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?

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)

#ITweetMuseums

Last week I received my #ITweetMuseums sticker from Mark Schlemmer! It was quite an exciting moment for me. I think more museums need to engage with their Twitter followers by posting some sort of hashtag on exhibit entrance panels or at least in their maps and handouts. Or just use their name as a hashtag! Something! Anyway, I was torn on how I was going to put my sticker to use. I work at one museum (HMNH) and volunteer at another (Waterworks Museum), but I only had one sticker. What to do?

I decided to affix my sticker to my name tag at HMNH. I figured none of my supervisors would have a problem with it, since it doesn’t pose any risk of a conflict of interest. I hoped that the blue speech bubble that I purposefully put right next to my engraved name would spark conversation among the visitors I encountered while working in the gift shop all weekend. They all look at my name tag and a lot of them call me by my name if they had a good experience, so hey, maybe they would ask me about it!

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Not one visitor this weekend commented on my sticker. Many of my coworkers did, though, and that was great! The sticker sparked conversation amongst staff about interacting with the internet and our online visitors. A coworker who is the volunteer coordinator was very impressed and thought it would be a great way to engage a younger crowd of visitor who wants to tweet their experiences wherever they go. I’m still running off the high I got from getting to talk to Emily Graslie of the Brain Scoop, so my enthusiasm for getting the word out and making more people aware of our museum is chugging along and I hope is quite infectious!

Anyway, hopefully this weekend more coworkers and some visitors will be interested in the sticker. Eventually I’m hoping to suggest to our PR department that we choose a hashtag to use on Twitter, so we can track it and see what our visitors are up to. We allow people to take photos, so it would be great to see what people are tweeting about. If you visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History this weekend, please stop by the gift shop and say hello, and make sure to tweet!

#ITweetMuseums