Reaction: The Cost of Museum Work

Added to Medium, April 26, 2018

With many discussions about museum professionals leaving the museum field and how we can improve the work conditions in the field, there is an additional post I came across this week. Seema Rao wrote about the cost of museum work for museum professionals in the field. It is a good summary of what is happening to museum professionals and museum work.

I think it is important to acknowledge that all museum professionals, full-time and part-time, face similar situations Rao presented in her post. Should we continue to pay this price to keep museums running? I do not think so. If we continue to go down the path we are going through, our field will not be able to survive and our mission as a museum community will not be fulfilled.

In the post, Rao began the cost of museum work discussion by asking readers to consider scenarios for both the museum and the job seeker. Then the discussion continued with a section on being a museum professional. The last section discussed the museum hiring culture’s effect on the museum field. Each section in the post discussed about the museum field in general, and brings attention to important points on the current condition of museum work so we all can understand why museum work culture needs to improve.

The museum field is beginning to become more aware of the work condition situations, and this post is an example of continued discussion that is happening among museum professionals. One of the points Rao made in the post is that,

Museums want to be able to bring in more visitors for less money while being the most academically rigorous (and ideally garnering an article in the Times), basically the Holy Grail. The path to this endpoint, however, is complicated, confusing, and subjective. Despite the many meetings where a colleague suggests they have the “right” answer to accomplish the grail, there is no single path to improving museums. There are good answers, better answers, and terrible answers–but there are no perfect answers. Museum professionals often feel like they are being measured against this idea of perfection that doesn’t exist.

As museum professionals, we attempt to find the perfect solution to bring in more visitors and revenue for our institutions. The problem is that all museums are structured differently; museums especially in the United States come in different sizes, have different missions, there are different types of museums, different demographics, and offer varying programs. It is hard to define success when no museum is the same as others. If we keep being measured against the idea of perfection that does not exist, we will not only be able to accomplish what we need to do but we will not be satisfied in our well-being as museum professionals.

Rao also discussed the hiring culture in the museum field, and what issues the current museum work culture presents. The museum hiring culture develops a split with local audiences, promotes bad management, depletes the field, and prevents diversity. Museum professionals dedicate a lot of time and effort to their work but unfortunately the work becomes overwhelming when the work load is increased to a point that one museum professional is doing the work of at least five individuals.

Some museum professionals deal with bad management within the museum. In the post, Rao pointed out that

In the first couple years of work, most professionals are given some latitude for their failures. About three years in, their colleagues start to judge them. This is the point at which they can improve or leave. Instead of promoting a culture of self-improvement, the hiring culture effectively promotes people leaving (for more money) before improving.

Museum professionals for a while now have not spent more than a few years working for one museum. What this post did not get into detail about is the amount of work that museum professionals are given as a result of bad management and lack of appropriate amount of staff members in the museum. An individual museum professional is given an amount of work that could be accomplished by multiple people, and with divided attention given to aspects of the responsibilities not a lot is accomplished.

Whether museum professionals work full-time or part-time, museum professionals face similar situations of an enormous workload. Part-time museum professionals are given the workload of a full-time museum professional, and full-time museum professionals are given even more work. Both part-time and full-time professionals have this in common: there is not enough time to accomplish what needs to be done. A lot of decisions are made based on attempting to find ways to cut costs to run the museum but it clearly does not promote the well-being of its employees. If management does not acknowledge or find ways to attempt to resolve matters, it leads to poor management and more museum professionals seeking to go elsewhere.

As museum professionals, we should be making more attempts to be able to make self-improvements for our well-being and our careers. In recent years, we started to find ways to self-improve ourselves. For instance, the New England Museum Association had a conference in Boston with the theme of Picture of Health: Museums, Wellness & Healthy Communities in 2014. A point was made that since our museums are moving forward with promoting health and wellness within the community we need to be promote health and wellness within our staff and board.

Rao also released a book called Objective Lessons: Self Care for Museum Professions which uses creative prompts to help museum workers and knowledge workers focus on self-care. The more we figure out how to practice and promote self-care the more we will be able to have a better workplace for our field.

I believe that the current cost of museum work is not appropriate for all museum professionals. Museums of all types can benefit from seeing what Rao has to say about the cost of museum work. We can do better than what museum work is costing us now, and we need to continue to work our way towards a better workplace.

How do you feel about the cost of museum work? What is your organization doing to help its museum professionals work on self-care and self-improvement?


Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

Added to Medium, April 19, 2018

I have discussed about school programs in museums in previous blog posts, such as “Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants” and “Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education”, however I thought I would discuss in more detail about how education programs are run in museums. One of the most important things museum educators especially know and emerging museum professionals learn is being able to be flexible. This is important for dealing with school groups visiting museums. In my experience, I have witnessed and found ways to be flexible when working with school groups visiting the museums and historic house museums I have worked and continue to work in.

I recently observed and assisted in a school field trip for the past few days at the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket. The visiting school groups, that came from the same elementary school, participated in a program called Walk Through History with Abraham Woodhull, Farmer and Revolutionary War Spy. It was a living history interdisciplinary program and field trip for students that allows them to explore the nature sanctuary that was once Woodhull’s farm, the Setauket Village Green, Setauket Grist Mill, Patriot’s Rock and historic gravesites. Students also have the opportunity to the woods, fields, ponds and bays which tell the story of Long Island’s colonization and settlement before the American Revolution and during the creation of the new nation. Also, students have the opportunity to analyze Setauket spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s secret codes as well as decode maps and spy letters.

After teachers book school programs with the Three Village Historical Society, they were given pre-visit materials which include lesson plan and curriculum.

During the few days I worked with school groups, there have been a number of instances where flexibility was important. The weather reports, for instance, predicted rain during one of the days I was going to work with the school groups; as a result, a PowerPoint presentation version of the walking tour was created with an invitation to sign up for a public walking tour at a later date, and the analyzing secret codes activity was extended and took place inside as well a room down from the first station.

In another example, on a sunny day, the school groups were divided into two groups with the Three Village Historical Society Historian leading one group and the Director of Education leading the other group in walking tours. After the walking tour, they all gathered indoors to work on the secret code activity which there was not enough time to finish on the premises. After receiving feedback on the program, adjustments were made so that there was enough time for each aspect of the program for the third day school groups were . One group started with a walking tour while the second group started with the secret code activity, and they switched so each group had the opportunity to participate in both.

One of the days I observed and assisted with the program a teacher revealed that they did not review the pre-visit materials before arriving for the program. As a result, the Three Village Historical Society Historian and the Director of Education decided to dedicate more time to the introduction to make sure all of the students understood what they were going to be learning about during the program.

My experiences with the Three Village Historical Society made me think about my past experiences dealing with similar and varying situations.

Each museum educator understands very well that timing is important to be sure to effectively give an educational and a memorable experience. It is important to figure out how to be flexible when challenges arise. School buses, for various reasons, arriving late to the museum. School groups needing to leave early from the program. Teachers not sharing pre-visit materials to help students understand the experience they would be participating in before the visit. I have experienced these challenges and more while I was working at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Connecticut Landmarks in Hartford, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in West Hartford, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, and or course the Three Village Historical Society.

There are a number of ways museum educators can overcome challenges that will hopefully benefit museums and visiting school groups. For instance, when school buses on the way to the museum arrive late and the groups need to leave the museum early to get back to the school, museum educators can adjust the program so the students can benefit from as much of the experience as possible while fulfilling the guidelines of the program. While I was at museums such as the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, adjustments were made because school groups arrived late and we were informed sometimes ahead of time and sometimes on the day of school groups needed to leave before the allotted end of the program.

It is hard to predict how much time is needed to make sure enough information and activity is utilized by the students. Sometimes museum educators cut introductions short to dedicate more time to the activities and other times spending time during program stations is cut short so teachers, chaperones, and students can either get on the bus early or have lunch on the premises. Museum educators know what the programs are, and are more likely to be able to judge the time and make adjustments. Each program is different from other another within one education programming in a museum, and programs are different from others in other museums, and therefore museum educators need to keep this in mind when attempting to balance the needs of the museum educators and the visiting school groups.

Flexibility is also important to strengthen the partnership between museums and schools. In the end, museums and schools work towards assisting students in becoming well-rounded individuals who contribute to their communities. In my blog post, “Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education”, I pointed out that

Museum programming not only allow students to participate in activities that assist in understanding of academic materials in the classroom but the programming offer ways for students to develop the skills necessary to effectively integrate social, emotional, and academic development.

Since museum educators especially understand the significance of museum programming for students of various ages, we are likely to be flexible enough to make changes that will hopefully benefit the students.

As museum educators, we do all we can to help schools prepare for their visits and typically leave the execution of these preparations to the teachers. We can be flexible to not only make sure students have a positive educational experience but to make sure we maintain partnerships with schools so future visits will be planned. How much flexibility is needed? It depends on the organization, and how much they are able to do due to timing and space available.

What examples have you experienced in being flexible during school programs? Have you had to make adjustments? What were the results?

Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education:
Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants:

Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation

Added to Medium, April 12, 2018

I visited many museums as a child but I chose Plimoth Plantation because it was one of the earliest museums I went to that inspired my love for museums.

Plimoth Plantation, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, started in 1947 by a young archaeologist named Henry Hornblower II with help and support from friends, family and business associates. It started with two English cottages and a fort on Plymouth’s historic waterfront, and since then the Museum has grown to include the Mayflower II, the English Village, the Wampanoag Homesite, the Hornblower Visitor Center, the Craft Center, the Maxwell and Nye Barns and the Plimoth Grist Mill. This living history museum offers personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s.

Today, Plimoth Plantation provides an engaging and experiential indoor and outdoor learning environment on its main campus, at the State Pier on Plymouth’s waterfront, and at the Plimoth Grist Mill on Town Brook. It has permanent exhibits tell the complex and interwoven stories of two distinct cultures, the English and Native American.

I have mixed feelings about Plimoth Plantation because of the nostalgic feelings I have towards the museum as well as admire the concept of living history interpreters engaging with visitors. At the same time, as a museum professional, I am concerned about the situation surrounding the museum’s staff policies. Visitors should have an immersive experience without its quality being hindered. I hope Plimoth Plantation figures out how to resolve the issues that the museum’s staff brought to their attention so the museum can have an appropriate work environment and by extension improve the visitor experience. When I recently visited their website, I not only noticed features that I did not participate in while I was growing up but I thought were interesting.

I personally have not been to Plimoth Plantation in recent years but I decided to take a look at their website to see what the living history center has to currently offer. One of the things I noticed, for instance, was the virtual field trips they offer on their website. On the Virtual Field Trips page, it includes two videos that provides virtual experiences of traveling through the English Village and the Wampanoag Homesite. Also, there is a web activity that gives opportunities for participants to become history detectives, and figure out what really happened at the First Thanksgiving. I liked that there are opportunities for individuals not located close enough to physically to see what Plimoth Plantation has to offer. It serves as a great introduction to Plimoth Plantation whether or not one is close enough to travel to the museum. My experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was a different one especially when I was a child.

My first experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was when I came with my sisters, mother, and my maternal grandmother. I remember walking through the Village and meeting other visitors in the meeting house. Later I saw some pictures from that visit, and each of the pictures showed my sisters and I having an opportunity to use the broom to sweep one of the houses. Another picture I saw was of myself appearing to be giving a lecture which reminded me of the story my mother told me: I pretended to be a minister and encouraged visitors to sit down and participate in the mock service, and then I greeted each individual with handshakes. I went back a number of times during my childhood and then visited as a young adult.

Years later during college I visited Plimoth Plantation with the Historical Society club. As the treasurer on the executive board of the Historical Society, I planned the financial aspects of the trip. Once all the details were settled, all of the Historical Society members and other college students interested in attending drove to Plymouth.

As I learned more about the museum field during college and graduate school, I became more aware of how museums are run. Since I wrote a few blog posts about current conditions of the workforce in the museum field, I am glad that the museum staff members are pointing out the unfair work conditions and they want things to change. Our field is working towards improving conditions but we do have a long way to go. Plimoth Plantation is an example of our need to work harder towards better working conditions for all museum professionals.

I came across an article from the Boston Globe written by Robert Knox last month called “Plimoth Plantation and its ‘Pilgrims’ at odds” about Plimoth Plantation and its current relationship with its living history interpreters. In the article, Knox stated that union members were driven to create a union due to the persistent understaffing, low pay, and deteriorating working conditions and their consequences for visitors’ experience and safety. Knox also provided background information about the stories of what the staff had to face which led to the formation of the union. Negotiations began last year with meetings twice a month, but instead of seeking compromise and consensus the museum hired a high-powered law firm to handle the negotiations rather than giving workers modest raises.

Situations like what is happening at Plimoth Plantation is part of the discussion of why there are many museum professionals leaving the field and we should continue to work towards making our working conditions better for all of our museum professionals. It makes me sad that one of the museums I have visited during my childhood has gone down this road, and I hope things improve especially for the museum workers so we all can focus on creating engaging visitor experiences.

Have you visited Plimoth Plantation? If you have, what was your experience like? What were your impressions?


The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Added to Medium, April 5, 2018

Museum professionals, in addition to many professionals in various fields, understand there is a lot of time and dedication that is put into management of programs and administration. Throughout my experience as a museum professional, I have learned the significance of being able to successfully manage education programming and the administrative tasks that go along with the responsibilities of education in museums. In addition to the experiences gained, various books and articles also provide information to assist museum professionals in guiding them on education management. An important lesson every professional understands, and sometimes need to remind themselves of from time to time, is that we are human and we are not perfect. We do the best we can to manage our educational programs so our organizations can fulfil their missions.

Before I went to Long Island, I had limited experience in administration management and mainly taught educational programs in historic house museums in Connecticut. Once I went to Long Island, I gained more experience in management.

At the Long Island Museum, I worked in education management in addition to teaching some school programs. I booked school and group programs including tours and In the Moment program (for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients); after answering phone calls and taking down information such as the name of school/organization and the number of individuals attending, I recorded the information on the facilities sheet, placed the program and organization (as well as the time) on the Master Calendar via Google Docs, and provide the information needed including but not limited to the type of program, school, and the date/time on the daily sheet to write down official numbers as well as observe the number of programs for that day.

In addition to what I previously stated, I was in charge of scheduling volunteers who taught larger school programs that require various stations and geared towards larger school groups. Based on how many of these school programs were scheduled for that month, I used the sheet of the volunteers’ availability to schedule the number of volunteers needed to run the program(s) for the number of days scheduled. Once finalized I printed copies and sent them to all volunteers while keeping one to put on the board for them to refer to while at the museum.

Another part of education management that is important is making sure there is enough materials for each scheduled program. After booking and scheduling programs, and writing the volunteers’ schedules, I also was responsible for inventory of items for programs. Some of the examples of what I took track of are the keepsake photographs for each exhibit for the In the Moment program, and papers for school programs that took place in the one room school house.

With everything that was listed previously, other responsibilities for managing education programs is financially supporting them and promoting them for the public to be aware of what the museum has to offer. I went over budgets with the Director of Education for purchasing food and drinks for the public programs; we collaborated on the paperwork once the items were purchased.

The examples of what I did to help promote the programs was when I oversaw printing program flyers, after the everyone in the department approved of the details, and sending the flyers to the head of the Suffolk County and Nassau County libraries for them to distribute to all libraries in the counties to post on bulletin boards. I also made sure there was many copies printed to be sent to and distributed at the museum’s visitor center.

Also, I made sure the mailing for school program brochures and bus trip flyers mailings went smoothly. I printed address labels, placed address labels on envelopes, placed brochures and flyers in the envelopes, borrowed mailing trays from postal offices to place envelopes in, and send them to the post office to be mailed.

This experience at the Long Island Museum has taught me a lot about behind the scenes situations for managing education programs. I knew that there is a lot that goes into planning what should be taught and what techniques can be utilized that are appropriate for students. What I learned was how much more goes into planning education programs and how they are managed. Also, as time went on I learned that this is continuous work to make sure the programs are well prepped and managed to continue serving their purpose for the museum.

In the book The Museum Educator’s Manual, the writers stated that it is essential for all museum leaders to continually assess and evaluate existing programs by analyzing the time, effort, and cost of each program in comparison to the breath and degree of impact it has on the community, in facilitating visitor engagement, and advancing the museums’ overall goals (13). Continuous work on financially supporting programs and preparing for programs is essential for managing education programs in museums.

When museum professionals are able to manage educational programs well, the programs will be able to benefit the museums’ missions in the long run. In Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0, they pointed out that a well-organized and effective educational programs not only add to the museum’s potential for earned income, but they also help humanize the institutions from the community’s perspective (135). In the end, maintaining a relationship with the community should be the goal for museums, and it is important to maintain that through well-managed educational programs.

I continued to utilize my skills in education management when I did some work with the Long Island Maritime Museum. At the LIMM, I answered and redirected phone calls at the front desk, assisted in gift shop inventory, and tallied volunteers’ sailing Priscilla records during last year’s sailing season. I also created word searches and other similar activities for children to learn about Long Island’s maritime history. I continued to expand my knowledge through more experience and reading through resources on museum education.

I also came across a guidebook that was published by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) called Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. This included an article “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions” written by Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knubel who was the Head of Education Department at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, Germany. One of the statements that stood out to me in the article was:

Once a museum has decided to establish an education service and has found a suitable candidate to run it, the new education officer has to set up a structure and decide on a policy and programme. This has to be realistic in terms of what can be accomplished according to the museum’s situation, particularly the staff, time, space and finance available. As a minimum, an effective education service requires a full-time professional head who is capable of handling the management and administrative aspects of the job as well as taking part in the teaching and other educational work. Long experience shows that while a single education officer is better than nothing, one person will not be able to carry out every necessary task, especially once schools, colleges, parents and the wider public recognise the value of the educational programmes offered by the museum.

It is a challenge to complete the necessary tasks of many museum professionals when one museum professional is hired to complete them. We need to form a good foundation in the education department, and establish a system that will help museum educators to accomplish the necessary tasks to manage education programming.

I kept all of the experiences I have gained and all of the resources I have read over the years in mind as I continued to learn through my experience at the Three Village Historical Society. I serve on the Education Committee by assisting in editing the volunteer handbook, preparing for and teaching school programs, and conduct informational interviews to seek advice on programming in the distant future.

Education management is a continuous task museum professionals are aware of, and when we are able to form a solid foundation for the museum education management system museums can successfully fulfill their educational missions.

What were your experiences were like in education management? Did you have challenges your organization faced when managing education programs?

Brüninghaus-Knubel, Cornelia. “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions”, Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook, Paris, France: International Council of Museums Maison de l’UNESCO, 2004.
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
Johnson, Anna, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann, Tim Grove, The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques, 2nd edition, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017.


Where You Lead, I Will Follow: The Importance of the Leader-Follower Relationship in Museums

Added to Medium, March 29, 2018

We cannot run museums without the dedicated museum professionals in various department positions. Previous blog posts and recent articles have pointed out why the relationship between leaders and followers are significant in the museum field. In the past, leaders and followers were seen as clearly defined positions within the administration; for instance, leaders make impactful decisions to run the museum while followers do whatever leaders ask them to do as passed down from a hierarchical ladder. Times have changed, however, and the roles are blurred to work together to help museums run.

I learned from my experience over the years that leaders and followers can learn from one another and collaborate together to keep a museum running. After getting my Master’s degree, I began working directly with the visitors as a museum educator in historic house museums in Connecticut. The skills I gained came from both experience working with the public and from colleagues who worked longer at the location than I had. We gathered together whether before and after programs, or during staff meetings to learn how to improve our skills as museum educators. As we gathered for museum educator meetings at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society for instance, we shared experiences during the school programs with each other and the Director of Education who also shared information that would help us understand the overall educational goals of the institution.

After I went to Long Island, I began to learn more about the administration perspective of running the museum. I learned about booking programs, running a volunteer program, and other administration tasks at the Long Island Museum. At the beginning of each school program that requires volunteers, the Senior volunteers share their passions as well as their stories that they believed will help the education department. When I started work as both a museum educator and the office assistant at the Maritime Explorium, I learned more about the administrative perspective in running the museum while educating children through STEM activities. The previous examples revealed the overall lesson we should all take away as we continue our museum careers: we learn from each other and work together to have successful programming in museums.

Leaders and followers have varying experiences in the museum field, and they can learn from each of their perspectives to run the museum. Followers typically work directly with the visitors, and learn from the visitors what museum staff and the museum in general can improve on to fulfil its goals. Leaders typically work with the administrative tasks that run the museum such as but not limited to grant writing and ordering materials for programs.

What we need to remember is the museum’s most valuable asset, other than its collections, are its staff, both paid and volunteers. Leaders and followers in the museum field have many contributions to help its museum continue fulfilling the mission. Each museum professional working in a museum have varying needs, emotions, and personality traits, and being able to work effectively with groups and within groups is essential to the museum professional and to the museum’s success in fulfilling its educational mission.

Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland discussed leadership a number of times in their book Museum Administration 2.0 and they emphasized the importance of leadership for all museum professionals within the museum. One of the statements about leadership pointed out there is no one person who is responsible for exercising the leadership skills. In the book, they stated “Leadership is no longer perceived as the solitary province of the person ‘in charge’, rather it is exhibited by every staff member who has the ability to institute change, and does so, however minor that change might be” (4). Each staff member has the capabilities to contribute to museum’s progress based on what they bring to the museum.

Even though our resources now put emphasis on leadership being expressed by all staff members, there is not enough details describing the importance of followers. In the Leadership Matters blog, Joan Baldwin wrote about why followers matter in the museum field. On the followers in the museum field, Baldwin described them as this:

They tend to have more responsibility than authority. They are assistant curators, fund raisers, educators, and volunteer coordinators. Some may go through an entire week and not see a member of their organizational leadership team, and yet all the planning, the vision, and the courage leaders incubate comes to life with the followers. They are the yin to the leadership yang.

In other words, one cannot work without the other. As museum professionals, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of this yin yang relationship in the museum’s organization to successfully run the institution. Leaders and followers should learn to be a part of a team and recognize each other’s strengths.

Baldwin also emphasized that being ineffective leaders and followers will hinder the performance of the museum’s operations. If individuals go on to become leaders without an understanding and an empathy for the qualities of those who follow them, then their leadership practices will suffer. Individuals who are not effective followers tend to be unmotivated and trouble makers that drive productivity down; to have effective followers, museums need individuals who believe that what is shared is important than what is not shared.

To be sure we have effective partnerships between leaders and followers, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. For instance, in one of my blog posts “What is the Right Fit? A Deeper Analysis of Museum Boards”, I pointed out the importance of keeping communication open between museum’s leaders and staff members. I also said that each board and staff member needs to have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0 stated that some of the board responsibilities are but not limited to:

Review and approve policies consistent with the museum’s mission and mandate, and to monitor staff implementation of these policies.
Ensure the continuity of the museum’s mission, mandate, and purposes.
Plan for the future of the museum, including review and approval of a strategic plan that identifies the museum’s goals and ways to attain them, and monitoring implementation of the plan.

When museum leaders are aware of what their responsibilities are, they would be able to understand their roles in helping the staff and the museum effectively run programs and museums’ other functions.

Baldwin also pointed out in her blog post that getting to know the team is essential in being effective leaders. She stated in the blog,

Even if your team is two volunteers and a part-time curator. Listen to them. Value them. Know what motivates them. Welcome the moments when they challenge ideas because it indicates they’re with you, and they want the best for the museum. Figure out ways to remove the barriers with which they may be struggling. Pay them what they’re worth. Thank them.

If museum leaders value and appreciate their followers, there would be a healthy partnership that will successfully run a museum.

All museum professionals have the leadership skills and the ability to follow through on running programs, exhibits, events, et. cetera. We should listen to one another, and work together as a team to accomplish so much for our institutions.

What are some examples you experienced in the leader/follower dynamic? Did you have any challenges when creating stronger partnerships?

Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
What is the Right Fit? A Deeper Analysis of Museum Boards

The Past is in the Past? A Closer Look into Public History

Added to Medium, March 22, 2018

As a museum professional with a Master’s degree in Public History, recent discussion in the public history field has captured my attention. One of the reasons why I decided to write a little more about public history this week is because I came across Taylor Stoermer’s “Let It Go: The Exceptionalist Narrative in American Public History” on Medium. Stoermer is a Museum Studies (Public History) lecturer at Johns Hopkins University. After reading his article, I thought more about my experience in public history and the lessons I’ve learned especially while I was earning my Master’s degree at Central Connecticut State University.

Stoermer’s “Let It Go” article briefly discussed internal issues museums face including equitable pay schemes, governance development, and better attention to the modern needs of emerging museum professionals in the economy. His article focuses more on external issues especially the disconnection between the America we see outside of our museums and the one that many of our sites represent.

He provided examples of tough issues museum professionals have always had a hard time discussing but are making progress in being awareness to these issues. According to the article, he stated that

Slavery and race have always been thorny issues for interpreters, but tremendous progress has been made to help them tell the stories of enslaved peoples, to accurately and effectively weave them throughout a site’s narrative (and maybe point out that race doesn’t really exist except as a cultural construct). Programs only for Black History Month, like those for Women’s History Month, just don’t cut it anymore, as the penny has finally dropped for museum directors that every month is for black and women’s (and LGBTQ) history (check out Old Salem’s “Hidden Town” project). But larger institutions are slowly, but surely, recognizing their responsibilities as stewards to smaller, satellite sites, in providing workshops and interpretive resources to create a rising tide that lifts all museum boats. The upcoming Mount Vernon/American Alliance of Museums program on museum leadership and the Montpelier/National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent National Summit on Teaching Slavery are solid examples. We’re not yet where we need to be in those respects, but progress is being made.

It is true that we are not there yet and that progress is being made in discussing slavery and race. We should also acknowledge what smaller institutions are doing to provide workshops and interpretive resources. For instance, I mentioned in a previous blog post about my experience with the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut.

A historic house museum that also focuses on the history of Farmington, the Stanley-Whitman House began to take a closer look at slaves who have lived in Farmington between the 17th and 19th century. While I was in graduate school, I decided to work with the Stanley-Whitman House on a project that addressed slavery in Connecticut. I had a couple of classmates and colleagues join me in the team to work on this project for a Curatorship class requirement. We researched former slaves who worked and lived in Connecticut before the 1790 Census to present the research results about what slavery was like for slaves in Farmington to colleagues who attended the In Plain Sight symposium presentations and discussion.

Since working on this project and the symposium, there have been more developments on discussing slavery in Connecticut. One of my teammates collaborated with the Stanley-Whitman House to create a database on the information about slaves in Farmington. This project is called The Farmington Slavery Research Project, and the goals were to document captive people – record them as they were discovered in primary source materials such as probate inventories, wills, account books and other records. It is an ongoing volunteer-staffed project that volunteers are welcome to contribute to the continuous research on Farmington’s history with slavery. To learn more about this project, I included a link in the resources section of this blog post.

Also, more recently a new exhibit that opened on February 17th called “Slavery, Resistance & Freedom in Connecticut”; one of the students from the Public History program I graduated from at Central Connecticut State University researched, wrote, and designed the exhibit. By being able to discuss slavery in Connecticut more, we are able to address what life had been like for enslaved individuals and draw more attention to their lived experiences.

Many museum professionals and public historians would have to admit that we still have a long way to go in creating that informative and comfortable dialogue between staff and visitors on tough issues. Our field is constantly attempting to catch up and move forward to remain relevant in the community. Stoermer brought up this question: “What are we trying to catch up to?” He concluded that the answer is that “…sites are trying to catch important, undertold, underrepresented stories up to the same tale of American exceptionalism that has dominated public history…” In other words, museum professionals and public historians research and tell stories that have been forgotten or previously overlooked to figure out how they fit into the familiar narrative of our nation’s history that the majority have become used to over the centuries.

We have realized in recent years that visitors are asking more questions that challenge the narrative and we continue to work towards answering these questions through our programming and exhibitions. Many questions come from what visitors learned or have seen outside of museums especially through our media. Movies in the cinemas are examples of media where debates have emerged to contribute to the ongoing portrayal of our history and museum practices.

The discussion surrounding the film, Black Panther, is especially important for the museum field and one of the excellent examples of public history. Before I proceed with talking about this film, there is a spoiler alert for individuals who have not yet seen the film since I will mention a scene from the film that museums should pay attention to.

Released last month, in case if one is not familiar with the film, Black Panther is a film from Marvel Studios about a superhero also known as T’Challa. He is also king of an African nation that is isolated and technologically advanced called Wakanda. According to IMDB, when T’Challa rises to power after the passing of his father, his claim to the throne is challenged by a vengeful outsider who was a childhood victim of T’Challa’s father’s mistake.

I saw the film last month, and I enjoyed it. In addition to special effects and other elements that go into making this film, I admired its look into the issues it presented especially when one of the main antagonists, Erik Killmonger, visited a museum that had items in the collections which belonged to the nation he was born in. In that scene, the curator approached Killmonger to explain the history of these items; a little while into the scene the curator told him the items are not for sale when he made an attempt to take them, and he responded by asking if her ancestors paid a reasonable price when they took them from his native country. I took notice of the museum scene not only because of what happens within that scene but my perspective as a museum professional made me think about past museum practices of obtaining items in its collections and the ethical practices we have today.

In the online museums journal, The Hopkins Exhibitionist, Casey Haughin wrote about the Black Panther film in the piece “Why museum professionals need to talk about Black Panther”. The article went into a deep discussion about the museum scene and wrote about the impact the film had on the continuing conversation on our nation’s and global history. Haughin stated that

Black Panther provides a platform to discuss a multitude of topics on a national scale. With issues such as police brutality, the ever-present effects of slavery in Western society, and black identity approached in the film, it is easy to gloss over one of the more exposition-driven scenes of the film that engages with the complicated relationship between museums and audiences affected by colonialism.

What I have learned in my history courses all the way up to the end of graduate school and beyond the classroom is that colonialism had a major impact on world and it continuously makes an impact as we deal with its consequences. We still have a long way to go to be as inclusive and accepting of one another as we need to be in an ever changing world.

Haughin proposed a response for museum professionals to make after seeing this film. According to the article, among many things that were proposed, it stated

The first step after this movie is to publicly confirm the reality of the situation; museums need to step up and acknowledge the fact that Killmonger’s anger in the exhibition and the experience he had were not entirely fictionalized, but rather a magnification of museum practices in the modern world. The next step is to listen. Listen to people of color, to communities, and to whole countries who see themselves both robbed by and cast out from international institutions. By communicating openly with the audience of a museum, professionals can determine how better to adapt their practices and make the institution a place that is relevant and respectful for all visitors. Until a truly symbiotic dialogue is established, this scene in Black Panther will represent the reality of museum politics where fact is truly more alarming than any fiction.

I also came across an opinion piece written by Lise Ragbir, who is a writer, curator, and the Director of the Christian-Green Gallery and the Idea Lab, both part of Black Studies at the University of Texas. In her piece, What Black Panther Gets Right About the Politics of Museums, she went into detail about the representation of current attitudes towards museums in the film while sharing her perspective of the scene, a similar situation that occurred in the film happening in France, and shared data from the American Alliance of Museums of how many African Americans visits. These are only a few examples of what she discussed in her piece.

One of the statements she made that stood out to me was the importance of access and how it creates opportunities to learn especially about how we are represented in other narratives. She then went on to say

To be clear, museums and other cultural spaces have functioned under the weight of these truths since people began publicly exhibiting art and artifacts. But old truths are giving way to new attitudes, as evidenced by France’s more diplomatic version of Killmonger’s vigilante repatriation of African artifacts. However, ongoing debates about representation, repatriation, and cultural appropriation — all cannily encapsulated in Killmonger’s memorable visit to the Museum of Great Britain in Black Panther — affirm that a great deal of work is still needed to make our museums truly welcoming and diverse. Besides, as Princess Shuri puts it: “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

Both Ragbir and Haughin emphasized what museum professionals need to do, and continue to do, is to work towards being truly inclusive and diverse organizations.

We need to invest in time to address each issue that we face in the public history/museum field. So many issues are brought to our attention and we need to keep moving forward to remain relevant in the changing climate of our society. We should be asking ourselves the tough questions, and finding effective ways to invite our visitors in to help our communities fully understand our past.

What do you think of our museums progress of being more inclusive and diverse so far? Have you discussed about Black Panther within your own organizations?

Farmington Slavery Research Project:
To learn more about Black Panther and the impact it has in the museum field:


Museums Prove that Education is for Everyone

Added to Medium, March 15, 2018

As museum professionals, we need to help visitors and other individuals outside of the museum field understand the significance of education and the museums’ role in education. I have reiterated its importance in the museum field in previous blog posts but it is an important point that needs to be reiterated especially when we need to show that education is for everyone. The latest edition of American Alliance of Museum’s Museum magazine is dedicated to education by discussing all-ages programming in museums.

In a message from the President and CEO Laura Lott, she stressed that as an Alliance we need to find new ways to engage the education community and share our resources. We need to make sure individuals outside of the museum field are aware of what we can offer to help people of all ages see what museums have to offer especially through educational programs. Also, we need to show that our educational programs are not limited to school field trips. We should show our visitors and other individuals not familiar with museums that our programs are created to engage with all ages. A couple of articles that show examples of programming for all ages include cultivating lifelong appreciation of museums through teen programs, and about early education programs and how they make sense for all types of museums.

There is also an article written by Ericka Huggins and Kevin Jennings, two keynote speakers for the 2018 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in Phoenix, encourage museums and museum professionals to create more inclusive education programs. Huggins is a human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther Party leader, and former political prisoner. Jennings is the new president of the Tenement Museum and is the co-founder of LGBT History Month. In their article called “Who Will Tell My Story?”, Huggins and Jennings share some of their thoughts on the power of storytelling, and how important it is to be authentic and inclusive in this work.

Both of them shared their experiences through storytelling and shared important facts that museums should think about moving forward in education. Huggins pointed out that we can learn to be global citizens by making sure museums support the larger community in thinking beyond nation-states. Jennings stated that he believed museum professionals should take a hard look at what stories we tell and don’t tell, and consider what that says about whose lives we feel matter. Huggins’ and Jennings’ statements are important considerations because we all need to remember we have a significant impact within our communities and we should work together to be more inclusive.

Conversations about museums proving education is for everyone, and inclusion, has recently been taking place though online discussions such as today’s EdComVersation through the American Alliance of Museums and the Twitter discussion #MuseumEdChat. Both of these online platforms have discussed social justice and museums by discussing the importance of inclusion and diversity within our museum community from the staff to the visitors.

Today, I participated in an EdComVersation discussion about engaging audiences as socially responsive museums. It was hosted by Rebekah Harding, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement at the Ronald Regan Presidential Foundation and Institute, and Sheri Levinsky-Raskin who is the Assistant Vice President, Education & Evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Chair for Professional Development for AAM’s Education Committee (EdCom). The guest speaker was Monica O. Montgomery Nyathi who is the founding director and curator of Museum of Impact the world’s first mobile social justice museum, inspiring action at the intersection of art, activism, self and society.

According to the EdComversation event webpage, Monica believes that museums can best engage their audiences when they catalyze socially responsive practice, acting as conveners, sites of conscience and spaces that welcome difference. To prepare for the discussion, we were given links for pre-reading material including my blog post “Reaction to Article: Museums transition from institutions of elite to places that ‘promote humanity’” which made me glad because I am always happy to see how individuals especially museum professionals benefit from continuing important discussions using resources such as the ones I provide.

During this program, we discussed how to embrace the needs and nuance of modern audiences, and how educators and front line staff can fuse informal educational with the wave of social activism the world is experiencing, to create space for awareness, inspiration and understanding of social movements. We used a new format called Zoom, which allowed all participants to not just type in their questions and responses, but they could also use their computers’ microphone and video camera to participate in discussions.

Zoom also had a feature that allowed us to form smaller groups to chat with each other to address questions such as:

How does your institution incorporating current events or social activism into the lesson, tour or discussion? How might you incorporate more of this?

What forms can socially responsive museum practice take? How have you observed it in local and national museums in the field? How have you observed it in your own?

What are the possibilities of celebrating and explore issues around material culture, power and untold stories, to honor visitor voices, challenging apathy and illuminating ideas?

I enjoyed this format because it allowed me to get to know other museum professionals I would not have been able to with the old format of listening to speakers and typing questions into a chat feature. The old format seemed to lead to passive participation. While this is a new feature and it would take some getting used to, I see the potential in having a more interactive experience in these discussions.

One of the statements that stuck with me was when said “museums are a partner for learning and enrichment but shouldn’t be overshadowing- if you want to know what audiences want- ask them and involve them”. We need to establish and maintain our relationships between museums and our audiences to understand what we all want from our experience in educating ourselves about social justice and social movements.

This discussion was continued during tonight’s #MuseumEdChat on Twitter. Participants answered a number of questions about social movements, and continued to discuss these questions within the hour and beyond the hour discussion. One of the questions asked was: Why should museums connect with visitors through social movements?

I believe that museums should not only remain relevant in today’s community by connecting with visitors through social movements but museums can provide resources that will help visitors get educated about the issues social movements address. I have also read other responses to this question, and one of the responses that stood out to me was:

Because social movements are an important part of the human experience! They are part of what drives change in societies across time, cultures, etc. By engaging w/current social movements we can teach empathy and appreciation for movements of the past.

This response stood out to me because it is true that all social movements, in the past and present, are part of the human experience. Many changes within our society were made because of the social movements that occurred. Social movements today are getting a lot of attention and inspiring more discussion on what changes we need to make in our community and in our government.

Another example of the questions asked during the #MuseumEdChat discussion was: What makes a good partnership with an audience successful? I believe successful partnerships with an audience need to have open communication and build the trust between museums and its audiences so visitors are more likely to turn to museums to learn about the issues and the past to understand the present social movements.

What we should all take away from reading the latest edition of Museum magazine, and from what participants in the discussions talked about, is museum professionals and people outside of the museum field need to work together to find out how we can show them educational programs can be for all ages. We can also show them that not only our educational programs can be for all ages but we can also reveal that we are safe spaces to discuss social justice.

Do you have examples of educational programs in museums that are geared towards all-ages? How does your organization discuss social justice among the staff and/or visitors?



How to Lead a Professional Development Program: Reflections of My Experience Presenting One on Gender Equity

Added to Medium, March 8, 2018

On Monday, March 5, 2018, I have had my first professional development program that I have presented for the field. The program was the Long Island Museum Association Roundtable, hosted by Preservation Long Island, called “Lessons from the Workplace: Women in the Museum”. I presented at this program with Anne Ackerson, who co-founded Gender Equity in Museums Movement in 2016. It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot from the process of arranging it to presenting the program.

This process began last year when I met with a then board member of the Long Island Museum Association (LIMA) at a previous Roundtable program to propose an idea for a future Roundtable program. Since I then recently joined Gender Equity in Museums Movement, I thought it would be a good idea to bring awareness of gender equity to my colleagues on Long Island. For the next few months, I discussed the idea with various LIMA board members and presidents and figure out when the roundtable should be scheduled.

After proposing this idea, I kept in contact with the then LIMA board member until he retired from the museum field. I continued the conversation with the remaining board members. A date was finally set for March 5th, 2018.

While having discussions with the LIMA board members, I informed the rest of the GEMM coalition that LIMA is interested in having a program about gender equity. Since I have not been involved with GEMM for very long and that it was the first presentation I have had since graduate school, I asked during one of the GEMM meetings if anyone is interested in coming down to Long Island to help with the presentation. Anne Ackerson volunteered to help with the presentation by collaborating together on the presentation and driving down to Long Island to co-present with me.

She and I determined that it would be best to edit an existing PowerPoint presentation so we would not necessarily need to re-invented the wheel. GEMM committee members have volunteered in the past to present at similar programs to promote the coalition and discuss gender equity issues.

Anne and I continued planning the roundtable meeting by talking with LIMA board members about logistics. For promotional materials, we were asked to send information about ourselves, the program, and about GEMM. Both of us emailed our biographies and the summary of the program we will present the day of the presentation.

Because I am also a LIMA member, I received the email newsletter that promoted our program. The LIMA board decided that the program will be presented at the organization Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor; located in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Preservation Long Island is a not-for-profit organization committed to working with Long Islanders to protect, preserve, and celebrate our cultural heritage through advocacy, education, and the stewardship of historic sites and collections. According to the email newsletter, our program would begin with check in and coffee at nine in the morning. Then our program would begin at nine-thirty, and would last until twelve thirty.

Since we had a PowerPoint presentation that typically are for shorter programs, Anne and I decided we would figure out how to fill the rest of the time. We decided it would be a good idea to see if there are museum professionals on Long Island who are willing to participate in a panel to answer questions from us and the audience. If we were not able to have panelists, we would fill the time with time dedicated to questions and answers from the audience and small group discussions.

Small group discussions would allow audience members to divide into small groups to answer questions we provided on handouts so after they discussed the answers to the questions they will write the answers down. A few of the questions that were on the sheet include:

“What does your board do to advance gender equity within your museum? What can or should it do?”
“How does your museum eliminate gender bias in board or volunteer recruitment, and in hiring staff?”
“How would a statement of organizational values be useful in addressing equity in your museum?”

After the small group discussions were finished, we would collect at least one handout from each group so that the responses will be used for future publications from the coalition on gender equity issues.

We were able to have museum professionals participate in the panel, and because of this we also decided to break down time dedicated to the presentation, panel, and small group discussions so we would be able to keep track of the time for the program.

Anne arranged to have panelists from organizations on Long Island to join the roundtable and participate in the discussion on gender equity. On the day of the program, we were able to have four female museum and former museum professionals to participate in the panel.

The first participant was Sarah Abruzzi who is an accomplished executive and fundraising professional with 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector. She served as Director of two museums and worked in all aspects of museum operations including education, collections management, volunteer coordination, fundraising, communications, and government relations. Now Abruzzi serves as Director of Major Gifts and Special Projects at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook.

Then the next participant was Barbara Applegate who is the director of the Steinberg Museum of Art at Long Island University where she developed and presented exhibitions, many of them were made in collaboration with other institutions, and oversaw the development of special websites based on the Museum’s collection. Recently, she oversaw construction for the museum at a new campus location.

Marianne Howard, the Grant Writer for Mercy Haven in Islip Terrace, is another panel participant. Howard was previously the executive director for the Smithtown Historical Society, and she has held leadership positions among both museums and social services agencies in both New York City and on Long Island. She now works for Mercy Haven in Islip Terrace which is a non-profit organization which provides temporary and permanent housing and supportive services to those in need across Long Island.

Last but not least, Tracy Pfaff participated in the program as one of the four panelists. She became the Director of the Northport Historical Society in 2016, and before that she worked in a for-profit fine arts gallery, and she has interned at museums in Peru and Wyoming. Pfaff is the incoming co-president of LIMA with Theresa Skvarla. Once we were able to determine who would be able to participate in the panel, Anne and I discussed the schedule for the day as well as what should be divided among the two of us.

We decided to have the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of the program which would last about fifteen to twenty minutes. Our presentation in the beginning was our welcome to the program as well as an overview of gender equity issues. The presentation has fourteen slides, and we made the decision to split the slides between the both of us.

Then the panel discussion would last for about forty minutes. Each of the panelists had opportunities to select questions they would like to address, and therefore not every panelist has to respond to every question. Nine questions were developed but we kept in mind that we may not be able to get to all of the questions. A couple of examples of questions that were addressed to the panelists are:

“Share an example of gender bias or inequity that affected your career and what you did about it.”
“What would you like to see our professional associations do to address gender bias? Is there a role for funders to advance the conversation?”
“In looking across the museum sector, where do you see the greatest positive movement to address gender inequity (i.e., collections, workforce and hiring, exhibits, etc.)”

Anne and I also decided to divide the questions between us so each of us would be able to ask questions to the panelists. We also allocated time for audience members to ask the panelists questions related to gender equity and the museum field.

Then we allocated time for a break so audience members can spend their time doing such as checking email, and get more coffee and pastries. During our conversations, we also decided to include a role playing activity after break and before the small group discussions.

Role playing activities would allow volunteers from the audience to play roles we give each pair and they will act out a scenario related to gender equity. We would allow up to five minutes of role playing then open it up to the audience to see how the situation could be handled differently or what their impressions were about the scenario. Also, we decided to have four different scenarios prepared for the program but we will start with two scenarios then see how much time is available.

Once the role playing and small group discussions are completed, we would wrap up the program by asking the audience to share a little bit of what their groups discussed and thanked them for coming out to hear our presentation and participate in our discussion.

A few days before the program, Anne and I spoke on the phone to finalize details for the day. We both agreed that it is important that we should be flexible and play by ear how we should proceed with the program to make sure the program is on schedule and to make sure our panelists and audience members are comfortable.

On the day of, I arrived early to take a look at the space we would be presenting in. Anne and I decided to take a few chairs from the first row to allow the panelists to sit there during the panel discussion and allow them to move to the back during the PowerPoint presentation. Also, we set up the PowerPoint presentation and mingled with museum professionals who have arrived for the program.

There were about between twenty and thirty museum professionals who arrived for the program which is more than Anne and I were expecting. We were very happy with the turn out, and we were also happy that many of them engaged with us, the panelists, and with each other about gender equity. Many questions, comments, and concerns were brought to us and we were able to answer to as many of them as possible. The discussion among the small groups was especially lively and we were able to collect many worksheets so we are able to use these answers for future publications.

There were some technical difficulties such as the microphone feed occasionally turned on and the lighting of the presentation made it a little hard to see the PowerPoint. I knew that we cannot always plan for everything, but we were flexible enough to continue on with the program. For instance, instead of using the last slide to share the small groups discussion we turned off the computer since we already had the questions on the handouts we gave audience members.

Overall, we had a very positive response from the program participants. We received many thanks from individuals we spoke with throughout the program. Also, I received congratulations from my colleagues and former colleagues I knew who attended the program. We also had many of them sign up to receive more information about GEMM, and we sent them the March newsletter we just sent out to other GEMM followers.

I learned a lot from this experience, and I am very proud to have arranged the program, been in the process, and in the program.

A special shout out to Anne Ackerson who has been so helpful during the process, and I thank you again Anne for everything leading up to and during the program.

What has your experiences been like presenting in professional development programs? Is there any advice you would give other professionals who start planning their own professional development programs?

Response to Alliance Labs: 7 Factors That Drive Museum Wages Down

Added to Medium, March 1, 2018

This past week was Museum Advocacy Day 2018 hosted by the American Alliance of Museums where museum professionals went down to Washington D.C. and/or used social media to bring awareness of museums impact on the country to their state representatives, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. I came across this article from Alliance Labs posted last week, and I thought about these factors as examples of why we need more support from our government representatives to increase our funding to help museums function.

I also thought this article is a good edition to the leaving the museum field discussion. One of the top reasons museum professionals decided to leave the field because of the low wages museums offer. When we take a closer look at museum wages, and how they are influenced to be the way they are in recent years, we are able to find out how we can make a better case for increasing funding in our museums to better support our institutions and our professionals to our government officials.

Written by Michael Holland, “7 Factors That Drive Museum Wages Down” discusses how our museum wages are influenced to the state they are currently in nowadays. According to Holland, the factors that drove museum wages down are the way laws and policies are written; people on top making decisions that have museum professionals wear many hats or have a job that is multiple jobs in one; figuring out how to monetize museum professionals’ work; limited advancement opportunity; internal equity in the museum; spouses of museum professionals earning higher income helps supplement expenses; and there are many applicants applying for the few jobs that are available in the field.

After reading this article, I felt that based on my experience as a museum professional these factors make sense and that we should be better at having museum professionals earn reasonable wages. To start having museum professionals earn living wages, we should take a look at the factors that influence the wages. Holland discussed about government structure, law, and policy and how this is part of how museum wages are down. He revealed that,

Many museums are affiliated with governmental entities. Museums at state universities are staffed by people who are actually public employees (just like the football coaches, but without the exorbitant salaries). Sometimes this is helps employees (legislatively mandated cost-of-living pay increases), but the structural framework of employee classification can put some hard limits on salaries, making it difficult to change compensation significantly without also changing your title and job description. This means that even if the museum has success raising substantial funding from the private sector, they may not be allowed to spend it on their staff in the same ways that a private business can.

Contractor pay is not limited by job titles or classifications, and is instead a reflection of what the market will bear, and they charge what it takes to stay in business. Museums are paying what the work is actually worth, but they pay someone other than their own staff to do it. This allows administrators to follow the rules and stay within the compensation ranges dictated by governmental job classifications, since they’re technically spending the money on stuff (goods and services) instead of staff (their own personnel).

What stood out to me was when he stated “even if the museum has success raising substantial funding from the private sector, they may not be allowed to spend it on their staff in the same ways that a private business can.” To me, it means that museum professionals do not have the control they have to improve funding that supports wages if relying on one form of financial support. Museums do not rely on one source for financial support since there are a lot of resources needed to keep a museum running.

Another statement that stood out to me was museums paying what the work is worth to someone other than their own staff so administrators can follow rules and stay within compensation ranges dictated by governmental job classifications. A lot of times we do need to bring in outside help to keep the museum running, however it should depend on what we need and if any of the staff can do it before bringing in someone else on a project. The main point of this factor I believe is that we need to have this wages discussion with our government, and Museum Advocacy Day is a great example of how we can talk with our representatives about the importance of museums as well as the museum professionals who dedicate so much time to their museums.

Holland also discussed about corporate culture being absorbed in the museum culture. He stated in the post that,

Like many companies, museums these days are doing more with fewer people, and have surprisingly small staffs who wear a lot of hats. With fewer people on staff, anything beyond daily operations can exceed in-house capacity, and when it does, work gets contracted out. This arrangement allows the company—sorry, the museum—to trim operating expenses and then spend on specific projects only as needed, rather than carry the ongoing expense of a larger staff. I haven’t seen the math to allow me to say for certain whether or not this ultimately saves the museum money in the long run, but it might look favorable on paper during the tenure of any given administration.

Wearing many hats is a very familiar concept for museum professionals, especially myself. I have not also seen the math on whether the way museum staff run the museum saves the museum money in the long run, and while it might look favorable on paper those who suffer from how museums are run these days the most are the staff.

In our field, there is so much discussion about how we need to make sure we take care of ourselves. For instance, Seema Rao wrote a blog post called “Productivity: In Defense of Breaks” which is all about the importance of taking breaks to be productive. However, it is a challenge to do so when there is so much to do and not much time to get the self-care time we need to prevent ourselves from burning out too quickly. Many museum professionals end up working on multiple projects simultaneously to the point that they are too tired to be productive, and they work longer hours to attempt to complete projects. Since the wages are low, museum professionals are more likely to work longer hours to attempt to pay for expenses. We need to incorporate self-care into how we run our museums by finding a way to increase wages and bring in more staff assistance while we keep our museums running.

Measuring employee value is a challenging situation to discuss and figure out because it can easily be undervalued when finding ways to save museum expenses to keep a museum running. Holland discusses measuring employee value as a factor that drove museum wages down by pointing out how the corporate world measures employee value:

One area where the museum sector appears to differ from the corporate world is the difficulty of measuring the value of any given employee to the organization. In business, a company can estimate with sometimes remarkable accuracy the return on investment (ROI) of hiring an employee, and quarterly earnings reports can validate those estimates. But most museums are not for-profit entities. They don’t have shareholders to please, or CEOs with their pay directly linked to the performance of the company by stock options.

If our museums insist on measuring our staff’s value, there has to be different standards and/or a different system that reflects our impact on the museum. While thinking corporately will to an extent help bring in money for museums, we also need to think like museums and give museum staff the value that they have earned and deserved.

Another set of situations that Holland has also listed as factors are limited advancement opportunity and understanding internal equity. There are not many opportunities for museum professionals to climb the ladder in their careers despite the fact that their positions in the field are essential for running the museum. Museum professionals, according to Holland, who manage to stick around long enough are likely to advance somewhat by becoming designated managers of other co-workers. There are museum professionals that have some advancement not clearly defined since there may be a title change and/or additional responsibilities added to the responsibilities they were originally hired for, and therefore priorities are mixed.

The fifth factor Holland mentioned, understanding internal equity, detailed that trying to fairly pay staff equal wages could also be driving museum wages down. Museums attempt to avoid conflict between staff members by giving all staff members equal wages. However, as Holland has stated:

Internal equity is a valid concern, but our understanding of equity might be incomplete if we’re basing it solely on salary. Broader economic trajectories over time can have enormous impact on whether or not a salary is truly sufficient. Nowhere has this impact been stronger than in housing costs. A staff member who bought their house for $40,000 in 1988 might be able to get by today on $34,000/year. But someone hired today in the same city where a house now costs $500,000 and a one-bedroom apartment goes for $1,600/month will not, unless they bring a pile of home equity with them (hint- this isn’t a thing for pretty much anyone under 30, and many well beyond that age). If the new hire is younger and has typical student loan debt, they’ll be even worse off. These two employees may have the same salary, but their economic realities are not even close to comparable. Perhaps a better definition of internal equity would be based on “effective income”, defined as how much money each of our two comparable staff members has remaining each month after their housing costs are paid.

This is a common concern within our museum community. I myself have worked with co-workers that are all different in age and circumstances. They all stress the situations they are in, and when we think about fairness as giving equal wages then we are not really being fair to all circumstances in which we are in to help support ourselves and our financial responsibilities. We need to figure out how to make wages more effective for all of our staff.

Other factors Holland discussed are spousal income subsidy and many applicants for few jobs. Both of these factors, as well as the previous factors, are familiar to me and I always have to keep this in mind when I think about my future. In a previous blog post on how to balance work and family, I mentioned that I am getting married and maintaining the balance is essential especially for me and other museum professionals. When I read the statement “With a steady supply of people who would love to work in a museum don’t have to worry so much about their earnings, museums may not have much incentive to raise salaries”, both Holland and myself have thought about the extent museums depend on hiring individuals with spouses and supplemental income. Like every individual museum professional has varying financial circumstances, married couples have varying financial circumstances that may very well need to depend on both salaries to fulfill their responsibilities.

I have also seen too often is having so many applicants apply for few jobs. As a museum professional who has applied to many times in the field, it felt discouraging for me when there are few jobs available and yet I have gained so much knowledge of the field that would be helpful for museums. While I have figured out a way or two to help me stay in the field I am passionate about, many museum professionals have to leave the field to figure out another way to fulfill financial obligations. Museums should acknowledge museum professionals who bring in the skills and knowledge they need to fulfill their organizations’ missions.

Many of these factors and ways we need to make the changes we should essentially do depend on the influences from the top. If we are able to talk with our government representatives to make changes and support our museums, we should do so and these changes will lead to museum professionals having equitable wages going forward in the museum field.

Have you read Holland’s post on Alliance Labs? What did you think of Holland’s “7 Factors That Drive Museum Wages Down”? Are there other factors we need to acknowledge and discuss?


What Can We Do to Avoid Fraud?

Added to Medium, February 22, 2018

Fraud is a scary topic especially within the museum field. It is a topic not often talked about, and it should be discussed more among museum professionals. Maybe we think that it might not happen but it could happen at any point in any time frame if we are not careful. I do not recall being in a situation that led to fraud in the museum, and while I am thankful that I have not faced something like this I do feel that it is important that all of us in the field especially myself need to know what to do under these circumstances. Since this week is known by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) as “Nightmare at the Museum Week”, the webinars and articles they are sharing discussing deaccessioning and fraud inspired this week’s discussion on my blog. The more we talk about fraud, and learn from one another, the more we are able to be more aware of fraud and maybe we will be able to do our best to avoid fraud.

This topic captured my attention more now as a museum professional since I have become more involved in the financial realm of running a museum. I had some experience in keeping track of finances during college when I was a treasurer of two clubs for all four years. Since starting at the Maritime Explorium, I have been asked to be the manager of finances to make sure admissions and other income are adequately recorded and supported to keep the children’s science museum running. The more I get a closer look at the record keeping, the more I knew that the need for accurate record keeping is essential.

I notice more human counting errors when I began reviewing the daily and monthly reports. It is a challenge to go through a lot of previous records and make sure it is accurate, but it is necessary to make sure we have accurate information. If our organizations are not careful, we can be open to more issues down the road.

I reiterate that we should do our best to avoid fraud because if we do not prepare for it by updating our policies and evaluating our museum ethics fraud can sneak up before one realizes it happened. We can take a look at journal articles, magazine articles, and books that discuss fraud to see what would work best for our organizations.

Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland pointed out in their book Museum Administration 2.0 that museums need to keep in mind their professional codes and ethics when running the museum. By doing so, I believe museum professionals have the ability to have the tools they need for fraud prevention. According to Genoways and Ireland, a museum ethics statement is an important moral compass that guide staff and board to fulfill their museums’ missions. When we set up a code of standards for board and staff, we set an expectation that we will run the museum with the public’s interest and trust in mind.

Our museums should take care of our fraud prevention practices so we can maintain our visitors trust in our organizations. One of the examples of resources we can use on fraud and fraud prevention is an article that focuses on embezzlement.

AASLH published an article in their Winter 2017 edition of the magazine AASLH History News about embezzlement written by Max A. van Balgooy. He not only briefly described examples of museums, historic sites, and historical societies that had to face embezzlement, but also went into detail about what embezzlement is and how to detect fraud.

Van Balgooy revealed there was a study done by the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) called the 2016 Global Fraud Study. The study showed that the typical organization loses 5 percent of its revenues to fraud each year. Also, it stated frauds last an average of eighteen months before being detected, and losses rose the longer the schemes continued. Therefore, the faster an organization acts the smaller the losses will be for that organization.

He stated in the article that state and local history organizations can reduce losses and recover more quickly if boards and staff are more informed about the techniques used by criminals and adopt practices that provide obstacles and create transparency. I agree because we would be better prepared if we knew how criminals perform these crimes so we will be able to catch it as soon as possible.

One of the statements that stood out to me in the article was “Don’t Assume an Independent Audit Will Catch Fraud”. It stood out to me because when I thought about it, this makes sense because museum professionals are more aware of the finances and the financial history of their organization. It is the auditor’s job to detect any weaknesses in the financial management system and report that so the staff and board can work on improving this system. When we strengthen our system, we would be able to detect when a fraud may occur.

The most important thing I got out this article was we need to be talking about fraud more often. It is an embarrassing feeling and we do feel betrayed but we need to figure out how to deal with the situation. If we do not involve the authorities or overlook it, we would be letting the criminal(s) free to embezzle other organizations. Discussing it more will help museums and museum professionals feel more comfortable seek help and advice to best prevent from another fraud happening again. AASLH has recently followed this example of discussing the topic more often.

This afternoon, AASLH had a webinar called Fraud at the Museum: Protecting Your Organization from a Devastating Event. According to their webinar description,

Financial fraud can happen to any size history organization, from the very large to the smallest of the small. But it’s only after they become a victim that the vast majority of organizations take steps to protect themselves against fraud.

It is exactly the point that has to come across to museum professionals of all institutions, no matter what type or size of the museum. In the webinar, the guest speaker, Kelly Paxton, discussed how fraud is committed and discovered then proceeded with recommendations for policies and procedures to help prevent financial loss and protect its staff and board members.

I plan on looking at #AASLH Twitter Chat this Friday which discusses deaccessioning and fraud prevention. A few of the questions they will ask participants are:

What are your experiences with fraud or fraud prevention?
What policies do you have in place to deal with potential fraud?
What are your favorite resources for preparing your institution in this and other tricky areas?

These questions will hopefully let museum professionals be comfortable to discuss their experiences and resources they use to deal with fraud or work on fraud prevention.

If more museum professionals become more open to discussing fraud we would be able to help our organizations run better and maintain our visitors’ trust in our ability we can serve as educational institutions.

Have you heard of a situation in which fraud has taken place within an organization? What resources have you read that discussed fraud prevention?

Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
van Balgooy, Max A. “Embezzlement”, AASLH History News, Winter 2017, Vol. 72, #1, 20-25.