Monday, April 7, 2014


Unlocking Information


I admit it, I feel vulnerable putting this out there. But if you can't share what you learn . . .


I recently gave a presentation of historical information and although I have had fabulous feedback and thanks, I know that standing up and speaking in front of people is something I want to / need to work on. I wish to channel that passion I have for archives and museums into a more engaging TED-like style of talking instead of sounding like a scared robot full of facts. The content is rich, and it reaches some people no matter how I put it out there, but know I could do better. This feeling led me to do an inner audit of how I could improve my presentation skills, and I list the findings below. I also sought an advisor on what I could do to strengthen the way I deliver information like this, and her answer - the final point - surprised me very much. It's one of those obvious things that makes so much sense I wonder why I didn't get there earlier myself because of its brilliant simplicity. First listed, though, are the self-reflected lessons learned.

For the presentation, I had a lot of PowerPoint 'slides' to go through to tell a story in a pretty tight timeframe. What I decided is that the way to keep me on task was to pre-time the slides so they would automatically go forward as I read the script. I also thought this would be helpful because I wasn't exactly sure of the room set-up, and that I might want to walk around a bit and not have to keep going back and forth to the computer - setting a timer would do it for me. Well, you likely know where this is going. I practiced the presentation in an empty office, but, man, it is so different when you get in front of an actual group of people. In the moment of presentation, I added or subtracted things in to what I had planned to say and ran late - or early - even I though I thought I had left the right amount of time. Some of my slides either went forward without me, or sat there in an awkward pause. I was too chicken to go back and forth and so, ya, I sounded rushed and short-changed some stories and was a little draggy in other areas. Oops. And so, the lesson learned here is (ta-da):

Rule 1 Do not use timed slides.

And this brings me to that script I wrote out. Looking up at a group of people and then down to a bunch of sentences is confusing, and I lost my place a couple of times. I usually don't write out everything like I did for this presentation, but I wanted to make sure I got all the facts right. What ended up happening is that I felt like I was reading something and not engaging my audience. Or, worse, I was not sure what I was talking about. I don't think I have to memorize a script or anything but I will go back to having just cue cards - I do know my stuff! - and on these, I will:

Rule 2 Write word prompts for presentation notes.

The third thing is an oversight, and I have had a number of people gently tell me the struggled to hear my voice at this event. So strange, for I think I have a deep voice that carries. I guess it is the urge to 'go small' when I have the spotlight. Is this self-protective, I wonder, for if they can't hear me, they can't criticize? I need to get over that if because people came to see me and it is near disrespectful of their time to not speak up so they can hear. Therefore:

Rule 3 Ask the audience if they can hear me, and use a microphone if it is available. 

The final piece of advice, though, was my ah-ha moment, and it could very well make all the difference. As a museum and archives professional, I now think I tend to 'hide' behind the written word. I find writing comforting, for gives me time to edit and research and control the environment in which I pass along my message. But know what? It's passive. And that kind of communication truly is not enough anymore - I have to / need to / want to engage people directly, and hear what they have to say about what I put out there. I was actively seeking interaction when I volunteered to do this presentation. However, it takes a plan to get information across, a methodology, learning goals and adapted educational techniques. Now this may sound odd, especially as my grad studies was designed for collections managers AND educational specialists, but it was the first time I realized just how necessary it is for me to apply strategies when I, personally, share a story in this context. Ya, it's not just 'cool stuff' because I happen to like it. And so the last rule of presenting is for me:

Rule 4 Know why I want to pass this information along.  

I need to be prepared to answer the 'so what?' when I present, and therefore I will be taking an instructional skills workshop in early June to help me gain an understanding around learning and teaching methodologies. I will get a toolbox of tips, and will be up and in front of an audience repeatedly - and be videoed! - to test my effectiveness. This type of experience terrifies me, but is the only way to improve, and I can't tell you how excited I am for this opportunity.

Truly, what I take away from this is that I can't believe how energized I feel - it's like I unlocked a combination of sorts for the work I do. You know that feeling you get when you've dialed to the last number of a combination lock and it falls into your hands? It's like that. So, then, the first 'number' for my archives and museum work is the collections I work with, the second is providing access to this material, and the final is having a focussed message. This opens the door for my audience to fully understand where I'm coming from, provides an opportunity for them to join the conversation, and for the audience to have their own experience with the information put out there.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is truly the main point of the work I do.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finding Time to Write


So sorry - I have not forgotten about you . . . really!


Now where was I? Saying I'd be back sooner rather than later? Well, obviously we've been a little challenged in that department so therefore this post will be short and to-the-point as I have so much more I need to say these days!

The British Columbia Museums Association Conference 2013
- I always like meeting new museum professionals in the province, and get so energized when I see my museum pals from all over BC. Do whatever it takes to go to your regional conference. Go!
- I gave a presentation on digitization as well as was a member of the planning committee. I was busy! But I still had the opportunity to attend other sessions as well as listen to the key-note speakers. I felt a shift going on, an energy, at this conference. In a nutshell, I felt the baton was passed to the next (my) generation. Conversations were started and input was presented by many different attendees but . . . this one was a little different somehow by the people getting up to lead the talks. It was / is so very exciting!

In January I had an opportunity to join online in a conference in Toronto that spoke to the challenges and opportunities facing Canadian archives. There were thought leaders and 'agents provocateur' who spoke to the many different perspective of what archives do, and what maybe we should focus on. Not everyone said the same thing, which is a large part what made it fascinating. Even though it was an early start here on the West Coast, I am so glad I was able to attend and, in a small part, participate in the discussion. Again, the feeling was of change, and just a hint of optimism. I feel like we're getting somewhere, baby!


What's on the horizon? Will it come to us, or will we swim to it?
(Photo taken by author in Parksville, site of the BCMA 2013 conference)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

Or, Hello Neglected Blog .  . .

Museum blogging just didn't happen that much in 2013, likely due to the fact I am currently in the world of archives. I am enjoying immersing myself in the work, but I do find that my elusive full-time schedule doesn't leave a lot of time for musings. Despite this I still feel compelled, as one does when the calendar changes to a new year, to review and plan ahead and thus I remembered to write here.

Final updates on 2013 will be two-fold: a conference commentary and this post, a conclusion of my adventures in museum visits through my travel adventures last year.

I was fortunate enough to travel a few times in 2013. I went to the San Francisco Bay Area and visited the Oakland Museum of California - one of my all time favourite institutions. I also went to London, which I wrote about here and here.  Additionally, I visited Ottawa at the beginning of September and there I went to The National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. I have always wanted to see these flagship institutions, and test out my pre-conceived notions. I had two very different and distinct impressions, which surprised me because it wasn't at all what I expected.

The front of the National Gallery, with some street signage - oops.
Also, see the spider? It's Maman by Louise Bourgeois)
(yes - all photos in this post are my own)
The door at the top of this impressive staircase
is the entrance to the Curatorial Wing.
I went to the Gallery because the archives I work at was approached to lend some original architectural plans for an exhibition opening in November 2013, which we did end up releasing. And so, although I was in Ottawa for another reason, I took the exhibition organizers up on an offer to drop by for a behind-the-scenes tour. There I saw the exhibition mock-up, visited the conservation lab, and spoke with the curator, the exhibition coordinator, and the archivist. I was wowed with the place and the people. Such amazing art, and fabulous staff, wonderful resources. I felt very lucky to have visited, to have gotten behind the curatorial door. It also gives me hope that there are some museums in Canada that still receive funding, because that gives them an opportunity to be an outstanding institution. I don't always feel welcome in art museums but this experience was warm and invigorating because of the interactions I had with their staff. Fabulous!

As a Canadian history geek, I felt so lucky and excited to visit the Museum of Civilization the next day. I couldn't wait to see the often-mentioned Great Hall with its First Nations material, and walk through our history in the Canada Hall. I was nearly giddy with anticipation and the view.

The Great Hall is impressive, to be sure. But I did not know beforehand that this main gallery was almost exclusively art and artifacts which belonged to West Coast First Nations - in other words, what I consider to be a large part of what defines British Columbia. Beautiful objects, displayed in room after room. After room. I actually got to a feeling like, hey, maybe some of this should still be in BC? Maybe the cultures that own this would like this to be in their communities, or at least a little closer? I wondered if everyone was 'okay' with it being all the way in Gatineau, Quebec. And if the cultural owners knew that there was so much of it on display. The exhibition was all respectful and full of information, don't get me wrong, and I was surprised at my reaction. But I felt a little like 'our' best stuff was too far away from its true home. I couldn't help it.

When I went upstairs to the Canada Hall, I meandered through some interesting interpretation materials. This story of Canada was told from the earliest European contact, and from the east to the west of the country. I contemplated how else they could have done this, and ended up feeling that they had to make a choice and this one would work. I went through many min-galleries that had to tell a big story in such a small space, and thought at how that difficult that must be. Again, I really wanted to cut some slack. As I got near to the end when, again from my perspective as a British Columbian, wondered what they would choose as 'my' story. I walked through this room:
View on left-hand side of the room, looking back into the exhibition.
View on right-hand side of the room, looking back into the exhibition.
Then I looked at a replica of a northern cafe. And then the exhibition ended.

I stopped, walked around the hallway, went around the corner. Nope, it was done. That was it. 

I went back in. I walked backwards through the exhibition, all the way to the front where there was an interpreter and asked if there was any part of the gallery under renovation. Although I see now from the online exhibition that there may have actually been another room that was closed off (here), at the time I was told there was not, and that the Great Hall represented BC as well. I was taken aback that the story of how BC fit into Canada was that as an airport lounge that as the Gateway to the Far East and, oh, a totally different gallery. This representation, at least on the surface, felt like an afterthought, like they ran out of room in the exhibition. It was as if the designers had to remain so true to the timeline and the 'moving East to West' motif had to be respected, over and above telling the whole story of Canada. And what about that cafe? Is that the the whole story of how the North represented? Again, I didn't expect this strong reaction, but I felt short-changed as someone from the West, or maybe anywhere but not Ontario or Quebec. And that feeling left me more than a little surprised.

Okay, okay, I do know that the Museum of Civilization is going through a rebranding, and soon will be known as the Canadian Museum of History. I quite like that name, as I was always a little confused by the what it meant by 'civilization' - did this mean all people, everywhere, or just Canada's civilization? I know there are some political rumblings of who is in charge of these changes, but I remain all for it, especially as this means there will be gallery updates that will include Canada Hall. I also understand that there have been many town hall meetings and that there is a concerted effort for multiple points of view - check out the backgrounder on the proposed gallery. This makes me excited, but also a little wary - wondering if will I feel more a part of the museum when this gallery is redone. It naturally also makes me yearn that I were a part of its development before it's July 1, 2017 opening. I will continue to closely follow the museum's progress through social and traditional media; I want to see my Canadian experience reflected in what is presented.

So that's my impression of two of Canada's national museums I visited in September 2013. As I said above, it's not what I expected I'd feel, but I suppose that's what makes travelling so exhilarating - you just never know what you might find. I had a similar experience with the lone museum conference I attended in October, which has helped me figure out what my next steps will be looking forward to muse about my work in museums and archives.

Monday, October 14, 2013

London Calling, Part 2



Can we just say it's been busy these days? I do love the blog, really, so forgive the lack of posts. I will try to catch up this month.

Anyway, I left you hanging, didn't I. I went to London this summer, and was able to see some amazing places. In this adventure, I also had the opportunity to go back to one of my first heritage workplaces - The Tower of London. I worked there for a year a lonnnnng time ago, selling postcards and sweets in the gift shops at one of the most incredible historic sites in the world. And, yah, it's still amazing. I would highly recommend going if you have the chance, it's worth the expense - just be sure to set aside the time to really check it out.



If you do go, be sure to take a tour given by a Yeoman Warder ('Beefeater') -- truly impressive storytellers that will tell you all about the royalty, the intrigue, the terror. 


Do you know that the Yeomen still live in the outer Tower? When I worked there, a fellow shop girl (and daughter of a Yeoman) invited me to visit their place and to stay the night. When I was there on this trip, I just had to look down the road to where they lived but alas I didn't see Emma. I so wish I had another chance to thank her, and let her know that experience stands out as one of the most incredibly unique events of my year-and-a-half abroad. It's right up there with bungy jumping in New Zealand, but with slightly less life-threatening fear -- although the whole password-through-the-main-locked-doorway-after-hours was spooky!


So the summer zoomed by, with this trip to London at the start, and a trip to Ottawa at the end (more on that soon). All the while at work I managed an archives digitization project, which will be the topic of a presentation for the British Columbia Museums Association (also to be discussed). I so love to be busy, especially if it involves museums and/or collections!

Selfie fail at the Tower of London


Saturday, July 6, 2013

London Calling

. . .  with a few good museums to go see!

First off, I know, how rude. I was highlighted as a museum blogger and then got lost in cyberspace. It wasn't on purpose, really. You see, I got this opportunity to visit to my favourite city ever, London, England, where I had some time to check out some museums. And I have to say, they didn't disappoint.


David Bowie DID influence our behaviour! One of my best friends - with whom I just happened to attend John F. Kennedy University Museum Studies with -  and I had to go see the David Bowie is exhibition at the V&A. In fact, it was number one on my list because I had heard so much buzz about it, and the celebration of, well, celebrity. It sounded as big as any of the other change-makers in museum exhibitions, like Treasures of Tutankhamun or even Mining the Museum. I wondered if this might be a new direction for museums, to focus on pop culture more, to bring in new audiences and a more easily-accessible/'getable' view of our world. 

Certainly it was a popular show - all the presale tickets had sold out online long ago and so we queued for walk-ins. We were there before opening but even then we still only got in at the second 'wave'.  This little break did give us time for a nice cup of tea in the beautiful courtyard at the V&A, and we were ready when it was our turn to don the (wifi) earphones and go inside with the big crowds looking at costumes, listening to music clips, reading labels all to learn more about Bowie. There was also a 'concert' section where one could watch footage on a screen about two storeys high, which was impressive. 

So what was the final verdict? We learned a lot about the art and the thought behind it, but not a lot about the artist himself. It felt tightly controlled, which is understandable I suppose, but I just got that feeling I wanted a little bit more about Bowie himself.

Perhaps I over-thought the whole importance of the exhibition, for I was corrected that there have certainly been some exhibitions - even one on Kylie Minogue! (I do need to get out more) - but maybe this is a trend that is slowly making it through the sector and it is just taking a while to get all the way to my part of the world. I at least see an opportunity for museums to be more current, and to provide easy-to-access, pop shows and to perhaps worry less about always creating an exhibition that's ├╝ber-scholarly in a take-your-vitamins sort of way. Cuz, you know, I just bet a show on British Columbia music would do well in BC, and perhaps it would even open doors to helping museums make some new relationships with some talent with local roots. Just putting that out there.

Anyway, that's the type of talk you have when you go with your gal-pal from grad school! We did have an amazing lunch in the incredible cafe and fed up so we could explore more of the museum. And so we did! 
The cafe at the V&A is SO beautiful!
It is somehow soothing to know that everyone has to deal
with challenging exhibition rooms. You can't see it in this photo,
but above there is some serious ceiling/window work going on.
Where should these giant artifacts go? They have to stay put. 
Another grad school moment when we
wondered out loud if this was the most efficient way
to express this thought in a label! (Ha!!)

Found a library.
Found my V&A owl.
Visible storage of sorts  - it was super high up there.
And we were to visit two more museums that day! But before I indulge in those stories, let's give a little rest lest there be some museum fatigue. I will say, though, it was fantastic to spend a good part of the day at the Victoria and Albert Museum, especially with a museum pal. 

Stay tuned for other stops in London - won't be so long again, I promise.

Smiling me - so much museum love!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Working in Archives

Finding similarities, understanding differences . . .

I have been working as a full-time archivist for just a little over a year and a half now. All my days are so full, and there's definitely less time for blogging, but I am going to try to come back here more often. You see, I still believe there is more in common than not between museum collections management and managing archival holdings. But there are differences, and I am learning about them every day.

As an archivist, I:

  • preserve and present cultural and institutional material regarding a site and specific subjects. 
  • work directly with donors and depositors of materials to ensure I have all the details on what they want to donate or transfer to the archives.
  • enter our holdings' details into a database, using a specific set of standards.  
  • diligently digitize materials - archival materials work very well online, and digitizing them makes our holdings so much more accessible.
  • provide access to researchers and stakeholders who want information or details on what is available in our archives.
  • demonstrate an understanding of our holdings through interpretive and social opportunities, where appropriate and requested.

These fundamentals are not much different than what I would do working with a museum collection. And I have to say I really love it in the same way when I am able to make a personal connection between an individual and the material I care for. It truly makes my day to answer someone's research question/provide the best photo/ find the document they've been looking for.

Now what am I learning about working in archives? LOTS!

The archives world:

  • is, in Canada at least, undergoing a transformation that is challenging and upsetting archivists. The cutbacks at Library and Archives Canada and the lack of communication around what is going on in our national repository is, in all honesty, creating fear for the future of the profession.
  • it is important to get your lingo right, and there is a huge sensitivity that if you don't know it, you aren't a 'real' archivist. From what I have seen, this challenge makes for timid professional interactions.
  • is debating over process and product. Archives everywhere are suffering large backlogs -- how do we get through all the stuff? Is sorting, arranging and describing to great detail / the item level even possible? Or is access more important than this: should there just be a general description of material, and make it available to a researcher even if it has not been completely reviewed? This is a huge control issue, especially with the desire to get more materials digitized and online. 
  • has a divide within the profession regarding sharing materials online, and it is something that affects archives more than museum 3-D objects because this IS their holdings they are putting up there. Some institutions are freeing things completely, some put copyright/ownership stamps on their images, and others are still figuring out their strategy. There are those who want it all out there because access to materials is key to survival, and others that say if we give it away, it's gone forever. Both camps have their point: there needs to be balance. This point is especially challenged by social media usage.
So much to learn and understand! And so then what is the bottom line for me right now? I enjoy being challenged as an archivist, and completely embrace needing/wanting to learn more about this profession. 

Stay tuned for more regular updates where I intend to continue to muse about museums as well as analyze archives!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Oh I Still ❤ Conference Time

2012 edition . . .

I just got back from attending the 56th British Columbia Museums Association conference in Kamloops. There was time to meet old friends, make new ones, and, yes, be part of a presentation or two to talk about museums, collections and community.

I am currently a member of the Communications Committee for the BCMA and so we had some work to do, organizing and running a plenary on the future of BCMA, as well as other duties such as introducing speakers. And although I am really proud of what I did for the 2010 BCMA conference in Nanaimo, I enjoyed this one so much more because I was not the main point-person, 'just' part of the team. Being organizer is a tough job, and it is even more difficult to actually participate in the sessions and events. This time, I got to be a part of the conference.

There was also something else that happened in Kamloops: Owl showed up! I guess s/he came back during last year's special Annual General Meeting (there was no conference) which I was unable to attend. Because no one made a big deal about it, I wasn't ready to believe it 'til I saw it, but there s/he was, ready for action. Yea!
Owl joined by friends Salt & Pepper
Owl attended Friday's Special General Meeting where we discussed the findings of our members' plenary session the day before, and where BCMA Council made some promises for progress in the organization. 

BCMA Council (and Owl) on the findings of the plenary
There is definitely some work ahead -- no professional organization moves forward without once in a while reviewing and thinking about its direction -- but there is also hope. At least I felt it, maybe because Owl was there, maybe because there was 'room' to feel it.  I hope the host and programming committee felt it, too, because it was a well-run and balanced conference. I hope they celebrate a job well done!

And one other thing . . . a project that I have been consulting on won an Award of Merit from BCMA. I accepted it with a staff member, and it was really wonderful to have the project recognized. (I especially liked it when they said there was a 'great attention to detail in this project'. That is what I love to manage!)

BCMA Award of Merit
All in all, it was a good BCMA conference. I enjoy the camaraderie that this professional organization provides, and hope to build on these friendships and lead them into the community of archives and archives professionals. I would like to see more cross-training (of sorts) and see memory institutions of archives, museums, and libraries combine forces. We'd be something to deal with if we united, including doing combined conferences! But, for now, I am just so thrilled that Owl is back and that BCMA is making progress. We have come together again, and I think that's pretty important. 

Me & Owl.