A Closer Look into Museum Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Added to Medium, January 25, 2018

Museum workers are valuable to museums, especially those who volunteer their time to help the museums run. During my experience as a museum educator, I have worked with volunteers as well as participated in professional development programs about volunteers and volunteer programs.

As I am in the middle of helping rewrite the Three Village Historical Society’s docent manual, I thought about my previous experiences and professional development I participated in. In one of my previous blog posts, “Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”, I wrote about my previous experiences working with volunteers and working as a volunteer in my early career. A couple of my most recent experiences working with volunteers were previously managing volunteers for school programs at the Long Island Museum, and writing down records of sailing tour hours at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

At the Long Island Museum, I oversaw scheduling volunteers to assist with larger school programs based on their availability and discussed with them what the students got from the lessons. Then at the Long Island Maritime Museum, I volunteered for a school tour, collected admission for a Boat Burning event, Past Perfect data entry and preserving books by scanning pages, and working at the visitor services desk. Based on my perspective, I can understand what volunteers need to complete their goals as well as making sure their work accomplishes work museums’ need to accomplish their mission.

To make sure we understand what we should expect from our volunteer programs, it is important to learn from colleagues through professional development programs and written information such as books and articles.

One of the professional development programs I attended was the American Alliance of Museums’ EdComVersation. The EdComVersation I attended was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” with several presenters giving case studies of how volunteer programs are run at different museums or organizations. Each case study provide advice on how we can run our volunteer programs and make sure we utilize volunteers’ time to everyone’s advantage. Museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs since evaluations can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers). Also, by evaluating volunteers and volunteer programs it conveys appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivates volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program.

Another resource that is good to learn about managing volunteer programs and working with volunteers is a book Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. In their book, Van Hoven and Wellman discussed what museum volunteers are and the importance of museum volunteers especially today. Van Hoven and Wellman gave solid advice on volunteer recruitment, communication, and retention strategies. They answered various questions about volunteers including: What are new volunteers looking for? How can you develop a successful relationship with potential volunteers? How can your museum support a robust and active volunteer program? How do you reward volunteers and keep them for the long term? How can you meet volunteers’ needs and still benefit from their work?

Their book also provided sample documents for managing volunteer programs. It has a sample of a volunteer job description and a volunteer application. There are also samples of volunteer interview questionnaire, volunteer evaluation forms, recognition letters, and certificate of recognition. I have also found another resource that is helpful with museum volunteer programs.

The resource I found is a technical bulletin called Building a successful museum volunteer services program written by Robbin Davis who is a Volunteer and Marketing Manager at the Oklahoma Museum of History. According to Davis, the questions that volunteers think about when considering volunteering at a museum are: how do they fit into the picture, how can they be useful and how much time will it take? Can they give tours? Can they work with artifacts? Can they interact with the public? Are there social activities? Does it cost?

Davis also went into specific details about how to build volunteer programs. For instance, Robbin discussed incorporating the mission statement in the volunteer program. In the bulletin, it stated that

A mission specific to the Volunteer program should frame the program within the context of the overall museum mission. Make sure it is attainable and a staff decision. If the volunteer program is already established, let the volunteers help create the mission or “freshen” up an existing one.

By incorporating the museum’s mission, potential volunteers will be able to see how they would be able to contribute to the museum and what the museum stands for.

The technical bulletin also discussed the importance of having a volunteer reference manual, marketing materials to promote the volunteer program, and forms for volunteers to fill out. Also, it stated that there are important questions that need to be asked as a volunteer program is being developed such as

Who does your museum serve? What is the volunteer history of the museum? Have there been volunteers before? How were they utilized? What kind of program was it? Was it effective? Why? Why not?

When museum staff figure out the answers to the previously stated questions, they will be able to have an effective and successful volunteer program that will generate dedicated volunteers to help museums fulfill their missions.

Museum volunteers are significant in helping museums function. Volunteers have skills that can be useful in various aspects within the museums’ departments. By focusing on establishing a successful volunteer program, museums are able to not only provide opportunities for positive experiences for volunteers but they will be able to promote your organizations.

What is your relationship with your volunteers like? What ways does your organization recognize its volunteers?

Resources:
Van Hoven, Kristy and Loni Wellman, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
“Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”
Building a successful museum volunteer services program

How to Work with Museum Boards: A Relationship Between the Staff and the Board

Added to Medium, November 9, 2017

As I assist with preparations for my museum’s board meeting this week, I thought more on what I have learned about the board’s role in the museum. Throughout my career so far, I became more involved in getting to know the board and what their impact is on the museum. I continue to learn more as I become more involved in projects that help the board see the museum’s progress. To absorb more knowledge about museum boards, in addition to personal experience, I read books, articles, and blog posts on various information about museum boards.

There are a number of responsibilities boards have for museums and other non-profit organizations. According to Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0, board members have a number of responsibilities including but not limited to: ensure the continuity of the museum’s mission, mandate, and purposes; act as an advocate in the community for public involvement in the museum; review and approve policies consistent with the museum’s mission and mandate, and to monitor staff implementation of these policies; 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; and ensure that the museum has adequate staff to fulfill the mission.

Museum board responsibilities are not limited to only the previously listed. Their responsibilities do have to be clear to make sure the board members understand how their tasks have an impact on the overall museum’s function. Board members do need to not only understand the museum director and staff roles to see the museum’s impact on the community.

To effectively run a museum there has to be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities of board members, the executive director, and staff. Each of them need to work together to fulfill the museum’s mission and meet the needs of its constituencies. The executive director and board balance their leadership roles between both of them, and the extent to which the board and director achieve this balance will vary from museum to museum and will depend on the size of the museum. Each staff member, director, and board member have a role to fulfill to keep the museum running.

By learning more about my role in the museum and other roles in the museum, I can see how all of our work keeps the museum running for the community.

I began to learn more about museum boards and my role in collaborating with boards during my most recent years in my museum career. For instance, this week I have been asked to look over financial records of Maritime Explorium’s admission records for 2017. I carefully looked through each information between January and October to make sure it was all accurate to prepare for an upcoming board meeting. By completing this task, I will be able to help the executive director and the board understand the trends of this past year so far and they would be able to move forward in planning for next year.

While I was learning from my personal experience and from the book Museum Administration 2.0 about the board’s role in the museum, I also read the blog posts about museum boards.

In the Leadership Matters blog post “It’s the board, stupid”, Joan Baldwin pointed out that not everyone on boards internalizes the museum’s mission, gets along with the executive director, contributes time and money and gets others to do the same, but if board members have understood their trusteeship as work, based in a museum’s mission, there would probably be less disruption, less mediocrity, and more organizational success.

No one is perfect, and it can be a challenge to keep things functioning in the museum. The most important thing to keep in mind is to have constant and clear communication between the board, director, and museum staff.

Communication also needs to be clear between the board, executive director, and staff. The more effective and accurate the communication among them are the more likely what changes unfold can be accommodated smoothly.

Board members bring a variety of values with them, and the director’s success in the museum is directly related to his or her understanding of the board and its values. The board’s composition needs to be reflective of the community it serves. Museums’ boards, in other words, need to reflect diversity in their leadership. In Rebecca Herz’s blog post “Museum Boards” from a few years ago, one of the former museum directors she talked with pointed out that “we need boards that can represent the range of communities served by our museums”. This is certainly true now as it was when this blog post was written. If we do not effectively represent our communities, then people within those communities will not see how museums can be valued. To be able to represent our communities, we need to start with a diverse museum board.

The best way to have a better understanding of how museum boards function is to take advantage of the opportunities to assist in projects that affect museum boards’ roles and to get to know your museum board members.

Have you been on a museum board? What is your experience like? If you work in a museum, how directly have you worked with board members? What have your experiences with boards been like?

Resources:
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
https://museumquestions.com/2013/11/18/museum-boards/
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/its-the-board-stupid/

How Creativity is Necessary in the Museum

Originally posted on Medium, June 8, 2017.

What is Creativity? Why is it so important to have creativity in our practice as museum professionals? Questions like these two are what we ponder every day to fulfill our museums’ missions and our career goals. Creativity allows us to be able to express ourselves and provides another outlook on the world around us. Museum professionals especially need to express their creative sides to help their organizations continue to grow and adapt to their changing communities. This is not a new topic but we can always learn something new when we express our creative side. I learn a lot when I allow to express my creative side whether it is drawing, writing, or making projects; and I use my experiences inside and outside of museums to inspire me to create something different and sometimes the same subject from a different perspective.

Since I was young, I made various drawings of many things including animals and landscapes. As I developed my interests in museums, I began drawing museums I have been to and museums I have worked with. For instance, I drew the Butler-McCook House in Hartford, the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Noah Webster House in West Hartford, and Connecticut Historical Society. I drew many of these drawings from my own memory, and one was drawn using a photograph as reference. Also, I used either pens or pencils to make my drawings (depending on which utensil was available at the time). I learned to use my creativity to assist in my museum experience, and I continue to use references from books and professional development programs discussing creativity.

Connecticut Historical Society, pen, drawn 2015

  Noah Webster House, pen, drawn 2015

Stanley-Whitman House, pen, drawn 2014

Butler-McCook House, pencil, drawn 2014

One of the resources I used and continue to use is Linda Norris’ and Rainey Tisdale’s Creativity in Museum Practice to help me get inspired. Norris and Tisdale express the importance of allowing creativity to inspire work in the museum no matter which department they work from. In their book, they state that they believe “the daily life of museum workers behind the scenes both needs and deserves more attention in order for museums to reach their full potential.” Norris and Tisdale shared colleagues’ stories from across the museum field of what creative practices have worked for themselves and their museums. Also, they shared their own tips on how to jumpstart one’s creative practice using no-cost or low-cost activities. Throughout the book, Norris and Tisdale discuss many ways museum professionals can find creativity in their daily tasks, and use whatever inspiration they find in the environment they are surrounded by. The style of this book is written as both a textbook and a workbook to help museum professionals spark their own creativity.

Norris, Linda and Rainey Tisdale, Creativity in Museum Practice, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2014.

One of the professional development programs I participated in was a NYCMER workshop in October called “Exhibition Designs for Educators” at El Museo del Barrio. This program was an example of how educators can learn to express their creativity to design exhibits and programs simultaneously. There was a challenge in which we were not told what the object was, and we were expected to create an exhibit with an unknown artifact (what appeared to be a cement block). The group I worked with received the prompt to create this exhibit as a warm and friendly environment; we brainstormed various ways we could create the exhibit using the prompt. For more information about this activity, check out the post “Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage.” By brainstorming together as a group, we were able to express our collective creative experience that led to the concept we designed.

“Exhibition Designs for Educators” Activity, October 2016

Creativity is especially used in museum education programs to not only entertain its audiences but to educate them on the subject matter of the museums’ expertise including but not limited to art, history, and science.

There are many examples of when I used creativity as a museum education professional. For instance, while I was working in historic house museums in Connecticut, I taught and assisted participants in making crafts and cooking recipes for school and camp programs. One of the crafts I helped kids make were cornhusk dolls during the summer camp program at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society which not only was a fun activity but they also learned about what kinds of dolls kids during the eighteenth century played with and created themselves to find ways to entertain themselves. I have also helped fifth grade students make apple pies and Irish-style mashed potatoes at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington. At Connecticut Landmarks Butler-McCook House, I helped kids create Samurai helmets out of gift wrap and yarn during the New Year’s Eve celebration, First Night Hartford. The Samurai helmet activity was inspired by the Samurai armor that the McCook family have in their old 18/19th century house; Reverend McCook and his daughter Frances traveled to many places on the way to and from China to visit another daughter Eliza, and one of the places they visited was Japan where he purchased the Samurai armor to bring back to Hartford.

One of the most recent examples include creating activities for kids to participate in during down time in school programs and during general tours at the Long Island Maritime Museum. I created activities such as cross word puzzles, word searches, matching games, and a scavenger hunt. To create these activities, I used information about the Long Island Maritime Museum and the maritime history it shares with its visitors. For instance, I created a crossword puzzle about one of the historic buildings on the museum’s property called the Rudolph Oyster House based on the information about the Oyster House and oyster business; the Rudolph Oyster House was built in 1908 by William Rudolph for his oyster company established in 1895, and it was used as an oyster culling and shucking house until 1947 and was acquired by the Long Island Maritime Museum in 1974.

Another example of activities I created was a breeches buoy search to teach participants the parts of the breeches buoy, an early contraption that pulled victims from shipwrecks, by writing down the names of the parts next to the corresponding letter (I included a word bank so they see the appropriate names). The next example of activities I created is a Name These Boats activity that challenges participants to use their memories of the boats stored in the museum’s Small Craft Building. I included a word bank to limit the possibilities, and participants would write down the name of the boat next to the photograph of a boat.

I also had the opportunity to observe a children’s program that the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson participated in. Children created sound-sandwiches for them to take home and play music on by blowing into them like harmonicas. The sound-sandwiches were made with tongue depressors, two pieces of straw, and rubber bands. To make them, one of the two tongue depressors needs a large rubber band wrapped around it from one tip to another; then the two tongue depressors and two small pieces of straw are tied together with smaller rubber bands at the ends. Sound-sandwiches can be adjusted until a humming or vibrating sound is heard. This was not only a fun activity for children to participate in but they also learned how to create sound by using the materials they were given.

Last weekend I created another exhibit for my childhood church to share the community’s summertime fun since the season would be around the corner soon and I wanted this exhibit to focus more on the parishioners as well as their interactions with the community around them. I included photographs from the Summer Festival the church participated in in 1975, and photographs from a Church picnic that took place by the beach in the 1960s. I also included bulletins that included announcements of activities planned for the summer, ways to get involved in the community, and current events to remind parishioners to be good Christians and learn more about the issues discussed as a result of events. I designed little suns to decorate the exhibit with to represent summer. This exhibit is an example of how creativity is especially useful during the exhibit design process.

Summertime Fun with Trinity exhibit, opened June 4, 2017

Tomorrow I am also participating in another professional development program about creativity, Creativity Incubator. It is a New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)/ Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) Partnership Program which encourages museum staff to test out experimental interpretive approaches through hands-on activities. I will travel to the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, New York where it is being hosted. Creativity will continue to be a significant part of our work as museum professionals, and we need to find ways to inspire creativity in our work and inspire creativity with our visitors.

What ways have you found to inspire creativity work for you? Do you have a favorite moment where you accomplished a creative project, museum-related or not? Have you been inspired by something outside of the museum field that helped you complete a project?

 

Visitor-Centered Museums: How We Can Appeal to Our Audiences

Originally posted on Medium, May 11, 2017. 

This week I finished reading this book Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson. Peter Samis is the Associate Curator of Interpretation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Mimi Michaelson is an education and museum consultant who received her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University. It is one of the books I had on my list of books I wanted to read on museum education, and the rest of the books I have on the list can be found here: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/books-i-want-to-read-on-museum-education-in-2017-14ed52facb11.

My book review of Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum will touch on the layout of the book while pointing out the main takeaways from the book. In addition to reviewing Samis and Michaelson’s book, I will also discuss my own experiences in creating visitor-centered museums. By describing Samis and Michaelson’s examples of visitor-centered museums and my experiences in creating programs that make museums I worked for more visitor-centered, I reiterate the importance of keeping museum offerings relevant to returning and new visitors.

Samis, Peter and Mimi Michaelson, Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Samis and Michaelson’s Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum is an interesting book that while it does not present a new concept it describes different examples of how museums can create programs and exhibits that are focused on the visitor. The important take away from this book, as museum professionals learn in recent years, is there is not just one way to create a visitor-centered museum. To introduce the concept of the visitor-centered museum, the book was divided into three parts: the introduction, or setting the stage; the case studies; and the conclusion to introduce varieties of visitor-centeredness and change.

One of the most important points Samis and Michaelson introduced in the beginning of the book is if museums do not make changes the museums are not going to survive. Also, both authors pointed out that many transitions in museums have to do with museums reaching out to the community to both visitors and potential visitors in new and authentic ways. Samis and Michaelson described in detail why it is important to consider the visitors. They also described that to be able to consider the visitors change takes leadership, and that change begins with a recognition that something is not working. Then the authors described the contours of change; one of the ways they discussed contours of change was pointing out that prioritizing visitors as essential to the museum’s mission may also lead to empowering the voices of those who have traditionally had most direct contact with them.

The authors provide ten different case studies of museums that had approached creating visitor-centered museums through various programs and exhibits. Each case study presented museums that opened their doors to a wider range of visitors and how this decision to change their approach in reaching their audiences presented internal struggles to reorganize their institutions. A few of the museums working towards being more visitor-centered presented in the book include the Denver Art Museum, Ruhr Museum, Minnesota History Center, Oakland Museum of California, and the Van Abbe Museum. To describe each of the museums’ case studies, the authors used a continuum of approaches that begin and end with institutions not strictly speaking collection based; in between these museums, there are museums of various art and multidisciplinary institutions that are intent on finding ways of making their collections relevant to the public and the final museums on the continuum apply contemporary theory and performance to connect with visitors.

Samis and Michaelson’s goal for the book is to share what we have witnessed and join or provoke ongoing conversation related to how (or even why) museum professionals should prioritize visitors in our institutions. Inside the book, there are pictures and charts printed in color to aid in achieving the book’s goal in describing how museums can be more visitor-centered. Also, each chapter was broken down to key takeaways that summarized what the reader learned to make sure museum professionals can understand what they might be able to do with their own institutions.

Each institution is different from one another, and what we can take away from this book is we can find ways to adapt our programs and events that will bring more visitors in by considering the visitors. The museums I have worked for are, of course, different from one another and present their own experiences with creating visitor-centered museum experiences. For example, when I was completing my required internship hours, while working towards my Master’s degree, at Connecticut’s Old State House I participated in distributing and collecting surveys for a lunch program called Conversations at Noon in which people who work in Hartford can attend monthly discussions on various topics related to Hartford history. Participants also can see inside the Old State House while they are sitting in one of the original rooms former state representatives used especially during the eighteenth century.

Another example is while I was at Connecticut Landmarks Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House there were programs created that encouraged visitors to not only participate in program but to also see the historic house museums’ collections.

At the Butler-McCook House, one of the programs it held was the Cultural Cocktail Hour, a monthly program which encouraged adult visitors to see and possibly purchase local artists’ works, listen to live music, and socialize. During the program, the first couple of rooms are opened to participants and they can view the rooms and learn a little bit about the family that lived in the Main Street Hartford house. At the Isham-Terry House, there are a few programs hosted at the house including a Hartford Holiday house tour which is one of the Hartford homes to participate in a mostly self-guided tour of the house while participating in holiday festivities. Currently Connecticut Landmarks is moving forward with improving their tours and programs to make it even more visitor-centered based on the interpretive framework and make sure visitors can make connections to their own interests and understand the people who lived in the houses.

As museum professionals, we make sure our work can help identify who our visitors are and how we can continue to be relevant to visitors and understand the overall needs of our society to bring in new visitors.

Do you think museums are becoming more visitor-centered? How have museums changed over the years? What are your organizations doing to make them more visitor-centered?

Book Review: Museum Administration 2.0 by Hugh H. Genoways, Lynne M. Ireland, and Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

Originally posted on Medium, April 6, 2017.

After a while, I have completed Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0 with revisions made by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. It took me a while to read this book because I wanted to make sure I comprehended each detail the authors provided. I wanted to read this book not only develop my skills as a museum professional but to learn more about how museum administration works. As a museum educator, in the past, I had limited experience in the administration aspect of the museum. I taught school and public programs and the experiences I gained did not include a lot of administration skills. The administration skills I gained before I went to the Long Island Museum was some time answering phone calls and preparing flyers and mailings.

While I was at the Long Island Museum, I gained more administration skills that helped me develop my skills as a museum professional. In addition to teaching school programs and implementing public programs, I learned how to book 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 program/school/organization/time information on the daily sheet to write down official numbers as well as observe the number of programs for that day.

Also, I was also 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.

In addition to the programming related administration work, I also worked on various projects in the Education department. For instance, 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. Then 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. 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/flyers in the envelopes, borrowed mailing boxes from postal offices to place envelopes in, and send them to the post office to be mailed. Since the Long Island Museum, 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 at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

I decided to write a review of this book because not only will this book be useful for all museum professionals but it has also been a while since I wrote a book review. By reading this book, I gain a deeper understanding of the museum running process on all levels and I hope everyone who reads this blog entry will also have a better understanding of how museums are run.

Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. ISBN: 978–1442255517

This book is a second edition to the Museum Administration book published in the early 2000s and revisions were made in this second edition to provide updates on changes in the field since the first edition was published. The authors pointed out that this book is not just for museum directors and department heads but this book is for all members of the museum staff who have administrative duties. The book also provided not only case studies and case reviews but it also shared activities that can be used to practice the skills introduced in that chapter. There are also diagrams to illustrate the concepts explained in the chapters. Also, the authors pointed out the main point of this book which is this book should be used as a quick reference, inspiration during challenging times, and a jumping off point to dig deeper into more complex topics. Each chapter is dedicated to different aspects of how museums are run from what a museum and administration is to interpretation, exhibits, and programming.

The first chapter not only defines what a museum is and what an administration is but it also discusses types of museums, museum associations, the museum profession, and academic programs related to the field. In this chapter, the academic programs discussed in the book are museum studies, public history, and archival education. The chapter also lists several museum associations that exist in the United States including the primary professional museum association American Alliance of Museums, American Association for State and Local History, Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums, Association of Children’s Museums, International Museum Theatre Alliance, and Museum Education Roundtable. The first chapter also pointed out that ultimately when learning about administration in museums experience is the great teacher. Also, it is important to know that no matter what position one holds in the museum each staff member will be expected to perform some administrative duties and each day presents sets of opportunities to make something happen.

The second and third chapters discussed start up and strategic planning. According to the second chapter on start up, creating a new museum or improving an existing one is a complex process requiring a clear sense of purpose and compliance with state and federal regulations. A couple of things the chapter points out are a museum should form only when a community can specify the need for it and plan a solid business model for its sustainability; and all museums need a well-defined mission statement, written bylaws, articles of incorporation, and IRS tax-exempt status. Another important part of museum operations is strategic planning; a strategic plan is a map or chart an organization agrees to follow for three to five years to reach its goals, and the plans are strategic when the goals that respond to a museum’s environment, seek a competitive edge, effectively serve stakeholders, and identify the keys to long-term sustainability.

There are ten steps in the developing process of a strategic plan for a museum. The steps are initiate and agree on process, identify organizational mandates, identify and understand stakeholders and develop mission, external and internal assessments, identify strategic issues, review and adopt strategic issues, formulate strategies (action or work plans) to manage strategic issues, establish a vision for the future of the museum, evaluation and reassessment, and finalizing the plan. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss topics on finance and sustainability.

I appreciate that the finance chapter went into such detail since finance is important for the staff to have a handle on how money is spent as this helps them make effective decisions with significant financial impact. The chapter discusses how to develop a budget, manage a budget, and accounting. Budget management requires both a day to day approach and a long view so by learning all the steps of developing and maintaining the budget a museum will be able to function and fulfill its mission. On the chapter of sustainability, it discusses how a museum’s financial stability and future rely on effective fundraising and revenue-generating practices that provide for present operational needs and generate income for future capital and operational needs.

There are various parts of financing that help sustain museums to keep them running. For instance, development is about building relationships with people that would lead to the end result (money) for museums. Other parts of sustainability include making a (development) plan, raising funds, accumulate contributed income (i.e. memberships, annual giving, sponsorships, fundraising events, and campaigns), planned giving, government support, and grants. Museums are also sustained through earned income which includes admission fees, museum store, dining facilities, planetariums and theaters, educational programming, special exhibits, traveling exhibits, and blockbuster exhibits and other partnerships.

The sixth and seventh chapters discuss topics on the working museum and ethics and professional conduct. According to the working museum chapter, staff are the museum’s most valuable asset. I agree with this statement because each museum staff member has a role in keeping a museum running, and a museum like any organization is like a car (each part of a car helps keep the car running and performing its functions as well as fulfilling its purposes). The working museum describes how the staff, board members, and volunteers understand how their organization is laid out in chart form that would be especially helpful for new people joining the organization. It also discusses the museum employees which reveals general expectations of the employee based on their job descriptions, and the significance of leadership in museums with detailed descriptions of leadership types. This chapter also went into detail about how the museum board, director, and staff should interact with one another.

In the ethics and professional conduct chapter, it points out that there is a universal agreement that standards articulate a way to guide the thoughts and actions of museum professionals and provide some basis for judging the performance of institutions and individuals. The chapter discusses museum ethics by defining ethics and how important it is to develop a code of ethics for museums. Also, the chapter describes ethics statements and a good statement according to the authors will articulate the traditional values or morals and communal standards of the museum profession. Then the chapter discusses the codes of professional museum conduct through governance, collections, institutional codes of professional museum conduct, and enforcement.

The eighth and ninth chapters talk about legal issues and facilities management. I appreciate that in the beginning of the legal issues chapter the authors stated that nothing in the chapter should be considered legal advice because it reinforces the idea that this book should be used as a reference. The authors also recommended a couple of books to use as museum law references to start with and then seek legal counsel when necessary: Museum Law: A Guide for Officers, Director and Counsel by Marilyn E. Phelan (2014), and the 2012 update of A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections by Marie C. Malaro and Ildiko P. DeAngelis. This chapter provides brief detailed descriptions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBIT), legal liability, artists’ rights, copyright, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. To have a good facilities management plan, museum staff must consider the needs of the people who work within the organization, the preservation and exhibition of objects in the museum’s collection, and the people who visit the museum.

The facilities management chapter describes in detail museum facilities and the significance of maintaining the museum property. Museum facilities includes the physical structure and the utility services. This chapter also discusses facility operations which includes housekeeping, emergency preparedness, health and safety, fire prevention, safety data sheet, hazardous materials, biological waste materials, integrated pest management, and security. Visitor services is also part of facilities management since providing a range of services will make the museum a welcoming environment for visitors to feel comfortable in and a guaranteed return visit. The services provided are pre-visit information, parking, accessibility, orientation, museum stores, rest rooms, food service, and educational services. In the tenth and eleventh chapters, the authors provided details on marketing and public relations as well as collections stewardship.

Both marketing and public relations are married concepts since both concepts deal with communications and reaching to the public. Marketing is a process that helps people exchange something of value for something they need or want. This chapter discusses several aspects of marketing including motivations for marketing, history of marketing activities, the marketing plan, tactical marketing, and e-communications. Public relations, meanwhile, is built upon marketing and is charged with trying to develop a successful image for the organization. The chapter also discuss how public relations are incorporated in museum’s overall strategic plan; it also describes the PR tools museums use in museums’ public relations practices which are events, community relations, media relations, media releases, public service announcements, interviews and speeches, print materials, and buzz. This chapter also discusses the significance of museums and the community working together to maintain museums’ relevance within the community. The authors dedicated an entire chapter on collections stewardship.

In this chapter, the authors describe what a collections management policy is and addresses nine issues that the collections management policies must cover. The nine issues mentioned are collection mission and scope, acquisition and accessioning, cataloging, inventories, and records, loans, collection access, insurance, deaccession and disposal, care of the collection, and personal collecting. Each of these nine issues are fully described throughout the chapter. The twelfth chapter discussed interpretation, exhibition, and programming.

According to the book, interpretation is everything we do that helps visitors make sense of our collections include: exhibitions, education programs, and evaluation. The core of interpretation is communication and it is up to museum professionals to translate these communication pathways to a variety of audiences. In this chapter, it discusses exhibits as well as interpretive planning, exhibit policy, exhibit planning and development. The chapter also went into detail about programming as well as the policy and guidelines for the museums’ educational functions. All museums also need to provide evidence from outcome based evaluations that they are fulfilling the social contract of providing educational experiences for its visitors.

One of the things that we all should take away from this book is the longer one works in the field, the more one will know and the more one will give back to the field. The advice that I took away from this book is to keep your head up, your eyes forward, and your brain learning. This is important to me as a museum professional because I understood that we are always learning from our experiences and we continue to develop our skills as museum educators to better serve our institutions and our communities. While I read this book, I used a pencil to write down notes in the books to highlight the main points of the book for whenever I want to look back at the lessons this book presented. It is an important book I will continue to use throughout my career as a museum professional.

What are your experiences in museum administration? How have you applied your administrative skills in your daily role as a museum professional?

How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, February 24, 2017.

Food is an important necessity people need to survive, and by creating an exhibit or program based on the narrative of food history museums create examples of how people can understand relevance in museums. This week there was a webinar the American Association of State and Local History hosted called Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites, which provided introduction to strategies for using food and food history to develop interpretation with depth and significance, and will make relevant connections to contemporary issues and visitor interests. This webinar inspired me to write about my own experiences when I collaborated with my classmates and Connecticut Historical Society on the exhibit Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart. Also, I will discuss how the study of food history is continued to be discussed since I first approached the subject during graduate school.

During my second semester of my first year of graduate school, I took a course on Museum Interpretation in which the major assignment was creating an exhibit at Connecticut Historical Society using food as the theme. My classmates and I were introduced to the project at the beginning of the semester, and my professor assigned books to provide background information on food history; one of the books was Warren Belasco’s Food: The Key Concepts (Bloomsbury Academic, 2008) which served as an introduction to the study of food studies and an essential overview to the increasingly critical field of enquiry. Other books assigned were about food and food preparation in different centuries in America.

In my records, I also found my notes on the justification of creating an exhibit based on food for Connecticut Historical Society. They argue that food is a part of history that individuals can identify with as being universally relevant. According to my notes, food is an essential part of life for everyone needs food to survive, and more than that food can unite families and larger communities; food can also conjure powerful memories for individuals whether it is a yearly holiday meal tradition or cooking in the kitchen with a relative. My justification notes also stated that the exhibit will provoke questions about the differences in food history as it relates to class and gender within Connecticut’s social structure as well as challenging visitors to think about their own personal experiences with food. This is what my teammates and I had in mind when we created the original proposal presented to the committee at Connecticut Historical Society.

To create the proposal, in addition to figuring out a way to present food history in Connecticut, we also picked out objects that represented food history and our idea for the exhibit. We originally came up with an idea that was like the Upstairs/Downstairs concept when creating the Connecticut food narrative. Then we included the idea of telling Connecticut food history throughout time from the 18th century to current period. We then looked through Connecticut Historical Society’s collections that we felt best represented the narrative we believed will be presented in the exhibit. For instance, I oversaw picking out items from the eighteenth century and one of the pieces I chose to include in our proposal was a ceramic bowl that was made and used between 1730 and 1770.

After selecting our items for the proposal, we also had to figure out how to include an interactive segment in our exhibit to allow visitors to engage with the historical narrative. A couple of ideas we had include a tea etiquette practice in which a table and chairs are set up with a container of all the necessary items for the tea setting (photocopies of the directions for a Victorian tea setting would be provided and visitors would then attempt to properly set the table for tea based on the directions). The second idea we came up with was we would provide reproductions of community cookbooks from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collections for the visitors to look through.

When our class had the opportunity to present our proposals, my teammates and I presented our idea to a committee of Connecticut Historical Society staff members to determine which group’s exhibit idea they will move forward with. Each member of my group presented two different sections of our exhibit idea, and I presented the very first section when visitors enter the exhibit space as well as the interactive elements section to the committee. The first section was called “Cooking for a New Nation” which would feature Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (which was the first cookbook published in America). The book would have been used as a representation of how women cooked in eighteenth century America and the narrative would have described the women’s and servants’ roles in the kitchen during this period; when discussing these roles, the narrative would also discuss the separation between servants and household was emerging in the eighteenth century as well as the transition from colonies to a new nation. Then I described the objects that would be selected for display in this section. After the rest of the sections were presented, I introduced the interactive element for the exhibit we brainstormed for the proposal.

Some time passes, and our professor announced that the committee decided to choose our group’s idea for the exhibit with some suggested changes. The exhibit was changed to focus more on the time line of cookbooks published in the United States and discuss food history in America (especially Connecticut) in each century beginning with Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery and ending with Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. It was named Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and we proceeded with selecting the objects and collaborating with the University of Hartford art design students to design the exhibit labels and space. My group oversaw the interactive element of the exhibit; the interactive element was changed to providing copies of various recipes that came from the cookbooks displayed in the exhibit, and presented the opportunity for visitors to write their own recipes and place them in a box. We each took a cookbook and selected the recipes we would be interested in using then narrowed down the options to a few of them. Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart eventually opened in January 2013, and it ran from January 18, 2013 to April 13, 2013.

Since then I did not see much of the history of food presented in a museum setting until I came across Michelle Moon’s Interpreting Food in Museums and Historic Sites which was published by the American Association of State and Local History in 2015, and the basis of this past week’s American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) webinar. Moon’s book argued that museums and historic sites have an opportunity to draw new audiences and infuse new meaning into their food presentations, and food deserves a central place in historic interpretation. Her book provides the framework for understanding big ideas in food history, suggesting best practices for linking objects, exhibits and demonstrations with the larger story of change in food production as well as consumption over the past two centuries. She also argues that food tells a story in which visitors can see themselves, and explore their own relationships to food.

I also came across Linda Norris’ blog post “Building a Learning Culture: Food Included” on her blog The Uncatalogued Museum which discussed her experience working with the board and staff at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota on creative practice in context of interpretive planning. The American Swedish Institute decided to include stories of all immigrants not only Swedish immigrant stories. To assist with creative practice including in interpretive planning, there are lessons that each institution needs to learn to connect with each other and with their communities. Norris introduced lessons from this experience including good ideas come from everywhere so it is important to cast a wide net to gain knowledge, and making time to think together is especially important.

Also, it is important be open to collaborate with people in the community to develop new collaborations and deepen other partnerships. If the American Swedish Institute did not learn that lesson, then they would not have learned about a restaurant in their community that shows appreciation for Bollywood dance and shows customers how to perform them. She also talked about the experience influencing the staff to schedule regular fika, or Swedish coffee break, with baked goods to spend some time from a busy day and connect with each other. For more information about her experience, the link to her blog can be found here: http://uncatalogedmuseum.blogspot.com/2017/02/building-learning-culture-food-included.html.

These previous examples show how food presentations in the museum field has evolved in the past few years. By sharing my previous experience on food presentation and the most current experiences on food and culture, I provide some examples of how visitors can make connections to their own memories related to food. I will soon be attending a New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) program called Lessons in Equity from Culturally-Specific Institutions: Beyond the “Target Program” at the Museum of Chinese in America on creating a diverse environment in the museum. The program will also include a closer look at the special exhibition Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America. When I heard about this program the first time, it reminded me of the many family meals I have had during my childhood and in my adulthood trying various Chinese food dishes. I will continue the discussion on food history and how individuals can to share my experiences after I attend this program.
Do you think your museum or institution would be able to include food history in its exhibits or programs? What is your most powerful memory that comes to mind when you think of food? Have you attended a program or exhibit that discusses food history or a subject related to food?

 

Book Review: The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

Originally posted on Medium, February 10, 2017

This week I am writing a review of Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance which I completed reading. Simon’s book provides examples, case studies, and practical advice on how museums or organizations can be relevant to many people and how museums’ work can be more vital to the community. I enjoyed this book because it breaks down the various case studies to show many ways any type of organization can show their communities how they can be relevant and why they remain relevant. I also enjoyed her comparison of relevance to being a key to a locked room where meaning lives.

 

It is a true comparison since keys can open many doors that can lead to opportunities on the other side especially programs that introduce new meaningful connections with people in the community. Also, I found Simon’s book interesting because her layout of the book is not broken up into chapters, like many books I have read in the past, but rather broken into five parts with five or twelve examples, case studies, and advices for the reader. Each of these examples, case studies, and advices are related to the specific parts in the book. She told a story in the introduction which inspired the this book, and I agree with her when she stated that relevance can unlock new ways to develop deep connections with people.

 

The Art of Relevance is also an important book in the museum education field since our museums can practice this art of relevance through the educational programs offered including public programming, school programs, and summer programs. After reading the book, I felt that I could adapt these advices to my own practices as a museum educator.

Nina Simon, The Art of Relevance, Nina Simon CC Attribution-NonCommercial, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. 2016
The first section answers the question: What is Relevance? Simon had five different examples of relevance in the field. One of the parts called “A Walk on the Beach”, she discussed the 130-year anniversary party for the first surfers in the Americas her museum the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History planned; three teenage Hawaiian princes put on the first surfing demonstration ever documented on the mainland of North America in Santa Cruz. What she learned from the experience was “…relevance is just a start. It is a key. You’ve got to get people in the door. But what matters most is the glorious experience they’re moving towards, on the other side” (31). Another part in the first section was called “Meaning, Effort, Bacon” which talked about Deidre Wilson and Dan Sperber, the leading theorists in the study of relevance, who argued that the there are two that make information relevant: 1. How likely that new information is to stimulate a positive cognitive effect to yield new conclusions that matter to you; 2. How much effort is required to obtain and absorb that new information (the lower the effort, the higher the relevance). The section also discussed a study she saw in 2015 from the World Health Organization showing that processed meats (such as bacon, ham, and sausages) are among the top five most cancerous products alongside established killers like cigarettes and asbestos; the study is an example of the two criteria for relevance since it creates a new connection to things people care about and it adds information to our knowledge of these topics.
The second section is called Outside In, in which Simon pointed out there are two kinds of people, the outsiders and insiders. She stated that insiders are in the room who know about it, love it, and protect it while outsiders don’t know about those doors exist so they are not interested, unsure, and unwelcome. Therefore, if we want new people to come inside our organizations we need to open doors that speak to outsiders and welcome them in. The third section is called Relevance and Community which expressed the importance of being relevant to one’s community. According to Simon, communities are made of people with shared dreams, interests, and backgrounds, and the more we understand them the more easily we can unlock relevant experiences with them.

 

The fourth section is called Relevance and Mission which discusses how adapting your organizations’ missions to make it relevant to new people. She viewed organizations as structures stating that every institution has a mission that forms the structure of the room; it is important to not obscure it with tidbits but instead strip back the paint, recommit to its frame, then use it to open new doors to new people. The fifth section is called the Heart of Relevance which explains how it is important to maintain that relevance in your institution. Simon stated that the more someone uses the key the more it becomes a part of them; and therefore, the room changes them and they change the room. In other words, we need to inspire newly introduced visitors in our institutions to keep returning to the institutions. After reading this book I remembered my own experiences with relevance in programs.
When I started at the Butler-McCook House, I gave tours based on the script I received and I used my script to help me remember details of each item in the room and the history of each room and family members. As I continued working in the house museum, I noticed that not many people expressed interest in the narrative I told. This traditional way of providing tours did not help me make connections with most of the visitors. However, as the executive director recognized the need to change the way we run the museum and when I became a part of the team that did research on the house to improve visitor experiences, a shift was made towards creating a better connection with visitors. Visitors are beginning to understand not only the McCook family history and the contents of the house but they also learned about the family’s role in making a difference in Hartford’s community. While I used the script as background information, I had a more inquiry-based approach to ask visitors about how they grew up in their childhood homes to connect people with what growing up in the 19th century house was like for the family who lived there. By incorporating relevance in the tour, more visitors can connect with the history of the house and recognize its significance in Hartford’s history.

 

If you have read The Art of Relevance, what example in the book did you enjoy? How does your museum or institution use relevance to maintain its significance in the community?

Books I Want to Read on Museum Education in 2017

Originally posted on Medium. January 12, 2017.

After I read a blog post from Museum Hack called Ten Inspiring Museum Reads for 2017, I was inspired to write my own list of I want to read about the museum education field in 2017 except I created a list of books written for the field. I used Amazon and American Alliance of Museums websites to research available literature for this field. Keep in mind not all books written about the museum education field are included on here because this blog post would take you all days to finish reading. Each book includes descriptions of what they are about as well as publication information, and I also explain why I put these books on the list. The books on this list are in no specific order; I chose these books based on when I first came across them. I will later discuss the books I already have on the field in another future blog post. Enjoy the list! What books do you want to read this year, both on museum education field and other books capture your interests? Do you have a book you have read on the museum education field?

I want to read the following:
1. The Manual of Museum Learning by Brad King (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2nd edition, 2015, ISBN 978–1442258471): This book offers practical advice for creating successful learning experiences in museums and other institutions including galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. The first edition was published in 2007, and in the second edition focuses on the ways museums staff and the departments they work in can facilitate experience that point out connections between institutional strategic planning and its approach to museum learning. The book acknowledges that not all institutions run the same way so it identifies various approaches and enables museums to find the paths for which they are individually best suited, that will help them identify their own unique approaches to facilitating museum learning. I put this book on the list because in the past I thought that each department work separately to fulfill one mission but the longer I worked in the museum world the more I realize that education is a part of museums’ mission. Also, I read a book review of King’s book in the Journal of Museum Education, the publication of the Museum Education Roundtable. It is important to recognize that museum learning should be incorporated into a part of museums’ strategic planning. I want to see the various approaches King presents in the book to have a better understanding of how museum education is presented in different types of institutions.

2. Engagement and Access: Innovative Approaches for Museums by Juilee Decker (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015, ISBN: 978–1442238756): The book addresses how museums forge two-way communication and engaged participation by using community curation, social media, collaboration, and inquiry-based learning. Decker collected case studies that advocate for doing and listening, or in other words the institutions mentioned in the case studies can understand the importance of meeting the audience’s needs both onsite and online. This book is part of a series called Innovative Approaches for Museums which offers case studies, written by scholars and practitioners from museums, galleries, and other institutions; each case study present original, transformative, and sometimes wholly re-invented methods, techniques, systems, theories, and actions that demonstrate innovative work being done in the museum and cultural sector throughout the world. The contributors come from various institutions and each volume offers ideas and support to those working in museums while serving as a resource and primer, as much as inspiration, for students and the museum staff and faculty training future professionals who will further develop future innovative approaches. This book is on my list because I am interested in seeing different ways other museums approach engagement and access for their visitors.

3. Museum Learning: Theory and Research as Tools for Enhancing Practice by Jill Hohenstein and Theano Moussouri (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1138901131): This book is not released yet but the reason why I included this book is I think it is important to review educational theories to make sure museum educators revitalize their skills for school and public programming. I hope to gain both methods to retain my skills as a museum educator and different insights on how learning as well as teaching in museums would benefit our education.

4. Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H Falk (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1598741636): Falk’s book reiterates that understanding the visitor experience provides essential insights into how museums can affect people’s lives. Visitor experiences have various meanings, such as personal drives, group identity, memory, and leisure performances, for each individual and that experience extends beyond the four walls of an institution in time and space. Falk reveals there are five different types of visitors who attend museums and identifies the processes that inspire people to visit time and time again. I would like to read this book since by finding out different aspects on why people visit museums it would help museum professionals like myself to increase our ability to retain visitors as well as gain more visitors to our museums.

5. The Multisensory Museum: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Touch, Sound, Smell, Memory, and Space by Nina Levent and Alvaro Pascual-Leone (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759123540): Levent and Pascual-Leone’s book brought together scholars and museum professionals to highlight new trends and opportunities for using scent, sound, and touch to offer more immersive experiences as well as diverse sensory engagement for visually- and other impaired patrons. The book also reveals that education researchers discover museums as unique educational playgrounds that allow for various learning styles, active and passive exploration, and participatory learning. I include this book on this list because I believe museums can provide people of all abilities access to education, and I find the psychological and museum connection would be fascinating to get a more in-depth knowledge of.

6. Creating the Visitor-centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1629581910): Samis and Michaelson’s book brought up numerous questions that are answered with cases and additional resources to help transform their museums into visitor-centered museums: What does the transformation to a visitor-centered approach do for a museum? How are museums made relevant to a broad range of visitors of varying ages, identities, and social classes? Does appealing to a larger audience force museums to “dumb down” their work? What internal changes are required? I think we can always learn more ways to help adapt our museums to the changing viewpoints of visitors.

7. The Museum Effect: How Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilize Society by Jeffrey K. Smith (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759122956): The book explores how museums, libraries, and cultural institutions provide opportunities for people to understand and celebrate who they are, were, and might be. According to Smith, the “museum effect” is a process through which cultural institutions educate and civilize us as individuals and as societies. I think it is an interesting book to read since I have known from when I was a kid that museums can provide ways to educate visitors and help them identify with what museums offer. By reading this book, I would gain another perspective on how my work as a museum professional can affect our society.

8. Contemporary Curating and Museum Education by Carmen Mörsch, Angeli Sachs, and Thomas Sieber (will be released February 2017): The writers of this book share insight that international scholars discovered as they answer the question: How does museum work change if we conceive of curating and education as an integrated practice? This is the second book that has not been released yet but I believe I would enjoy this one because not only it would supplement the knowledge I gained about creating an exhibit to design an education plan through a NYCMER workshop I attended, Exhibition Design for Educators, but the book can offer additional insights that would allow me to explore more the intertwining of curatorship and education.

9. All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-Hsin Din (American Alliance of Museums, 2011, ISBN: 978–1933253619): Crow and Wei-Hsin Din’s book discusses the potential of online learning for museum professionals and visitors from all over the world. The book reveals that online collaborative learning offers museums and visitors new possibilities for learning, both in small, “narrowcast” groups and at the larger institutional level. The writers included extensive case studies and practical advice for museum educators. As an online learner, I think the concept of museum education in the online community is fascinating and would be a possible move for more museums to engage in online learning. I also think it would be able to help the museum education field reach out to more people as fewer field trips are booked each year due to limited school funding. I also like that this book is endorsed by EdCom (American Alliance of Museum’s education group) and the Media and Technology Committee of AAM because it reassures me as a reader that the United States’ museums organization sees online learning as a possible outlet for museum education to branch out to various audiences inside and outside the museum.

I am sure that this list is not set in stone, and I will continue to find more books that I will add to my list for 2017. I hope you all read many books this year, museum education related or not. Thank you all so much for reading! I really appreciate all of your support for this blog, and if you know of anyone who is interested in the museum education field please refer them to this blog. Thank you to all of you who are currently following this blog. It really means a lot that you continue to be interested in what I have to write about. I am so touched that there are more and more people reading these posts. Thank you all again and stay tuned for more blog posts.

Happy Holidays! Museum Education during the Holiday Season

Originally posted on Medium. December 15, 2016.

“It’s the Holiday Season…while the merry bells keep ringing Happy Holiday to you!”

It is that time of year again when everyone prepares for the holiday season by decorating their homes, shopping for gifts, and visiting family and friends. During my over seven-year experience in the museum education field, I found that especially between mid-November and the end of December not many school programs are scheduled and taught but there are plenty of family programs that encourage kids and family members to play as well as create together. For instance, at the Stanley-Whitman House there was a family program that took place around Thanksgiving. At Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House, the historic house museum participated in First Night Hartford by allowing parents and kids to create hats and masks for the New Years’ Eve parade. At Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, they have Gingerbread Day in which both kids and adults create miniature gingerbread houses made from fresh-baked gingerbread, icing, and candy. At the Long Island Maritime Museum, the museum has a Dutch Christmas event which includes a lantern-led tour of the museum’s property, ornament-making for the kids to decorate Christmas trees that will be given to families in need, and a visit from Sinterklass (Santa Claus); the museum also hosts a Gingerbread workshop to teach people how to design gingerbread houses. All the events mentioned not only encourage families to visit the museums but they allow families to spend time together, and the holidays are about spending time with family and loved ones. In addition to spending time with family and loved ones, this is also a time to appreciate the time spent on our passions especially if you work in a museum. This is the season when holiday parties are held at various organizations, and museums are no exception.

At the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, all staff members including museum educators and volunteers have pot luck lunch and brought various desserts as well. Also, the staff played trivia games, and played the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The most recent holiday party I attended was at the Long Island Maritime Museum which was a pot luck lunch volunteers and staff gather together to celebrate the end of the year as well as the hard work put into running the museum. In addition to working and participating in these events and holiday parties, I also enjoy reading Christmas themed books. Around the holiday season I always like to refer to Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas ever since I read it during one of my first history courses when I was a college freshman.

Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas discusses the origins of Christmas and the transformation of the holiday into the celebration we know today. His book went into detail about the origins of Christmas by discussing the Puritan’s views on the holiday. The Puritans outlawed Christmas since it was at the time Christmas was known as a holiday filled with drunkenness and rioting. Nissenbaum then discussed the transition from the drunken celebration to a holiday of gift-giving and spending time with family. During the nineteenth century, Christmas became a holiday of domesticity and consumerism, and most of the traditions people partake in during the season started during this time. Some of these traditions include the story of St. Nicholas, the Christmas tree, and giving gifts to children. After I read this book, I came to appreciate the holiday more since I understood how Christmas has evolved over centuries to become the holiday my family and I celebrate, and it also confirmed that my views on Christmas have changed since I was a child. While I was a little more focused on gifts as a little girl but the more I grew up to becoming the museum professional I am today I not only appreciate the time spent with family but I also enjoy seeing the joy in the next generation’s eyes when they experience Christmas. During this holiday season, I am thankful for my family and for the journey my career has taken me. I hope you all take the time to appreciate the people around you this holiday season and to enjoy the little things that come your way. Happy Holidays!!

What are some traditions you enjoy most? Does your museum/organization have their own holiday traditions? If so, what do you like to do at your holiday gatherings?

 

Book Review: Programming for People with Special Needs

Originally posted on Medium. November 23, 2016.

This week I am wrote a book review on Katie Stringer’s Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites which is about creating programs and exhibits that are accessible for all visitors especially visitors with special needs. I personally enjoyed reading this book because it gave me more insight on programming I am familiar with to an extent, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a museum goer and professional. In my first blog post, I stated that as a kid museums have helped supplement my education whether I went during field trips or during family visits to various museums including Plimoth Plantation.

Each school year growing up, my educational plan would be adjusted since my summer experiences would give me various experiences that would change the way I learned from the previous year. My teachers understood that my mind was always changing so the lessons are planned accordingly and my Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P) was adjusted after each review. A part of my altering learning experiences I have always owed to my visits to museums. When I read the book, I saw the content from the perspective as a museum professional and as a former child with learning differences; I liked how Stringer handled the material and that she understood that programs would need to be adjusted to make sure all visitors get the full experience of what museums can offer. I recommend reading this book to at least get started on planning for your museums and/or at least to get to know how to address all audiences from all backgrounds including those with special needs.

Stringer’s book had six chapters dedicated to creating programs for every visitor especially for visitors with special needs. The first chapter introduces the book explaining museums as educational centers and brief history of disability in the United States. The second chapter shares details on etiquette on how to interact with visitors who have disabilities. The third chapter is dedicated to defining universal design and how museums and historic sites can benefit from implementing programs, exhibits, and spaces adhering to universal design standards. The fourth chapter reviews programs at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the New York Transit Museum, and explain what the programs are as well as the ways to adapt those programs for various audiences are explored. The fifth chapter is a case study from Tennessee of best practices for creating museum programs for all visitors especially those with special needs. The sixth chapter is the concluding chapter which ends with suggestions for museum professionals to make their own museums universally designed and accessible for audiences with special needs. Each of the chapters are divided into sections to explain certain aspects of creating programs for all audiences.

Chapter one discusses the museums’ roles as centers for education, disability rights and awareness, early exhibitions of people with disabilities. The chapter is divided into a couple of sections on museums’ roles in education and history of disabilities in the United States. The first section is called The Role of Museums as Centers for Educations which explained the history of museums and how they became to be centers for education as well as understanding museums’ roles in education. The second section is called Disability Rights and Awareness. Stringer explained the history of disability rights which began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s and led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The third section was called Early Exhibitions of People with Disabilities in which she talked about when individuals with disabilities were part of traveling circuses, sideshows, and dime museums; she iterated in the section that museums today want to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible, and explained the historical legacy of discrimination with focus on people with intellectual disabilities and other related cognitive and developmental disabilities. The last section was called Accessibility at Museums and Historic Sites and she discussed the ways historic sites and museums must do to adjust to make them more accessible.

Chapter two is dedicated to sensitivity and awareness of visitors with special needs and disabilities. The sections in this chapter include strategies and techniques for welcoming all visitors, workshops and training opportunities, and museums leading by example. Stringer explained in detail strategies and techniques to welcome all visitors, and emphasized that all museums should form partnerships and consultation groups that include community members who have disabilities. The workshops and training opportunities section reveals various examples for professional development for museum professionals such as information for staff training at the British Museum called “Disability Awareness Scheme”; it offers training for museum employees and volunteers through the SHAPE program, training for all visitor service and security staff by the access manager employed by the museum, and visual awareness training for visitor service staff. She also provided details about a few museums that are leading by example of innovative programs and opportunities for both staff and the public to learn more about disabilities and sensitivity including the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia which hosted an Autism Awareness Night in 2009. The Autism Awareness Night is a program for one evening the museum was open to families and children with autism, and the program was so successful that in 2010 the Please Touch Museum opened for a Disability Awareness Night for all children and families with disabilities.

Chapter three has examples of museums utilizing universal design successfully including the Boston Museum of Science, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Boston Museum of Science created accessible exhibits that every visitor can easily use. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a program referred to as “seeing through drawing” which is an activity for individuals with sight impairment. The Royal Ontario Museum offers Braille and large print booklets for visitors with sight impairments. There is a section about universal design in learning which focuses on the four essentials of universal design. The four essentials of universal design are to ensure that the lesson represents information in multiple formats and media, provides multiple pathways for students’ actions and expressions, provides multiple ways to engage students’ interests and motivation, and occurs in a safe environment. Stringer stated in the book that museum educators should remember these aspects creating lesson plans and programs for any groups. Chapter four has examples that are selected from museums that represent art museums, science and technology museums, and historic sites and history museums. The museums included in the book’s examples are MOMA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida, New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, D.C. The programs from these museums highlighted in the book vary from those offered to senior adults, to children with disabilities, and to families that have a member with a disability.
In the Museum of Contemporary Art’s program, Stringer stated the museum staff stress that their program is not a field trip experience but rather community based instruction. A field trip is a visit or an isolated experience that supplements the curriculum; meanwhile community-based instruction relates to goals in the school, ongoing instruction, and continuing reinforcement and can translate to the real world instead of only the classroom. When I was a kid attending museums with my school, I assumed that museums are all about sharing its space for school field trips and for families visiting the museum. With experience in the museum field as a museum educator, I saw that museums are more than field trips and family trips; museums have and explore many ways to reach out to the community to use resources that explain the shared relationship museums and communities have in our society. Stringer explained there are opportunities for adaptation and integration at small museums and historic sites.

Chapter five explores the process of creating educational programming for children with special needs and the elements that create successful programs. There are seven key elements for effective programs that were explained and visually displayed in a table with details about each key concept and their purpose. The seven key concepts are sensitivity and awareness training, planning and communication, timing, engagement, object centered and inquiry-based, structure, and flexibility. I agree with Stringer when she reiterates that flexibility is essential for any museum work because we can plan for any possible outcome in each of our lessons but something unexpected will always happen no matter which group we work with; we come up with as many backup scenarios as we can to make sure we can still have successful programs for visiting individuals especially visitors with special needs or disabilities. The chapter also discusses a survey that were given to educators working with individuals with special needs; this survey asked questions including do they take them on field trips, kinds of disabilities they work with, desired learning experience from trip, and educator references for programs. The results of this survey were displayed in pie charts giving museum educators an idea of what other educators’ expectations were from the museums. Stringer stated that the takeaway from the survey was some people still believe that museums are not places where all students are welcome because of noise or behavioral problems that students may cause. Our museums have a long way to go to create programs and exhibits that can reach to all our audiences but the result will be worth it.

In the last chapter, it discusses the future of adapting programs for each visitor especially individuals with special needs. I am personally glad that the book is honest by not saying museums have completely figured out programming for all visitors of various backgrounds. Stringer revealed that the book does not explore all the options in the relatively new field of programs for people with special needs, and the field continues to grow as the population becomes more aware of the growing population of individuals with disabilities. I believe this book is a good starting point for museums to adapt their programs for all visitors of various abilities, and we need to use the experiences the museums in this book had as references for our own museums to follow suit. If we do not continue to adapt our lessons for our surrounding communities, we risk alienating people who could enjoy the experiences as well as learn from them.

Stringer’s book opened my eyes to ideas and concepts that I’m already aware of as a museum educator and things I was not aware of at the same time. For instance, I did not know about the Museum Access Consortium (MAC) of New York City which allows museum staff, volunteers, community members, and educators opportunities to discuss strategies together and to develop successful programs. Since I am still new to the museum community in New York, I am not surprised that I have not heard about this organization. This looks like a great resource I would use as I create lessons for all visitors of various abilities. Also, I learned more about audiences I have not worked with before; as a museum educator, I have worked on occasion with students with learning differences and I have worked with adults with memory loss in various programs. I have very limited experience working with children with autism for instance; Stringer found helpful advice on creating activities for children with autism including plan for multiple levels of development, incorporate levels of sense involvement, activities build success at any level in process and/or product, provide visual cues in set up, minimize distracting incorporate areas for sensory down time, and always have a backup plan. This advice will be very helpful for me and for museum professionals when creating programs for children with autism.

The experience I do have, other than working on occasion with visitors with disabilities at the museums I worked at in Connecticut, is at the Long Island Museum I worked with adults with memory loss in the “In the Moment” program. The “In the Moment” program is a hands-on program that allows individuals with memory loss engage with LIM’s exhibits to stimulate their own memories. Each experience is different depending on what exhibit the day care service or Alzheimer’s Association group is interested in; a program is developed each time a new exhibit is installed. At each exhibit, the exhibit is viewed and a few items or sections are chosen as topics of discussion for the group; questions are brainstormed for them to answer; either music or objects are chosen to help connect with the exhibit and inspire discussion; and provide cookies, juice, and photographs of the featured items to bring home with them. At LIM’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit, for instance, music of the 1960s was chosen that represented different sections of the exhibit and the pictures chosen were of a dress from the era, the set up for a girl’s bedroom in the 1960s, and the New York Mets section of the exhibit. From my experience, not every individual automatically start talking about what they see or what an item reminds them of but it allows them to be outside of their environments to experience something new or different; and it is always interesting to see what they enjoyed about the exhibit and what stimulated their memories. One woman was so moved by her experience that she started talking about all her life’s experiences including the fact that her family came from Italy and that she used to be a teacher. I always smiled whenever I get an opportunity to work with them so I can make a difference in their experiences. I wish Stringer’s book went into detail about programs for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other related memory loss, but someday there may be a book that will address more on how to create these programs if there isn’t already.

I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! Be good to one another and be safe!