Category Archives: Professional Development

Childhood as a state of mind, not an age

What a Summer it has been! And how little blogging has happened. Nina Simon has said to me several times that, for her, regular blogging has been a great boon and a huge albatross around her neck. Keeping to a regular schedule is both a terrible mistress and a vital time for reflection. Without that prompt, it’s all too easy to spend no time reflecting at all. And when you fall off the blog wagon, it’s hard to get back on. So, up we go…

Gavin, talking about our Maker Lounge.

Gavin, talking about our Maker Lounge.

Earlier this Summer, my colleague Gavin Andrews and I attended a workshop on the Documentation Studio at Wheelock College—a project/venue that spun out of Harvard’s Making Learning Visible work around using Reggio Emilia-inspired documentation (a variety of media) to support learning and collaboration among educators in schools and informal settings. The goal was to look at Reggio-inspired educational practices, particularly documentation, and see how they might be applied beyond the traditional Reggio target audience of preliterate (0-5) learners.

I’ve long been interested in the Reggio Emilia model. There’s something that rings very true to me about the value of learners documenting their own learning as a way of demonstrating and crystalling that learning. My lovely and talented wife worked for many years with the folks at Project Zero at Harvard to test Reggio-inspired methods at the high school level, and in the projects she and her students undertook I could see parallels to what we were trying to do with museum audiences.

Another interesting reflection of Reggio ideas in museum thinking can be seen in Lori Phillips’ construction of open authority, particularly in the spectrum of open authority, where museums and their audiences co-create participatory interpretations. Rather than having us doing all the creating and them doing the learning, we do it together and both do both. I like the sound of that!
In addition to being the most superbly-facilitated professional development event I’ve ever experienced, it was *full* of brain food. Some of the notes from my notebook give a flavor of the event:

“Documentation is not a practice so much as a mindset – Documentation ≠ what happened. It’s your point of view of what happened.”

“Documentation is more about communication than expression.”

“How could visitors leave their own document/descripiton of their process, plus a protocol for documentation? Can it extend beyond their visit? How can they take it home/school?”

“What is the role of  the curator in this kind of interaction space?”

“How do you make documentation help w collaborative practice beyond the visit?”

Heady, tough stuff… At the end of a very fruitful half day of dicsussion and sharing with school teachers and museum educators who work with children, I asked the question I’d been aching to ask all day, “How does all this apply when your audience is not just children, but everyone?” Of course, there was no easy answer, but as I thought more about it, it occured to me that I defined childhod in my mind as a temporary state, and one that, once passed, was inaccessible thereafter. You either were a child or were not, and therefore things geared for children were somehow distinct from things designed for the rest of us. Something about this bugged me, since I knew that everyone in the room had once been a child. And it spawned a question in my mind.

What if you looked at childhood as a state of mind? 

One thing that separates adults from children is that children have a hard time imagining what it must be like to be an adult, whereas adults can remember what it was like when they were children. Childhood is, to some extent, available to us all. I’m sure all us former children can recall bits of what it was like when the world was newer and more mysterious, and we constantly encountered new things. So, my question to you, dear friends and colleagues is this: Could we as designers of learning experiences figure out ways to bring that state of being to the forefront and turn all our audience into children-learners? What might that look like? Any examples of people doing it already?

It’s not what you know, but what you are willing to learn

Already a dork at age 13. But, a dork in spacesuit FTW!

It’s not what you know, but what you are willing to learn

I kinda fell into museum work, which is odd, since I’d worked in museums since I was 11. I’d had a bunch of front of house positions; guard, guide, gift shop, garage; all the entry level jobs.  But despite that, I never really thought of museum work as something I’d pursue as a career. No, thanks. I was gonna go to college to be an astronaut. Instead, I dropped out my senior year, and after a brief, disastrous stint in retail, and needing to pay the rent, wound up back at the Museum, working the Information Desk. Until one day, I had the lunch that changed everything.

It was a busy day, the cafeteria was packed and there was no place to sit. I was an hourly grunt, on a timed 30 minute break, and my clock was running. I saw a coworker of mine eating with another woman I recognized as an employee, but didn’t know. She was one of the fancy office people we didn’t mingle with. They were sitting at a table with three seats, so I invited myself to their lunch and listened to the woman complain about how overworked and understaffed her department was. She worked in the Exhibits department, where they apparently made exhibits. Now I had known this intellectually, I’m sure, but it had never really sunk in til then. People got paid to make the exhibits people came to museums to look at.  Huh! So, I spent the next several months being aggressively friendly, until she hired me as her assistant. Thus began what I’d consider my Museum career.

When I started working in the Exhibits department, I was the youngest person there out of about 30 people, and I was the least educated. I was intimidated. They were smart. They had decades of experience. They were well-educated. The office people had Masters and Doctorates. The shop staff were cabinet makers, not carpenters, a distinction you would fail to make only once. And then there was me. I was very lucky, luckier than most. I had a boss who was a mentor in the truest sense of the word, though I didn’t know any better. I thought that’s what all bosses did, right? Train you up, sharpen your skills and point you at opportunities to gain new ones. I worked on big shows, based almost entirely on my bosses faith that I could do it. So I did it. But throughout it all, I had this persistent dread that I’d be found out one day. Somebody would say, “Rodley! What are *you* doing here!? You don’t belong here!” I did great stuff, worked on amazing projects, travelled the world, and still never felt worthy, because I didn’t think I knew what I was supposed to know, what everybody else already knew (I thought).

And what changed was when we started getting heavily into evaluation. Sitting in the galleries, actually watching visitors using stuff was a revelation! I didn’t know what would happen, but neither did the old timers, though some of them were sure that it was all a huge waste of time, and an affront to their expertise, cuz they knew. But we made better exhibits because of that. And the experience of being cool with not knowing was liberating. I didn’t know, but I was gonna find out. And I was learning things that my elders didn’t know for a change. I could go toe to toe with them on decisions about projects in a way I couldn’t before. Our dynamic changed. And my story of myself started to change.

The thing I wish they’d told me when I started in museums was that it’s not what you know, but what you are willing to learn that will make or break you as a professional. I thought that the old model of learning still applied, you know? You went to school, you learned stuff, and that carried you through your career until you retired. Only I watched some of the most senior people in my department, people with long, deep resumes of accomplishments, transform themselves from legends into pariahs, the folks you tried hard to work around to get something done, precisely because they weren’t willing to learn, or they thought that the pile of knowledge they’d accumulated should be sufficient. And by the time they retired, most people didn’t even know that they’d once been heroes. They’d become the people everybody hoped would retire soon. And I didn’t want to become that guy.

Being ok with not knowing, but being willing to learn is kinda scary, like those anxiety dreams where you’re at work and you’ve forgotten to wear pants, or like standing up in front of several hundred of your peers and sharing your deeply held feelings of unworthiness. But scary shouldn’t hold you back. I’ve gotten very good at telling myself “Not knowing *is* scary, always. Now get over it and do it anyway.” And I really believe that mindset is like a mental muscle; the more you exercise it, the better it gets, and the more you can do with it. That realization has become the cornerstone of my professional practice, and is largely responsible for me being where I am now, which is a place where I often don’t know what is the right thing to do and have to figure it out as I go along. And that’s OK.

It’s not what you know, but what you are willing to learn.

Waiting for Eileen

As follow up to my post on our storytelling session at AAM, here’s the first of the stories that were told.

Waiting for Eileen by Judy Rand

 

It was SO cold that winter. Drafty apartment. Wind blowing in from the bay.

             

Time to light the heater.

The open-flame gas heater.

 

I had a diagram from the gas company: “How to Light Your Old Heater.”

 

 It doesn’t look anything like MY old heater.

Turn valve A to B.
Wait, there is no B. There’s some loopdeloop thing here.
Push down on lever C. I don’t see a C.

I know GAS is going to come RUSHING out of this pipe at me—here? Here? !!!

 

This isn’t gonna work.
If I light this match, I’ll blow us all up.

And by us, I meant…me.

Two-bedroom apartment, but I was living alone.
Just me and my secret.
Nobody at work knew it, but I. Was shy.

Too shy to knock on a neighbor’s door to ask for help.

I was terrified of parties.
When I go….IF I go…to a party, I hide in the bathroom.
(Luckily, I don’t get invited to many.)

I look at the heater.

                   (What could I do?)

I put my parka on.

 

And I wait.
I am waiting for Eileen.

***********

Eileen was a science writer who lived two hours north, in San Francisco.
She’d come down for meetings at the aquarium. We worked together.
When meetings ran late, she’d stay over at my place. (Why not? I had a spare room.)

 

Eileen was amazing. She knew how to fix things. She knew how things work. She fixed my kitchen faucet. She fixed my clock!

 

She LOVED figuring things out. (Best of all: I wouldn’t even have to ask.)

 

“Gee, it’s getting cold,” she said when she arrived that evening. “Would you like me to light the heater?”

 

                                  Yes! Thank you! I am so grateful.

 

I sound like an idiot, right?Actually, I’m pretty good at my job.
I’m not shy at work. I have great ideas. I’m a PASSIONATE visitor advocate. I speak right up. And I have to!

“It’s this new TEAM,” I tell Eileen.

The Designer and I don’t see eye-to-eye.

I want visitors to FEEL the ocean.
What’s it really LIKE down there?

 

- The Designer’s  in a whole ‘nother world.
Circles, systems, networks. Stuff you can’t see.
He keeps shooting down my ideas.

- The Fish Person is quiet. Very quiet.
Fish people are like that. They go diving in the kelp forest, it’s quiet.
Nobody talking.
They’re like that in meetings. Nobody talking.
(What are they thinking?)

The 3 of us are deadlocked. We can’t agree.

 

 “Too bad there’s no way to fix that,says Eileen. “A workshop maybe.”

 

WORKSHOP! I’ve got one next week!

Not about teams. About visitors’ learning.

But maybe I can bring back some proof.
Convince these guys to see things my way.

***********

 

I fly off to DC.

Dr. Bernice McCarthy. Learning Styles in Museums, at the Smithsonian.
(I know it’s probably gonna be participatory. That’s the new thing.
                                          That’s OK. I’m gonna sit in the back and take notes.)

 

Bernice jumps right in.

There are 4 learning styles, says Bernice. They’re actually steps, or stages, on a learning cycle that all of us go through when we learn something new.
But each of us has our own favorite place we like to dwell on the cycle.

 

Each person has their own favorite learning style.

#1s   Imaginative Learners

(1s are immersive. They seek personal relevance.
They’re people people, says Bernice.)

#2s   Analytic Learners want the facts.

Lots of curators are #2s, Bernice tells us.

 

#3s are Common Sense Learners.

They ask “How does it work?”
They’re the engineers of the world, says Bernice.
(Sounds like my friend Eileen!)

 

  #4s, the Dynamic Learners

ask “What if I try it?” They like to jump in and do it.

 

Bernice divides us into groups.

#1s over here.      #2s here.     #3s there.      #4s—yep, already there.

 

Each team’s going to come up with an exhibit scheme.

 I look at my worksheet: points on a graph. I’m a 1.

Imaginative. Yes. Immersive. Yes.

Wait a minute…did she say “People People?”

 

I look at the #1s. The People People.

They’re waving to me, warmly.
This is going to be awful.

Three minutes in, I am happier than I have ever been.

 

The #1s love every idea I have. I get them, they get me.
These people are brilliant! (Where did they come from?)

 

Bernice calls “Time!” Each group presents. “How did it feel?” she asks.
Everyone from every group says “Amazing. Great! Not like my team back home.”

Then Bernice scrambles us. This time we’re mixed.

1,2,3,4.  1,2,3,4.   1,2,3,4.

“Same activity,” she says. “Come up with an exhibit scheme.”

 

Three minutes in—crap! This is just like my team back home!

 

Crazy Designer Person killing my ideas. SHE wants cladistics.
Systems! Stuff you can’t see. I do my best to keep it real.

Bernice calls “Time! “How did it feel?” she asks.
Everyone from every group says “A LOT more conflict. Just like my team back home.”

 

Then each group presents its scheme.
They’re better.Markedly better.
                                More vibrant in every way.

Bernice says it’s proof.
When a 1 works with a 3…when a 2 works with a 4…your opposite learning styles ensure the strongest results.Your strongest collaborator is your opposite number.

 

If, Bernice says, you can manage not to kill each other.

 

Ohhhh. Oh!
Is that why my Designer drives me crazy? (I must drive him crazy too.)
                        We’re opposite numbers?
But wait. Eileen is a 3—I’m sure of it! I love Eileen!

 

WHAT IF…what if…the next time the Designer comes up with a crazy idea,
a how-does-it-work idea, I look at him….and imagine it’s Eileen.
Imagine Eileen’s head on Designer Person’s body.

 

This could work!

What we’d do together WOULD be better if we didn’t kill each other.

 

This one idea—‘opposite learning styles’—changes my work-life. Forever.

**********

 

BACK HOME Friday, the apartment’s warm.  
Team meeting is good.  

 

One problem.
I’ve been invited to a party.

The Fish People party.
It’s going to be quiet.
Everybody standing there holding their beers. Noooobody talking. They’re waiting for their one talkative guy—John O’Sullivan—to arrive.
Shark collector, big, fun-loving guy. Got a story for everyone.
Until John-O gets there, it’s going to be QUIET.
(Makes it hard for me to hide.)

End of the year. I have to go.
I drag myself over to Gil’s house. (Yes, a Fish Person named Gil. This is a true story.)

 

Gil answers the door. He looks morose.
“Gil, what’s wrong?” I ask, stepping inside.
“John-O can’t make it,” Gil says. (Oh no!)
                                                             Everyone’s quiet.

 

I’m ready to retreat—but then I feel this strange….warmth…come over me.
Like I felt surrounded by my #1s.

 

I say to myself, “You. Are. A. PEOPLE person.”
“Gil needs warmth. Help Gil out.”

 

I start telling Gil a penguin story. (It’s funny.)
I see Freya smile. And Peter.
The party warms up. I tell another story.

 

And THAT moment changes my life-life. Forever.
I DO care about people—not just visitors.
I DO have love to share.
I don’t have to hide in the bathroom, scared.

Thanks for coming to the party. It’s great to see you all here.

© Judy Rand, 2014

Telling Stories about Storytelling @ AAM 2014

One of the highlights of my AAM 2014 experience (and the source of the most dread), was the storytelling panel that Seattle-based exhibit planner Judy Rand and I organized. AAM included a “storytelling” format this year in the call for proposals, and we thought it’d be interesting to put together a session that wasn’t the usual “people sitting behind a table talking while the slides went by” kind of presentation. Judy suggested we explore the power of storytelling based on the model of The Moth Radio Hour. I suggested the theme of “The thing I wished they’d told me when I started in museums” and we were off!
A big room can still feel like a stage with a little light control, oval seating... and a rug and plant.

A big room can still feel like a stage with a little light control, oval seating… and a rug and plant.

Over the next few months, we expanded our roster of speakers to include Catherine Hughes, Director of Interpretation at the Connor Prairie Museum and Nina Simon, the Executive Director from the Museum of Art and Science in Santa Cruz. Catherine’s an actress, Nina’s a former slam poet, and we knew they’d rise to the challenge of telling compelling stories within pretty rigid time limits. Judy and I, both more writers than speakers, had more to worry about. Coming up with a way to tell a compelling story is very different than writing a compelling story. Writing for the ear is, for me, much harder than writing for the eye. I don’t think I ever spent as much time practicing a conference presentation, cutting and tightening, as I did for the eight minutes I was alone in front of a room full of my peers telling my story.
The Storytellers: Nina, Judy, Ed, and Catherine

The Storytellers: Nina, Judy, Ed, and Catherine

In the end, depsite the angst it caused me, it was a great session. The stories we heard were amazing. Judy told us of her intense shyness in public and of the revelation of taking a personality test and finding out that it classified her a “people person.” Catherine described her love of museum work as an addiction and drew out a number of very funny, if slightly disturbing, analogies between her career path and an addict’s. Trust me, it was good. Nina told the story of her struggles as a new museum director and what it means to really be an activist instead of just talking about it.
Judy sharing her story with the audience.

Judy sharing her story with the audience.

When we asked the 200-odd people in the room to pair up and tell each other a 2-minute story, the noise level was deafening. Instead of having the usual question and answer session at the end, we invited audience members to come and share their stories with the audience. It was great.  Here are the handouts we made:

Our Storytelling Resources handout

Our 2-minute storytelling activity handout

I wrote about my own story over at PEM’s blog, and that prompted me to get this recollection down, and to include Judy’s and Catherine’s stories as well, in future posts.

Now back to editing CODE|WORDS essays and trying to write my own!

Unpacking MW2014 – Part Two

Part One of this post dealt with some of the kinds of people movement in the field this year.  This post will deal with one of the most exciting developments I’ve seen in years, the proliferation of grassroots efforts to educate, connect, and energize the field.

I gave a brown bag talk at Baltimore Museum of Art before the conference on  “What skills will it take to survive in the 21st century museum and the how the heck is one supposed to get them while holding down a day job?”. What it really turned into was a long, roundtable discussion on how BMA works, what needs staff had for tools and processes and their hope that the perfect tools existed out there somewhere. I raised a few eyebrows, given my title, when I advocated that they refrain from email when a phone call or just walking over to a colleague’s desk would suffice. Ditto for suggesting a good project manager is more cost effective in the long run than any project managment package out there (Forgive me, Basecamp! I love you to bits and use you daily, but…).

You might think the talk was a bummer, but it was a lively talk, folks were engaged, and despite my inability to recommend any magic bullets, I think it was a valuable event, because they got to hear each other in ways that they mightn’t in their day-to-day work lives. They taught each other all kinds of things I couldn’t have, and together as a group they surfaced a lot of issues that are good to work on. I look forward to hearing how they fare.

The Computer Club model
I have these kinds of discusions a lot nowadays, which is odd. If you’d asked me three years what I saw myself doing, “Talking about informal professional development” wouldn’t have been a top answer. Yet, in my current role at PEM, it has come to occupy a lot my energy and thought. With the prolifereation of tools and platforms, it’s not surprising that most museum staff don’t feel able to make informed chices about how they might use them, or even whether to use them at all. For those us charged with using those platforms and tools to reach our museums’ audiences, and engage new ones, it makes for a neat dilemma. And one of the best ways I’ve seen to address it comes from the Imperial War Museum in London, where Carolyn Royston and Co. have started a low barrier-to-entry professional development program they call Computer Club. Read all about it here or check out this interview Suse Cairns did with Carolyn all about Computer Club.

Cool, or what? Image courtesy of Carolyn Royston

Here at PEM, we’ve taken that model and adapted it to fit our particular needs. We started with a specific social media emphasis, because we’d just launched a blog and there was an institutional imperiative to increase staff participation in PEM’s social media efforts. Since then, we’ve hosted a half dozen or so on topics like:

  • Social Media 101: What are social media and why does PEM care?
  • Our blog and blogging: What makes a good PEM blog post?
  • Twitter for Professionals
  • Facebook: How to interact with PEM on Facebook and spread the love
  • Digital Imaging: How to take better pictures with your phone

To say that there’s pent-up demand wouldbe a bit of an unerstatement. We routinely get 20-25 people from across the institution. And just like I saw in Baltimore, they came from across the museum, from entry-level to senior folks. Why isn’t everybody doing this? Developing and normalizing this kind of highly targeted peer-to-peer learning has great potential both to spread skills and energize staff. Microcredentialing or badging systems are hot stuff these days, and I’ve always been a bit of skeptic until now because I couldn’t see how you make the value case for it. In this case, though, it’s dead easy to see. Want to build a culture of learning? Here’s a way that’s low-overhead, staff-driven, and responsive to your needs. With just a little bit of input from your HR department, you could make a program where learners get recognized for attending, and those microcredentials figure into the annual review process. Must work on that…

The Drinking Continues
When I suggested having a Drinking About Museums: MW edition, some wag replied “Isn’t a conference just one big #drinkingaboutmuseums? Well, yes. Certainly, DAM started off as a desire to capture some of that “late night at the conference bar” magic. But it has also become more than that. It’s a bona fide international phenomenon, with chapters popping up all over, getting together, and sharing their passion for museums, meeting new colleagues and joining a larger, global community. Whether you’re a student thinknig about a museum career, someone working in a GLAM, or just a museum lover, it’s a great way to connect, learn, and grow.

So, we had an event at MW and  got a bunch of about 30 DAM movers and shakers together. It was enormously gratifying to see all these folks who had started their own groups all in one place. The Godfather of DAM, Mr. Koven J. Smith, came up to me in the middle of it and said his typically understated way, “Look at this. We made something good.” And I have to agree.

 

DAM:MW Hall of Fame. There’s Koven and me in the back row, as is mete and right.

If you haven’t been to one, go. And if there isn’t one in your town, start one. And if you’re going to AAM2014, there’ll be *two* DAMs, so be warned!

The Italian Jobs – Sveglia Museo and Invasioni Digitali
Innovation happens all over, and this year, Italy is a hotbed of grassroots efforts to increase Italian museums’ connections to audiences using social media. Sveglia Museo is “an experimental project to help Italian museums achieve a better communication with their audience: the goal is to get them talking and tweeting with each other. The idea is to ask for advice from digital communication managers of foreign museums in order to “wake up” Italian museums, online and on social networks.” They’ve already generated a tremendous amount of buzz online, both for their ambition (getting government agencies with no budgets to take on more work is no mean feat!) and for their clever appeal to a global community of practice to help them. I wish them well, and so should you. It’s a worthy model.

The other Italian initiative is Invasioni Digitali or “Digital Invasions” Digital Invasions “are mobs of people who support museums and cultural heritage by ‘invading’ them and then documenting the experience on blogs and social media. Each ‘invasion’ is meant to create new forms of conversation about arts and culture, and to transform the cultural heritage into something that is ‘open, welcoming and innovative.’”  It’s like Flash Mobs meet Drinking About Museums, with a service component. Genius stuff… If you know a museum or heritage site that’s laboring in obscurity, or could benefit from an injection of interest from a digitally savvy audience, then this model is for you.  At our last Museums Showoff,  one of the speakers gave an impassioned defense of her museum nd ended with an open invitation to come visit. Maybe instead of a visit, an invasion is needed!

Stefania (l) and Marianna (r) with PEM Press Officer and blogstress Dinah Cardin and me

And while I’m (profesionally) crushing on the Italian initiatives, they are by no means the only ones out there. Mar Dixon has launched an impressive number of Twitter campaigns around museum themes like #MuseumWeek and #MuseumSelfie. In fact, some enterprising soul could probably compile a Tumblr of these kinds of grassroots inititives and win the undying affection of museum social media managers the world over, myself included. Hint, hint…

The last part of this series will touch on issues that came up in my sessions around evaluation and access, and the maturation of the field.

Unpacking MW2014 – Part One

by Ed Rodley

March has been a busy month at work, and when that hasn’t been occupying my attention, CODE | WORDS has. Think lots and lots of phone calls, Google Hangouts, and collaborative editing of documents. It was therefore a wonderful break to escape to Baltimore for a few days for the Museum Computer Network board meeting and Museums and the Web 2014. 
MW2014

Museums and the Web 2014 has ended, and I am so glad I was able to attend! The sessions were excellent, the conversation lively, and I came away feeling energized and excited about what the coming year holds for us. There was so much going on that my attempt to unpack it in a nice, brief post failed before it even left outline form in my notebook. So, I’m going to have to spread it out based on the themes that emerged for me.

Comings…

After you’ve been in the business awhile, one of the reasons to go to conferences is to see who’s moved in, who’s moved up and who’s moved along. And there was plenty of two of the three. Which is both encouraging and discouraging.

Given the price tag of conferences these days, it is always a pleasure to see younger colleagues, and particularly students coming and participating. I had some great conversations and inevitably, a lot of “What should I do?” talks with people. Some of the things I found myself saying over and over again included the following observations.

  • I think Museum Studies certificate/degrees continue to become less of a differentiating variable, and more of a box to tick. The resumes I see will almost all have some kind of museum studies credential on them, so if you’re looking to stand out from a crowded field, that will only save you from the initial cull. All of the resumes I’ve seen in the past few months that really caught my attention had something else in them; a concentration in media studies, design courses, education, etc… Don’t get me wrong, I think Museum Studies credentials have merit, but I don’t think they’re enough to get you into the field. And if you’re just embarking on your career, getting in is all that matters, right? I’m also not suggesting getting even more degrees. Just look at your courses, and your peers’ courses and find that thing that’s  going to make you stand out.
  • It’s nobody’s job to get you unstuck other than you. Can’t break into the sector? Can’t move on? Difficult boss? Visionless administration? Chronic understaffing/budgeting/resources? Whatever the problem, in the end, it comes down to you. Seeking outside advice and counsel is a great tool to helping you get clear about your goals, but it’s no substitute.
  • Stop thinking about where you want to work, and think about who you want to work with instead.  Given the peculiarly public-facing nature of digital projects and products and the small size of the community, it’s relatively easy to look at interesting, innovative work and figure out who made it. They also move around, so if you focus on the museum instead of the person, you run the risk of applying somewhere where someone innovative used to work. Do your homework. Find examples of work that speak to you, figure out who made it, and find out where they are. Go to the conferences. I know they’re expensive, but most of them offer scholarships and/or volunteer discounts. Find them and ask them about their work. Very few people I know hate to be asked about the work they’ve done. It’s a great conversation starter.

It was a lovely pre-conference gift to hear in January that Nancy Proctor had been appointed Deputy Director for Digital Experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Nancy has been a friend and colleague for many years and it was heartening to see another colleague who combines a passion for museums with a deep understanding of digital technologies climb into the senior management ranks. I look forward to seeing what she’ll do in the coming years. There’s a lot to look forward to. The number of C-level positions like Nancy’s being created seems to be going up every year. And the pool of candidates is full of some of the brightest, most committed, thoroughgoing professionals you could ask for.

…and Goings

I only worry that the growth rate of CDO-type positions won’t match the rate of colleagues leaving the field. Some flux is inevitable in a workforce, but this year has been particularly turbulent, and mostly flowing out of the field and not so much in. A couple has turned into more than a handful very rapidly.  I joked with someone that in a few year’s time, I’d find myself sitting alone at the bar at MCN or MW if things don’t change. It wasn’t a very pleasant picture. And I don’t know what to do, other than hope at this point.

That’s a bit of a downer, I realize, but one of the wonderful things about conferences is that they crystallize things. You start to see big pictures arise out of lots of little things. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes not. But I’d always rather have specific fears than vague ones. The next post will be peppier and look at all the energy around grass-roots museum advocacy. There’ll be invasions, clubs, and drinking!

CODE│WORDS: An experiment in online discourse and publishing

by Ed Rodley

CC BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user djandyw.com

CC BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user djandyw.com

So, another long silence. February was the month of the endless head cold, and tons of stuff going on at Peabody Essex Museum.  The March shows will be opening soon! But, I haven’t been completely idle.  There have been secret plans afoot, which are finally cooked enough to announce. The big one is an experiment in online discourse and publishing that Rob Stein, Suse Cairns, and I have been discussing for a couple of months.  Let me tell you a bit about it, and see if it sounds interesting to you.

Background
As you already know, 2013 was a pretty fruitful year for museum blog conversations. I was very grateful for both the quantity and quality of the discourse that happened, and how much of it seems to have influenced discourse in the broader museum community. Conference sessions and other publications continue to flow out of conversations that started as blog posts. By default, these tended to be reactionary, driven by current affairs and mass media. To step it up a notch for 2014, here’s an idea for an experiment that might do just that, and possibly pay further dividends down the road.

Suse Cairns (she of museum geek and Museopunks) and I have been talking about collaborating on a book for some time, once her PhD work wound down.  Both of us are interested in the intersection of the digital and museums and figured we’d find fertile ground there, but we hadn’t really gotten much further than that.  Late last year, Rob Stein wrote a comment to a Dallas newspaper article about visitors and smartphones that Suse and I both thought deserved a wider audience, so I asked him to consider reworking it as a guest post on my blog. However, Rob being Rob, he had a larger vision than just a one-off blog post.

“How about this instead?” he asked us,  “What if a group of museum blogs tackled a set of interrelated issues at the same time, with an eye toward some kind of publication being the final product? The process itself would be an interesting experiment, and the outcome – some hopefully substantial discourse and new knowledge – could be a real benefit to the field.” The basic idea was to strategically identify some interesting issues, divide up the issues among a group of collaborators, and  then tackle them sequentially, developing them simultaneously and collaboratively, so that we could heavily cross-link between them to create a more coherent narrative than the usual call and response of blogging. To this, we added the idea of using the blog posts *and* their associated commentary as the basis for revised essays that could be collected and published as an edited volume later. The conversations around the initial posts would thus become part of the final essays.

So we had a bunch of Google hangouts to hash out what this strange hybrid might look like and how it should function. Here’s what we came up with.

I stink at getting Hangout screenshots.

I stink at getting Hangout screenshots.

The project in a nutshell

CODE | WORDS as we originally conceived it comprises three primary phases:

  • Phase I is an open, online discussion via a shared Google document, where we set up the initial parameters for discussion, topics, and framework for the project.

  • Phase II will be a focussed blogging project in April-May 2014, which will initially be located on Medium and later archived. During a six-week period, 12 authors will post 2,000 word essays on related topics we chose in Phase I. You, the interested public, will discuss these essays and help the authors reflect on the issues they raise. In addition, a number of selected respondents will write 1,000 word responses to the initial essay. We think this approach will allow the project both depth and considered commentary, as well as responsiveness and the capacity to adapt the discussion to new questions that arise.

  • Finally, Phase III will (hopefully) include a published book that draws together the ideas from the blog posts and commentary, and develops them into formal, considered essays.

This will doubtless change somewhat, once we get down to sorting out the details with the authors, but at this point, this is what we think is going to happen.

How it came about:

We needed first and foremost to identify commentators/ thinkers willing and able to participate in a kinda strange-sounding nameless project. It was clear it needed a codename, because they make everything cooler! Thus was born CODE│WORDS : Technology and theory in the museum (working title). We wanted people who might challenge us and each other, and bring different ways of looking at things, whether from different countries, or different types of museums. We looked through our Twitter feeds and LinkedIn connections and quickly assembled a list of people we thought would bring a variety of interesting perspectives to the project, and we asked them. Stunningly enough, virtually everyone we asked said yes and the CODE | WORDS crew grew to include:

  • Seb Chan, Smithsonian Institution, USA  @sebchan
  • Susan Chun, Cultural Heritage Consulting, USA  @schun
  • Mike Edson, Smithsonian Institution, USA @mpedson
  • Beth Harris, Khan Academy, USA  @bethrharris
  • Courtney Johnston, Dowse Art Museum, NZ  @auchmill
  • Sarah Kenderdine, National Institute for Experimental Arts, COFA, UNSW, HK/AUS
  • Luis Marcelo Mendes, Museum Consultant, BR  @lumamendes
  • Mike Murawski, Portland Art Museum, USA  @murawski27
  • Nick Poole, Collections Trust, UK  @nickpoole1
  • John Russick, Chicago History Museum, USA
  • Merete Sanderhoff, Statens Museum for Kunst, DK @msanderhoff
  • Koven Smith, Kinetic Museums, USA @5easypieces
  • Thomas Soderqvist, Medical Musieon, DK @museionist
  • Beck Tench, Museum of Life and Science, USA @10ch
  • Marthe de Vette, Van Gogh Museum, NL
  • Bruce Wyman, Museum Consultant, USA  @bwyman
  • Steven Zucker, Khan Academy, USA  @drszucker

We wanted to collaboratively identify a series of topics around the impacts of digital technologies on museums that are most interesting to us, most useful for the development of the field, and/or most in need of poking at. That’s where we are right now, sorting out which topics to tackle.

Originally, we thought we’d use people’s existing blogs to make use of their built-in audiences, but for the sake of continuity and critical mass, we decided to try out Medium as our platform. Their commenting feature is kinda interesting in that it lets you pick a paragraph to attach your comment to, rather than just tacking it onto the end of a 2,000 word post. I’ve been meaning to give Medium a whirl for awhile, and am looking forward to seeing how it works out.

The next step in the coming weeks is to collaboratively work on topics in such a way that they naturally build on each other and can be heavily cross-linked. We do this already, but in a more reactionary manner. This experiment would be an opportunity to be more strategic about it, and hopefully more successful in building a larger hypernarrative.

We want to create an online community of interest on Medium around these essays and try to practice being as inclusive as possible. One of the benefits of Medium is that other authors can write their own posts and tag them so that they can hopefully join the scrum. Our current plan is to launch in April, and to release 12 essays over a six week period, to keep interest as high as possible and hopefully build a community of commentators who would respond to more than just one essay – or even contribute their own. That’s where you come in, gentle readers, so strap in and get ready for a few tons of museumy goodness to drop on you soon. Seriously, though. The success of this experiment depends on us engaging as broad as community as possible to join us in the work. Otherwise it’s just another edited volumeWe want you to share your expertise, your ideas, your experiences with us, and a global audience of interested peers. If you have never written a blog post before, or just want to dip your toe into a digital discussion, this could be a great way to start and test the waters.

Obviously, we want to document the process and results, if this model winds up having any utility. A logical place to disseminate finding will be at conferences. A bunch of us will be at Museums and the Web and AAM, and I’ll be trying to convene groups to hang out during the conferences. Stay tuned and let me know if you’ll be in Baltimore or Seattle. On our current timeline, we’ll be done with the initial essays by June, so MCN in November should be a good distance from which to look back on the process and reflect on lessons learned for the initial phases.

Once we have finished the initial round of essays, their authors will take them and the commentary they engendered, and use both to write new essays. Rob, Suse, and I will try to convince a publisher to release the resulting collection as a digital/physical publication. If you represent a publisher and want to talk more about CODE | WORDS, email me! 

If all goes well, then we’ll celebrate doing something cool and useful.

Once we’re ready to go, we’ll announce the URL and let the games begin! So stay tuned!