Full Heart Gratitude (An Overdue Update!)

Summer fun!It has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted here. I guess I could use the excuse that it was summer, and I was busy doing summer things, which to a degree is true. But I took part in a great maritime archaeology field school through Salem State that I’ve been meaning to post about; I got to visit Rochester and check out the George Eastman House Museum (which is now the George Eastman Museum); I went to Maine and spent almost an entire day at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport and it was AMAZING and you should all visit…

It was a great summer, seriously.

In addition to doing all those fun summer things, I worked hard. I put in a lot of time at my internship with the Bostonian Society, and just completed my official 200 hours for credit today (!). We’ve managed to get a lot done, a lot more than I think we had initially expected; we even got to celebrate this month when we loaned the door to the suite that Charles Dickens used to stay in from the original Parker House (pre-1920s demolition!) BACK to the Omni Parker House. Man, that was a great night. Seeing how thrilled the house historian, Susan Wilson, was to have another piece of Parker House history back at the hotel was worth all the work.

Of course I worked at Harvard as well, but y’all know what I do there. Gift shop is doing pretty well — we have an Instagram account now, @shop_hmnh, so go check it out and follow us!

On top of work and play, I got asked to be a course assistant for a professor at the Extension School that I really admire, and have so far really been enjoying how strange it is to be on the other side of the syllabus. But beyond that, I am so so grateful. I had emailed this professor to discuss her work as a consultant (because I’m curious about how that works), and she ended her response with, “Oh, by the way, do you want to be my course assistant this semester?” Heart, full.

I’ve also accepted a volunteer seat on the Collections Committee at the Cambridge Historical Society, something I didn’t think I’d be able to do until I was mid-career. I’m so grateful a coworker at Harvard passed the email along and that Marieke Van Damme, the Executive Director at CHS, believes in me enough to welcome me to the Committee. We had our first meeting tonight, and I can’t tell you how awesome it was to sit there amongst peers and feel that my opinions were valid and genuinely desired.

Walking home from CHS tonight, along beautiful Brattle Street, I realized something: I may never make much money working in this field; I’ll work long hours; I’ll take on more projects than I can handle. But if there is one thing that I have come to love about the cultural heritage sector, it’s how amazing the majority of the people who work in it are. I have yet to meet someone who left me with a sour taste in my mouth, or feeling stupid or ashamed or unqualified. I have received nothing but encouragement and praise and support from the people I have started surrounding myself with, and I want more of those people in my life.

3 weeks from today (oh my god WHAT) I will be delivering my first conference session at the New England Museum Association’s annual conference with my amazing friend Monika. The two of us, plus our co-chair of the YEPs PAG, Scarlett, will be hosting events throughout conference, to welcome and encourage emerging professionals in the field (come running with us on Friday morning!). I get to help run a pre-conference networking event with some of the amazing folks from NEMA. And on top of all of that, I get to be at conference, I get to meet so many more amazing and wonderful colleagues and reconnect with people I haven’t seen in a while.

Guys, I am so incredibly grateful for every single one of you. You know who you are. You know what you’ve done. You know what’s coming for you (a hug, of course!).

I’ll get back to posting regularly soon. But for now, just know, I love all of you.

Full Heart Gratitude (An Overdue Update!)

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

What’s Your Dream Job?

Yesterday, a friend from high school (and far outside the museum world) asked me what my ultimate museum dream job was once I graduated from my MA program. I’m not going to lie, I was a little pressed to find the answer. What is my dream job? I’ve thought about it loads of times, what I want to do when I graduate, but I’ve also noticed that the answer has changed dramatically over the past two years.

When I first started my MA program, I was convinced that I could only do well in a collections environment, not dealing with the public, meticulously researching old artifacts to discover their provenance and going home at the end of the day confident in the knowledge that I had served my purpose. But now, that really isn’t my goal. I still want to work in collections – where else am I going to be able to do research on old artifacts?? – but I don’t want that information to remain static in the storage room, hidden away in a database, accessible only by those with passwords and knowledge of how to navigate the program. I want to increase the accessibility of my research, and the research of countless other curatorial assistants, associates, and researchers. I want interns to know that the research they do during their semester-long internship goes somewhere beyond the object files. Most importantly, I want the public to know what it is we’re researching, why we’re doing the research, why it’s important to the museum and to the community, etc.

I think half the allure of museums is what isn’t on display in the galleries. People are constantly asking me about collections not on display; pieces they remember seeing 30 years ago, do I think they’ll ever come back out? Those kinds of things. Before, when the internet was not as prolific as it is now, and when museums weren’t on social media, it was understandable for the off-display collections to be a mystery. But now, it isn’t: people want to know. Visitors want to know about conservation techniques; why certain objects have been moved off-display; why collections research is never really complete; what the importance of voucher specimens in a natural history collection are; most importantly, why we collect in the first place. And while it isn’t always feasible to explain all of this to visitors in person (unless you are able to have viewable conservation labs, like the MFA), the far-reaching capability of social media, blogs, and museum websites has given us a tool that some museums have taken full advantage of, and others have ignored. These tools have given us the ability to explain so much more of what we do to visitors who are interested in learning more than what we can deliver in our brick-and-mortar buildings.

Take Emily Graslie’s YouTube series The Brain Scoop. The Field Museum has given her the opportunity to share with the world the inner workings of the museum, giving online visitors a chance to see what kind of research goes on behind the scenes; the stories of some of the specimens that have been in the collection since the early days of the museum; and what really goes on in the exhibits shop. Graslie hosts meet-ups at the museum and around Chicago, encouraging her fans to visit the museum and see the real thing as opposed to only engaging online.

For a while, this is what I thought I wanted to do – become what Graslie had achieved, just at another museum. And to a degree, I still would like to do that. I would love to be the face of a museum, sharing the amazing secrets and mysteries of the collection with folks who are genuinely interested. But I don’t want to be another Emily Graslie. I want people to know me for me. Graslie has increased the accessibility of the Field Museum, and that is what I would like to be able to do for whatever museum I end up working for. But not just through the online community. I want to help with education, bringing school groups through the storage areas and to labs to show them what kind of work goes on at museums. I want to engage with community groups to help understand their needs and what else the museum can do to foster a relationship within the community we serve. Sure, Chief Curiosity Correspondent is an amazing job title, but I want something like, Collections Accessibility Coordinator. I want to go to schools, to community centers, and be able to communicate with these constituents and bring them the museum when they can’t come in. I want people to be able to appreciate and understand the importance of museums and cultural heritage institutions, even if they have never been to one.

In a nutshell, I want to increase access to collections through increased transparency and technology. I want to share everything that is amazing about the institution I work at with the world. So…does anyone have a job like that?

What’s Your Dream Job?

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!