Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Very late AAM wrap up

I meant to post something after AAM in LA this May. Oops. I had some amazing experiences and met a lot of excellent people, including some people I've only known online or as a name on a listserv.

I stayed at the very cool looking Moroccan themed hotel where the rooms were not actually as impressive as one might hope for the price. But it was cool looking and an experience. I roomed with the delightful Ms. Perian Sully. We were in walking distance of the conference, which took place the same week as the American Idol finals. I saw no famous people that I knew, alas. But it was really funny to compare/contrast the AAMers and the American Idol groupies. Not that there wasn't overlap.

The conference: I attended a variety of sessions, including some in marketing and volunteer management which are so far from my homebase of collections work that I felt really out of the loop, but it was interesting to be there. Honestly, I took away less from the sessions (though there were some great ones) than from my personal experiences. The conference took place during a time of great uncertainty for me - my university was making cuts the week I was away and I knew I was being hit, but I didn't know how hard. So, unfortunately, I allowed my anxiety to taint some of my interactions. But at the same time, I learned a great deal and got really great advice from museum professionals I admire and respect.

I presented as part of a panel on Moving Collections for Small Museums. I had a great panel with two lovely and talented women from two very different institutions. The panel was well attended and went fabulously. It was kind of thrilling to be going to THE conference in the museum field and get to be a presenter.

What I am most proud of, however, is my interactions with people. I am an introvert with what may be some low grade social anxiety. I have trouble talking to people. But the conference gives you an automatic link - professionally! I found a few people I could go up to and hang out with at events, I arranged dinner dates, but I also met people randomly and had great conversations. I was meeting people I knew through other people. I was, I discovered, networking. Maybe not very well, or very efficiently, but I was making connections with people.

My favorite moments of the conference were experiences I was able to have at field trips/events. There was an evening event at the Getty. I hung out with Perian and her tech-peeps (who I view with a certain amount of awe) for a while, and then went exploring a bit. The Getty had a da Vinci show. It was... a religious experience. You walk into the first room and there's this enormous statue. By Donatello. And it's the real statue. At this point, you know they're not fooling around. The next three rooms are pages from the sketch books. PAGES. FROM. THE. SKETCH. BOOKS. The man's writing is right in front of me. The man's hand made these amazing images on this very paper. I was filled with a sort of amazement and joy. I wanted to giggle a little. I might have.

The other experience was a trip to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It was the next day, I think, after the Getty. And, wandering around the MJT, I had a very similar experience - not one of awe for da Vinci, but one of glee once I relented and let the absurdity/amazingness of the place wash over me. Just to explore and encounter the weird and wonderful was... wonderful.

The two venues are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the end result was very much the same. It was fabulous.

The best session I attended at the conference proper was "Beyond the Shiny Object: Mission Driven Museum Technology Development." It was the last session of the conference and included Nina Simon, Shelley Bernstein, Beck Tench, and Bruce Wyman, who are all fabulous and energetic and full of ideas. The room was full of ideas and totally vibrant and inspiring. It was the perfect session to end the conference with.

My biggest mistake: Not bringing enough business cards. Rookie mistake.

Overall, I had a great time at the conference. I think I'm getting the hang of these things.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Gearing up for AAM 2010

I'm excited because I'm headed off to the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums tomorrow. My schedule is simultaneously seeming quite full and full of gaps.

Especially exciting is the fact that I'm not just attending, I'm involved. I'll be hanging out at the table for the Committee on Museum Professional Training at the Marketplace of Ideas on Monday, talking about the transition from grad school to professional life. And on Tuesday, I'll be part of Heavy Lifting 101: Collections Moves for the Small Museum.

It's also been interesting to see the invitations for registrar specific special events come rolling in through the list-serv, and I've signed up for a few of those. And I'd like to nab tickets to another evening event or two - at the moment, I'm only signed up for a registrar event on Sunday and the emerging museum professional event on Monday (because it was cheap and I didn't know what the funding situation would look like).

And, while I'm at it, I think I'm going to be bringing along a few resumes. At this juncture, I know that my position will be "reduced" but how much I do not know. So I will be looking to see what sort of opportunities might be out there. If you know of an institution looking for an energetic collections manager/registrar/curator with an interest in technology and exhibit design, let me know!

See you in LA!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Personal Reflections on My Job

I was thinking the other day about my job. My job is great. I've grown so much here. When I began this position, I was fresh faced, out of grad school, had never held a full time job in my life (because, you know, I'd been in school for all of it). I had never been in charge of the work of others and had never had real responsibility. So I was thrilled when I was offered the position.

And then tragedy struck. A deep personal tragedy - the kind that rips the fabric of your reality apart, slaps you in the face and then sews that fabric back up with gaping holes and mis-matched edges. I pushed my starting date back two weeks, dealt with what I could, and managed much of the rest those first months on the job. I did a lot of growing up and I did it so fast. So much faster than I would have liked. So the person I have become today, through facing that tragedy, from taking on the challenge of this job, from growing in a multitude of ways over the past few years is a very different person than I think I was when I started this blog in the throes of a Masters thesis.

But I meant to talk about my job. I'm a collections manager. More specifically, I'm a Preservation and Museum Specialist II, which technically mean that I'm assistant to a curator and need to have all my decisions checked. But that is more an issue for Museos Unite than here.

During my time so far I have contributed substantially to the establishment of a new museum with an existing collection. I have moved a museum collection. I have reconciled records, I have digitized records, I have photographed the collection, I have rehoused it, and I have been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. And all this was only possible because I learned how to place myself in a position of authority, while guiding and teaching interns and volunteers how to work with collections. And I am learning how to maneuver my way through the many offices and various signatories of our parent institution.

I've had the opportunity to attend and present at two major conferences, with a third presentation coming up this May at AAM. The first two were great, and probably happened as a direct result of my having this blog and sticking my head up at a time when museums were just beginning to dip their toes in the water. When it started, this blog was relevant - to what was happening, to my thesis. Now, not so much. And that's why I'm really thrilled that my AAM presentation will be on the collections move that I did in my professional capacity.

But more than doing the job I set out to do, I have had the opportunity to learn so much more. I have developed a small exhibit and been a major part of tempering the academic-speak of another. I have learned how to work with vinyl, and plexiglass. I am deeply involved in the exhibit design process. I have arranged the objects within their cases for our latest exhibit. I make mounts. I maintain our online presence (although I admit that part is not so great). I attend to the front desk when we have no volunteers to do it for us.

And, you know what?, I love learning all of these new things. The exhibit stuff is great. I love making things happen, and I adore having conversations with visitors who are so into the topic that they can't stop talking about it. I love doing silly little projects. And I love the chance to grow.

But I'm worried. I'm deeply worried. Our parent institution is going through a severe budget crunch and an ax is going to fall somewhere. And, even though we've done really amazing things with surprisingly limited support, even though we've made great strides connecting to the community in a town where the town/gown curtain sometimes feels like it's made of iron, I'm very worried.

So I've been thinking about my job. It's been such an excellent opportunity for me, and I have grown so much, and accomplished many things. I mean, I've been at the beginning of a museum which has so much potential to be a catalyst in the area, and that's a rare opportunity. And it feels good to think that the little things I do every day, even the dull things (photo editing, I'm looking at you), have helped to make something good.

This feels like a farewell letter. I don't know if that's what it is. An ax is going to fall here soon, and I've been open with my supervisors that I would dearly like to find a job closer to my family - 2000 miles is tough. It is what it is. But I'm proud of what I've been a part of so far and feel ready for whatever my next step is going to be.


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.