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.

#MuseumTech: Theta360 and Museum Galleries

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The first time I heard about the Ricoh Theta, I got very excited. A 360-degree camera? How awesome would that be!?

It’s pretty awesome, guys.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one for two weeks, and I am already imagining the possibilities that this little guy could bring to museum education, public programming, gallery interpretation, and social media integration.

The Ricoh Theta is a 5″ high camera with two fish-eye lenses, which allows it to capture a 360-degree image. You can either take a picture by pushing the shutter button on the camera body, or use an app to take a hands-free image (from a tripod or placing Theta on a flat surface). The app is currently available on iOS and Android platforms, and allows you to look at your photos as soon as you’ve taken them (the camera has WiFi that your device connects to, instead of connecting via Bluetooth). It’s a really neat little device!

Anyway, how can this be connected to museums? Well, here, let me show you.

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This is screenshot of my 360-degree photo of the Great Mammal Hall at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. How flippin’ sweet is it?! I can already see the potential for an iPad app, just from this screenshot alone. Or even better, the potential for a visual tour of the museum galleries, possibly to be placed on the website, or only accessible for educational purposes in the case of a school being too far away for a physical visit to the museum. Having the ability to swing around and look at every aspect of the gallery, with the potential to add information in a touch-screen manner (forgive me guys, I’m not an integrated media specialist and I definitely have no idea how to create an app). For example, if you tapped on the skeleton of the North Atlantic Right Whale (the one directly above, with the black baleen), an info panel would pop up, to tell you more about the specimen. It could include anything, from the collection records from the MCZ, to biological information about the species, and go one step further and discuss modern conservation efforts for protecting right whales in New England. It could have neat little behind-the-scenes facts; for example, the baleen on our right whale isn’t real baleen, it’s actually horse hair (the baleen was harvested when the whale was killed 100 years ago). Wouldn’t that be great?

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Here’s another screenshot, this time of the Mineral Hall at HMNH (please forgive my goofy hand and intense attempt at trying to be invisible in a 360-degree shot). Again, I’m seeing so many possibilities for extending the museum beyond the confines of the building and into the digital realm. I almost want this shot to act in the same way Google maps does when you use Street View: you can move forwards and backwards, and side to side along the streets, and zoom in to what interests you. I think an application like that for people who otherwise can’t visit the museum would be a huge help to education. People could virtually “walk” through the Mineral Hall, and zoom close enough to each case that they could see each specimen, and then click on a specimen to learn more about it. The same could be done in the Great Mammal Hall.

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Just one more, and then I’m done, I swear. This final screenshot was taken today, from the floor of the Great Engines Hall at the Waterworks Museum. The view is straight up, in the arch of where the original building ends and the addition begins. Behind the chairs, you can see the Allis engine towering 3 stories high; and upside down you can see the Worthington. If the lighting were better in this shot, you could zoom in to get a better look at the structural details of the building as well. And, once again, I’m envisioning virtual walk-throughs of the museum, allowing for greater access from around the world.

Below are links to the 360-degree images on my Theta360 account. You’ll be able to manipulate the images the same way you could if you had the app! I recommend zooming out a little in the viewer first.
Great Mammal Hall: https://theta360.com/s/9PK
Mineral Hall: https://theta360.com/s/9PS
Great Engines Hall: https://theta360.com/s/9PZ

What do you guys think? How would you use these images if the possibilities were endless?

#MuseumTech: Theta360 and Museum Galleries

#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

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

Collections Storage Tour at the Peabody Museum

Last Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to visit the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology‘s collections storage space as part of my class on collections management. It was such a great experience! We were split in to two groups, one led by the collections manager (also our professor) and the other led by one of the curatorial/conservation assistants. The first place my group went was the offsite storage facility, which I believe houses the majority of the PMAE’s collection. It was incredible. Three stories full of objects from all over the world, all within arms reach. At one point we were even allowed to hold an Acheulean flint axe head. This object was made by homo erectus, our ancestors, and is somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 years old. UM, WHAT? The oldest thing I have ever held in my entire life. It was a little ridiculous.

After the offsite storage we were brought up into the attic by the curatorial assistant, who showed us the different methods he and his co-conservators use for rehousing and storing objects in the collection. I know this employee from working at the desk at the Peabody occasionally, so it was really cool to be able to see him in his element, instead of in the front hallway. Plus, he recognized me! I (half-joking) asked if I could come hang out with him when I was on my break sometime, and his response? “Give me a few days heads up and you can come check storage out all the time!” My jaw dropped. For real? Ok, great! I also learned from the collections manager that the Semitic Museum is always looking for collections volunteers – BANGARANG. As much as I love the Waterworks Museum, I need to have experience with another collection under my belt, and the Semitic Museum’s archaeological collection would be a perfect new addition.

Tonight we’re going to be discussing repatration, specifically related to NAGPRA and the NMAI Act, which I’m becoming more and more interested in. It’s certainly a global discussion at the moment as more and more countries are requesting (sometimes demanding) that artifacts be returned to their rightful owners instead of remaining in the museums that acquired them centuries ago. Maybe I’ll post about it.

Cheers!

Collections Storage Tour at the Peabody Museum

The Story Collider @ The Middle East Downstairs

I had an amazing experience last night. I decided to go to The Story Collider, an event at the Middle East Downstairs whose goal is to tell true, inspiring stories about science and how scientists of today became who they are. I went because Emily Graslie, host of the Brain Scoop on YouTube, was going to be there, and I wanted an opportunity to meet her – or at least hear her talk in person.

But boy did I get more than what I thought I would.

When I showed up at the event, I made a few chums waiting in line. We talked about the Brain Scoop, why we were at the show, our jobs, school, what we liked about science…pretty much everything you would expect a bunch of twenty-somethings to talk about while waiting in line for a science event. Upon entering the downstairs, we immediately saw Emily, pacing around, nervous to talk to a room full of people about how she had gotten to where she is now (for those of you not in the know, it’s the Field Museum in Chicago). We immediately went over to talk to her, and I was both surprised and delighted to find out that Emily is actually a human being (shock!) who still doesn’t get why people like her. Talking to her was great, but soon other fans started to circle around, and we had to give them time with her too, so we moved on.

The event was fantastic. Listening not only to Emily, but Kishore Hari, Deborah Blum, and Alan Lightman all share their experiences with their entry into the field of science communication was hilarious and amazing. And then we got to hang out with them after! It was so cool. Intel sponsored the event, so there was free food (from the Middle East, so it was DELISH), and both bars were open. Apparently there was a two-day conference at MIT yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday), which prompted this Story Collider event, so many of the science folks from the conference were there too, and they all wanted to talk. TO US. About how we engage with science, how science can be more audience friendly, how to make science more accessible to the masses instead of the few that understand what gets published in science journals. It was incredible. I got to high-five Kishore Hari! It was great!

But if I’m being honest, the best part of my evening came at the very end. Emily was walking back from (I assume) the green room, and I decided to get her by myself for a moment to talk. She’s incredibly down to earth and so excited about what she does, and the possibility that someone else could be excited too makes her even more enthusiastic. And what did I say? Well, the details escape me, because I was still in a sort of shock that I was actually talking to her, but basically, I thanked her. From the bottom of my heart, I thanked her for being who she was, and for being the one lucky person in a million who got the dream job of going from volunteer to full-time employee. I told her that she was an inspiration to me, not only because she’s a female and she’s my age, but because I know how hard it is to volunteer in a museum that you love and watch as people ignore it. I know what it feels like to put so much time and effort into something you care so much about, only to see less and less funding come in every year. It’s really painful. So again, I thanked her. And she thanked me, for coming to the event, for talking to her, for doing what I do, and for extending her an open invitation to visit my other museum (HMNH, where I work) whenever she had time. She even gave me a hug (what!), and told me to keep in touch, which I plan on doing, because hey, what the heck. And she gave me the best piece of advice: keep doing what I’m doing.

Anyway. This entire experience has changed me quite a bit. Today I went to the Waterworks Museum and told my interim executive director that I wanted to do MORE than I was already doing, and now I’m going to the marketing meeting on Thursday night. My goal at that meeting is to convince the folks there that we need a better social media presence, and that I will do anything it takes to get our name out there and get more visitors in the door. I love this museum and I think it takes more than having free admission to get people to visit, and that’s what I’m going to tell everyone at that meeting on Thursday.

I’ve got my eyes on the prize, and I’m gonna fight like hell until I get it.

The Story Collider @ The Middle East Downstairs