Monday, October 24, 2011

I'm still here!

Where I have been hiding out . . .

I've been quiet on this blog, I know, but that's because three months and four days ago I started a job. A permanent, full-time gig, uh-huh. Yup, I did. I am now the archivist for a university and it is pretty darn cool. It's also a National Historic Site and oh-so-beautiful.

Not only am I drinking in my gorgeous new surroundings, I am also applying a lot of learning. Archives, for one, is where collections management rawks. The Rules for Archival Description (RAD) (truest acronym ever!) here in Canada makes so much sense, and really is a fabulous way to organize a collection. Yes, it is a bit complicated in the sense that there is a three inch binder of rules to figure out but it is so great to have a national standard. Once you get the rules, it all falls into place and provides a guidelines for both collection organization and description. It's really elegant.

I have been applying RAD to our archival holdings and using the information to populate our version of the university's ICA-AtoM (International Council of Archives - Access to Memory) web-based inventory / access software. It's open-source, and what I like about it is it standardizes ways for multiple repositories to share information on their holdings. The plan is, once I get the majority of the archives arranged and described, I will put the main fonds (collections) on the MemoryBC website. This will add the collection of photographs, video, documents and other media to a province-wide, one-stop website for researchers interested in the history British Columbia. How cool is that?

So what is it like to work just once removed from the type of work I am used to doing with museums? It is wonderful! So many of the skills of collection management are transferable, and I have the opportunity to really get to full comprehension of another spoke on the wheel of organizing material culture. I am still doing some consultant work for museum projects, which keeps me connected to my beloved museums, but this experience of cross-training is very exciting to me. That and I now have a rich and wonderful opportunity to serve one institution, which just thrills me on both a professional and spiritual level. I feel truly blessed, challenged, and excited by the work I am now doing. Who could ask for more? 

A sample of some of the material I am organizing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Postscript to "For the Love of History"

Yes, indeed, history was made . . .

Well, this year's race for the Stanley Cup didn't quite turn out the way it was anticipated here in British Columbia. I almost don't even want to mention what happened, but as I wrote about the the thrill of history that was advertised by the 
National Hockey League in my previous post, I thought I should at least acknowledge the riots. I watched what happened live on television, right after the game, and I have to say it was surreal - could this be happening in Vancouver? Really?? To be quite honest, it was heartbreaking, especially after all the international goodwill that was built by the city during the 2010 Olympics.

The actual story - the many layers of stories - of what happened on the streets of Vancouver on the evening of June 15, 2011, will be revealed over the weeks and months to come. And with the stories will come questions that will require study and research through the evidence provided through social media and personal accounts. I imagine there will also be a review of the social factors of what happened: who did this? Why? Did it have anything to do with hockey, or was it somehow just 'human nature' where alcohol + large crowds = dangerous circumstances? So much to think about.

There will also be talk about what happened when the city woke up the next morning: so many people went downtown and cleaned up the mess that was made, swept up the broken glass, began to assess the damage of what was done, and to plan a way to make things right again. There was spontaneous need to state that this was not acceptable, this was not My Vancouver; Vancouverites followed through with this belief in the action of the clean up. There were notes put on police cars, and plywood boards covering broken windows became a place to comment on what had happened in their city.

And know what happened next?

As soon as the glass was replaced and those boards came down, they became artifacts of the time, and they soon found a home in the Museum of Vancouver, at least temporarily. History was made, and the evidence is being preserved and documented by our community museum. And even though it was not the story we expected, it is definitely one worth recording. Maybe especially so.

Truly what I have learned is there's huge societal value when our museums house these objects that say so much. I also know that museums need to demonstrate this responsibility explicitly to our communities because I doubt they are viewed as that essential. Museums have to change this perception, else they will not exist to preserve our stories through objects, whatever those stories - or objects - may be.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

For The Love of History

This magic moment . . .

Being Canadian, I get exposed to a lot of hockey — it sure is a part of our collective experience. This is especially true during N
ational Hockey League playoff times, and so I took pause when I recently saw a promotional ad for the Stanley Cup with the tag line of "History Will Be Made". It stirred something in me and so I went to YouTube to check out some of the videos. I saw this one:

As a gal that grew up in Edmonton in the 1980s, I gotta say, it teared me up a little. I remember loving to watch Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, being a fierce fan, ignoring that it seemed like our home team was the envy (and aggravation) for all the others out there. But did I know I was watching historic moments with this team? I know I loved watching them win the Stanley Cup! Did I appreciate that The Great One was right at my doorstep, and that I was witness to one of the most incredible sports professionals ever? Maybe I knew this in my heart, because it seems to be the way I am built to feel history.

Ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with history. Or maybe a better way to say it is 
story - his story, her story, their story, your story, our story. I have always wanted to know all the details of how we live our lives, from where your family is from to if you love your community down to what you had for breakfast (and if you ate it with your kin, or if you just grabbed a cup of coffee — no sugar — as you ran out the door). I believe I get a true connection with others through these vignettes, and I understand people better, as I get to see life through someone else's eyes. My love for museums and collections care grew from this love of history because, for me, it is objects that bring a tangible reminder of what has gone before, and how people have related to events, as the stories associated with those objects brings meaning to their experiences.

I find it interesting that social history in particular has grabbed me more than what used to be called "Big Man" history. Although the fascination of world leaders is engaging, I have to say it is the common experience of everyday people that has captured my soul. This year, 2011, has already had so many intense events - how will they be remembered? Will we document the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand? What about Japan? Japan suffered so much through the 9.0 earthquake, ensuing tsunami, followed by a nuclear crisis. The country is now faced with rebuilding, but it is still there and persevering through hardships with great strength. And North America has dealt this year with wildfires, tornadoes, floods. How has this affected who we are? Some have had everything swept away in a moment. But I ask you, once a great event is off the headline news channel, who will remember what happened besides those who experienced it? 
How do we not forget these events? What will the people who survived these events do now? Will they be scarred forever? Will they build a museum to remember those who did not survive, and how they came back, against all odds? Is this moment when it becomes history?

But it's not just natural disasters that make our history. I also think about politics. 
Did you watch what happened in Egypt with the birth of democracy there? What about the changes in British Columbia's political leadership, including the appointment of a new premier? And how about that Canadian national election? How do these moments register, for surely they do. How does it affect us? Who will document — or notice — the changes in our lives brought on by our leaders?

I also admit there are 'pop' culture moments that say something about us. Some say these things aren't important to witness, but I beg to differ. In April I had to defend my intense need to stay up all night to watch the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Katie Middleton, just as I did thirty years ago to see the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. We're talking about the potential king and queen of England here (but who's to say how this all turns out). I gotta bare witness, I just do, when I know these events are happening. 
And today happens to be the last day of the Oprah Winfrey show. One show might not mean much, but the last one? It's hard to resist the urge to watch the final airing of 25 years of television. (It's sort of like watching hockey playoffs, ain't it? History will be made today, too!)

What I have figured out is that we really live only in this moment; the rest, they say, is history.
 Through museum work, I am blessed to be a witness and one who preserves the story of what happens to us, and the stories of what came before. This act helps us share our lives with each other, and to share what has happened to us and our world with future generations. Doing work with museum collections lets my heart sing with history. Magic, for sure.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blogs Galore Five : Seth Godin

Museums & libraries & the future . . .

I just came across this post by Seth Godin about the future of libraries. I believe that museums and libraries and archives have a lot in common as we struggle for community relevance and continued visitor-ship in this ever-changing world. I also think that libraries are a little more 'hip' to these changes and challenges, which can be seen in their spoofy videos, such as their viral Ga-Ga one, that describes what librarians do for their visitors. And I can tell that Godin is up on this as well — 
I particularly like how he describes the value of librarians through this quote:

The librarian isn't a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

Godin also speaks of the way information is provided and requested these days — i.e. it's a digital world, baby — is challenging the value of the library as a repository of paper books only. He makes a point that a library is much more than that: "
Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information." He adds:

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the 
Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

This post really hit home that relevance is about people who enable you to engage with a place — it is not about the institution alone and its so-called self-worth. Whether it's a library, museum, shop, or government office, it's the people who work there that create a connection to the information and value of the institution, one person at a time. 

Now, how is it museum workers are directly relating to our visitors? I think the future of museums depends on how we figure this out. 

Check out the conclusion of Seth Godin's post
here. Great read!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Inventory Project in a Small Museum

Taking Stock . . .

Wow, April went quickly — and thus the lack of posts. But I am back now!

I have been busy wrapping up a project, guiding a small all-volunteer community museum through an inventory of their collection. It was a very interesting project for me, one where it was my aim to teach the volunteers collection management basics ('how to fish') as I did not simply step in to complete the inventory (or just 'give them fish'). It was my goal to pass along some of the foundations of museum collection stewardship. 

As I have written about before, I think small museums are the soul of what I do as a museum professional. Next-to-nothing budgets and volunteers being the norm, they represent a need for our communities to record their own story, and to have a museum to share that story. I understand that basic need as much as I know I must breathe.

So, with no trepidation, I divided the project into three phases: a documentation review (which was brief as they are a young organization), the gathering of inventory material and system set-up (creating a tool kit, designing forms, establishing a numbering system) and the actual physical inventory of the collection (
delivered in five workshops). The first two phases went well, and quickly; it was the workshops that had the 'meat' of the project.

Working with about ten volunteers, the first workshop was a very wide and shallow review of all things collection management. I covered why it is important to inventory collections, went over some classic collection management resources, and spoke about museum ethics. We also reviewed a basic form that I designed on how to record the information of each object. Together we recorded the information on one object, going through the form step-by-step. I did my best not to overwhelm with information, which is quite easy given the breadth of material. I stressed that procedures were guidelines, and that each object would require a little bit of creative thought when inventorying. I said (and I hope this isn't blasphemous to some other museum professionals) that there is an art as well as a science to an inventory project, and that it is a process akin to eating an elephant just one bite at a time. We'll get there, but it will take time.

The other workshops built on the inventory guidelines from the first one, and I taught basic inventory photography, object numbering, and how to enter information into an Excel spreadsheet. (The volunteers wanted an electronic record of the inventory beyond pieces of paper. Due partially to limited funds, Excel was chosen as information can be easily migrated from this program, should they get sophisticated collection management software in the future.) There were many questions during the inventory process for, as we know, each object presents a new set of quandaries. But by the fifth workshop, we had a real feeling of teamwork, with each volunteer choosing a task to focus on; this inventory was now a project that the organization could handle. I have to say that I got a lot of satisfaction hearing that sentiment!

And so, at the end of my time working on the inventory project, I provided a report to the museum with the following:

- the documentation review 
- step-by-step inventory guidelines
- forms created for the inventory project which included
      - a donation form
      - a loan form
      - a donor documentation form
      - an inventory worksheet
- inventory project report and recommendations
- a list of resources and suppliers

I think there is still a lot of work to be done at this small museum for the inventory, but I think it is entirely doable. It is a little hard as a shepherd in this project to let go and hope for the best for their organization, but this is my role as museum consultant. And so I gather myself, knowing that they have the training and a plan in place to complete their inventory, to grow their collection, and that I empowered them to do so. Not bad, eh. : )

Friday, April 15, 2011

An Addition

Okay, it has been bugging me too . . . 

I added that 's' to make it musings!

Can't change the url, though, so we will have to live with it. : )

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blogs Galore Four

Sometimes . . .

. . . the Universe just knows what to say, lets you know you're not alone. Marlow Hoffman wrote a great post, Will Work for Food: Curatorial Position and Cake Preferred
for the Western Museums Association blog. It speaks about the challenges of finding employment in the museum sector. I hear you, Marlow, I hear you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Museums in the Twitterverse

Tweet tweet, twiddle twiddle . . .

Okay, I admit it: Twitter has been a bit of an enigma for me, and so this post is more 'thinking out loud' than it is any given advice about the now 5 year-old microblogging platform. I am slowly becoming a Twitter convert, though, and see it as a valuable tool for museum folk.

Twitter all began for me when I created 
my account on November 15, 2008, and opened with this oh-so-obvious tweet:

Always a little bit of an adventurer, including how to use technology, I was interested in this new form of communication, how it worked, how I could participate and add it to ways to talk to people about museums. And so I poked around for a few days, specifically looking for British Columbia museums. I found none. I did find some 'big name' American museums, and started following them. And so my second tweet?

Ya, clever . . . I needed to do some research. I lurked and only sporadically twittered once or twice a week for my first year on Twitter. I was slowly finding museum people and organizations by using the search bar, and then looking at who they were following, often adding who they followed to my list. It was in January of 2009 when I started following the Vancouver Police Museum as well as the Creston Museum — my first BC museums. I also started to find active museum bloggers — I believe this is where I came across one of my favourites, Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog. Specific to what I was doing here, I found Nina's open letter to museums on Twitter particularly insightful. What has stuck with me from this post is a comment from a museum worker that followed Nina's first rule for museums: 1. Don't use Twitter to spam me about visiting. 

The last thing I would want is someone to think that our twitter account was just another marketing vehicle which . . . Twitter is not about. People can sniff out blatant marketing in a second, and will lose interest instantly.

Wise words. 

And I guess I should explain about my name "Owl_". As mentioned, I first joined Twitter to find and follow BC museums. I was hesitant about putting my whole name out there — not sure why, because I am not afraid of doing so on Facebook or LinkedIn — and so I chose to this avatar as a homage to the BC Museum Association's lost owl (see my blog post on that topic
here). I twittered, rather oddly, in the voice of Owl; now I see that might not have been the way to go. When I recently got four comments in one week asking 'just who are you??' I decided I should attach my name to my account, to take ownership of what I was saying. It was the right move — but now, of course, I am having the mental debate if I should change it to something that parallels my name. (Any thoughts on this would be most appreciated!)

Anyway, in 2010 I was over-run with work and abandoned Twitter. Oops. I'm not sure I missed it because I was so busy, but this January I dove back into the stream of information, going deeply into it as if it were my mid-winter master class. I wanted to learn more about it, specifically about the 'so what?' part that I could apply to museum work. And I am so very happy to be back! I still find that Twitter can be overwhelming, but I am continually learning something amazing about how it all works - in fact, I just 'got' the other day from a great post on museum professional development by Susan Spero. Now I have two newspaper-like ways to follow my feeds - one for all I follow, and the other on my list of BC museum tweets. It's one way to help me feel like I don't have to be watching my feed every moment of every day, which is very reassuring as well as sustainable long-term.

But fundamentally what blows me away about Twitter is that people ARE paying attention to what you are doing and saying — I am never sure if we what we say is noticed, but I think on Twitter, when used correctly, it is. Maybe it's the condensed form of 140 characters that makes people more succinct, and therefore gives equal-opportunity discussion time, whether your one loan individual or someone who works for a Smithsonian organization. I really found this out when I started listing the people I follow, putting them into my own personal categories. People commented, were happy to be listed. Cool. And I guess that's why I am always so happy when I am able to engage in a conversation right there and then. We're not alone in what we like to do, and you can find that evident when you go on Twitter. That feels good!

What has hooked me in the past few weeks, though, is going to 'live' events. 
 I have to say, being on Twitter during a chat event can be much like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, but it is worth it. I had the most fun having my dream interpreted by artist Man Bartlett. He was sitting by a computer, waiting for the hashtag #24hrclerk to appear via Twitter, and reading the tweets aloud. A person behind him typed out the dream, and he put a monetary value on it and placed a sticker on a scale with all the other interpretations. It was mesmerizing . . . check it out. He did this for a full 24 hours, so one of the points, to me, was to participate and then try. to. look. away. It made my day to be a part of the experience, I have to say. And who could ask for more from social media? 

More directly related to museums, I also attended the Centre for the Future of Museums 'twebevent' with the hashtage #CFMtrends 
and got some great resources on demographics and diversity. CFM blogged about the event here, which helps me to go and review what actually transpired during the hour. And on March 17, I attended part of the #nytmuseums chat, which was put on by the New York Times as part of their special section on museums that appeared the day before. Not only were there fabulous resources in the newspaper and their site, but the event spawned an incredible discussion reviewed by Hyperallergic, a forum about the arts and arts issues, with the hour's 1400 tweets logged by Bill Lefurgy. It was like I found the fountain of museum knowledge. Amazing.

Bottom line is that Twitter can be just a little mind-blowing, with its power to gather people and provide opportunity for rich, rich conversation for a focussed time online. Especially during events, it's like access to an instant, intense networking conference/cocktail party, and a
 fantastic way to share a blitz of a conversation with museum colleagues all over the world. I am going to keep a look out for more Twitter events, for that's where I find much of Twitter's value, and certainly where I can easily interact online with my beloved museum Twibe. It has been well worth the effort of finding out what Twitter is all about — I get it now!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pondering Mu$eum Finance$, Part 2

If we had a million dollars . . .

This is a continuation of my previous post on museum funding and finances. In my first post, I spoke about how museums ought to move beyond the government dependency, and seek new funding methods. This post considers some of these funding options.

I am compelled to say right here that I have not ever directly been in charge of the finances of an institution — although, silly me, I hope I get to do this in the future, when I KNOW I will learn a lot more about this, right away. And I know these changes listed below wouldn't pay for everything — and that most of them are likely already being done. My point is I think we have to be very proactive pursuing revenue sources other than those provided by government entities.

have made efforts to be creative with how they raise funds above what any public support might bring them, and I would like to recognize that. I know that many museums rent out their space for private events. There are also fundraising events that take a whole lot of effort to pull off, and end up doing an impressive job of making some good coin. I think this extra fundraising effort is part of the new deal, and we need to be cool with that without letting it take over other work we do. It's not a bad idea to diversify revenue streams. We can continue to be creative with what we do to make money, and I think we can do better somehow wrapping it into what the museum does provide, i.e. highlighting our collections in a manner that can generate revenue through licensing and such things as photo reproduction. This last point may be blasphemous to some, but with careful and thoughtful planning, I believe we can figure this out.

I know that it has also come up that museums can/should/have to/and shouldn't pass the expense onto the visitor. Truthfully, it can be said that the visitor wants the experience to be less expensive than a trip to the movies or a professional ball game, and there is sticker shock when admission comes even close to the same cost. Museums are traditionally viewed as educational services and I gotta say, in my heart, I don't think passing a huge expense on to the visitor is the way to go. We have to manage the costs here 
while being an inclusive and an open organization that serves the entire community. However, I do think we need to consider charging what we are worth and to find that sweet spot where we are open with our visitors the kind of expenses we incur in our institution, and how we get our funding. We also need to be absolutely certain that we remain really awesome and worthy of the visitor's time and expense. 

Just far will we have to go to make money? What about the suggestion that some institutions would like to sell 'just one piece' of the mission-appropriate collections that would pay the bills forever? Ahah. But that breaks one of museum's key ethical tenets: collections are not assets to be liquidated. 
If we are going to be in charge of caring for the community's collection, we can't use it for collateral when we are in trouble. If we sell out our ethics and turn a blind eye to the public trust we hold because we can't pay the bills, we will lose our credibility as an institution. From the outside this idea does seem like an easy solution — and I am sure many people have considered selling the family silver to cover their own personal costs. Museums simply cannot go down that slippery slope, and it's our job to ensure that our public and supporters understand why.

Perhaps we need to bring back The Museum Patron, to convince the big businessman and woman, the singer, the actor, the top-ranked professional sporting heroes in and from our communities to 'pay it forward' and contribute more to our arts and culture. Maybe we need go after them like polite pit bulls.  And if they already do contribute, let's celebrate them a lot louder, and make sure our stakeholders know about when it happens. When we do, these new funders might end up saying something profound, such as what spoken by Michael Audain about the sponsorship from the Audain Foundation of artist Bill Reid's carving "Bear Mantle" to the Royal BC Museum:

I think museums everywhere just can't depend on government funding. They need support from the community, and art lovers such as ourselves. I think we have an obligation to ensure that our public museums are supported and are able to acquire an important work like this.

What fabulous words, eh!

Another option: some museums have taken an active role in purposefully stepping back from requiring public funding by fundamentally changing the way the institution is organized. The museum the comes first to my mind in this is category the 
Oakland Museum of California. When I lived in California eight years ago, the OMCa was just beginning to talk of redeveloping the galleries, reworking the site to be more visitor friendly / centric. The museum was already near and dear to my heart (wonderful staff!), and I agreed this was a timely project to take on. Honestly, though, I simply just had no idea how the institution might find the money, and this was before the economic meltdown. Well, the OMCa managed the redevelopment of the institution, and the have been getting great reviews. I think part of this success is that the long-standing Oakland Museum of California Foundation that has stepped up and taken on the task of figuring out the financing of this project as well as the long-term funding the museum. The Foundation is also hopeful that the future will set them completely free of relying on City of Oakland monies, which includes making all the staff Foundation employees, no longer City workers.  I think this is forward-thinking, responsible, and brave. Kudos to the OMCa.

So, extending from the work done by the Oakland Museum of California, I do think we need to embrace these challenges instead of fighting them, and this change of strategy will help us find a new way. 
We need to boldly go into new territory, and to be our own strongest advocate in all that we do and how we present ourselves, and encourage our boards and foundations to laud us publicly and proudly. This is not to say that OMCa has it all figured out with their foundation, or that we all need to lose our government employee benefits to become private/public organizations, but we do have to explore a wide variety of options such as these.

Some of the ways we can organize and plan our options:
  1. Museum professionals need to know darn sure what museums are and what they  do. The American Association of Museum provides a impressive list of museum facts that we need to memorize, with statistics appropriate to the country we in.
  2. Museums truly have to be more rowdy with economic drivers (government and private businesses) about with how much we contribute to the economy — we are not looking for charity, we're looking to cover our costs for the amazing things we do for the community. Like everyone else. 
  3. We must boldly let the public and other funders know that museums are the story recorders and the treasure protectors — these things help communities define themselves for the long-term. We can all lose sight of the value of knowing our identity we are collectively trying to figure out how to care for our basic necessities. If museums are going to be here for the long term, we have to let the public and government entities know that we add unique value to our communities.

What do you think about this? Am I being naïve here to suggest we just walk away from hoping government funding will ever fully be reinstated? What's your real-world experience with museum finances, and what do you think our future will look like, as a sector? I'd love to know through comments here, or resources you can point out to me. THIS is a critical museum topic that I would really like to explore and figure out . . . got any tips? I'd truly love to hear them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pondering Mu$eum Finance$, Part 1

Times, they are a-changin' . . .

Museum people talk a lot about a number of sector issues, such as remaining relevant to our communities, and about the definition of museums. I don't want to say we're too much into navel gazing, but we do regularly ponder whether or not we should be all about:

  • presentation or preservation?
  • being the community's authority or facilitator?
  • creating didactic or interactive exhibitions?
  • organizing research opportunities or running educational initiatives?
But the biggest real-world pressure in museums these days, the thing that keeps us up at night and worrying what tomorrow will look like is: Where on earth are we gonna find the money to pay for what we do and what we deliver?

Ya, truth, it's a universal fact that we gotta pay the bills in order to do what we do. Museums have done their best to cut costs for at least the past 15 years, and we are at bare bones in many places. There have been staffing, collections care, and facility cutbacks to the point were institutions are struggling to survive at all — and some just may fail. That's scary.

There has been great discussion and uproar recently over the fact that government entities — local, regional and national — just can't keep paying for museums. It seems we're seen as a luxury when there are 'bigger' issues such as unemployment, housing, health care, homelessness, the economy in general, and on and on. You can just feel the lack of empathy for our budget situation in letters to the editor such as this one questioning a museum's plan to upgrade its site. And we're not alone here in Canada with these struggles: both Great Britain and
 the U.S. are experiencing a watershed moment regarding the massive cutbacks that are moving forward faster than you can say 'there's only one taxpayer and there's no money for museums in our budget'. 
 But it is simply not sustainable to think that museums can keep going on like this, with the hopes that museums might get more funding from the government again 'one day' and we just need to ride out these lean times. Somethings gotta give.

Personally, I think the days are close to over where we should even consider money coming from our governments. Museums can state again and again to the powers-that-be that we are caring for the heart of our communities through exhibitions and collections care, but I don't think the politicians have the resources to help us fund this noble cause. And I want to believe it's not because our governments don't care about our heritage and culture, but it's more because they have to deal with the issues that are literally much more in their face. I hate it that museums are considered the gravy of what life has to offer, but discussions about social housing is going to trump funding museums every time. (Caveat: Do trust me that I will call out to those governments who are being wasteful and irresponsible if they have the funds to support museums yet choose to 'forget' them. I am not just going to let them walk away from us, but I do see there's not a lot of wiggle room for governments to support us as much as they once did.)

So what do we do about all this worry about money? Stick our head in the sand and pretend it's not a problem? Cut programs? Cancel plans? Lay off (more) staff? Freeze positions after staff leave
 or retire? Find a Sugar Daddy? Give up and close the doors (and cry)??

My next blog post — I had to divide this topic in two because this one was getting realllly long, go figure — reviews some options that I think could give us other funding options. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

Museum Succession Planning / Planning for Museums to Succeed

So you're thinking about retiring after a career in museum work . . .

Congratulations! What a gorgeous amount of service you have given to museums for the past 35 + years. I bet you have had some great accomplishments and opportunities during the course of you career. How much I want to hear about all of them!

I truly hope you never worry that the next generation of museum workers aren't interested in what you have built over the years, and that there is no one ready to receive your baton. I assure you that it's likely there are actually 
more people wanting to work in museums than ever before, both from academia and through museum studies programs. Many people have been eager to join in your conversation way before this time of your retirement, but maybe have not had the chance due to limited hiring and/or just being the wrong place/age to land that permanent job to work alongside you.

And . . . I don't want to make any assumptions here, so please correct me if I'm wrong. I am thinking that although I bet it's exciting to retire, I'd imagine it's hard to get your coat and hat and walk away from what you have been doing for a lifetime. This must be especially true if you have spent most of your career in one institution. I literally can't imagine working at the same place for years and years (although I would like to!). Your job must have seen you through relationships, having and raising kids, buying houses; it must have been with you during all life's adventures, and must equal a big part of who you are. Through this, I know if I were you, I would want to know what will happen to my life's work when I am gone, and get assurance before I leave that it mattered. So I am here to say right now not only will your efforts and accomplishments not be forgotten, but I promise to take up the mantle of the solid foundation of work you laid upon your predecessors'. This is the reason I really want to know all about your experiences.

Here's the thing, though. For me to fully understand the work you have accomplished during your long and varied career, I need you to talk to me. 
A lot. Work with me, have lunch with me, and include me in the discussions and meetings on the projects you are working on now and in the immediate future.  Right now I want to 'pick your brain' not as a job vulture simply eager for you to move along, but as someone who wants to learn from you, really learn. I want to take in your wisdom and experience apply it to my current work, and note it should I ever be as lucky as you to be in the position you are in now.

I am not asking you to step aside, for 
I respect you too much to forget what you have contributed, and how you did so. I am asking that you let me walk with you, as a trusted equal, because I want our museum work to be cumulative, and complementary.  I also believe we are working toward the same goal: for museums to be successful, engaging, relevant institutions that tell the story of the past with respect to the present moment. Let's also work together to plan a fabulous future. Now can I buy you that cup of coffee . . . ?

Monday, February 7, 2011


Connecting the dots . . . 

I have been on a journey for the past couple of weeks, perhaps foreshadowed by the TEDucation post just previous.

You see, I recently rediscovered
my Twitter account, and observed / joined the slipstream of real-time conversation with museum people from all over the world. I have been caught in the undertow of the discussions, including the frightening happenings in Egypt right now. Some twitterers are able to assess the damage occurring to the Cairo Museum almost immediately, and it's both heart-wrenching and relieving to know what's going on. Truly, it's near hypnotic to be able to witness everything everywhere as it is happening, and to have a say about it through 140-character messages that are shared instantly with everyone. My brain has been so engaged in this — and I know it's getting to be too much because I have begun to dream in Twitter, which is kinda frustrating because the links don't work! 

To add to this compulsive Twitter watch, I have also really upped the museum-related blogs I follow. 
I have been engrossed in blogs that talk about museum architecture, collections, museums and smart phone apps, exhibition installations, visitor experience, evaluation, the definition of curator, museum 'free agents', neat ways to engage with collections and on and on. Museum people, there is a lot of good writing out there — so fabulous, it's hard to not want to read all about it. And comment on it, joining the conversation on blogs as well.

But here's where I come clean — obviously not just museums are in this social web-sphere. Although many blogs on my Google reader are museum-related, I have been caught up in the cat (penguin!) video world / silly silly stuff / amazing photo streams as well as, hello, Jezebel, for movie star updates.


Do you remember what it was like when you continued researching for a term paper even when you kept coming across similar information? Sort of like you've done your foundations work, and you have found all the major trends, but you keep on looking anyway? And let yourself get sidetracked in fun and interesting stuff to 'reward' yourself for the good work you were doing? I sure did this . . . and I often couldn't stop researching because I was actually avoiding 
writing the darn paper. That's what I feel like right now — it's not like there's no more to discover, but I am reading certain fundamental points over and over again during my reading adventures. 

I have joked on 
Facebook that I have caught up with the internet. 
It's a procrastinator's dream out there, just a million tangential clicks away. This is surely where Too Much Information lives.

It's not all wasted time, though. I think all this online activity represents my desire for something more than basic information — I think I am looking for some kind of connection. Connecting online is really fast, simple, and as deep as it is wide. What a resource. But is it truly connecting with something or someone to follow them on Twitter, friend them on Facebook or RSS their blog??

These thoughts came clear when I went through this amazing slide show on businesses NOT needing a social media strategy. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are all tools to link us together with information; they are not, however, The Connection That We Are Forming. We can have all these accounts, but they are supposed to augment our real life through engagement. Online is just another way to get that engagement.

And here's where I need to pay attention: social media accounts are not intended to stand alone, to be the end product, the last word. It's what I do with the information provided that counts, not that I know it. Action is required to make this connection real. Real world action.

I am keenly aware that I need to make the most out of the time and resources spent on this online investment, to pay attention, and to know when to stop surfin'. And it's okay to have a giggle — just not keep going to the feed to allow for major distraction. Set aside some time, but don't let it take over. That kind of thing.

The good news in this internet adventure is that I am finding is that this constant 
scanning of the horizon is actually helping me solidify my own ideas, and now I am 'tightening the weave' by linking things together, admiring the patterns that emerge.   

Another way I look at this online immersion is that it feels like I have been chopping a lot of wood. I have stacked a lot of it, real high.  And now it's time I commit to
 what kind of fire I am going to light . . . 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TEDxKC - Francis Cholle - The Intuitive Intelligence Movement

Rethinking thinking . . .
Feeling the urge to play  . . .

This video of a lecture by Francis Cholle has been ringing in my ears for a couple of weeks, partially because I have been thinking a lot lately — I have been overly-serious, worried, and results-oriented. But when I saw the graph at 
9:03, I had this moment of recognition: I really need to PLAY to engage in the creative side of . . . life. Work, home, everything requires some messy interconnectedness — not just linear, tidy, hierarchy, which I find comfort in — in order to find the genius that's on this planet. In fact, I see through this video that using playful instinct, rather than just depending on reason and outcome, is key to welcoming creative magic into my world. 

Know where else this video took me? I think finding that magic is what visitors often get out of a trip to a museum. The question for me then becomes: do museum workers remember to take time to play during the time we spend creating these amazing institutions? 

(Don't ya just love a good TED talk!)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Definition of a Museum

But . . . but what about the . . .

Once upon a time, I was a student in the Master of Arts Museum Studies program at John F. Kennedy University in California.  In my cohort, there were two main specializations in the program — collections management and public programming — and they ran side by side. All the students were together for the core foundation courses, then we broke out into the respective groups for in-depth specialization classes. We also wrote our master's thesis on a topic to add to the literature / learning of our specialization.

Being in collections management, I honestly thought that I would see far more registrar-types than those interested in public programming. Boy, was I wrong! It turns out that in a class of (I believe) 12, there were only FOUR in collections management. I was shocked, really, and so the first lesson of this amazing program was that I was never to be sure what is going to happen in my own personal definition of the museum world.

The core courses were so interesting and so very challenging. These classes, often led by the phenomenal Gail Anderson, emphasized the community, and the educational mandate of museums. It was repeatedly stated that, without people, museums are not worth a whole lot with their packed-full rooms of collections. This was a bit of a shocker to me at the time, for 
I had always loosely defined museums as places that collect things that tell a story - it was about The Object. Yet we discussed that museums can exist without collections, but not without people.

WHAT? Wait a minute.

Museums without collections? This thought shocked me. The conversation kept being pushed — museums are first and foremost places of learning for people, not Mausoleums of Stuff. (Ouch.) Museums can keep things forever but if no one sees the collections, what's the point? Why spend all that money and energy putting things on those pedestals, and keeping them carefully tucked away in storage? 
Again and again it was stressed that if we, as museum professionals, were not serving our audience and community, we were in fact engaged in organizations that simply idolized and interpreted material goods. And so what about that? This seemingly endless discussion actually got my back up a little - hey, if there are no collections needed in museums, there are no collections MANAGERS. Are 'they' trying to get rid of me and my profession? And curators? And conservators? With the majority of the class being education-centric, it certainly seemed like my voice from the registrars' section was getting a little over-run. And so I kept rebuking, over and over again:

But — What about The Collections?

How DO collections fit into this museum definition of education and people first, things second?  This was the central question of my museum studies, and it was the heart of
 master's project in collections management, when I designed a form that documented the object donor's story at the time the object was given to the museum. From a collections manager point of view, I saw that having the community document their own donations as an important step in sharing the task of interpreting the collection in the museum.

And then I went back into the museum world . . .

. . . where the work often comes before the conversations of why we do what we do . . .

. . . and where the education side of museum professionals rarely out-number the object-centric museum specialists.

There I discovered that, somewhat to my initial relief, history, art and natural history museums were still, in my opinion, focussed on the object. Some exhibitions were practically alters. Some curators were the experts, and they owned the story that visitors heard and learned from. And accessibility, welcoming visitors? Sharing authority? Pretty much back burner. Educational programs seemed to be afterthoughts to the exhibitions. Mission statements started with 'To collect, preserve the stuff of the community'. It seemed to me that objects were the centre; my side of museum work seemed rather protected. But I didn't feel smug. In fact, I felt worried and a little sick at this realization of the museum sector in action.

Then, of course, it hit me. 

But — What about The Community?

All the discussions from my time at JFKU rang in my ears. Despite my rants to protect the object's role in the definition of a museum, this adoration of collections without thinking about the community is, well,
not a sustainable way to gather supporters, whether they be visitors or funders or fans. Only in a few cases will the object come before the interest of the visitor, so the collections should not be the only focus of what we do. If the museum values and welcomes its visitors, makes people the first priority, our communities just might see all these museums belong to them. And then maybe, just maybe, they will stay and play and participate in this ever-so-cool learning environment, for it will be for the visitor, and about the visitor. It truly is not just about the collection, or for those who adore the museum objects.

In coming full circle of my unique learning situation and professional experience, 
I have become aware of a few things. Museums to me are defined as places of education that hold collections in trust for the community. I personally need to keep collections as one of the central tennets that define a museum for I am and always will be passionate about the things that tell the stories of the world around us. But I also know this: I absolutely, without a doubt, cannot leave out the community in this definition: PEOPLE are the reason why museums do what museums do. Always. The collection and the community's experience — including educational — are together for me, and I use these fundamentals equally when I define what is a museum. No buts about it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life as a Museum Consultant

Starring . . .

Ah, it's the time of year to take stock, mark where I've been and where I want to go. It is 
cliché, but it is also very difficult for me to resist this exercise. So here it goes — a contemplation on working as a museum consultant, and how I hope to be in 2011.

I wrote a while ago about
my career's evolution, and how I have felt as if I perhaps I was not living up to my potential. This was always rather heart-wrenching to me, of course. Thank goodness it was 2010 that I realized I had only one idea of what success looked like: it was a permanent job in one museum where I could serve and make a difference. 

I have not had that opportunity (do. not. say. that. sentence!) but have been blessed with many museum-based projects. This still has made me feel a little on the outside, as if I am not quite 'there' yet. I have always wanted more than that one project at a museum, and to be part of the team. I did my best to behave myself and be patient during these projects, making few waves, and working hard to deliver what was requested, hoping for approval. But the work would end. Over and over again, I was ultimately disappointed, because I kept thinking: WHO gets such short jobs like this and is happy about it?? The variety is good but . . . it's challenging, because I keep having to adapt to a new environment, get up to speed on the work 'culture', meet new people, form new bonds . . . then it's over. All wrapped up. What other professionals have to do this kind of variety of project-based work so much and so often and like it? And how on earth can one ever get ahead??

And then it occurred to me.

(Stop the sad violins!)

ACTORS live like this. 

And, heck, some even become

Actors work on plays, advertisements, television series, and movies. They take small roles in order to build a name - a 'brand' - and hope that people will recognize them for their craft, and to make a living. Some actors get to be known for their
face, others their body of work, and yet others cuz they's a little bit crazy and interesting to watch. But I would bet most actors are into all these projects because they love what they get to do.

How does this relate to being a museum consultant? I have multiple experiences: made
presentations, given advice to local cultural groups, worked on long-term heritage site projects, and now I am participating in a limited though intense, fabulous project. And I am realizing that I, too, have a responsibility to build a brand: what do I want to be known for, in this work that I love so much? 

Suddenly this consultant role has pointed me to the fact that many museums and organizations hire
me — Caroline Posynick — as a cast member who has to bring a lot to the production or it could fail or, almost as scary, not be a hit. Working as a consultant, independent of an organization, gives the opportunity for me to be ME with all my passion; I need to be aware of but am not tied to bureaucracies that exist within museums. My mistake up to this point is that I have been a quiet version of my museum professional self, wanting to to blend in and not make waves, be part of this bureaucracy.* I know now that this is not how I will make a difference, with or without a desk in a museum, for "making it" in the museum world means owning an opinion and speaking up with a strong voice. Being a consultant gives me freedom to say what I think will work more easily, and, man, I need to be all over that opportunity as an ever-developing professional, for I want to be known as an open, energized, fearless museum advocate.

Therefore, in 2011, I am going to strive to make the most of this adventure as a museum consultant. I will embrace the opportunity to deliver my dialogue clearly and concisely, and to prepare well and perform even better when I get my time on the stage. I will of course follow the director's instruction and not (gasp) be a diva, but my motto for the year seems to be turning into "Go For It!" And so I shall.

All the best to you and yours in 2011. Let's drive the paparazzo crazy with our awesome work!

I have been so guilty of being overly-cautious in my professional adventures — except for the one time at a collections development meeting where I noticed the curator was not present. I asked and found out he wasn't even invited. And so I said in a stage whisper, "Is this a coup??" I had better not turn into a Katy Perry — or at least be sure that it's Katy they want!