Emerging Museum Professionals Week

I’ve been on a bit of a recharging hiatus, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Emerging Museum Professionals Week at Cabinet of Curiosities. Particularly because I contributed one of the guest posts, “Don’t Let Job-Hunting Advice Drag You Down.” Thanks to Adrianne Russell for the opportunity!

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Experiences and Marketing

A couple months ago, Know Your Own Bone shared a report from IMPACTS Research & Development that said that visitors’ favorite part of a museum is going with people they care about, and that a museum ought to sell the personal and socially oriented experience it offers.

While no study can be taken as gospel, and I’m not seeing a whole lot of backup online for free to examine in more depth, the point seems like a logical one to me. And so, I’d like to ask and at least ruminate upon a question based off of it: How could the marketing for a museum sell this concept?

I use “could” because I’m not so interested in the obvious–targeting families with ads that show happy parents and kids and their incredibly enriched lives from a day at the museum. That or something like it is probably the right place to start, but I’m more intrigued by going beyond it. What loved-one-centric experiences can a museum create that are themselves promotion for the museum?

I’ve written about museum games before, and I think that’s would qualify. Scavenger hunt or mission-based games lend themselves well to group work within a family or friend unit, and a game can be designed to encourage museum attendance as well as museum engagement.

Gathering and sharing community stories/artifacts/creations might well serve this function. That’s perhaps a trickier proposition–details about a family’s history in a city, for example, are more likely to be held by the parents than the kids. So the museum’s goal is to create a framework under which all members of a family or group can contribute. In the hypothetical about collecting family histories, perhaps its as simple as an explicit recognition that current family events, even from the youngest children’s perspectives, are the family histories of tomorrow.

Events outside the museum certainly can apply. Appearing at street fairs (if your city is like Chicago and has dozens) or similar gatherings could create the family experience, if the museum prepares that experience to be had by bringing the appropriate activity or discussion or whatever. Some kind of community project might as well, giving the museum an opportunity to be viewed as the facilitator of something that makes the community better in a tangible way.

The content that a museum shares online might also qualify. The museum would need to craft its stories, activities, or artifact presentation in such a way as to encourage group interaction, perhaps by prompting comment, contribution, or discussion.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive; rather, it’s a collection of preliminary thoughts. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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The Long Game

The past week has been relaxing. A couple of big projects reached, if not their conclusions, at least solid guide markers that indicated clear progress.

One, of course, was quitting my job. That’s been in the works for a year, or three, depending on if you mark from the moment that I  knew my situation had to change or the moment that I truly decided to do something about it.

The second was my friend’s wedding, which also has served as a motivator for my efforts to lose weight. I’m currently down more than 60 pounds, which is a bit less than I was hoping for (the first three months of the year were tough) but still an achievement I’m quite pleased with.

The common lesson in these stories is that life, and time, are long. Long enough, at least, to solve problems that you don’t necessarily have answers for when you start. That’s certainly the situation I was in three years ago with my job, and one year ago. And then, I set a deadline, and while I haven’t solved the problem of getting a new job yet, I’ve got a lot of prospects that I didn’t have before, and a lot of reason to believe that my goal is attainable.

It’s also the situation I was in with my weight; knowing in theory how to get fitter but having a long history of trying and failing to do so. The difference this time was in getting the help that I needed, which wasn’t even that big–just a bit of a different approach to exercise, which helped to make a few other things better. When I started, I was hopeful that it would have an impact, but not necessarily confident. Now, after a year of sometimes-steady, sometimes rocky progress, I am confident in what is still to come.

These two things have helped me to internalize the fact that problems can be tackled over time. I hope that this bridled but genuine optimism can be applied in a professional setting. I’m thinking back to the Center for the Future of Museums’ post on science museums having to choose how to tackle politically divisive topics like evolution or climate change. I’m at least sympathetic to the pragmatic approach in situations like that — I’ve covered librarians forced out of their jobs for stocking the “wrong” books on shelves, so I can at least imagine museums facing similarly unjust consequences if their exhibits go against the beliefs of determined anti-science advocates.

With a longer view, however, it’s possible that today’s far-fetched idealism can become tomorrow’s pragmatism. The proper question, for some problems, may not be “How can I solve it?” but rather “How can I put myself in position to solve it in the future?”

Perhaps quicker solutions would be preferable, but when quick solutions aren’t possible, slow ones feel awfully good.

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Link Dump Sunday: This is a Fish Edition

Today’s link dump is a fish. No, not that I’m linking to a fish. The link dump itself is a fish, swimming through the sea, avoiding other fish because it’s antisocial, and occasionally creating graffiti on the side of the Titanic that reads “Kilroy was elsewhere.”

Uh… April fool?

Why don’t we pretend that didn’t happen and just move on?

From the Library as Incubator Project, a look at the Fab Lab at Fayetteville (N.Y.) Free Library. Given that several museums were among the recipients of recent IMLS grants to build similar spaces, I think it’s relevant. Also: Hackerspaces? Cool!

From Imagonem, an interview with Norway’s new Minister of International Development, notable because of his interest in role-playing games.

If you’re not reading the Chicago History Museum‘s blog, you should. It does a great job of telling the stories related to and extending the museum’s exhibits. This one discusses visitor experiences at the museum’s recent Out in Chicago exhibit.

And from the Center for Communicating Science, an interesting contest: The Flame Challenge, where the goal is to explain flame to an 11-year-old.


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A Big Transition

Last week was another in a fairly long line of eventful weeks. First was the wedding of a very good friend. And then, on Monday, I quit my job.

The two are only slightly related, by time and by the fact that the former has served as a guidepost for the past year. I’ve been planning this for the past year or so, and early on I made the decision that the wedding would serve as the division point between employed and not. (Or, more accurately, employed and on-my-way-out, since my resignation is effective after the magazine finishes its current issue, May 25.)

Yes, this is terrifying. I don’t have another job lined up yet. I’ve been looking for the past year, and had enough nibbles that I’m optimistic. And naturally, having planned for this for a year I’m reasonably prepared.

Why? I wouldn’t say that my current employer is a bad place to work. Obviously, I’m looking to get into the museum field, where my current position isn’t. And it reached the point where the current position, and its demands on my life, and the unproductive comfort of a steady but unhappy paycheck, are becoming an impediment to getting a new one.

I am excited to become a full-time job- and gig-hunter. There are plenty of projects that I’ve been putting off, both personal and professional, because of the finite quantity of hours each day. Some of them will, no doubt, show up here.

And of course, if you’re looking for a marketing/communications person for your museum, here’s my resume. I’m currently based in Chicago, but quite able to relocate.

Here’s to whatever comes!

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Hey! I’m on BoingBoing!

A very quick return to the blog (a wedding, plus some unrelated and ultimately exciting crisis preparation took me out for a while) to point you all to “From barn to bibliothek, a library emerges from history,” an article that I wrote for my employer’s atyourlibrary.org website which was picked up by BoingBoing through the LibraryLab initiative (the new and official name for Library BoingBoing.) Something I am pleased about and wanted to share…

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Buildings on the Brain

The major project that has consumed much of my past three months is very nearly completed. You can see it (or at least, 12 of its 14 parts) here. It’s a showcase of new and renovated library buildings.

I don’t claim to be an expert on architecture, but I’ve been struck in the four years I’ve been producing the showcase by how intrinsically interesting many of the buildings are. Just this year, there are buildings with green roofs that reduce energy consumption, buildings with on-site walking paths, buildings with geothermal wells that heat and cool the building by pumping fluids through pipes that run in a circuit from the building to deep underground, buildings with early-literacy playgrounds, buildings that started life as roller rinks or barns from the 1860s, and a lot more.

It’s not too hard to use a new building as a selling point. New things naturally attract attention. But even existing buildings may well have tales that can inspire potential visitors.

Thinking about the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which was built in the late ’90s, I can come up with several:

  • It has a number of green roofs, which reduce energy consumption and water runoff. They were some of the first in Chicago; Mayor Daley made a big push to create green roofs in the early ’00s. In the springtime, there are a few pairs of geese that build nests on one section of the green roof or another.
  • The green roofs are also beneficial for migratory birds, because they help the building blend into the parkland surrounding it.
  • The building is partially solar powered.
  • One side of the building has stone outcroppings, which form a sort of a waterfall area that provides unique habitats for plants and animals. The water that comes off the roof drains into a wetland microhabitat within the prairie restoration, which attracts different plants and animals and also prevents water from running off along streets where it will pick up pollutants.

… and those are just off the top of my head, and from an only semi-insider volunteer perspective.

A lot of thought goes into modern architecture in order to make it serve a function effectively and  to ensure it has as little an impact on the environment as possible. For a museum, this thought is very much worth sharing with the public

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