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!