Friday, March 14, 2008

How to get a job in museums. Part 1: Preparation and Application

It's spring of the year, just about the time antsy students are getting ready to graduate and track down that first big museum job.

Last year, at this time, I was searching for a job. So I've been there. I feel your pain, really I do. So, I've decided to offer up my thoughts, opinions, and rants on the subject, seeing as I have successfully secured a position very nearly matching my ideal position in the field. Please be advised: I am not an expert and have never worked in Human Resources. There's your grain of salt.

Let's do this by numbers, shall we?

1. Get a degree, and get the right one for what you want to do. Almost no positions require no degree at all. Graduate high school. Then go to college. Major in what you want (I'm anthropology and english lit), but take museum classes if you can. Then go to graduate school. Get a Master's degree in Museum Studies, or Museology. If you want to be a curator, get your Ph.D., because you'll need it to be a curator at any of the larger institutions.

2. Remember that a degree is not a magical pass to get a museum job. Especially remember this if you're a Master's student, because that extra $40,000 you just dropped for the degree will be helpful, but it won't show return on investment immediately... or any time soon likely.

3. Get experience. Do museum internships as an undergrad, do them as a grad student. If you can, get an entry level job, especially if there's a museum associated with your program. Try to work in a museum for one or two years. Get experience in a variety of museum areas. Museum work is not one size fits all. Development people are different from collections managers are different from educators. Do as much as you can in museums before you need to launch yourself out into the museum job hunt.

4. Make connections. Get to know the people you work for, work with, intern for, intern with. In the museum field, personal connections are gold. Get to know people locally. If you can afford it, go to national conferences. If you can't, try getting to the local conferences.

5. Learn to write. And have as many people look at your resume as you can. When you're applying for jobs, the cover letter is your real chance to present yourself, not just your accomplishments, but also your ability to communicate. The museum field does not have a lot of money; you are going to have to write grants/be involved in writing grants at some point. It behooves you to polish your style early and often. And work on your long resume - polish the format, the wording, everything so that it's ready to customize easily and quickly.

6. Find all the job resources you can. Check out all the national and regional association website. Bookmark them. Join the Yahoo! group Musejobs. Check them. Check them regularly.

7a. Be flexible. This is key. If you can move, your job search is likely to be less frustrating. Consider living places you'd never lived before. Define your geographical limits.

7b. Be flexible. This is key. Most museum jobs do not perform a single function. Many museums are very small and you will be wearing many hats. If you want to be a collections manager, think about being a registrar, an assistant director, a curator for a small museum. Consider all options, don't be set on a job title. At the same time, identify what you would most like to do and what environment you would like to do it in: Big or small museum? History, art, science, children's? East coast, West coast, the South? Lots of responsibility or lots of supervision?

7c. Be realistic. This is key. Work out your budget. What can you live on? If no one has told you yet, museum work is usually not going to make you rich. What will you be happy doing? Are you willing to work in the pest management department or will you refuse? And remember, please remember, that this a a field that many people want to work in, many people are qualified for, and in which there are relatively few open positions.

Basic rule of museum job hunting: There are more job openings for development people and educators. If you want to get a job more easily in the museum field, don't be an objects person. Also, development seems to get paid more.

8. Apply early, apply often. Once you're in the job search, apply broadly. Keep a close watch on those resources you identified and send out your application as soon as you can. Being on top of the game may earn you points. Doesn't hurt at the very least.

9. Wait. Wait as patiently as you can. (See rant below.) Apply for more jobs.

9.1 Don't complain on museum listservs. Seriously. I enjoy the inevitable drama, but please don't. For one thing, you're usually using your real name and establishing a persona as someone who feels entitled and may be a whiner. If you need to complain/ask for advice (I feel that most, not all but most, job seekers on museum listservs asking for advice are only thinly veiling their whining), do it privately. Search the archives of the listservs - see if your issues haven't already been addressed. Otherwise I'm just going to roll my eyes and wonder if you realize that potential employers may be reading that list and your name may turn up attached to the posting on a search.

10. Be aware of your net presence. What happens when you google your name? How does that look to a potential employer? It is your Bedazzled myspace profile, or is it a museum newsletter commending your volunteer work? Increasingly, these things matter.

Part 2 coming soon: Responses and interviews.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

AAM Digital Museum Webinar 2: Technology and Museum Visitor Experiences

Pre-webinar: So I'm waiting on the start of the second in a series of AAM webinars about The Digital Museum. I worked with Learning Times tech support, so with luck I will not be holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder, but will have the opportunity to use my shiny shiny headphones instead. Below the jump will be my notes, in the understandable only to me, maybe, format that I favor.

Woo, they're talking and I can hear them! And there's a poll and I can see the results as they come in. Way cool!

Peter Samis - SFMOMA
- Frameworks of meanings - contextualization, webs of relationships
- Anchors in experience, velcro vs. teflon. Low v. high context environments: continuum.

Scott Sayre - Ways to Restore context
Audio Tours in Transition: Cell Phones
-Audio tours have an evolving history as technology evolves. mp3 and cell phone tours are the thing now.
- Cell phone as unifying device. Cell phone eliminates peripheral costs of hardware
- Cell phone tours easily move outside of the museum *can link museum to community with a minimum of cost*
- GPS and geotagging. Yes. yes yes yes. This is good for us since this is a rural, environmentally oriented community. Way to connect objects to museum, and to connect the landscape to the museum. Integration of landscape and technology. YES YES YES.

Robin Dowden, Walker Art Center: Audio Tours in Transitions: Multimedia tours.
- Frida Kahlo multimedia handheld guide.
- additional cost, but used by 12% of visitors.
- sounded really cool, really interesting, would like to take that tour.

Peter Samis: add axis to continuum - personal mobile (like the above two) to social embedded. SFMOMA "smart tables" just above phone tours. It's a step above wall text - conveys interest and passion more than words on the wall at an eighth grade reading level.
- Learning lounges which are focussed info points and provide place for interaction
- most people use wall text, but it is the least helpful source of info (audio tours being best)
- More interpretive sources used= more art appreciation

Robin Dowden: Embedded social spaces: Case study: Dialog table
- sociable computing. Gesture recognition of picking, grabbing and dropping. AWESOME. Not really useful for us, but dude. We are living in the future. Where's my jetpack?
- Case study: Dolphin Oracle II: dolphin responds, expands vocabulary.
- these things exist within the range of possible experiences.

Mike Mouw and Dan Spock: Minnesota Historical Society.
-increasing social aspects of the museum visit, enhancing the social experience
- game in the MN150 gallery: quiz show type thing with points. How fun!
- Open house exhibit: modern style lantern slide with rfid tags. Cabinet exploration. Stories in plates on the table. Wow. These are so cool.
- Immersive experiences enhance the entire museum visit

General Q&A:
-Designing for the experience and allowing the technology to fade into the background (MHS). How to create connections to the narrative arc?
- open discussion box breaks down into question central.
- cell phone coverage issue?
- MHS finds that everyone loves the game. All ages.
- familiarity with technology is the leading factor

post-webinar throughts: Whew. The experience is a great deal more pleasant with head phones. The projects profiled by the presenters are all very exciting. But they all appear very costly and I am keeping in mind solutions for my very small institution which has a disproportionately small budget. The idea of geotagging collections was mentioned, and the idea of using cell phone tours to lead tours to places (historic buildings). These two seem to have the most potential here - we have a relatively small community and a large outlying area with a focus on agriculture. Also, our exhibit space will be very small. But working out a way to integrate content into the community at large, via cell phone use, has a lot of potential.


Friday, March 07, 2008

The Internet KILLS Museums!

Err, actually, it's the opposite of that.

A study came out just recently that showed visits to museum websites correlate positively with in-person visits to museums.

I've only looked at the conclusions Powerpoint, but this looks like a powerful argument in the face of Internet Fear. If visitors use the internet, they're more likely visit a museum. How cool is that? In a time when people spend all day looking at screens, it seems reasonable that they might then wish to see real things in 3D for part of the time when they don't have to look at screens (this is me blathering, and not from the report. All wild conjecture here.).

And, dang, I wish this report had been available when I was writing my thesis. It looks like it's full of good stuff.