Why IMLS Investment in Professional Development is Significant

January 23, 2020

Last week the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) made an announcement about additional funding dedicated to professional development for museum professionals. I emphasized in each blog post I wrote about professional development programs I participated in on how significant they are, especially for museum professionals. The recent news from IMLS explained what the additional funding would mean for museums and museum professionals. According to their website, when the Fiscal Year 2020 was passed on December 20, 2019 IMLS was allocated an additional $3 million through the largest program Museums for America and plans to invest this additional funding towards improving the recruitment, preparation, and professional development of museum professionals.

Museums for America is a program that supports projects to strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public. This program has three categories: Lifelong Learning, Community Anchors and Catalysts, and Collections Stewardship and Public Access.

What does this mean for museum professionals? We would be able to develop our skills to improve the quality of our field and of our work with the public. I hope that with this funding it will help support improvements on onboarding, recruiting, training, and creating a healthy workplace. There is a lot of progress on making museums a better place to work but we do have a long way to go. Recent news about the former executive who worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the sexual harassment complaints against him is an example of what museum professionals face in the workplace (see the links below on the coverage from the Philadelphia Inquirer). While we are working to make up for ill treatment within the museum workplace, we need to work on the source of the problems and hopefully more museums will be able to access museum professional development opportunities IMLS has to offer.

On their website, they stated the $3 million will be channeled through two special funding opportunities under Museums for America called Museums Empowered, Grants for Professional Development and Inspire! Grants for Small Museums. Museums Empowered allows museums to use the funds in four specific professional development categories: improving organizational effectiveness, evaluation practices, digital stewardship, and diversity and inclusion. Inspire! Grants for Small Museums is a program that supports small museums’ capacity building efforts related to collections, learning, and community at their institutions. The IMLS also included highlights of how professional development offerings make an impact on museums and museum professionals:

National Leadership Grants for Museums, realigned in 2018, now offers dedicated project categories for professional development and diversity and inclusion that allow museum associations, universities, and other non-profits to seek funding that can amplify collaborations, offer training, and develop tools and promising practices for the entire sector.

• The Museums for America, African American History and Culture, and Native American and Native Hawaiian grant programs continue to offer individual museums and tribes support for leadership development and diversity, equity, and inclusion work, as well as building a pipeline of new professionals.

• The Museum Assessment Program and Collections Assessment for Preservation program cooperative agreements with the American Alliance of Museums and Foundation for Advancement in Conservation continue to provide much needed technical assistance and capacity building help to smaller museums.

To check out more information about IMLS and the programs it offers, visit their website: www.imls.gov.

Links:

https://www.imls.gov/news/imls-invest-3-million-professional-development-capacity-building-across-museum-sector

https://www.inquirer.com/arts/philadelphia-museum-of-art-executive-resignation-joshua-helmer-complaints-20200110.html

https://www.inquirer.com/arts/philadelphia-museum-of-art-timothy-rub-apology-helmer-20200122.html

Relevant Posts:

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/03/09/how-to-lead-a-professional-development-program-reflections-of-my-experience-presenting-one-on-gender-equity/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/16/professional-development-programs-managing-your-museums-online-reputation-and-evaluating-volunteers-and-volunteer-programs/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/07/18/historic-house-keeping-a-hands-on-professional-development-experience/

Happy New Year!

January 2, 2020

It is officially 2020, and there is so much to look forward to this year. I hope for more progress in the museum field, especially in providing salary information in job descriptions and equity. I also hope to incorporate more self-care into my everyday life to maintain a work/life balance. And finally, I hope to read more books this year (this will always be my new year’s resolution).

Normally in the past blog posts, I provided a list of books I would like to read in the new year. This year, I ask all of you to share with me what books you are either hoping to read or have already read. It can be history and museum related, or any book in any genre. Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for continuing to read my blog. I wish you all good health and happiness in the new year. Stay tuned for more posts this year.

What books have you read or have already read? What do you hope to accomplish this year?

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year: Ready for Museum Education 2020

December 19, 2019

2019 has gone by so quickly. There is so much that have happened in the past year, and I hope there will be more accomplished in the upcoming new year. I took a look at the first blog post I wrote in 2019 to take a look at what I have accomplished since the post. In the post “A New Year: What Needs to be Accomplished in the Museum Field”, I stated that

One of my goals for 2019, for example, are to gain and develop my skills as a leader in the museum education field. To accomplish this goal, I hope to take more courses and other professional development programs that will help myself move forward in my career. At the beginning of my career, I have developed skills as a museum educator. After a number of years in the field, I knew that in order to move forward I need to gain and develop new skills to challenge myself and make more impacts on the museums I work for and the field in general. Within the past few years, I focused more on professional development programs and courses, and sought opportunities that focus on administration, leadership, program development, and other related opportunities. I recently completed a course through the AASLH’s online program called Small Museum Pro!, and in the course Museum Education and Outreach I work through the basics of museum education, how to implement programming, training staff, and partnering with the community for outreach. For 2019, I will continue to seek similar professional development programs and opportunities to accomplish my career goals.

As 2019 comes to a close, I can see that I have continued to seek professional development programs and opportunities to accomplish my career goals and I plan to continue this main goal in 2020.

One of the examples was attending the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) conference for the first time. While I have attended conferences before, this past year’s AASLH was the first time I attended an in-person professional development conference with AASLH. In the past I was not able to attend AASLH conferences because I was not able to financially afford to travel to the cities they were located in and the conference fee at the same time. This past year’s conference was located in Philadelphia where I attended sessions, presented at a poster session on the Founder’s Day program the Three Village Historical Society won a leadership award for, and explored the city.

Also, I attended a webinar hosted by AASLH called Beyond the Spreadsheet: Finance and Organizational Priorities and the instructor for the webinar was Becky Beaulieu, who is the author of Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). Designed for staff, volunteers, and board members, the webinar was designed to help participants foresee and tackle challenges of incohesive financial planning, such as fragmentation within the institution, lack of proper fundraising strategy, and potentially weak and even uncompliant organizational management. Beaulieu also addressed building buy-in amongst internal and external stakeholders to best position your organization for financial stability and strong partnerships. I participated in a Twitter discussion that focused on our goals as museum educators and on a personal level from the past year and for the new year.

In the MuseumEdChat, there was discussion about endings and beginnings in honor of the new year and museum education. The first question we answered and talked about was: Q1 What’s something that ended *well* for you this year (ideally #MuseumEd related)?  What made it end so well? #MuseumEdChat. I mentioned the leadership award that was earned for the Three Village Historical Society’s Founder’s Day program, a local history program that teaches fourth grade about the founding of the town of Setauket, diversity, and inclusion.

Then the next question we addressed was: Q2 We’re ending a *decade* – so tell us about “good endings” you’ve had in the past 10 years. #MuseumEdChat. Since a lot has happened in the past ten years, I decided to give a small highlight of what the “good endings” were in the past. My highlight was that I graduated college, attended and graduated with a Master’s in Public History, moved to Long Island, and stopped working in a job that underappreciated and underpaid me.

The third question we answered on Twitter was: Q3 What are you personally looking forward to starting next year in #MuseumEd? (Maybe goals you are striving for, a new initiative, a work anniversary?) #MuseumEdChat. To answer this question, I stated that I look forward to expanding my skills so I could have more well-rounded experiences as a museum education professional, and I strive to present at professional development programs. Also, I said that I hope to start a new position in the museum education field that will financially and equitably support me.

I also delved into the skills I wanted to expand upon which were leadership, lesson planning, digital learning, and financial. The financial skills are especially important for me to develop because in my educational background finances were not covered enough in my courses, and I believe that it will help me learn more about how to develop a budget for education programs.

The fourth question we addressed in the conversation was: Q4 Any trends you see that could have a *positive* effect on #MuseumEd in 2020? #MuseumEdChat. I believe that having salaries shared in the job description will have a positive effect on museum education in 2020 because it will help job seekers understand what the museum can afford for salary and make the decision on what will fit their needs the best.

The final question was: Q5 Finally… clink your glass virtually with someone who had an influence on you this past year to you want to wish “Buona fina e buon principio” (good ending and good beginning). Pay it forward! #MuseumEdChat. There are too many to list since my colleagues, both in the museum I work with and online, are the ones that had an influence on me this past year. My colleagues and their journeys inspire me to pursue more in professional development for my own career. I am also inspired by all of you who continue to read these blog posts and share your experiences, especially in museum education.

On a personal level, there was a lot that happened in 2019. For instance, I got married to my love and best friend that I have known for over eleven years. Also, I have a new niece who is growing up so fast and she is not even a year old yet.

I wish everyone has a happy holiday and a new year. Thank you all so much for reading my blog posts this year and in past years. I am looking forward to what is in store for 2020!

Buona fina e buon principio!

Relevant Posts:

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/01/10/a-new-year-what-needs-to-be-accomplished-in-the-museum-field/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/09/05/aaslh2019-conference-recap/

The History of Museum Educators, Part Two: Children’s Museums

December 12, 2019

Last week I wrote about my reaction to part of this edition of the Journal of Museum Education, a publication by Museum Education Roundtable. I continued to read the Journal and after I finished reading the Journal, I thought I would give my thoughts on the rest of it. As I mentioned last week, the articles made me think about my previous experiences. This week while I read the rest of the Journal, I thought about my experiences in children’s museum. While these articles reminded me of my experiences, I always find more to learn in the Journal of Museum Education.

The most recent edition of the Journal of Museum Education, for instance, had a couple of articles focused on children’s museums. In the article “Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907-1922)”, Jessie Swigger discussed the origins of children’s museums and the contributions of museum professionals in these children’s museums. Swigger discussed the first three children’s museums in the world opened in Brooklyn, New York (1899), Boston, Massachusetts (1913), and Detroit, Michigan (1917). She examined contributions of children’s museum professionals and museum education through presentations at the American Association of Museums (now known as the American Alliance of Museums) given by the curators of the first three children’s museums: Anna Billings Gallup’s (Brooklyn), Delia I. Griffin (Boston), and Gertrude A. Gillmore (Detroit). The review of papers delivered to their colleagues demonstrated how their pioneering educational approaches, including encouraging visitors to interact with objects and creating opportunities for children to become empowered and invested museum visitors, continue to shape the field. Also, the article pointed out the value of including children’s museum professionals in conversations on museum education. Another article about children’s museums revealed another example of the value of children’s museum professionals contributions to conversations on museum education.

In the article “What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum” by Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney, they pointed out that while significant research focused on caregiver-child interaction in children’s museums little is known about what caregivers might be observing or perceiving about their children’s learning. The article discussed a study conducted by the Children’s Museums Research Network to examine what caregivers observe about their children’s learning during a visit to the children’s museum. Data were collected through online questionnaires (N=223) and follow-up phone interviews (N=20) with caregivers recruited from eight children’s museums across the U.S. Results show that caregivers could identify numerous things they discovered about their child(ren) in the museum, including their interests, social skills, thinking/problem-solving skills, and emotional regulation. What contributed most to these discoveries was opportunities to watch their children play and interact with others, and to play with unique materials and activities that they don’t have access to at home. The signage and floor staff were seen as minimally important. These findings have implications for exhibit design and staff facilitation in children’s museums.

As a museum professional who has experience working in a children’s museum, I loved learning more about the history of children’s museums and what other children’s museum professionals have discovered about children’s learning in their research. The research reinforced what I learned about how children learned and interacted with museum exhibits. I learned in my experience in a children’s museum about the constructivist method which allowed children to get involved in the process of their own learning; what I learned in my experience is that the constructivist method cannot be relied on alone to educate children, and therefore a little bit of instruction is important to give children context to what they need to learn. In a couple of blog posts I have written, I wrote about children’s museums and my experience in a children’s museum.

The post “Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space” is where I related what I learned in the children’s science museum Maritime Explorium and how I translate my experience from historic house museums into the newer experience. Another blog post I wrote was “Is Children’s Play Declining? What are Museums Doing to Encourage Playtime” in which I wrote about my reaction to an article in the Huffington Post called “Children’s Play is Declining, But We Can Help Reclaim It.”

By reading these articles in publications such as the Journal of Museum Education, museum professionals and museum educators share their knowledge and learn from one another to help move the museum field forward.

Resources:

Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney (2019) What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 427-438, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1672136

Jessie Swigger (2019) Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907–1922), Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 345-353, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1663685

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/23/maker-space-museums-can-benefit-from-having-a-creative-space/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/07/20/is-childrens-play-declining-what-are-museums-doing-to-encourage-playtime/

The History of Museum Educators: Why the Role Is Important Today

December 5, 2019

I recently received my copy of the Journal of Museum Education, a publication from Museum Education Roundtable, in the mail and I began to read this edition. This last edition for the year is about the history of museum educators. Once I heard about this edition, I decided to read it and give my thoughts about the history of museum educators as well as the significance of museum educators today. I started reading a few articles, and I plan to give my thoughts on the rest of the Journal once I finished reading it. Each article provided some more insight into the field I am a part of and made me think about my previous experiences as a museum educator in relation to what is discussed in the Journal.

There are a number of compelling articles and case studies that illustrate the role of museum educators as well as current trends that are influenced by the museum education community. The first article I read was “Where Does the History of Museum Education Begin?” written by the assistant editor Nathaniel Prottas. Since the beginning of my career as a museum educator, I have been curious about how museum education began and learned the complexity of museum education. After I read Prottas’ article, I realized that the origins of museum education are just as complex as museum education is today. He pointed out that Given the variety of museums that exist today, from science centers, to historic homes, to literary museums, a unified history of the field could never do our past justice. With multiple types of museums not just in North America but in Europe, Africa, and South America, we would not be able to pinpoint the exact origins of museum education. All museums have at least one thing in common: their missions are driven by education. When I continued to read the rest of the Journal, I began to learn even more about museum education background that fascinated me.

Another article I read, for instance, was “The Influence of Progressivism and the Works Progress Administration on Museum Education” written by Carissa DiCindio and Callan Steinmann. In this article, DiCindio and Steinmann described the Federal Arts Project (WPA-FAP) (1935-1943) of the Works Progress Administration which was a federally funded program designed through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to keep visual artists at work during the Great Depression. Many art programs took place through museums and exhibitions that were brought to Americans with both public programs and outreach. Their article pointed out that there is a continued legacy of community-driven, education-centered approaches in museums today such as outreach initiatives, studio programs, and responsive community programs that seek to bring visual arts experiences to the public. It is a perfect example of how previous museum programs and policies influence current practices in museum education, and why it is important to learn from these experiences to then move forward in fulfilling educational missions in museums.

The next article that captured my attention was “Gallery Games and Mash-ups: The Lessons of History for Activity-based Teaching” written by Elliot Kai-Kee. Kai-Kee took a closer look at the late 1960s and early 1970s and found dissatisfaction with standard approaches that resulted in numerous experimental programs using approaches emphasizing movements, the senses, and feeling. He described the programs, such as Arts Awareness at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Susan Sollins’ gallery games at the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, DC, that left a legacy of experiential, activity-based teaching. His argument for current experimental programs for museum mashups and gallery games is to build solid programs and pedagogy on the foundation of improvisation and experimentation museum educators still need a theory of activities in the museum. I think we can always learn from previous examples when developing our own activity-based lessons. Previous lesson plans help museum educators see what has been done to educate intended audiences, and by inferring what worked and did not work we are able to improve the quality of our programs and expand our program offerings. It is important to keep up to date with education theories being utilized to maintain relevance in the school communities.

I especially thought a lot about my previous experiences when I read the article “Museums and School Group Chaperones: A New Future for an Old Role” by David B. Allison. Allison pointed out that chaperones play a key role in the experience students have in museums, and in most museums the parents and caregivers are underutilized and underappreciated. His article proposed a new approach to how chaperones might be catalysts for learning during museum visits. As a result, with the framing of a two-year grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services that resulted in a partnership with two school districts and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Museum learned that chaperones are essential to ensuring inquiry-driven education guides field trips. I appreciated Allison’s article and his emphasis on the importance of chaperones. As a museum educator, I have dealt with chaperones with varying participation in the programs. I shared my experiences in a previous blog post about chaperones and how we should include their involvement in program.

My experiences, outlined in the post “Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants”, showed me that each chaperone had different expectations about what the chaperones’ roles should be. Some were involved with engaging the students by assisting and working with them, and other chaperones were standing to the side paying attention to their phones and not engaging with what is happening within the program. The article Allison wrote for the Journal proves that we are still working on figuring out how to engage chaperones with the programs.

As I continue to read this edition of this Journal, I hope to continue to takeaway more knowledge to adapt for my own practices in my career.

Resources:

Nathaniel Prottas (2019) Where Does the History of Museum Education Begin?, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 337-341, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1677020

Carissa DiCindio & Callan Steinmann (2019) The Influence of Progressivism and the Works Progress Administration on Museum Education, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 354-367, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1665399

http://www.museumedu.org/jme/jme-44-4-the-past-in-the-present-the-relevancy-of-the-history-of-museum-education-today/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/16/museum-education-programs-the-challenges-of-having-chaperones-be-effective-participants/

Thanksgiving: How We Are Changing the Way We Teach Kids Why We Celebrate

November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving is a few days away, and we reflect on how we teach the next generation about its history. Children in the past began to dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans for school pageants, make Turkeys in arts and crafts, create headbands with feathers and clothing out of shopping bags, design hats with buckles on top, and listen to stories about the first Thanksgiving. When I was a child, I was taught these lessons and since I grew up in Massachusetts, I made a number of trips to Plimoth Plantation to interact with the living history interpreters. We were taught at a young age that Native Americans and the Pilgrims had their first Thanksgiving in 1621 when they shared food and learned to get along. This story was reinforced especially in the media, and rarely did the media challenge the story.

In the 1993 film Addams Family Values the camp Wednesday and Pugsley Addams attend put on a play based on the first Thanksgiving. Wednesday and other kids considered outcasts of the camp were assigned to portray Native Americans and the rest of the kids were cast as food and Pilgrims. The play began with the typical depiction of what our society has taught children about the first Thanksgiving including the Pilgrims finding common ground with the Native Americans. As one of the characters invited the Native Americans to their table, Wednesday breaks from the play and delivers this speech:

You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the roadsides. You will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, “Do not trust the Pilgrims…”

Wednesday’s speech painted a different picture from the play attempted to tell, and is closer to the reality Native Americans face since their land was taken over. And now? The more we learned about Native Americans, the more we are moving away from this myth we were taught for generations.

I was introduced to the truth about the first Thanksgiving during one of my college History courses. Before we left for Thanksgiving, our professor assigned readings from the book The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz. The Deetzes pointed out the myth of Thanksgiving which opened my eyes more to how this myth was used as a credible source to teach Early American history and the disservice it does to representing the true nature of the Pilgrim/Native American relationship. In recent years, we have started to move away from teaching children the myth.

Time magazine released an article, which will be in the December 2nd through 9th edition of the magazine, focusing on the change in the way American children are learning about the first Thanksgiving. Their article covered a workshop in Washington D.C. called “Rethinking Thanksgiving in Your Classroom” in which teachers learned a better way to teach the Thanksgiving story to their students and to do so they did a lot of studying to learn about the story. The teachers were part of the movement to change the way Thanksgiving is taught in schools that had been stuck in the 19th century’s nostalgic interpretation of the past. While the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, it was not a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it to be so to unite a country torn by the Civil War. The late 19th century saw a number of instances of rebranding people and events in the first Thanksgiving to fit the idyllic narrative, and by the 1920s Thanksgiving was the most talked about holiday in classrooms while leaving out details that made the settlers look bad. It was assumed that the Native Americans have disappeared which was why non-Native Americans feel comfortable dressing children in costumes; the reality is there are 573 federally recognized tribes today, and the active Native American culture and communities can be found across the country. The 1960s and 1970s civil rights movement, with the growth of the American Indian Movement, made the difference between reality and the story of Thanksgiving harder to ignore.

 Education Week also released an article that covered the turn to a different way to introduce the history of the first Thanksgiving. In addition to explaining the origins of how the celebration of Thanksgiving began and how the myth began to be taught in schools, they discussed when teachers noticed the need for change. Jacob Tsotigh, a citizen of the Kiowa tribe and the tribal education specialist for the National Indian Education Association, was quoted in the article stating that there is decreasingly less focus on the myth as people are made aware of the history being in actuality a myth as well as the realization that there is a different perspective which needs to be considered. While this myth has been shared for approximately 150 years, the Native American perspective has not been recognized in American schools. According to the article, Tsotigh recommended that to help students appreciate colonial oppression of Natives and the violence ensued from it the holiday should be reframed to honor representatives of Native communities who greeted the small number of European visitors at the time with open arms and believed in sharing with those less fortunate.

As we gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, we should remember to not only express what we are thankful for but to also learn more about Native American culture and their perspectives about the holiday.

I have included additional resources about teaching Thanksgiving for more information. I am thankful to all of you who have either continued to read the blog since the beginning or have just started to read the blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Resources:

https://time.com/5725168/thanksgiving-history-lesson/

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/11/22/as-thanksgiving-approaches-unlearning-history-continues.html

Deetz, James, Patricia Scott Deetz, The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony, New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2000, pg. 22-24.

Additional Resources:

https://blog.nativehope.org/what-does-thanksgiving-mean-to-native-americans

http://www.seattleschild.com/This-Thanksgiving-educate-your-family-about-Native-history-and-culture/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2016/11/27/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/25/the-invention-of-thanksgiving?fbclid=IwAR3rQIfmcyD29tetwpltW15916fCVsdIoM3dg7V1IAUMgsOyhUe8vywd_wk

International Museum Workers Day 2019 and #MuseumEdChat

October 24, 2019

October 24th is International Museum Workers Day. According to the official website, IMWD began as an educational project to introduce the general public to the myriad professions relating to the creation, research, discovery and presentation of heritage. The people behind International Museum Workers Day value the importance of soft power heritage diplomacy to help with exchange of views & ideas, promote knowledge of other cultures, and build bridges between nations. This year IMWD is supporting sustainable heritage by committing to stimulate communities to urgently embrace the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. The Agenda, developed by the United Nations, is a commitment to eliminate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide. To learn more about the Agenda, take a look at the European Commission page on the Agenda and sustainable development here.

In honor of International Museum Workers Day, I participated in the #MuseumEdChat on Twitter that focuses on stress and how museum professionals deal with stress. We all need to remember how to take time for ourselves for our emotional, mental, and physical health. The first question we addressed in the discussion was:

Q1: What in your work tends to ignite stress? #MuseumEdChat

A lot of the discussion focused on boundaries not being set, working significantly beyond the job description, low wages, and lack of understanding from leadership about emotional labor as well as physical and mental work put into our work as the main triggers of our stress in the museum field. In my opinion it seems that the further removed from the emotional, physical, and mental work the more leadership is unaware of what museum staff can realistically accomplish.

Museum professionals who participated in the discussion seem to agree that it is a challenge to have a work-life balance because we are stretched beyond our capabilities to meet expectations of leadership and the nature of our work. Some museum professionals, in my experience from talking with colleagues and participating in professional development programs, feel that they need to stretch themselves out to make ends meet on unlivable wages. If we continue this path, we will continue to have both an increase in burn out and individuals leaving the museum field. The second question we addressed in tonight’s discussion was:

Q2: What methods or strategies do you use to manage your stress? #MuseumEdChat.

My response to this question was:

There are varying strategies museum professionals can do to manage stress. For instance, some watch favorite television shows and knitting. The third question we addressed in our discussion was:

Q3: In what ways can managers/supervisors help staff manage their stress? In other words, what support do you need?  #MuseumEdChat

My response to this question was:

In other words, staff and managers should set aside time away from the museum to attend painting classes, go for a hike, etc. which would help both parties set up work/life balances. It is important that leadership should set an example for a healthy work/life balance. Also, an open communication between leadership and staff is a must to improve the quality of the museum work we do.

All museum professionals would benefit greatly from equitable pay, benefits, feasible expectations, and a healthy work/life balance. We need to continue to advocate for these things for museum workers. When we think about our museums contributions to the communities surrounding them, and sustainability for around the world, we should not forget about improving the quality of the museum workers’ working conditions. Our recognition of museum workers should be acknowledged on more than one day, as the people of IMWD strive towards with International Museum Workers Day.

Resources and Relevant Posts:

http://museumworkersday.org/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/06/07/why-self-care-is-important-for-museum-educators/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/04/reaction-no-money-no-new-ideas-conundrum/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/06/06/moving-towards-an-equitable-museum-workforce-reaction-to-salary-doc/

Philadelphia Museum Impressions: Science History Institute

October 17, 2019

Another museum I visited during the AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia was the Science History Institute. On the last day of the Annual Meeting, I decided that this will be one of the museums I wanted to see before I left. According to the website, the Science History Institute collects and shares stories of innovators and of discoveries that shape our lives. The Institute also preserves and interprets the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences. Inside the Institute, there are four programmatic areas that address specific parts of the non-profit organization’s overall mission: an archive and library for historians and researchers, a fellowship program for visiting scholars around the world, a community of researchers who examine historical and contemporary issues, and an acclaimed museum that is free and open to the public. The Institute also has a state-of-the-art conference center located within the building.

Because I did not have much time before I was leaving the city, I visited the museum and the exhibits. The Institute’s museum exhibits include an array of artifacts, scientific instruments, and art utilized to create exhibitions, public programs, and other materials showcasing the research and diverse collections. Making Modernity, a permanent exhibit, shows visitors how chemistry has touched our lives and visitors can trace the scientific progress in the laboratory, the factory, and their homes; the exhibit’s mission is to help visitors learn how chemistry created and continues to shape the modern world.  Throughout the exhibit, there are scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists. Making Modernity also have varying topics that range from alchemy, synthetics, and the chemical-instrument revolution to chemistry education, electro-chemistry, chemistry sets, and the science of color.

During my visit, I noticed that each part of the museum showcased scientific artifacts that described the evolution of everyday materials we may take for granted nowadays. For instance, one of the many sections I was impressed with was called The Chemical Body: A New View of Health which showed technical innovations in the 19th century that led to discoveries of vitamins and techniques for analyzing the body’s chemical and cellular makeup.

Another example of a section that stood out to me was The Bright World of Color which shares the changes in creating dyes from natural resources to using industrial research, synthetic dyes, and new testing methods to improve dye production. It reminded me of my research while I was in college about the history of cochineal used as red dyes. I enjoyed how much detail the exhibit labels went into each section of the museum exhibit especially in the Bright World of Color.

I was also impressed with another part of the exhibit which features an interactive multimedia learning experience which showcases the collections of art, scientific instruments, rare books, and other artifacts. The installation has a two-story high video column and a pair of high-resolution, interactive tables known as Object Explorer; visitors can explore the history and science behind various everyday objects by placing them on an interactive table to investigate the object’s history and the stories of the materials they are made of. For instance, I took a Pyrex measuring cup and placed in on the interactive table which revealed information about the history of glass and how the quality of glass was improved to eventually be used as the measuring cup.

Also, there was another exhibit I viewed while I was inside the Science History Institute called What Was the Real Age of Alchemy? Inside the exhibits there were various paintings and artifacts that revealed alchemy was change, creativity, and curiosity which shaped the modern understanding of modern science.

If you are visiting Philadelphia, I recommend spending a lot of time at the Science History Institute for there is so much to see and learn.

Resources:

https://www.sciencehistory.org

https://www.sciencehistory.org/museum

Who Decides the “Best Practices” in Museums?

October 10, 2019

Museums and museum professionals work towards making their programs, exhibits, and events successful based on best practices set for them to follow. I thought about writing on this topic when I saw a discussion on Twitter revealing their thoughts on paternity of best practices. When I hear the words “best practices”, the following questions came across my mind: What do “best practices” mean? How do we decide what the “best practices” are? Which ones should be followed, and which ones should not be followed? Do they work for my museum/institution?

The American Alliance of Museums stated that Best practices are commendable actions and philosophies that demonstrate an awareness of standards, solve problems and can be replicated. Museums may choose to emulate them if appropriate to their circumstances. In other words, there are many ways museums can demonstrate standards and are able to figure out which ones are appropriate for their institutions. As a museum professional, I noticed that best practices are continuously evolving as all museum professionals share and learn from one another what works based on the changing societal values. It is up to individual museums to figure out how to execute best practices that make sense for their museums.

Museums, however, do have best practices that each one should emulate that are ethical, legal, and equitable across the field. In the American Alliance of Museum’s Ethics and Best Practices in Museums document, it discussed general museum ethics and legal policies and practices while sharing its own best practices. According to the document, the American Alliance of Museums’ standards and best practices for museums in the United States require museums

  • is a good steward of its resources held in the public trust,
  • has “a formally approved, separate and distinct institutional code of ethics,”
  • is “committed to public accountability and is transparent in its mission and operations,” and
  • will “legally, ethically and responsibly acquire, manage, and dispose of collection items as well as
  • know what collections are in its ownership/custody, where they came from, why it has them, and their current condition and location.”

General best practices in museums could be applied to many museums. They can take the best practice and figure out based on local and state laws how they should be executed within the museum and their communities. When the best practices are specific to subjects and expertise (i.e. science, children’s, railroad, etc.) these institutions refer to other museum associations for resources on best practices.

There are numerous “best practices” museums utilize for their institutions, and various categories for best practices in museums. To answer a question of what the best practices are is a challenge to undertake. Many museum associations have their own list of best practices. On one of the American Alliance of Museum’s related webpages, for instance, they listed a number of museum associations that are specific to the field; the Association of Art Museum Directors, American Association for Museum Volunteers, American Association for State and Local History, American Historical Association, Association of Children’s Museums, Association of Railway Museums, Association of Science-Technology Centers, International Council of Museums, National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage, National Park Service, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and the Southeastern College Art Conference. Each of them has their own lists of standards and best practices for museum professionals to use for their museums.

Professional development programs introduce best practices for specific fields and departments. Museum professionals learn about best practices implemented by other museum professionals in museum education, volunteer/internship, finances, development and fundraising, leadership, boards, and collection stewardship just to name a few. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), for instance, had a webinar on Best Practices for Developing History Internships that is available to be viewed since it is recorded. According to their website,

Best Practices for Developing History Internships is an AASLH Continuing Education recorded webinar. This webinar is about tips and strategies for creating an internship program that both you and your interns will get something out of. Creating an internship program at your historic site can not only benefit your organization, but should also benefit your interns and lets you help develop the next generation of history professionals. We’ll cover the ethics of internships, best practices for managing interns, and a look at some common challenges and possible solutions. You’ll leave with ideas you can use at every organization, no matter its size.

In each professional development program in various formats there are descriptions that share what participants should expect to take away from the experience and share with their museums; once this information is shared, it is up to the staff of the museums to figure out the best way for them to execute methods and practices discussed. The previously listed example pointed out that by creating an effective internship program all museums can create a partnership that will benefit both the museum and interns. Best practices need to be reviewed, adapted, and utilized by museums based on its capabilities.

Discussion questions I will leave here: Do you have examples of best practices in museums that you have heard about? How are museums taking advantage of what they learned about best practices?

Resources and Additional Resources:

https://www.nemanet.org/files/3413/8552/9233/Standards_and_Best_Practices_Compilation_-_Fact_Sheet.pdf

https://aaslh.org/event/best-practices-for-developing-history-internships/

https://iowaculture.gov/sites/default/files/History%20-%20Research%20-%20Collections%20-%20Collections%20Care%20-%20Objects%20-%20Field%20Guide%20for%20Museums%20%28PDF%29.pdf

https://www.amazon.com/National-Standards-Best-Practices-Museums-ebook/dp/B004EEOLU8

https://ncac.org/resource/museum-best-practices-background

http://ww2.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/standards

https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/BRIEF-ETHICS-AND-BEST-PRACTICES.pdf

https://www.aamg-us.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/AAMG-Professional-Practices-2018-web-FINAL-rev043018.pdf

Interpretation: The Importance of Storytelling in Museum Programs

October 3, 2019

I recently started to have discussions about interpretation and storytelling for current projects I am working on, and they have inspired me to reflect on interpretation in museums and historic sites. Since officially beginning my career in the museum field in 2012, I learned about the importance of translating historical narrative for visitors to understand and to be engaged with the experience. As I continued my career, the discussions among museum professionals I noticed focus on using storytelling methods to get visitors’ attention.

Interpretative programs are significant for all history museums, historic house museums, and historic sites since how visitors see them and enjoy their experiences in these places would affect the way they viewed museums. The Technical Leaflet, a publication of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), called Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations written by Timothy Glines and David Grabitske went into detail about interpretation and what small organizations can do better for their programs. Glines and Grabitske pointed out that Historical interpretation translates human stories from the past into meaningful thoughts for people in the present. As museum professionals our educational missions we strive for are to tell human stories people can identify with to have a better understanding of the history we present in our museums.

When I began graduate school and my career, I began to see the importance of relating human stories to the public and taking visitor input into account for interpretation. At the Connecticut’s Old State House, for instance, there were many frequently asked questions visitors have asked during tours that inspired staff to do more research to include in the tour narrative. In my blog post sharing my memories about the internship, I stated

I sat in on staff meetings to find out what common questions were asked during tours we did not already have answers for and I used those questions to do research to answer them. I regularly visited the Connecticut State Library to do research, and recorded answers into the Google Doc so we would be able to answer them in the future.

By finding out information visitors want to know most about, we would be able to have visitor input in the narrative. When interpretative programs are developed it is important to understand who the audience is and how to capture their attention to explain our relevance within the community and the overall historical narrative. Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, and Judith Koke’s book Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making pointed out that museum planners must apply intentional effort and deliberation if they are to fully integrate visitor perspectives into their plans. In other words, there must be full commitment to incorporate visitor perspectives when considering planning interpretive programs. I saw the start of fleshing out this important point when I was working in Hartford on an interpretive project.

Something I have thought about when I gave tours at Connecticut Landmarks before the project started is the amount of information I tell visitors. Throughout the tours, I would figure it out the appropriate balance for each group of visitors. Glines and Grabitske also stressed the importance of sharing the right amount of information when storytelling. According to Glines and Grabitske, they pointed out that: we must pay attention to the interests of our visitors by telling meaningful stories, making sure not to fatigue them mentally with breathless depth or fatigue them physically with no chance to take it all in. When I started giving tours, I noticed there was a ton of information provided to each educator giving tours. It would be impossible to include all of it in one tour which is why it is important for us to chose what information to include in the narrative we tell. I also noticed that at that point I was more focused on making sure I hit each point than telling a story. The interpretive project I worked on with Connecticut Landmarks seemed to be moving towards telling a story.

While I was at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House, I joined the rest of the staff in interpretive planning meetings to draw in more visitors to the historic house. We realized that by using a theme, not only were we working towards visitors making connections, but it also focused on telling a narrative. Because there are many themes that are found in the Butler and McCook family history, there are different narratives visitors can choose to learn about and keep coming back to see something different than their previous visits. I briefly talked about this experience in my memories blog on Connecticut Landmarks’:

During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.

The purpose of the theme I chose for a new tour was to show the Industrial Revolution had an impact on the city of Hartford especially on its residents including the Butlers and the McCooks. I chose five key objects that will support the theme and its purpose including Tall Case Clock which was made approximately 1750 by Benjamin Cheney, and this is an example of a locally made piece that was made before the Industrial Revolution to show the differences between craftsmanship and factory made items. Another example of a key object was the Mill Ledger C, 1818-1826 which was John Butler’s, one of the family’s ancestors’, ledger which recorded payments to men and women who labored in his paper mill; this revealed what the employees were paid for their labor in early industrial work. After selecting key objects, I chose key documents and photographs then created a tour outline highlighting the narrative relevant to the Industrial Revolution theme.

To read a copy of the interpretive project, I included a link here. The Industrial Revolution was an important theme for the tour since we are all affected by technological advances, and to help visitors understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution it is important to use relevant examples.

Another example of using examples to help visitors connect with the historical narrative was while I taught school programs at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. In one of the chambers inside the house, I talked to the kids about the history of Noah Webster and his work on the first American published dictionary; I also discussed the objects that were displayed in the room. One of the kids asked me about how the bed warmer was used and I did so by describing the process and after asking them if they have seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean I told them about how one of the characters used a similar bed warmer in one of the scenes. By connecting this object to something they have seen before in modern times, they were able to make that connection and use it to refer to it at a later point when they shared their experiences.

When I move forward in working on a current interpretative project, I will not only keep in mind the experiences I have had but incorporate more lessons I will continue to learn each step of the way.

Resources:

American Association for State and Local History, Technical Leaflet # 222, “Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations”, History News, volume 58, number 2, Spring 2003.

Wells, Marcella; Butler, Barbara; Koke, Judith, Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2013.

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/07/museum-memories-connecticuts-old-state-house/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/23/museum-memories-noah-webster-house/