster support

Arts Victoria’s Disaster Response Protocol (pdf 243 kb)

Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material

Bushfires … Protect your precious possessions

How do I salvage flood-damaged records National Archives of Australia


Building a better relationship with your local council (Chris Brophy – MA Conference 2004)


Tourism with integrity (Collections Australia Network)

Successful tourism at heritage places (Collections Australia Network)


Fact sheets on access (Museums & Galleries NSW)

Improving access to heritage buildings (Australian Heritage Commission)

Aboriginal items in collections

Information for Victorian museums with Aboriginal collection items (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Resources for Victorian museums with Aboriginal collection items (Museums Australia (Victoria))

Conservation of indigenous objects (Collections Australia Network)