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

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/

Moving Towards an Equitable Museum Workforce: Reaction to Salary Doc

June 6, 2019

Last week a Google Sheet was released listing salary information museum professionals have volunteered to share with the online museum community. Since workplace equity is an important topic that is discussed and implemented in the museum field, the latest news shows the museum field is serious about improving the quality of museum professionals’ work conditions. It is wonderful to learn more about what colleagues’ salary information is like in both the United States and in countries outside of the North American continent especially since we can get an idea of what salary is like in the countries before considering taking a museum position. I decided to take a closer look at the Google Sheet for both my curiosity and for this week’s blog post to share my thoughts about the document.

In the document, there are six separate spreadsheets filled with volunteered information about salary and other resources. The first tab listed the name of museum/art organization/institution, region, museum type, or number of employees at organization, role, department, city, country, starting salary, year of starting salary, current (2019) or ending salary, hourly (H) / permanent (P) / contingent/finite term employment (C), if part-time / hourly (H) / contingent/finite term employment (C), how many hours/week, benefits?, year this salary was current (if a current salary, put 2019), years of experience in field at time of current salary listed, parental leave policy at organization (and who is eligible), and an optional section for race, gender, and preferred pronouns.

Each type of museum, gallery, and organization was listed in alphabetical order. The majority of the contributions came from across the United States but there were a number of contributions that are outside of the country. For instance, there are entries from France, Switzerland, Hong Kong, India, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Germany, Greece, Russia, Hungary, Argentina, and South Africa. At the time of this blog post, there are 801 entries in the first tab of the Google Sheet and more entries in the other tabs. The second tab is information from Form 990 and there are links to 990s from twenty-four museums. According to the second tab, the 990s of institutional salaries is available publicly online and museum professionals are invited to find our institution, copy and paste the link, and add to the sheet.

 The third tab has a list of resources about salaries and salary studies. For instance, it listed articles, salary studies from museum associations, and a podcast. A few of the resources include the GEMM (Gender Equity in Museums) Salary Transparency Statement, a State-by-state US guide to pregnant and parenting workers’ rights (A Better Balance), Fair Museum Jobs, and a Podcast: Museopunks, Episode 35: Salary Transparency in Art Museums. Meanwhile the fourth tab has a data copy of information for sorting and the fifth tab is a copy of salaries experiential formatting. The copy of salaries experiential formatting is sorted by departments in alphabetical order then listed other information including the organizations, role, starting salary, current salary, contingent, and time period.  Then finally the last tab is a pivot by role and salary which seems to list hourly rates and general type of organizations the rates are associated with. After reading through the Google Sheet document, I am overwhelmed with so much information and very pleased with how much has been contributed to this document.

I appreciate the effort all contributors had in developing the sheet and volunteering specific information to share with the online community. Not many museum professionals are able to have access to the salary reports that are usually posted by museum associations such as the American Alliance of Museums since they are usually too expensive to purchase. By being able to learn from our colleagues, the museum field can move closer to a more equitable workforce. I feel that this document makes salary information more accessible for museum professionals. It is also great to see all of the relevant resources in one document, and we should continue to add any information that is useful for museum professionals especially for those looking for jobs in the museum field. I feel that it would be useful for me because I am curious about museum salaries in my area so I know what I am getting into when looking at museums. Museum professionals, both job seekers and current museum professionals, can benefit from this document because it gives information to help them with salary and benefits negotiations as well as having a better understanding of the salary and benefits.

If you have read the document, what are your reactions to this sheet?

Resources:

https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/museum-educator-salary-SRCH_KO0,15.htm

Institutional Salaries 990: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits

GEMM (Gender Equity in Museums) Salary Transparency Statement: https://www.genderequitymuseums.com/single-post/SalaryMatters

State-by-state US guide to pregnant and parenting workers’ rights (A Better Balance): https://babygate.abetterbalance.org

Fair Museum Jobs: https://fairmuseumjobs.wordpress.com/2018/08/04/the-journey-begins/

Podcast: Museopunks, Episode 35: Salary Transparency in Art Museums: https://www.aam-us.org/2019/05/22/museopunks-episode-35/

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14_cn3afoas7NhKvHWaFKqQGkaZS5rvL6DFxzGqXQa6o/htmlview?usp=sharing&sle=true

https://www.artsy.net/news/artsy-editorial-online-spreadsheet-revealed-museum-workers-salaries

www.artnews.com/2019/05/31/google-spreadsheet-museum-workers-disclose-salaries/

https://news.artnet.com/market/museum-employees-salary-google-doc-1561372

The Challenges Faced in Small Museums

May 9, 2019

As I was looking through resources on the museum and public history field, I noticed that there were articles that explain why small museum professionals get the credit they deserve but there were not many articles that discuss the physical challenges working in small museums present. I decided that this week’s post I will introduce the physical work small museum professionals have done to help make the museum and historic sites. In previous blog posts, I have shared my memories of working in small museums and historic house museums that I also recommend reading to comprehend what the physical work is like at small museums. With this perspective, I understand the challenges faced by small museum professionals.

At the historic house museums, I have not only worked in education programs but I was also involved in the interpretation and preservation of the collections and maintain some of the upkeep of the historic houses. For instance, at the Connecticut Landmarks’ Hartford properties I was responsible for dusting and cleaning items, tables, et. cetera. Then I took an inventory of the collection and filled out collections conditions paperwork. These tasks I worked on took a lot of time and physical demand to accomplish so the historic houses were well-maintained to make sure we still preserved for future generations.  Also, 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 using the collections in the house. At other small museums, I took on other projects such as grant applications, social media posts and analytics, responding to donation request letters, invoice for summer program, and purchase supplies for education and museum supplies. Each responsibility I had took a lot of time to dedicate to, and may not be accomplished in one day because of other responsibilities that would need to take priority depending on what is going on at the moment.

Small museum professionals deserve a lot of credit for all of the work that they put in to keep the museums running for the visitors and the rest of their communities. In a blog post “The Value of Small Museums” by Aimee E. Newell, the Executive Director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, she talked about her experiences in working small museums and what she valued in her experiences working in small museum based around a question that was posed to her one day: “Why don’t you have a better job?” My blog post in which I reacted to Newell’s post delved into my own experiences that answered that question:

The problem with defining museum jobs as “better” than others is it devalues the hard work museum professionals contribute to the small museums. All museum professionals have so many challenges and other things to accomplish that we are reminding ourselves to not take self-care for granted. As a museum professional who works in a small museum, I argue that museum professionals in smaller museums have even more responsibilities since we are required to wear multiple hats to accomplish varying projects on a regular basis.

Working in small museums do help museum professionals like myself to be able to learn quickly skills they need to complete projects that will ultimately fulfill the overall mission of the museum. In my experience, I have balanced administrative, financial, and educational projects by prioritizing the ones that are most dire at the moment. A lot of times priorities have to change in order to meet the demand of what is happening in the current situation. The importance of these experiences is knowing that while these museums are smaller they are making a difference.

While previous articles have discussed how they had to wear multiple hats to accomplish what bigger museums do with a larger staff, we should address more the consequences of this work ethic. It could be impressive at first how the small museum professionals get so much accomplished in multiple roles, we cannot forget that like all museum professionals small museum workers need to take time to practice self-care and have equitable workplace to help combat burnouts. If we encourage museum staff in small and large museums to wear multiple hats and expect them to put one hundred percent into all of those hats while being underpaid and a lot of times underappreciated, then we end up losing dedicated museum professionals. The question I pose for everyone who reads this post and I really want everyone to consider the answer: when we wear multiple hats, do we really accomplish every task effectively and completely?

Resources:

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/08/16/reaction-the-value-of-small-museums/

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

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/21/museum-memories-stanley-whitman-house/

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

https://aaslh.org/the-value-of-small-museum-experience-or-why-i-dont-have-a-better-job/

https://museumhack.com/mighty-small-museums/

Reaction: No Money, No New Ideas Conundrum

April 4, 2019

I’m back! I am officially married and I am back from my honeymoon. Thank you all for your patience and support while I took time off to make final preparations for the wedding. My husband and I went into New York City to spend our honeymoon, and we did a number of things we have not done before in the City such as going to see The Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton, visited the Fraunces Tavern Museum (stay tuned for a blog post about this museum), and visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Museum. After we came back from the honeymoon, I came across another post on the Leadership Matters website about an important conundrum that is facing museums and non-profit organizations: no money, no new ideas.

Joan Baldwin wrote about how money and new ideas are important for museums. As museum professionals, we should understand that we could not have one or the other. If we focus too much on bringing in money then we would potentially lose out on new ideas that can keep visitors coming back for more of what we offer. If we focus on too many new ideas, we may not have enough money to support all of these ideas. It is a conundrum we are all familiar with, and it is worth discussing especially as we prepare for new museum professionals to emerge in the field.  One of the takeaways that stuck with me when I read the post was how the right balance between money and new ideas can make a difference. She pointed out that money is important and can ease some worries,

But an organization can be really rich and also really boring. Surely you’ve been to some of those. They are beautifully presented, but stiff, still, and flat. There is, to quote Gertrude Stein, “No there there.” But there are other organizations where, without warning and often without huge budgets, you’re challenged, confronted by things you hadn’t thought about before or presented with memorable narratives. They are the places you remember. They are the ones that stick with you.

One of the reasons I have worked in small museums is how unique the narratives are, and the staff that work with a limited budget are faced with the challenge to keep their exhibits and programs both relevant and interesting for visitors to make numerous trips back to them. I have written about museums I previously visited, and the majority of the ones I write about are those that face the challenge everyday to keep people invested in the narratives. For instance, in a post called Museum Memories: Stanley-Whitman House, I wrote about how the narrative of the house not only shares the history of the families that lived in the house but the history of the town of Farmington; the Stanley-Whitman House is one of the places that continues to find ways to bring attention to its narrative and its significance in the community.

Another point that I took away from the post is the significance of having creativity within the museum. Baldwin revealed in her post that

Imagination and ideas are a museums’ biggest tools. Otherwise you’re just a brilliantly-organized storage space. And yet how do you get out of the scarcity mindset? Practice. Truly. And start small.

It is true that the biggest tools that we can use as museum professionals are our imaginations and ideas. This is also why it is important all of us should take self-care seriously when it comes to using our imaginations, ideas, and creativity. If we continue to work while we burnout, we will not be able to come up with fresh ideas we need to help our museums keep running. Also, it is important that we participate in professional development and networking programs to get inspiration for our own ideas. As the saying goes “Practice makes perfect”, and it definitely applies to us as museum professionals attempting to use our imaginations and ideas for our museums.

I also read the advice Baldwin left for leaders and board members, and I try to follow each advice in my own practice as a museum professional. For instance, I try to model respect and treat everyone’s ideas as doable especially when I work with volunteers who are passionate about the work we do and they bring up ideas that may be helpful for the museum. I think this is what all museum professionals should do no matter what title they hold because if we keep shutting down each other’s ideas we may not be able to have the leaders we need for the future of the museum field. Also, I pay attention to and try to read as much reading material I can get my hands on to expand my knowledge in the museum field and beyond to get inspiration.

I read the advice Baldwin gave for board members, and this advice is important for all board members to follow. Baldwin provided a list of advice she had for board members who may be reading the post:

If you’re a board member:

Model respect and treat everyone’s ideas as doable even if they’re not actionable in the moment.

Know what matters. Understand your organization.

Invite a different staff member to your board meeting every month. Ask them what they would do if you gave them a million dollars. Listen. (And ban the eye-roll.)

Devote some time as a group to talking about ideas as opposed to what’s just happened, what’s currently happening or what will happen. How can you raise money for an organization if you’re not excited about what it’s doing?

Think about ideas as cash catalysts.

All of these points are wonderful and should be followed to not only help the museum but also develop a better relationship between the staff and board. For instance, I think it is a wonderful idea for board members to invite a different staff member to board meetings each month. Staff and board will be able to learn from one another about each other’s perspectives, and help one another come up with ideas that could be practical to execute for the museum. Another quote I would like to leave here is what I hope everyone will consider:

If you’re a leader or a board member, you’re role isn’t to maintain the status quo. You want more than mediocrity, don’t you? You’re a change agent, and change doesn’t have to come in a multi-million-dollar addition. Sometimes it comes in a volunteer program that models great teaching, a friendly attitude and deep knowledge.

It does not take much to create change in a museum, and we have a responsibility as museum professionals to figure out ideas we can use to help our museums move forward.

Resource:

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/the-no-money-no-new-ideas-conundrum/

A New Year: What Needs to be Accomplished in the Museum Field

Added to Medium, January 10th, 2019

We are in the new year and this is the time of year when we figure out what and how we will accomplish our goals and resolutions. Museum professionals, especially myself, develop personal and professional goals. For museum professionals to accomplish the goals and resolutions, there are a number of considerations to be addressed and utilized specific with the goals and resolutions developed.

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.

I have come across a number of blog posts I have come across reveal examples of what museum professionals should do to accomplish their goals. In a recent Leadership Matters blog post written by Joan Baldwin, she explained what museum professionals should contemplate to move readers’ careers forward. Baldwin pointed out in “It’s January: A Natural Time to Change-up Your Museum Career” that we are the ones in control of our careers, and it is up to us to make the changes we need to be happy in their career. According to Baldwin, there are a number of considerations both staff and leaders should consider for 2019:

So…if you work for an individual you suspect may have no clue about your day-to-day work life, much less your career, here are some things you may want to contemplate.

1. If you don’t already have a standing appointment with your boss, make one.

2. Outline your day, hour-to-hour, and quantify percentages so you (and your boss) can see how much of your time is spent on what.

3. Talk about prioritizing. Maybe you do a lot of nice things–maybe you’re the person who cleans out the volunteer break room or restocks the education space–and it’s nice, but you’re underutilized. You do it because others don’t, but it means you’re not doing things nearer and dear to your heart or your job description. And if you’re underutilized, you may be busy, but you’re likely not happy or challenged.

4. Evaluate whether you’re reactive or proactive. Talk with your boss about how that could or should change. Own your goals and push for them.

And if you’re a leader, think about:

1. How you communicate. Are tasks poorly executed because what staff heard was mushy and confusing? Do you ever ask “Did I explain that well enough?”

2. Listen to your staff. Watch for signs of distress. Is one job full of responsibility but no authority? Does everything have to be checked with a higher power–like you? Are other staff showing signs of boredom? Are deadlines met in five seconds?

3. Check-in often. Remember, check-ins don’t have to be formal. You can check-in in the hall or an office doorway, but they need to be meaningful. You need to have the time to focus and remember what your last conversation was about.

4. Set deadlines and keep them. Is there a sense they matter because it will take your staff about a nanosecond to realize if deadlines don’t matter to you, they don’t need to matter to them.

5. Know whether your staff is challenged or not. A recent study by Salary.com showed that more than 50-percent of employees were either not challenged or bored at work so ask yourself whether you really know what’s going on.

Both staff and leaders need to re-evaluate how they approach their responsibilities to take control of their work and open communication between both parties. This will hopefully help resolve issues and situations that create tensions within the workplace.

Another example I found is from Ed Rodley’s “Museum Challenges for 2019” on the Thinking About Museums website. Rodley collected tweets from Twitter responding to his question about what the biggest issues facing people making museum experiences in 2019. In his post, he revealed that

If I had to sum up the responses in a single statement, it would seem that you think the challenges museums face in 2019 are the following:

In a world where the global context includes existential threats like climate change and large scale social unrest, it can be a real struggle to fight the malaise and find balance, especially in a field that offers low pay for most, expects overwork to be the norm, and creates scarcity of time and resources. Exacerbating that, museum organizational culture is conservative and ill-suited to the needs and wants of audiences and employees in the current century.

We are our own worst enemies some times, and continually reinvent the wheel and perpetuate ways of doing our work that are destructive to staff and creativity. Methods and models exist in the world that could be inspirations for new ways of being a museum, but they’ll require vision and systems thinking.

I think the previous summary is accurate to what is currently happening in the museum field. We need to be able to address larger issues such as climate change but because we have so many issues going on within our own field the actions we take to addressing larger issues lead to slower processes in resolving issues. The question we all should be asking ourselves is: How are we going to address our own issues in the museum field to accomplish our goals? We need to open up communication among one another to address them and move forward to resolve them.

The Leadership Matters blog also shared their wishes for the museum field to resolve issues within the museum field. In the “It’s A New Year” blog, they shared their 2019 wish list:


o For the American Alliance of Museums [AAM] and the American Association of State & Local History [AASLH] to join forces to combat sexual harassment in the museum/heritage organization workplace.

o For museums, their boards and leadership to lead the non-profit world in closing the gender pay gap.

o For museum and heritage organization boards to commit to spending a minimum of two meetings a year on why they do what they do, what it means, and how to be better leaders.

o For museums, their boards and leadership to work toward eliminating tokenism, bias, and stereotyping throughout the hiring process.

o For AAM & AASLH to follow the lead of the American Library Association and pass a living wage resolution.

These items on the list are important for all museum professionals, museum associations, and museums to be talking about and taking action to make the changes we need to make to move museums forward in the 21st century. The items on Leadership Matters’ wish lists should be on every museum professionals’ wish list so we can accomplish our individual career goals. To accomplish what is on this wish list, again we need to open up communication, and we need to educate ourselves on the issues to change things within the museum field.

What are your goals or resolutions for 2019? How are you going to accomplish your goals?

Resources:

https://thinkingaboutmuseums.com/2019/01/07/museum-challenges-for-2019/

https://aaslh.org/programs/continuing-education/online-courses/

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2019/01/07/its-january-a-natural-time-to-change-up-your-museum-career/

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/its-a-new-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?

Resource:
http://brilliantideastudio.com/selfcare/focusing-on-self-care-is-good-for-business/

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

Added to Medium, March 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
What is the Right Fit? A Deeper Analysis of Museum Boards
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2018/03/26/why-followers-matter/
http://www.aam-us.org/resources/professional-networks/leadership-and-management

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?

*Announcement: Guess what?! I’m on Patreon! With your help, I can expand my blog & website to do even cooler things. https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward *

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/