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.

Format Changes

No, this is not the long post I have been gathering research for and slowly writing for the past week. That post, on the effects of touch and learning in museums, should hopefully go up Sunday night. I had to get a few quotes from my sister, and make sure all my research was sound and made sense before I started compiling the post.

ANYWAY! I am thinking about changing up the format for this blog. A lot of what I do, both for work and for school, centers around a hefty amount of research, most of which I take on for my own enjoyment, and sometimes has nothing to do with museum studies, just with the stuff filling the museums I work at. And I really like this kind of research, because it leads to me being happy and learning something new. Plus, I realize I haven’t been very consistent with my posts, which is only harming me. I want this blog to showcase my abilities and be a forum for me to question and interpret the field and (hopefully) engage with other professionals in the comments (seriously guys please comment). So, with that, I think we’re going to do things a little differently.

Something I started doing off and on last month on Instagram was Cetacean Saturday. I’m thinking I might bring that here as well, but only once a month because we only have 5 whales at the natural history museum (though then there are two orcas in the Northwest Labs building…). Also, I do crazy amounts of research for the things I tweet about for the Waterworks Museum, and for the objects I document and accession. These posts won’t be very long, and they’ll more than likely be accompanied by at least one Hipstamatic photo. I realize this format might be better suited for Tumblr, but I a) have no patience for Tumblr these days, and b) cannot be bothered to reactivate another social media account.

So starting tomorrow, I’ll throw up a post for Cetacean Saturday, more than likely featuring a whale I’ve already covered on my Instagram account. We’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll push it beyond the skeletons we have at HMNH if people seem to enjoy it.

Yes, I’ll still be posting about current issues and topics in the field, but as many of you probably know, working full time sometimes means that sitting down at your computer to write a lengthy blog post sometimes isn’t the thing you want to do every day. Look for these meatier posts probably once or twice a month. You can expect shorter posts every week starting tomorrow (but don’t worry, your feed will not be flooded with posts).

What say you to that? ūüôā

Format Changes

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.

ūüôā

 

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

Thoughts on Photography in Museums

Last month there was a flurry of activity regarding photography, especially photography in museums. I spent a good 12 hours on planes over Christmas vacation and read through a few of the articles discussing the pros and cons of photography, how it can affect our memories, why it should or shouldn’t happen, etc. The articles were interesting and opinions ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other, and made the flight go by a bit quicker.

I wholeheartedly agree with Nina Simon’s 2009 post from her blog Museum 2.0, wherein she expresses that museum photo policies should be as open as possible. Personally, the strongest argument I feel is that when visitors take photos in your museum and then share those photos, you are getting free advertising (as Nina points out in her post). Who wouldn’t want interesting, new, different images of their galleries and exhibit halls posted on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? When others see those photos, they might very well be inclined to visit themselves. I’ve had this experience several times; in fact, just yesterday I took a photo of a¬†deinonychus fossil for Fossil Friday and shared it to my Instagram feed. Within an hour, a friend of mine asked what the admission prices were, whether or not there were guided tours, and when the best time to visit was. Sharing photos = free marketing materials. And who doesn’t love free things?

There was one article that I read that I had a visceral reaction to. It’s a good thing the plane was jam-packed (and it was very early), or I would have been yelling at my Kindle. Eric Gibson’s piece in The New Criterion titled “The Overexposed Museum”¬†made me sad and angry at the same time. In his article, Gibson claims that photography needs to be banned from all art museums, or these institutions will fail. He sees visitor photography as a threat to the collections, and to what he calls “the art experience”. ¬†He fears that visitor loyalty will decrease because of photography, and that “creating an environment where the visitor is invited to stop, look, and take something away from the experience is the museum’s first duty to the public – not shops, restaurants, or public engagement programs.” He wraps up by questioning what museums are for, if they fail to ban photography.

My reaction to this was, as I said, visceral. Museums have a responsibility to the public to steward and preserve the art and objects they collect, yes, but they also have a responsibility to engage with the public. As times change and families bring their kids to the museums they grew up with, evolving policies and growing with technology is something that museums¬†must do, or suffer the consequences of becoming out of touch. By evolving and allowing photography in the galleries, museums are engaging with their visitors on a new level. These photos are shared with others and can bring in a broader audience. I don’t agree with Gibson’s comment that allowing photography means a loss of control of the collections; sharing the collection is your primary objective as a museum. I would go so far as to ask, what is a museum for if it isn’t sharing its collection? Plus, if you allow staff to photograph objects behind the scenes to share them on their personal social media sites or on a museum blog, you increase awareness of just how incredible your collection is, which could lead to donations and support from the public. But a loss of control? Come on. Every website that I have ever seen that hosts photos of artwork makes note of where that art can be seen in person, even if that website is some poorly managed Geocities (oh yeah, remember Geocities?) or Tumblr blog.

On the subject of visitor loyalty, I think the exact opposite of Gibson. People aren’t taking photographs in museums so they can go home with a Van Gogh or Monet and never have to visit another museum ever again. They’re taking these photos to have a memory of their visit; yes, for some that means standing in front of every masterpiece and taking a selfie. But who are you to say how someone can interact with a piece of art? Everyone has their own way of interacting with art, and for many, that interaction includes photographing it. I can’t even say how many pictures I have on my phone of the Albert Bierstadt paintings I’ve seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, but I¬†can say that having those pictures on my phone and my computer doesn’t mean I never go back to the Salon to look at them again. In fact, having those pictures reminds me of where they are in the museum, so when I go back, I can quickly find them. When you create a strict photo policy and then have staff roving around reinforcing it every time someone pulls out a phone, you create a hostile environment, whether you intended to or not. I would say that this would be a cause for loss of visitor loyalty more than anything else; if I felt constantly hounded at a museum, I would not visit.

Also, Mr. Gibson, museums in fact are responsible for public engagement. To you, engagement might be as simple as unlocking the doors in the morning, but for many visitors, engagement means providing meaningful, memorable ways of interacting with art, which leads to a better understanding and appreciation of the art, the artist, and the museum. Providing visitor engagement, whether it be a scavenger hunt, Twitter/Instagram hashtag, QR code, etc., ensures that more visitors have some way of appreciating the objects and the art they see around them, instead of just staring at the painting, reading the label, and maybe walking away with something. Without engagement programs and ways of offering visitors new and different methods of interacting with art, you will lose visitors for good.

The one point I will agree with Gibson on is that visitors forget that you can’t touch things in museums. I have seen this happen and it bothers me as well. Working at a natural history museum, I have had to remind visitors that just because the taxidermied animals look like they can be touched, they really shouldn’t be. I’ve caught visitors trying to climb onto the full-sized moose we have in one of the galleries, and have been shocked when having to explain just why you can’t do something like that (the answer for this is, “You don’t know what kind of chemicals are sitting on that thing, and we really don’t want you getting sick.”).

Other articles posed reasons for allowing photography that I agree with. ARTnews¬†had an article that discussed the very real issue of guards being too busy yelling at visitors for taking photos, and missing others touching art or stealing. They also state that “as a culture, we increasingly communicate in images” – this has been true since the dawn of art history, when cave drawings were a way of communicating stories to one another. By photographing in museums we show others what we like, how we feel, what we are doing – in other words, we are communicating without using words.

My personal feelings on the matter (other than what was shared above) are simple. Museums should allow photography. I understand the issues that come with intellectual property rights and loan items/exhibitions, and to tackle these problems, I believe museums need to take a proactive approach. If you are a contemporary art museum, include in your contracts with artists the option of allowing photography of their art; if you can, perhaps have a gallery that holds only pieces that can be photographed, and a separate gallery for those that can’t be. Make it clear which galleries can and can’t be photographed, both on your maps and with well-done signage (and yes, a guard/gallery guide or two). ¬†If you’re taking in a loaned exhibition, try to work with the lending institution on photography rights, and if the lender doesn’t want to allow photography, then make that explicitly clear to your visitors. But banning photography all together can be difficult and, again, can end in a loss of visitor loyalty. When you’re constantly hounding people to put away their iPhones because they¬†might be taking a picture, you create an unwelcoming, uncomfortable atmosphere that can turn many visitors off from coming back to your institution (or worse, from visiting any art institution ever again). In my experience, most visitors will ask if photography is allowed. I’m always happy to tell them YES! GO NUTS! (Just don’t bring a tripod/monopod in!) Recently, I visited a historic mansion that has a no-photography policy. Their reason was that the artifacts in the house were sensitive to light and could be damaged by flash. As much as I understand this, the mansion had windows that reached 30 feet high, were overabundant, and allowed in plenty of natural sunlight. This policy was clearly instituted as a way for the mansion to keep total control over what images were produced of the inside of the house. I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t take pictures inside. If you’re concerned about damage from flash photography, the simple thing to do is to ask visitors not to use flash. I do it all the time.

Where was I going with all this? Oh, right. C’mon, museums. Lighten up. Let us take photographs.

Thoughts on Photography in Museums

#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