Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Oh what a clever pun. *cough*

Okay, so I got my Google Wave invite on Sunday, but didn't log in until this morning. Now that I've been on it for all of three hours, I can appreciate its usefulness, but I'm not overawed.

My initial perceptions are that it has two primary uses:

1. Collaboration. It's stated goal. Yeah, I think it's going to kick ass over a wiki (which I've never really gotten on board with) or slow collaboration like Google Documents. I can very easily imagine using this platform to collaborate on projects or conference presentations. It could be a fabulous back of house, exhibit and programming planning tool at larger, more wired institutions. It could be an awesome community outreach tool for the right institution with a very wired and motivated community to reach out to.

2 (a distant). Breaking news. Like twitter, but maybe more manageable? The recent Seattle manhunt offers an example. Not a huge use, but when it's important, it could be huge.

I don't know what I was expecting when I opened it up this morning. My first reaction was confusion. Then I watched some videos and visited the help pages to learn how to find public waves. The waves I searched for? Knitting and Museums. Because that's how I roll. So I saw what they looked like and ran in terror. Seems like a public wave really needs a strong structure/purpose to make it work. Folks need a goal, otherwise it's just a (slow) chat room.

Wave is not easily browse-able. It doesn't seem to be something you use casually. You need pre-existing contacts to wave with, if you want to stay out of the public wave fray.

One application I would like to use a wave type structure for is programming ideas. My museum is currently seeking wide input about our next round of programming. Our current platform is a Facebook discussion, which is not very well structured. A wave would be much, well, cooler and more effective. But the beta-type nature of the product, as well as the "new barrier" of it forbids that. And I'm unclear if waves embedded in blogs will allow non-wavers to contribute.

So this is my initial impression: Wave is super neat for collaboration among pre-existing communities, but won't be great for casual outreach for museums. Not that Wave ever claimed to be that. Subject to change, your mileage may vary. Because I've discovered that I'm not really an early adopter of these sorts of things. It took me a long time to get into the Twitter thing, and I held out from Facebook for years. If you love it, convert me. Why should I love it?


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Multiple personality discord

I just read Mike's post about holding two twitter accounts: one personal, one professional - and the incomplete comfort there is in doing that. And it really struck a chord.

Before I started this blog, I was just another museology grad student plodding along. Then suddenly I had this voice. And people I respected were talking back at me. And opportunities began to open up. Really, starting this blog has opened up so many doors for me as a museum professional and allowed me to engage with communities of people that I would not have otherwise.

But I keenly feel this personal/professional divide. I straddle it poorly. I have four blogs. Four. Plus two or three blogs I had agreed to contribute to and don't (sorry guys). I have this blog, my personal blog, my knitting blog, and my collections management blog. I maintain a personal facebook profile and one for my museum. I tweet for myself and for my museum. That's a lot of me, splattered all over the internet.

And my internet persona will not resemble what I am like if you ever meet me. I am very quiet, very introverted, very poor at conversation. Not until I know you personally (and maybe I have two-three shots of espresso in me) will I become bubbly and excitable. Unless we're talking about something about which I am passionate or consider myself an expert. I am one internet away from being a reclusive hermit.

But on the internet I consider myself pretty forthcoming. Probably too much so. I will tell you my life story if I think it's relevant. I manage to keep my personal self out of my museum's online presence, for the most part. But here it gets blurred. Because when I began this blog, I wasn't really fully truly expecting anyone to notice it. So my tone has always been very personal. Frankly, I prefer to type as I think (so there are a lot of conjunctions, have you noticed?) and I do fairly minimal editting.

And twitter. If you follow me on twitter, you know that I am VERY rarely twittering about the sorts of things I blog about here. Twitter is primarily a place where I spout off whatever is on my mind - and it often has to do with yarn or caffeine. And it is usually highly inane. I'd say about a third of my followers are Museo-related folks who seem to put up with it. A handful are knitters, and a handful are people I actually know. Although, for me, actually know includes people who I have never met in person but who are friends on my personal blog.

It's a weird dynamic. And I do feel the pull. So, yeah. It's an interesting age to live in, where we have so many ways to express ourselves and so many chances to recreate ourselves.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

IMLS calls the bloggers

Or rather, we dial into a conference call. Today I participated (well, I use the term lightly, and you'll see why in a bit) in a conference call with other bloggers and the IMLS. I'd gotten an email invitation for the call back in *checks email* mid August, then with dates/time in early September.

The IMLS wanted to discuss their most recent publications; my initial assumption is that they wanted to sort of advertise the publications, which is totally fair, and good on them for connecting in with us internet dwellers. So I printed off the reports, glanced at them, and promptly shoved them to the back of my to-do pile. Which means they never got read. Which means my active participation in the call was very low. The publications seem interesting, and I'm interested in reading the one on 21st Century Skills and the one on the future of libraries and museums (.pdfs)... someday. And the others seem like really interesting evaluations of programs and partnerships.

But here's my impressions of the call: It was fine. It was neat to be invited (thanks IMLS!), but I didn't get a whole heck of a lot out of it. I hadn't read the publications, so I was hoping for other, more lively bloggers to carry the conversation and make things interesting. And there was some of that. But the call started off with the fine folks at IMLS giving overviews of the publications and making some announcements. Then they opened it up for questions and were met with... crickets. Until Kevin of Library Preservation stepped in helped kick start a conversation. But, as far as I could tell, only three bloggers (Kevin and myself included) had called in. And I hadn't even planned to do so yesterday (see not doing my homework, above).

Here's what I would like to see next time: Rather than a sort of show and tell, which I felt was kind of what happened this time (partly our/my fault for not being proactive and ready for a conversation), have conference calls around one subject, or focused around one publication/topic area. Before having the call, follow up the initial email with a list of some sort - I'm not sure whether main points, potential conversation questions, or provoking statements would be best - but something to help fire up and focus potential participants. But don't stick to those bullets - if the participants are quiet, like we were today, use them as jumping off points.

Also, and this is very important, have everyone on the call introduce themselves. I desperately wanted to know who I was talking with. I think there were 5 or 6 IMLS folks (who were introduced and I completely failed to keep track of) and just the three of us bloggers.

Finally, and maybe the IMLS is going to do this but I'm posting this about three hours after the fact and they haven't had the chance to yet, send out an email to the participants/invitees offering a follow up from their point of view. Because I'm curious if they got what they wanted or not.

Frankly, I would like to see more of this. Especially if there was some way to focus the conversation. I feel like the "Here's everything we've got: Any questions?" approach was too broad. I think the IMLS has a good idea here; it's an excellent way to harness the thoughts and voices of people who are below the executive level in museums and libraries (since it seems like high ranking folks are the ones involved in the face to face discussions IMLS and other similar orgs occasionally hold). Thanks IMLS, for putting a voice on your organization for those of us there today.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Talkin' Museum Studies Blues

There's been a lot of talk about museum studies lately on the blogs I read lately. The first three links are articles suggesting ways to make the museum field more diverse, mellow, and profitable. Straight up? I don't like any of them. Newcurator suggests having a job guarantee from programs, more or less. Elizabeth Merritt suggests that museums cut it out with the museum studies grads and work with local schools and programs to cultivate talent. I'm not so much against this, and Nina Simon points out that there are places where this has been a successful model. Phil Katz's post, while meant to be contentious, hit me in the gut. My initial reaction is the same as the first commentator's. Katz asserts that the way to solve the problem of the underpaid, unhappy women in the museum field is easy: Hire more men! Because men get paid more, so they'll bring up the pay for the women. And, sure, some men get paid a lot for museum work. But that's no solution, even if it worked.

So: The first three links at the top think that we should quit hiring museum studies grads, quit hiring women, and that museum studies programs shouldn't train everyone who wants training (if I may simplify and cherry pick each entry, which I will).

The fourth link, from koko500 (who I've only just discovered), begins with a personal reflection on the above conversations and asserts that what's important is generating PASSIONATE museum professionals. The final link up top is a post by Leslie Madsen-Brook takes up an angle from the conversation: How do you get "professional development" when your institution can't afford to send you to fancy conferences and you're not paid enough to fund yourself? One answer: Social Media.

And I bet you there are other voices and opinions out there to find on this topic. But let's talk museum studies for the moment. Let me, as I am wont to do, shoot from the hip on this one.

Let me, like Koko, explain my experiences with museum studies: I began my program in 2005. The only real museum experience I'd had before that was working in the gift shops of a couple of art museums. I thought I wanted to do into exhibits and education. Knowing I would need money, I contacted the archy collections department at the Burke Museum (since I had a degree in archy) to see if they hired students. They did. I started the first week of school. I'm not sure I had ever been behind the scenes in a museum before that. So there's my baseline. I went in pretty much blind.

After two years working in the archy department, completing a couple of internships, and gaining a wide breadth of knowledge through my coursework - oh, and writing that pesky little thesis that spurred this blog - I left my museum studies program feeling like I could do just about anything. And, through the network of contacts that came built in with the program, I found the job I have now. In fact, I graduated June of 2007 and was offered the job in July. The fact that this job is precisely the kind of job I wanted, but had not expected to get, made it even more spectacular. And it's not what I thought I wanted back in September of 2005.

For me, going through a graduate program was the right thing to do. Others have had to work harder to find a job. Others have found that the museum field is not what is going to make them happy in life.

My program was mostly female. It was mostly white. It was mostly women under 30. The program was in the throes of expansion. Two or three years before my class, the program had about 8 students each year. My year was 25. And the number of applications has only increased since then, and the program has begun to adapt to the larger classes. Only half of my class finished their degree within the two years of the program. Some still haven't completed the thesis portion of the degree. Some have museum jobs despite that.

It's a competitive field. We know that. We know that the money's not great. Or anyone who bothers to think about what they're investing in when pursuing a degree will know that. But lots of fields are competitive now. And lots of qualified people are fighting tooth and nail to find a job. So, yeah, the picking might seem slim. But it's been that way for a while, hasn't it?

So what's my point? Well, that's the trouble with this blog, is the whole shooting from the hip aspect.

I guess what I wonder is: If the problem is with diversity in museum staff, is the problem with the museum studies program? Or is the problem with our society's tendency to put barriers to museums? Limited hours, hard to get to, high admission prices. Not in all cases, of course, but many. And those barriers turning away some people who might like to attend otherwise. And then there's the less tangible barriers of places not being comfortable for people in all walks of life - being very quiet, or white walled, or having more security guards than patron.

If the problem is with salaries, is it the fault of a glutted job market where we'll take what we're offered because we love the field anyway, or is it the fault of the chronic underfunding of cultural institutions?

Me, I don't know the answers. I'm not sure I have a suggestion. But here's what I think:

- I don't believe that museum studies programs should limit admission based on the job outlook in their area. Admission is based on merit and what the program can serve.

- I don't believe the way to increase staff for museum employees is to hire more men because the men will get paid more and increase the averages.

- I do believe that there are many paths to the museum world, for people of all different backgrounds, of all different educational levels.

- But I also believe some of those paths are harder than others.

- And, yes, I believe that museums could do more to facilitate progress along those paths.

- I believe that the museum job market will always be competitive.

- I believe that it's a good thing that the job market will be competitive because it means that people love museums and that museums will get the best employees they can find.

- I believe that, for me, I took the best path I knew how and it was the right one for me. Even if I am a white, female, underpaid museum employee with less access to professional development than I would like.

Here's a cookie for making it to the end.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Meaty Metadata

Help me, Internet, you're my only hope. I'm trying to wrap my brain around metadata. I mean, I get metadata. Data about your data. That's rad. But how to implement it?

Background! I'm preparing for a photography/object digitization project. I'm researching metadata and imaging standards and trying to learn photo editing and, well, how to use the DSLR camera the museum has. Frankly, my brain is swimming.

Now, the photos will be uploaded into PastPerfect, which prompts for Dublin Core Data, so that's easy. But those photos will be the access photos, not the masters. For the master photos (and other versions) how do I associate metadata? Do I create an excel file to keep in a folder with the files? Is there some super secret way to attach the data to the images themselves?

Another issue that I'm running into is with file type and conversion. Everything I read says: TIF!! But my camera (a Nikon D60) takes uncompressed photos in the proprietary .nef format and the Nikon program (which will convert the .nefs to .tifs) seems to only convert at 300 ppi (for a 3872x2592 pixel image). Maybe that's the max ppi that the D60 can take photos at? But right now I'm thinking that I'll keep the .nef, make a submaster .jpg for cropping and editing and make an access .jpg (640x420ish? 300 ppi) for PastPerfect. I don't have photoshop. I do have Gimp, but that doesn't work for 16 bit color, only 8 bit.

Final goal of the project is to create nice quality images which can be used for possible digital exhibit, images for possible web access, and images for the database. Database images, however, are the only immediate application of the project. Everything else is out there in space.

Help? Advice? Pointing to resources which lay out implementation in very simple language (I've already got a ton of resources on my desk, but many are almost a decade old)?


Friday, May 08, 2009

I take it back

And by "it," I mean most of what I said about The Bigger Picture. I had a gut reaction based on outdated information and a homepage that I didn't care for.

I've since subscribed to the Bigger Picture and it's quickly becoming one of the blogs that I most look forward to reading. The integration of photographs with posts on all topics keeps it lively and interesting. There's some humor and lots of history.

So.. my bad.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Go Team Digital Preservation!

via @musebrarian on the twitter.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Participatory Design: Kicking it old school

So the words "Participatory design" are running though my head quite a bit lately. Probably because I'll be hanging out at Nina Simon's Participatory Design workshop on Friday afternoon. I've been thinking about it and what participatory design means for my museum.

My museum isn't even off the ground yet. We're out of the gate, heading onto the runway, but we don't expect lift off till September (which in this awkward metaphor, means opening to the public). So it's been hard for me to think about participatory design, because we're not even open yet.

Until it hits me. D'uh. The museum has been attempting to design things through participation, we've just been doing it old school. See, we've been hosting a series of discussions about the museum - we have a speaking interpreting each main point in the mission statement and then an extended discussion about what attendees would like to see in terms of programing. It's not elegant, and it requires attendees to come on site, but we are seeking direction from the community. And the advisory council, which sets our programming goals, is made up of a cross section of university and community members - more limited perhaps, but still a relatively progressive model, I think.

It's not a crowd curated show, it's not a well defined process yet, but it is a new museum attempting to serve the community beyond the campus in a town where campus and community sometimes butt heads. Participation, in my view, hasn't been stellar from the non-campus community, but there are some, and their voices are important. And the people who come are invested. So I think that's pretty neat.

I'm really looking forward to the workshop tomorrow, and seeing what sort of ideas come out of it. We want to be an open museum here, we want to be innovative and transparent, it's just a matter of getting there.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A comment on Smithsonian Blogs

The Smithsonian blogs. Eye Level is perhaps the best known of the blogs, and possibly the oldest. I've always found Office of Exhibits Central most interesting, even though posts are rare. And most of the others, I've not looked at.

A funny thing happened recently; I find myself on the press release email list for Smithsonian web based initiatives. This makes some sense; after all, here I am blogging about them. The most recent release is an announcement for The Bigger Picture blog, "which presents an inside look at the Smithsonian’s photography collections and invites audiences to engage in an online discussion about photography’s powerful impact on our world." So I hop on over to check it out. I am immediately annoyed by the layout. There's a small photo and a short paragraph before a jump, or a cut, or whatever you prefer to call the link which hides most of the content. This bugs me. I don't find it good for browsing; I don't want to click all those links, and then go back and clink more links.

As with the other Smithsonian blogs, I find the information and images presented on the blog to be intriguing. But I still feel like the real human voice is being hidden behind layers of editing. I could be wrong; maybe the Smithsonian is relaxing their approval structures, and I just prefer the hyper-personal voice for a blog (or something between the institutionally edited and the OMG LULZ!!!1!! voices, anyway). But it just feels disingenuous. [Edited to Add: Catherine Shteynberg sets me straight in the comments: Authors are not edited! Way to go, Smithsonian. I recall seeing a presentation about a different .si blog which showed a very layered process for creating content and tends to color my thinking about the way things are done. Then again, my biases are at least two years out of date.] I get the same sense looking at the comments; it almost feels like the various authors of the blog are required to post comments on the other posts. Only a few comments struck me as coming from individuals outside the project. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it just strikes me funny when I think of blogs as a way to engage community and stakeholders outside the institution.

So, while I commend the Smithsonian for pursuing these avenues to disseminate information which might otherwise not be shared with a potentially large audience, I still have my misgivings about the way it's being presented. Oh. And here's a link to the press release: Click me.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Woah. "Senate Amendment to Bar Museums From Any Economic Recovery Funds"

From an email from AAM via the RCAAM

Senate Amendment to Bar Museums From Any Economic Recovery Funds
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has introduced an amendment to prohibit any funds in the economic stimulus bill from going to museums.

The language of the amendment, (Amendment No. 175, as filed) is, "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas."

This amendment may be offered as early as Wednesday, February 4. Call your Senators TODAY and urge them to vote NO on the Coburn "Limitation of Funds Amendment No. 175." To reach your Senators, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senators' offices.

Please call today!


I am not entirely certain how museums, zoos and aquaria are lumped in with casinos and golf courses, but I certainly hope this amendment is defeated!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Checking in

Funny how life interferes with the blogging. Well, perhaps not interferes. I've shifted my main blogging efforts to my personal blog, my knitting blog, and my collections management blog. I'd like very much to maintain this blog as well, but it seems to fall increasingly by the wayside (no updates since SEPTEMBER? inexcusable).

Being actively (oh so very actively) employed with a looming deadline for a major project cuts significantly. I'm not even doing so well on the collections management blog now that I'm packing an entire collection for a move in less than two months. Oy, that came up fast.

I'm going to make an effort to think about this blog more and see what I can do with it that might be valuable and interesting. Nattering on about "oh I have too many blogs to blog at" is not valuable nor is it interesting. And there are plenty of smart, dedicated people on the web saying smart, insightful things about museums and digital technology. So, exactly what sort of niche can I fill? Reports from the frontline of working at a small museum with almost no funding and trying to maintain a web presence? Stories of a first-time museum professional trying to make her way in the wide world of museums? Pointing and linking to things that I think are interesting and relate in some fashion to museum and technology? Hmmm.... Ideas? Suggestions?