#NEMA2015 – Portland, ME!

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Sunrise over Casco Bay.

If I had to choose one word to describe what the 2015 New England Museum Association conference was like, it would be WHIRLWIND. In the best, most positive way possible, it was definitely a whirlwind. We had fantastic weather, a great location, beautiful and historic scenery, and just all around a great conference. A big congrats and thank you to the staff and volunteers at NEMA for working their butts off to put the conference together — you guys are amazing!

I feel lucky that I got to help Dan Yaeger run a pre-conference “Networking About Networking” session the Tuesday before conference started. It was great to see so many new faces, meet new folks and hear their stories, and most of all, hear how different people take the first leap into networking. Mary Case made a really great point of making sure if you bump into someone you want to have in your circle (your network), to be sure you bump into them again before conference is over. Make that connection. Keep in touch. Monika, Scarlett and I loved running the Conference Preview on Wednesday morning. It was so nice that the group was small enough that we could have everyone go around and introduce themselves to the group. I hope some of you connected again during conference!

Monika and I ran a session on Thursday called Redefining the Internship. It was a think-tank style session, where we asked our participants to take a deep dive into the problems inherent in today’s internship models, and come up with some creative solutions for how we as a field might start to fix these issues. Y’ALL WERE AMAZING. Seriously. This should be a separate post. The brilliance that came out of that session made us both so happy. We are so thankful to all of you that came and worked with us. It was so hard to make our small groups stop discussing the creative ways to fix internships, how to make them better for the intern and the host institution, how to help first-time supervisors…. Really, you all did amazing work. We are crafting a white paper using list of fixes our participants came up with, in addition to creating a follow-up session for the 2016 conference in Mystic, CT.

This post should be longer, but as it’s already way overdue, I think I’ll keep it short. But really, truly, I had an amazing experience up in Portland. Meeting new people and hanging out with old friends and colleagues is always a treat no matter the setting, but something about NEMA conferences always gives me excited butterflies in my tummy and a pep in my step. The New England museum community, as I know I’ve said before, is one of the friendliest and most innovative groups of people I know, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be growing in this career in this setting. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

– a.

 

#NEMA2015 – Portland, ME!

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

Wow. Did yesterday happen? Yes, Alli, it did, and it was awesome. But now what? What are you going to do next??

I will admit, when I first started this blog in 2013, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was hoping to do something similar to what Emily had over at the UMZM and Field Museum, but I didn’t have the access. I thought, well, maybe I’ll do something similar but with the Waterworks Museum; now I’ve left there, and while I think I did a pretty decent job running their social media, I had dreams for what it could have been if I had infinite time and money and resources. I think I also got bogged down in the process of blogging – what do I talk about? How often do I post? Who is going to care? Will anyone even read this thing? So eventually, I stopped.

Yesterday was amazing, and not only because of Emily’s unofficial official nomination. Yesterday I got to meet Hopi Hoekstra, the Curator of Mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and it was awesome because we got chatting about how awesome it would be if Hopi could get Emily to come visit Harvard and give a talk to kids and students about getting involved with science. Yesterday was amazing because I got to go to work at the HMNH and spend my day surrounded by fascinating collections pieces whose stories have yet to be told. Yesterday was amazing because I got to spend time with my best friend, seeing one of our favorite bands live.

Now, I feel recharged, refreshed, and filled with a new sense of purpose. Today, I go to work with the reminder that people are curious and want to learn more, and that I have the opportunity to facilitate that learning and help fuel that curiosity, in kids and adults alike. Today I go to work with a storyteller’s eye, seeking the tales (haha, tails/tales, get it) that have yet to be told; hoping to awaken long-dead species to tell their stories to whoever will listen; determined to no longer remain dormant. I am once again an active volcano.

My new goal for this blog will be to post twice a week about something I find fascinating at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum, and the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (collectively known as the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture). I don’t have a backstage pass for any of these museums (yet!), so what I’ll be delivering is what I can find through research and asking the right people. It won’t be just natural history focused – there will be history woven in as well, because that is my background and my ultimate passion.

I still need to think of a tag for these special posts, but I will come up with something, don’t you worry. Keep an eye out: things are about to get interesting.

– a 

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

So, it’s been a while.

Hello, world. What’s new? I realize I haven’t posted here in…jeeze…forever. Sorry about that. I think I started blogging just to have a blog, which is never a good reason to start blogging. Take that as a lesson!

I’ve moved on from the Waterworks Museum, where I was briefly (for 8 months) running their social media, in addition to occasional work on the collections, scheduling Waterworks Wednesdays, and anything else I could fit in to my 15 hour work week. It was a great learning experience, but after a combined 2.5 years there, it was time to move on and seek new adventures. (Don’t worry, you can still find me in the gift shop at the Harvard Museum of Natural History)

Now, I’m a graduate intern at the Bostonian Society, which runs the Old State House Museum in downtown Boston. I’m working with an off-site collection, and that’s really all I can say until I get a better sense of TBS’ social media policy. I’m hoping I’ll be allowed to blog here and there about my experiences there, but we’ll see. I’ll be there for a year (I started in January and will end in December), so there’s a lot of room for growth and discovery. I’m really looking forward to the journey.

I’ve completed all my classes for my graduate degree, and I’ve realized I’ve been spending my days spending money I don’t really have. I feel like I should be reading museum books, but do I really need to be reading more theory? I had an idea while I was tweaking the appearance of this blog (dear lord it took forever to figure out that social menu below my title) — wouldn’t it be cool to visit one or two historic houses and museums in Boston a week, and blog about them? I think that would be neat. And it would get me to write. So I think I’m going to do that. I should make a list of all the historic houses in the area (helloooo Google) and try to get to as many of them as I can.

In other news, Drinking About Museums: Boston and NEMA are co-hosting a networking 101 evening at the Hong Kong on April 15th, 2015. I helped come up with the idea and get it together (sorry to brag but I gotta take some credit, right?), and I’d love it if everyone came! Click the DAM:B link above to RSVP (and make sure to come to the event this Wednesday for casual drinks and chats!).

Speaking of Drinking About Museums, I’m pretty glad the Google+ group exists. I’m heading to Austin, TX in a few weeks (for funsies), and posted in the group to see if anyone wanted to get together — BOOMSAUCE! Got a fun date with a bunch of Texan museum pros on April 6th now. I love the internet. Don’t you?

Time to make that list.

– a

So, it’s been a while.

An Update That Never Posted.

Hey! So, it looks like I had this draft saved from the beginning of March that I literally never hit “publish” on, that covered quite a lot, so I’m going to attempt to condense it here:

1) I participated in my first-ever conference AND unconference, History Camp. It was put together by Lee Wright of the History List and it was a great time. It brought professional and amateur historians, museologists, educators, archaeologists, and other people who were interested in history, together for a day full of fascinating talks and panels. It was run in much the same way THATCamp is run (BarCamp style); for the sake of gathering a lot of interest beforehand, many of the sessions were scheduled ahead of time, and included talks by Mass Historical Society, Liz Covart, J.L. Bell, Eric Bauer, and Lee Wright. I gave a talk on objects as sources of history with my fellow emerging museum professional (who might now be heading into the education field) Adriene Katz; I discussed the method of provenance research and how any object can be a source of history as long as you dig, and then used Carl Akeley’s Fighting African Elephants from the Field Museum as an example for how this research is done on a biological museum specimen. Adriene gave a great talk about a tour she developed while working at the Shelburne Museum that focused on the Prentice and Stencil Houses as sources of history. If you want to see our presentations, click HERE and HERE!

2) I don’t think it’s 100% official yet, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be volunteering with the HMNH education department this July for Summer Science Camps! I’m so excited!! I already chose the sessions I’m going to help in (of course, they include dinosaurs and geology), and it seems like everyone in the department is really excited to have me on board and have me be as eager as I am to get some ed-experience. I’m hoping I’ll be able to take some of what I’m learning from my “Understanding the Visitor Experience” class this semester and use it this summer. Speaking of, that class is proving to be harder than I initially expected it to be. Trying to wrap my head around goals and objectives – I don’t know how you guys do it. Though, I did just read quite a few articles on meaning-making and constructivism, and I have a whole other blog post I’m planning based on my most recent museum experience for that (stay tuned!).

3) As many of you are probably aware by now, I’ve taken over the social media for the Waterworks Museum. This is so incredibly hard, guys. I had no idea just how difficult managing a social media account other than my own would be, but man, it’s difficult. Constantly thinking of new and interesting subject matter to post can be super easy sometimes, and stupidly hard other days. Plus, I have no idea how effective I’m really being, since I’m not sure how to read all of the analytics from HootSuite. Luckily, the museum has offered to pay for me to take a social media management class this summer, so eventually I’ll learn how to deal with all of the numbers, and hopefully be able to run the pages better! If you guys don’t mind, check out the Waterworks Twitter feed @MetroWaterworks and tell me how I’m doing, ok? It would mean a lot to me. Also, if any of you manage social media networks and have tips, either email me or post them in the comments, because I am more than happy to get help where I can. (Big shout out to Erin Blasco of the Smithsonian for already answering so many of my questions!)

4) I’m giving my first tour at the April vacation open house at the Waterworks Museum later this month! I’m super nervous and excited at the same time, because I’m planning this tour on my own. It’s going to be an architecture tour, and not just of our building, but of two other buildings on the museum “campus” (and if visitors have questions about more buildings on the campus I’ll answer them too!). We have so many unique styles of architecture that we rarely ever talk about, and I just think it’ll be a great new addition to what we usually offer on family days. Plus, I’m hoping it will be nice out, and people will want to be outside. I’ve never planned a tour before, but I’m thinking about comparing our buildings to buildings that people might be used to seeing in downtown Boston (like Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library) so they can build on their prior knowledge (yeahhhh constructivism!). It’s going to be hard work, but I want this to be a dynamite tour.

I had planned on writing a post about making meaning in museums and my own personal meaning-making experience from earlier this week, but I wanted to post this update as well. Anyway, that’s all for now!

An Update That Never Posted.

Am I Doing This Right? (Fear and Worrying in My Career Path)

ImageI know I’m not the only student in a museum studies degree program who finds herself occasionally worrying: “am I doing this right?” I as myself this question about once a month, to be completely honest. In these moments of overwhelming fear, buried under piles of notes from class and work (both paid and unpaid), looking for a moment of peace in this chaotic world I’ve created for myself, I find myself wondering if I’m going about this whole career path the right way. I start to ask: am I volunteering enough? Am I honing my skillset the right way? Am I staying relevant in this growing, expanding, dynamic ecosystem of museums that I’ve decided to enter? What else could I be doing? How much less free time am I willing to have to get the skills I need? How competitive am I? Why do I feel so insignificant?

These are the moments when I have to truly take a step back and look at everything that I’m doing. I’ve taken every opportunity I can get, to the point of exhaustion. I’m constantly looking for ways to learn new skills, and prove that they’re relevant to the museum world. I went from being semi-engaged, to eating/sleeping/breathing museums. I might as well walk around with a tattoo on my forehead that says “ask me about my museum”.

But there are things that I think about doing, that others in my position have taken up, that I wonder if it’s important for me to pursue. Many of us EMPs appear to be starting YouTube series about museums. I’ve seriously thought about doing this a few times, and I just can’t. Guys, I can’t do it. Not only do I hate seeing myself on camera (note the lack of #museumselfies on my Instagram), but I find myself so overly engaged on Twitter and interacting with real people at events like Drinking About Museums that I think making another series to add to the miasma is just unnecessary. Am I wrong? Maybe. But I’m too involved with other projects to consider it at this point.

I’m worried about my thesis, mostly because I haven’t done any research on it. I decided not to take a summer class, not only to give myself some time away from being in a classroom, but also to volunteer at HMNH as an assistant for Summer Science Weeks (which hopefully HR will approve!). I have no idea whether or not I will enjoy museum education, but this opportunity has been presented and you can sure as hell bet I’m going to take it. This is the only way I can find out if I want to be an educator. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, my thesis. I have ideas; I think I have a really great idea, actually. And I’m looking forward to sitting down and doing the research prior to going to my program advisor and saying, “This is my idea, this is the research I’ve already done that supports my idea, this is where I want to do my internship.” It’s just getting to the point of having enough time to sit down and comb through the last few years of TrendsWatch or looking at ASTC statistics. On top of that, I still haven’t cracked open the book on the history of the institution I would ideally like to do my internship at.

On top of all this worrying, I occasionally suffer from self-doubt. Ed Rodley, bless you sir, thinks I would be perfect for running a Boston edition of Invasioni Digitali, a grassroots effort sparked in Italy to “mob” cultural heritage and historic sites and share these visits via social media, therefore creating conversation about preservation, heritage, etc. I love the idea. I think it’s a perfect idea, in fact. But am I really the best person for the job? Maybe I just don’t want to brag about myself; maybe for all my confidence and enthusiasm, I really don’t like being the person that says, “Oh, I KNOW I’m the best person for the job.” I’d rather say, “Really? You think so?” And then prove it with actions. So I guess I’m issuing a call with this post as well: if you’re interested in invading some museums and cultural sites with me at some point this summer, holla at me. Ed is going to MW2014 in April and meeting up with them, so he’ll bring me back a better idea of how it works. But even just writing this paragraph, I’ve got some ideas….

My last concern is my resume. Guys, how the hell do I write something like THE WORLD IS AWESOME AND I WANT TO LEARN MORE on my resume? I can’t! I hate writing resumes and I hate writing cover letters. I don’t know how to convey my enthusiasm for what I do in three paragraphs. I want people to see my cover letter and resume and think “wow, this girl has a spark, let’s interview her”, so I can get into that interview and blow them away. I’m stupidly enthusiastic about my work; you should see me at the Waterworks Museum. I’m about to draft an email to the MWRA about visiting the Deer Island Treatment Facility (where Boston’s wastewater is treated!) so I can live-tweet my visit for the Waterworks Museum, and also learn more. Are there any water departments that need a historian on staff? I think I might fit the bill perfectly after my stint at the Waterworks is over. Yesterday I almost went over to talk to some MWRA employees while they were fixing the emergency backup pumps. How ridiculous is that? Anyway back to my point. How do I write all of this? How to I say, “enthusiastic about the world”?

These are the questions and concerns that plague me. But I’m sure they haunt my peers just as much. I’m sure all of you established museum professionals that glance at this post will understand my fears. If you have advice, tips, suggestions, etc., I’d love to hear it. Comment below or email me. Get coffee with me. Visit me at work. Something.

🙂

 

Am I Doing This Right? (Fear and Worrying in My Career Path)

#MuseumShowoff Boston!

ImageHey guys! Sorry for not updating as frequently, but I’ve had a lot going on and minimal time to conceive of blog posts!

Let’s get right to it: Museum Showoff. Sitting through a 2 hour class before having to watch five other people showoff before me was possibly the most nervewracking thing ever. George Hein came in to talk about constructivist learning, and we did this really cool group activity where we had to choose a thing to teach someone, and figure out how we could teach that thing using the four main methods of learning and teaching. It was actually pretty hard, but I think our group also chose a difficult concept to teach (the earth goes around the sun). The activity took my mind off my nerves, but only for ten or fifteen minutes. By 6:45, I hate to admit, I was constantly looking at the clock, and feeling very anxious to get out of the classroom and over to Hong Kong. Not too many classmates came, but the ones that did, I really appreciate you coming! It was also great to be reunited with some folks I met at the Story Collider back in September (Becky gave a talk on what it was like being an art history major; and it was Claire’s first time at a DAM/MSO BOS event). I saw a lot of familiar faces, and I’m pretty stoked that my face was familiar to them as well!

The showoffs that I saw were great. (I’m bummed I missed Jeff Steward’s talk about the Harvard Art Museums!) Diana gave a great talk about the HMNH Hack from last month, with some lessons learned from the hack. Emily Oswald’s discussion of the different ways the old Charlesview apartments on North Harvard St could be utilized as pop-up museum space/historic space was incredible, and I totally want to see if that plan can work at all, because that corner is in desperate need of some artistic therapy. Meg Winikates shared what it’s like to have the “From Here to Ear” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, a space not traditionally designed for live animal exhibitions. The video she showed and the way she described the exhibit made me really want to hop on the next commuter rail and go see it (and hopefully sometime next month, I will!). Susan Timberlake’s talk about museum badging for the Center for the Future of Museums was really cool, and I am definitely going to learn more about badging now! Becky’s talk definitely hit home for me; as a history major, I was constantly asked what I wanted to do when I graduated, and most people assumed that the answer to that question was teaching.

I went dead last, and I’m not going to lie about how nervous I was. I was shaking when I plugged my USB into the computer. I had a plan for this talk: I was going to introduce the Waterworks Museum, and basically give everyone a virtual tour of the museum, with a handy PowerPoint and everything. And then, the day before the showoff, I realized what an utterly stupid idea that was. I didn’t want to give people a virtual tour, that would give them absolutely no reason to visit (unless the tour piqued their interest, which I’m sure it would have), and I would have been boring and droned on for 9 minutes citing facts about the building, dates of construction, and basically sounding like a history textbook on legs. I didn’t want that. I wanted people to know what I know, and feel how I feel when I walk in to the Waterworks Museum. (to use an awful analogy, the Waterworks Museum is to me what the Millennium Falcon is to Han Solo) I used photos I took from my time there and put them in to a movie that I had playing on the TV behind me the whole time I was talking. No music, just photos; of the building, of the collection, of the engines, of little things I found that fascinate me. I talked about what I do, and why I’m scared, and why I’m proud. I shamelessly plugged our February Vacation Open House. I wanted my presentation to be a call to arms; to rally people to not only visit the Waterworks Museum, but to take an interest in small historic museums and houses that sometimes get ignored, especially when their cultural competition is a place like the MFA or the Museum of Science.

I’d say I was successful.

The next day, walking up an icy sidewalk to the Waterworks Museum, I was bombarded by tweets from Ed Rodley, about the InvasioniDigita initiative that has started in Italy. It’s an incredible #musesocial initiative, where “mobs” of people “invade” cultural institutions and share their experiences via social media. Instead of solo visits to museums, you have groups of people, starting conversations about art and culture and society, and it looks like an amazing experience. And now they want me to participate in their second edition in April! Hopefully I’ll be able to rally the troops at the next Drinking About Museums: Boston, and in class on Wednesday after I attempt to explain the concept to my classmates.

I know I’ve said this in previous posts, but it needs to be said again: I love the museum community here in Boston. Wednesday night made me feel like I really can do this; that the field I’ve chosen is actually limitless as long as you have passion and determination. I have to thank Ed (again) for making me feel welcome in this community, but I also have to thank everyone else who came up to me after my showoff to say hello. Diana, I totally want to collaborate with you on anything and everything; your vision and creativity blow me away. Emily, I want to help you get Charlesview a makeover. Claire Hopkins just started her museum studies degree, and has a fantastic YouTube channel called Brilliant Botany that I suggest everyone check out (she wrote her undergrad thesis on MAPLE SUGARING, how awesome is that??). Dan Yaeger and Heather Riggs from NEMA, it was so awesome seeing you both there, and thank you so so much for letting me come to the office once a month to volunteer. To the entire museum community: you rock.

I should probably go do homework now…

#MuseumShowoff Boston!

February Update

Holy wow, this month is shaping up to be a busy one.

Classes have started and already been affected due to the weather. Museums & the Law is pretty interesting, though I wish it were in a classroom setting instead of online; I think I would feel better about asking questions if I didn’t have to deal with using my computer’s microphone. The material we’re reading is super heavy, but really quite incredible.

Lynn Baum is teaching Learning in Museums: Understanding the Visitor Experience, and so far it’s shaping up to be an awesome class. There’s a lot of in-class group work, which makes sense, and we have a project that we’re working on during the semester that we hand in as a final report. I’m writing mine on HMNH. I’m stoked. It’ll be a good creative outlet for all of the ideas I’ve had floating around in my head about how to make that place a better museum.

I think I’ve completely switched gears on what I want to do for my thesis. I’m not going to spell it out for you here, but it has nothing to do with World War I anymore (which means I’m not going to Europe this summer). I’ve found a great summer class to wrap up my classes that I think will fit what I’m thinking about really well, and Lynn’s class and the project I’ll be working on for her are definitely going to help build a foundation. I’ve also started (slowly) reading a history of the California Academy of Sciences…so that should give you another clue.

I’ve started taking on more responsibilities at the Waterworks Museum. I’m now the only person that runs the museum’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and it is so much harder than I thought it would be. HootSuite is pretty easy to use, but I just need to figure out a good plan for the weekends when its harder for me to come up with stuff to post on the fly. It’s pretty clear that people have noticed the increase in our activity; recently we’ve gotten some messages on Facebook, so clearly they feel like there’s an actual person running it (which was my goal all along!). I wrote down some ideas for themes for each day, just so I can have stuff to plan for the week, but still. Guys. It’s really hard. I didn’t think it would be this hard. To all of the people that run the social media feeds of museums I love, I salute you (like, a thousand times).

Next Wednesday is Museum Showoff: Boston and I’m super nervous. Super excited, but super nervous. What if nobody likes what I have to say? What if I screw up? What if everyone is knee-deep in scorpion bowls?! These are the silly fears I deal with. I’m planning on talking about the Waterworks Museum, and when I first signed up I had planned to just do an intro to the museum since I assume not many people will know what the hell it is. But now I’m thinking, well, I’m going to be up there putting myself out there for 9 minutes, I might as well talk about what I do there. So while I am going to introduce the museum and talk about it for a few minutes, I’m also going to talk about what I do. Which is a lot. Collections, social media, research, sit on two committees, work the front desk…ridiculous. Which reminds me, I need to make sure I can take photos on our Open House day (Feb 20th, come by!) so I can post them. Darn you, photo releases.

I’ve also been working on my presentation for the first-ever HistoryCamp, happening in Cambridge on March 8th. Lee Wright put it together, and discussions and panels have slowly started to add up for the full-day conference. Apparently now we have over 100 people attending?! Should be fun. Adriene Katz and I are giving a presentation on objects as sources of history, and we’re both hoping that we’ll have a good chunk of history teachers from primary and secondary schools in the audience. We both realized that neither of us had ever used an object as a primary source until we got to our museum positions, so it will definitely be interesting to see how we can teach this to other people! I’ve got a few slides done, and hopefully I’ll be sending my presentation along to Adriene at the end of the weekend for her to look over. I’m also on a panel to discuss employment with a history degree! If you’re interested in coming, registration is free (unless you want to help offset the costs of everything being free by paying $25) and open until the day of the conference, just go here: historycamp.eventbright.com.

Well, I should start getting things together to go to work. Until next time!

February Update

Beyond the Gift Shop

Other than a lucky internship I had back in 2009, the majority of my museum experience so far has been working in gift shops. Nowadays, whenever I mention that I work in a museum, people’s first instinct is to ask, “what do you do?”

Well, I say, I work in the gift shop.

This is usually the point where most people give me an odd look or say something like, “oh, so you aren’t really IN the museum.” This bothers me in so many ways. What do you mean, I’m not IN the museum? Sure, my job involves working in a retail environment, but that doesn’t mean my position isn’t part of the grand scheme of things within the museum itself. I may work in the gift shop, but you can bet your britches I know as much about the galleries as many of our docents and volunteers.

I consider myself pretty lucky. At HMNH, the gift shop is located within the actual museum – it’s the first thing you see when you come up to the exhibits. We’re usually the first point of contact most museum visitors have in the physical gallery space, which gives us in the shop the unique position of being both shop associates and de facto docents. Ask me anything about the Glass Flowers, the New England Forests, or the Great Mammal Hall – chances are, I’ll have the answer. My job also allows me to connect with visitors in a way that some gift shop employees might never get the chance to, especially if their shop is detached from the exhibit space of the museum. Folks ask me about our other museums, which means I have to know about exhibits not only at HMNH, but also at the Peabody Museum, the Semitic Museum, and CHSI. Even more ask about other museums in Boston, etc. You get the idea.

Basically, I’m a go-to person for any visitor looking for information. And I really like that about my job. It allows me to talk to visitors and hear what they have to say about our galleries and exhibits. I might not feel the same way about the Glass Flowers as most of our visitors do (the usual exclamation upon exiting that exhibit is “those are simply AMAZING!” or something to that affect), but I’ll gladly tell you that Leopold and Ruldolph Blaschka had an amazing gift and incredible patience, that the collection took 50 years to complete and was transported to Cambridge even during World War I, and that yes, in fact, they are all glass. I like talking to kids about what their favorite exhibits were, too. We sell megalodon teeth from the South Carolina coast, and a lot of kids come by and say WHOA! when they see them. So of course I take them out! It opens up dialogue with visitors that otherwise can’t really participate in online surveys of how their visit was. I like being able to tell people that if they go up to the bird balcony and look at our 120-year-old sperm whale, they can see grease STILL seeping out of the bones. STILL! It’s crazy!

What’s more, I work on the weekends – our busiest time at HMNH. Sunday mornings are free from 9-12 for Massachusetts residents, and it’s really cool to see the regulars show up with their kids, who come in practically EVERY Sunday and yet are still completely blown away by some of the animals in the zoological collection. Working the weekends at HMNH is something that not too many staff do, because we’re part of a university with rules on who can work weekends (depending on how your job is classified? I’m honestly not sure, it’s complicated), so my view on just how busy we can be is completely different from what our weekday warriors see. Sure, they might get the school group crowds from 10am-2pm, but on the weekends we get school groups, boy scout troops, tour groups…basically every level of ‘group’ that you can think of. So when we have staff meetings to discuss attendance, I can chime in and say something about what our attendance is like on the weekend; and I can add what our visitors think, because I am fortunate enough to interact with them.

I see my job as something more than just a shop clerk. Yes, I sell you things (the profits of which go directly to the museum!), but I’m also your guide and your interpreter. If you have questions, I have the answers.

Cheers!

Beyond the Gift Shop

Drinking About Museums!

Wednesday night I had the opportunity to participate in my first-ever Drinking About Museums. I had heard about Museums Show-Off via Twitter, but Drinking About Museums was a new setting for me. I follow quite a few museum professionals on Twitter, and learned about the event through that.

Not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous when I showed up at the bar. I had no idea what to expect. Would we be sitting down? Hanging out at the bar? Who was going to be there? Was there a format involved? Did I need to know some secret handshake to get in?

Luckily, I knew a few people that were attending, and was swiftly shown to the table where 20 fellow museum professionals were sitting, enjoyinig a beer and some food, and chatting enthusiastically about work and play. Several of the people there were employees at the Peabody Essex Museum, where I was an intern in 2009, so I felt a bit more comfortable knowing people I could talk to. It was a great time! I was kinda quiet at first, mostly because I had no idea what to say. But eventually I was asked what my profession was, how I was involved in museums, and the conversation moved on from there. I was told I could come back to intern at PEM (I might take you up on that, Ed Rodley!) and met some new PEM employees that I had never known during my time as an intern.

The best conversations I had were with a woman from the Museum of Science (Caroline, but I can’t remember her last name, dang it!), and with Juliette, who works in Public Programs at the PEM. With both of them I talked about where I was in my program and what I wanted to accomplish out of it, and how hard it is to get in to the field nowadays. Juliette reminded me that in this field, it really is all about who you know and who you network with, but that because the field is so small and tight-knit,everyone ends up knowing everybody, somehow. Caroline and I talked about how she got into the field, and I was surprised to learn that she didn’t start out in exhibits, but in education. We talked about how so many people start out working in one department and eventually find themselves doing projects for other departments and becoming a jack-of-all-trades in their museum. Which is also incredibly thrilling to hear! I am head over heels for all things collections-related, but if I can have the opportunity to work with education or public programs or development, that makes things even better. Right now I’m working in Collections and Marketing at the Waterworks Museum, but I’m trying to see if its possible to help the Education dept at HMNH with the next Family Day event.

This experience has only increased my love of the tight-knit community of museum professionals I already know, and makes me want to meet more individuals who share my passions. I want to meet more emerging professionals my own age, but learning from those who have been through the motions of working in museums is always an amazing opportunity that I hope to someday participate in from the other end (I wanna mentor people too!).

Until next time, cheers!

Drinking About Museums!

Why I love the Waterworks Museum

Before I get started, I just want to say, this isn’t a plug. I’m not writing this post because I want you to visit the museum (I mean, I do, but that’s not the point). I’m not writing this because one of my supervisors asked me to. I’m writing it in response to a visceral reaction I had to being at work today, and I felt like I needed to share that with my community.

Today marks my one year anniversary of volunteering at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. I remember last year, sitting in my Intro to Museum Studies class, listening to former director Beryl Rosenthal talk about the museum, and I remember perking up when she mentioned that the majority of employees are actually volunteers. I emailed and set up an appointment to talk with Lauren Kaufmann, who showed me around the museum and told me about all of the opportunities available to volunteers. I was there for almost an hour talking with her, excited at the possibilities. I remember meeting with Eric Peterson, my boss, and talking about all of the issues with the collections database, what I could do to help with that, along with any research that could be added to the database, and new objects that might need to be added to the collection.

Today, sitting at my desk, talking with Eric about potential new storage options for the permanent collection, I realized just how far I have come. In one year, I have grown from a nervous pre-grad student, not entirely sure what she was going to do in the museum world, to a confident grad student who talks about storage options, research opportunities, connecting with other institutions, and database upgrades like it’s her job.

And it is. I might not be getting paid, but the fact remains: it’s my job.

Today, Eric asked me to compile a list of all the manufacturers housed within the building. While making this list, I fact-checked everything we had in the database and learned even more about our collection than I had previously known. I discovered that, while we might have a few loose Lunkenheimer Company parts in storage, I have seen the same company seal on dozens of valves and grease caps when climbing on the Allis-Chalmers steam engine. And as I was getting ready to leave, I felt the urge to put my stuff down and go into the Great Engines Hall and document every single piece of Lunkenheimer Company parts that I could find. And I realized then that I absolutely love this place, this old building that I now call home.

I love the Waterworks Museum for so many reasons. I love that they took a chance on me and let me come work with their collections, and have let me grow into the confident collections management volunteer I am today. They have become my second family. I love that I am always amazed by the machines in the Great Engines Hall. Every time I look at them, I find something new to be fascinated by. Last week, Dennis (one of our board members who is incredibly knowledgeable about the site) helped me figure out where a loose bell crank might have fit, and we finally found a matching one on the second level of the Allis. It made me think about these machines as more than just the sum of their parts. Each piece is incredibly important, from the massive flywheels down to the last screw.

I could go on, but I have homework to do (ah, grad school), so I will end with this. Thank you, Lauren and Eric and Beryl, for opening your doors to me. Thank you for trusting me with your collection. Thank you for opening my eyes to this museum, and thank you for letting me grow. I have learned so much in the past year and I hope to learn more in the coming years.

Why I love the Waterworks Museum