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?

Why Self-Care is Important for Museum Educators

Added to Medium, June 7, 2018

Self-care has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in the museum field, and we need to express why museum educators especially need to take the care they need. I recently have been in a situation that I needed self-care to help myself get back to where I need to be as a museum educator. Because of recent events, I began to review information I have about self-care and museums.

One of the posts I came across was Seema Rao’s “Focusing on Self-Care is Good for Business” in which she summarized a keynote talk Rao gave at the Pennsylvania Museums Association conference in April. I also read her book Objective Lessons: Self Care for Museum Professionals in the past, and I decided to re-read the book in light of recent events. While there are many resources online that have self-care and self-help, it is overwhelming to dedicate time to sit down and read through every material.

Earlier tonight I hosted #MuseumEdChat on Twitter and since I was hosting I decided to come up with the topic about self-care and develop the questions for the topic. I thought that I would learn more about the current status of self-care in museums by asking the questions I had to the Twitter community. After an hour-long discussion, I found so many great responses to these questions and what I found is that we need to continue to promote self-care and the significance of self-care among museum professionals of all levels.

The first question I asked was “How would you describe self-care?” because while everyone needs self-care at some point or another not everyone would have the same definition depending on the circumstances of why they need self-care. One of the first responses I came across that I think perfectly sums up what self-care is in general is:

To me, self-care is having the time and patience to actively care for your overall health (physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual)

We all need time and patience to provide ourselves with the self-care we need to keep ourselves moving forward. The key, however, is finding the time to do so and not many museum professionals have that opportunity because some managers do not see the value of self-care.

A couple of tweets mentioned this dilemma. One tweet pointed out that “Self-care can be hard for staff who don’t have paid time off or vacation.” Another tweet also said,

Self-care is hard in sector w/ so much of the staff working on term-limited/ hourly wages in precarious jobs. Self-care can be seen as a waste by managers, who put pressure on junior staff to be super productive ALL THE TIME.

There are not many job opportunities that are full-time for museum professionals which provide benefits that will help us with self-care. These situations are a part of a bigger issue in the museum field that we continue to work towards so self-care would be acknowledged by managers, directors, and board of directors and trustees.

Rao has also stressed the importance of self-care in her post “Focusing on Self-Care is Good for Business”, and made an argument for managers to pay attention to this need for not only for their staff but for the managers as well. She stated that burnouts are high in the museum field because of the long hours with little pay and no time to recharge. Her post also directly addressed the managers to set examples for self-care:

Managers need to be honest about their own struggles with burnout and share their strategies to counteract these feelings. Sharing challenges is not a sign of weakness. A good leader is a human who is worth following, flaws and all; a boss is a person who you have to work for.

Our work culture in this society promotes the idea that having challenges are signs of weakness in managers. However, that is not true at all because we are all human and knowing how to deal with challenges and flaws is what makes great leaders a person worth following. A few responses on Twitter also pointed out that they either do not know how to or do not know how to find time to do self-care.

I have said this on Twitter and I will say again here that I don’t think everyone is good at self-care at times because sometimes it is hard to find the time to take care of ourselves. It will take a lot of practice for all of us to practice and promote self-care. Some individuals have shared what we can do to promote the importance of self-care.

One of the tweets talked about promoting workshops and activities for staff with special guests such as individuals from government or higher education agencies. I agree with this suggestion because by having programs like the ones suggested it would start to make discussions about self-care easier for museum professionals and opens up communication about self-care with managers and directors. Another tweet reiterated the sentiments I have about self-care:

All museum professionals, no matter the position, need to foster an environment of caring and understanding. If there is a need to promote self-care at work, professionals need to feel that they can open up and be honest about what they need.

After the #MuseumEdChat discussion, I was reassured that I am not alone in my own struggles to find time for self-care and balance work with much needed self-care time. I was also reassured that this is a topic that we all need to continue to discuss as we continue to find ways to improve the museum field. Self-care is different for every individual in the museum field, and it is necessary for every museum professional on all levels to take care of themselves.

I leave you all with a couple of questions that I have asked on Twitter’s #MuseumEdChat discussion that we all need to think about and share with all museum professionals in the field:

If you were going to explain to your manager and/or colleagues about self-care, how would you explain why it is important for all museum professionals, including museum educators? Please share what you and your co-workers do, or would like to do, for self-care. What method is most helpful for you? What can we do to spread more awareness to the need of self-care?


Reaction: The Cost of Museum Work

Added to Medium, April 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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