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Holden takes over Lake Superior Maritime Visitors' Center

The Lake Superior Maritime Visitors' Center sails into the future with a new man at the helm. Thom Holden succeeds Pat Labadie, who retired in April. Under Labadie, Holden served as the center's museum technician, a position that focused his atte...

The Lake Superior Maritime Visitors' Center sails into the future with a new man at the helm.
Thom Holden succeeds Pat Labadie, who retired in April. Under Labadie, Holden served as the center's museum technician, a position that focused his attention on educational programming and audio visual displays. As the new director, Holden says he'll still do a lot of that same work, but with added responsibilities at the district and division levels and more interaction with the museum association.
Among the biggest changes since Holden took office is the transfer of the museum association's massive collection of reference materials to the Jim Dan Hill Library at the University of Wisconin-Superior. The collection began when the marine museum opened in 1973, and various private individuals, businesses and government organizations donated their materials.
"It was an important part of who we were and what we had become, and yet it was always on the fringe because this is supposed to be a visitors' center rather than a museum, and we're really not supposed to have an artifact collection or a big reference library," Holden said. "It seemed like the right thing to do. The collection had outgrown our ability to really take care of it. There are a lot of one-of-a-kind, truly unique things in that collection that need to be cared for."
The collection is now housed in a separate room just inside the entrance at UWS's library. It will take some time for a trained archivist to process and archive the materials. Twenty-five boxes of books and a dozen filing cabinets full of ships' files will become part of the UWS collection. "There are thousands and thousands of photographs, 6,000 ship files, physically a lot of material," Holden said.
The museum association has been considering its options for over a year. The association looked at several possible sites for its collection and decided on UWS for a number of reasons.
"UWS seemed to have the best to offer at this time," Holden said. "They have a new transportation related major there. They have room in the library. They were enthusiastic about acquiring the collection, and they have good archive experience. It's in good hands there."
Patrick Labadie, who assembled much of the collection during his tenure as director, says the transfer will be good for the community and the artifacts. "The collection is an important regional resource. I'd rate it among the best on the lakes," he said. "It needs to receive the best possible care to be preserved for future generations."
While Holden settles in to his new position, his background in educational programming is having an obvious impact. "I'd like to see us be able to do more with our outreach programming," he said "I'd like to be able to go out to the schools a bit more. We could get our message out to a newer audience by doing that, and it's getting harder and harder for school groups to come to the museum."
Unfortunately, the realities of the situation -- less staff doing the same amount of work -- will make it more difficult to increase any kind of programming. As Holden moves up to the director's position, his former job may not be filled right away. "Locally, we would like to fill it, but higher up it's one of those things where you have one less mouth to feed," Holden said.
The small, but highly qualified staff at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitors' Center oversees exhibits that interpret the Duluth-Superior harbor, Lake Superior and the Great Lakes. It is a popular destination with tourists who visit the center time and again. The number of repeat visitors makes rotating exhibits an important activity for the center.
"Like all museums, I'd say they don't rotate often enough," Holden said. "We have in a way too much permanent exhibit space because things don't change that much."
Holden says the staff is constantly reviewing what's reasonable to change, what they can afford to change, and do they have the people to do the work. These days there's one less person for that job. Without Pat Labadie, Holden says they'll miss his enormous depth of knowledge about ships and shipping and his contacts in the maritime community. Another thing Holden says he'll miss is "the buck had someplace else to stop."

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