Museum Staff and Boards: How We Are Adapting Our Museum Practices

April 2, 2020

In addition to providing museum virtual experiences for visitors, staff, directors, and boards need to figure out how to adapt their operations to the virtual world under fast changing circumstances caused by the pandemic. This past week I participated in a couple of American Association State and Local History Conversation webinar series focusing on what next steps museum staff and boards could do to keep their museums running. I attended AASLH Conversations: Leadership, Boards, and the COVID-19 Crisis that focuses on how leadership should respond as the pandemic continues to effect the world, and I attended AASLH Conversations: Planning for an Uncertain Financial Future to figure out how to develop a financial plan for our museums as we face this unprecedented situation. The information I will share in this post are developing resources and are important takeaways from each one I participated in. What all museum professionals should remember is that, like many of us in and out of the museum field, we are all still learning and adapting to the ever-changing circumstances around the world.

There are many considerations museum professionals have to make decisions when facing this pandemic including keeping communication clear between museum leaders, staff, and board members. During the AASLH Conversations: Leadership, Boards, and the COVID-19 Crisis, some of the most important points made was that it is important to be transparent about the realities with your board and team, be compassionate to others and yourself by stepping back when needed, and be creative as well as flexible to figure out the solutions. The speakers Christy S. Coleman (the CEO at the American Civil War Museum) and Katherine Kane (the former Executive Director at Harriet Beecher Stowe Center) emphasized that: business as usual will not work. It is important to acknowledge that museum leaders have to operate differently and find out how to serve the community. Also, both staff and boards are scared about the pandemic on both the professional and personal level, and as leaders we have to address the hard stuff and explain what we are planning to keep communication open to all. Museum leaders need to recognize that they should adjust their time to virtually meet with board members since they have their own work and families they need to take care of on top of dealing with the pandemic; meanwhile, staff members need to know whether or not they will be laid off, furloughed, or pay/hour reductions.  Museum professionals also need to consider their museum financial plans and figure out what their next steps are based on their past and current financial reports.

Becky Beaulieu, the director of the Florence Griswold Museum and author of Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (2017), was the speaker for the AASLH Conversations: Planning for an Uncertain Financial Future in which she shared her insights and advice. Beaulieu pointed out that we are facing an unprecedented time, and because of this the webinar like the previous one was focused on creating a discussion in which she will share her thoughts and answers to participants’ questions based on her expertise. She described in detail about business interruption plans (emergency plans for when something unexpected happens especially a pandemic), and shared three important things that need to be clear when developing a business interruption plan: what is your team and their responsibilities (i.e. who is writing the checks, contacting vendors and sponsors for events, etc.), what is your recovery time, and what are your core operations. Also, she stressed that it is important during this unprecedented time to create a source for all staff members to access resources from the museum community to inspire your own plans. Another important takeaway is to make sure to figure out what your plans A, B, and C are when considering cuts and funding options (i.e. insurance, grants, and for only the last resort-endowments). Museum professionals have difficult decisions to make during this time to make sure we continue to serve our communities, and having these conversations on a regular basis with other museum professionals within the field will help all of us during the pandemic.

If you want to learn more about these webinars, the link to the AASLH Conversations series is here: https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response

Significant Resources in the Museum Field

Added to Medium, May 3, 2018

As museum professionals, we continue to develop our education through professional development resources provided in various sources including but not limited to books, websites, blogs, webinars, conferences, seminars, and magazines. We learn so much from these resources, and therefore we continue to use the same ones we continuously use. Museum professionals also seek more resources to use to assist in their practices.

In my blog post Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage, I stated that,

I truly believe professional development is important for all career paths, especially in the museum education field. Professional development in the museum education field have many opportunities to help museum professionals develop their careers to make sure they are up to date with latest theories and skills.

Professional development has many opportunities for all museum professions to develop their careers. There are many options to choose from, and we do not need to stick to one resource to develop our careers and skills. Museum professionals are able to make sure they are up to date with latest theories and skills by seeking networking opportunities.

One of the most important resources museum professionals use is their own experiences as well as experiences of other museum professionals. While we can learn from the materials we gained access to, the best resources are the ones gained from experience and sharing these experiences. By doing our jobs as museum professionals, we have practical knowledge of what occurs on a regular basis in museum practices. Museum educators especially regularly apply skills they learn from the programs they teach; when they teach programs on a regular basis, museum educators learn what methods work or what needs to be improved on a case to case situation.

In the twenty-first century, we have many options for communicating with one another to learn through each other’s experiences. Museum professionals can meet in person at conferences, seminars, and workshops, or online. Whether they are online or in-person, museum professionals can talk with one another to gain inspiration for their own projects or practices.

The benefit of interacting online is that museum professionals can communicate with other museum professionals outside of their region on a regular basis rather than waiting for the next national meet-up. Another benefit I mentioned in my blog post Online Communities: Why They Are So Important for Museum Professionals was

It is important that museum professionals have the opportunity to connect with one another since one of the best ways to continue adapting programs and exhibits is to learn from other museum professionals. Not many museum professionals have the opportunity to meet with others in person for various reasons especially not having enough time and money to invest in traveling to museum conferences and workshops.

If museum professionals are not able to attend conferences and workshops for whatever reason, providing a way to communicate online will help more museum professionals learn from one another to help move the museum field forward.

There are many opportunities online to communicate and learn from other museum professionals. For instance, there are online communities through social media such as the Emerging Museum Professionals group on Facebook, museum groups on LinkedIn, and #MuseumEdChat on Twitter. Each of the examples I listed inspire museum professionals to ask each other questions and seek advice related to the field, and encourage discussion among one another.

In recent months, I discovered that there are also online mentorships programs like the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM’s) Museum Education Professional Network that provides space for mentors and mentees to communicate with each other. Museum professionals at each career level can apply to be a mentor or mentee to seek advice from one another, and learn from one another’s experiences. Once selected, a mentor and a mentee is matched together based on similar experiences and backgrounds in the museum field to then begin communicating with one another.

Another example of an opportunity online for museum professionals to learn from other museum professionals experiences is the blogs posted on personal websites or museum websites. I have written many blog posts in the past couple of years that continue to gain attention from all of you who have continued to read them (and I thank you for continuing to read each of these blog posts). Also, I have read many blogs from other museum professionals in the field. One of the most recent blog posts I have read came from Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin in their blog Leadership Matters.

Their most recent blog post, Museum Leadership: Being vs Doing, discusses the importance of knowing the difference between “being” a museum leader and “doing” your role as a museum leader. They also discussed where museum professionals should turn to if we find ourselves in a situation where we are managing more people than tasks. It is important that all museum professionals understand where they can turn to find information that will help us be effective leaders. We all need to remember that if we find our organizations are not helping us perform well in our roles we should speak up so we will figure out how we can effectively accomplish our goals.

We have unlimited resources that we can gain access to especially for museum professionals in the museum field. Our resources continue to develop as we learn from one another, from books, blogs, networks and online communities, and we move forward with changes based on what we learned. We do not rely on only one resource as the most significant resource since we need to keep our minds open to change as our communities and our field continue to evolve with the times. The museum field is fortunate to have so many outlets we can reach out to learn more about our roles in our organizations.

What resources have been the most helpful for you in your field? Have you participated in online communities like the ones I mentioned in this blog post?

Resources:
http://www.aaslh.org/
https://www.aam-us.org/
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/museum-leadership-being-vs-doing/
Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage 

Online Communities: Why They Are So Important for Museum Professionals