"...but then history does not only consist of documents."
- John Lukacs
I know there’s been a big buzz about using Google Maps in art galleries and other large institutions, but has anyone done this practically on a smaller scale? We’re developing an exhibit on the Historic American Building Survey, and I’m visualizing mapping the locations of the surveys done in our county in a way that visitors can interact with. Thoughts? Suggestions?
I updated you awhile back on some of the personal milestones in my life, the biggest of which include my shoulder surgery and my engagement, but I didn’t really give you much on what I’ve actually done work wise. So, I thought I’d go over some of the different projects that I’ve worked on so you could get an idea of what life is like in a small organization!
People seem to always ask, if there was one thing you know now that you wish you’d known sooner, what would it have been? I don’t know that that’s necessarily a productive sort of question, but I do know that there were some things that I had to learn or learn to work around very quickly after starting my job.
There is no end date. Every job I’ve had before this one has been some form of an internship or summer work. There has always been a fixed period of time. And while it is really amazing being able to see products unfold over longer periods of time, it can sometimes get frustrating to not have that instant gratification of quick burst projects.
You don’t always get a do-over. Unless you’ve sent out a mass email or mailing to hundreds or thousands of people, you don’t know real terror. Gone are the days when a teacher gummed up your report with red pen, gave it back, and you had the chance to fix it. This is a one strike and you just sent a massive typo to the entire board sort of game. If you’re lucky, you’ll have coworkers who can look over major things like grant applications and exhibit panels, but realize that sometimes they will miss something too. There will be a typo in every exhibit, no matter how hard you try. And everyone will find it. And nobody will understand how expensive it is to reprint panels to fix one letter.
Politics. Oh boy. This one completely blindsided me when I first started, and still catches me by surprise from time to time. I am based at a site that was added to the larger organization a few years ago, and to be perfectly blunt there are still resentments on all sides. All of this is about things that happened long before I came on board, yet still create dynamics that I have to occasionally tiptoe around. Not fun, y’all.
You Will Get Sick. Dearest museum educators. You know those adorable little elementary school students we are so thrilled to have walk through our doors? What we forget is that those little cherubs are teeming cesspools of germs. And sometime over the course of your schools program seasons, they will infect you. Keep a stock of Airborne in your desk drawer. Also your pain reliever of choice.
People Hate Change. I mean, really really really hate change. Especially when you are working with the age group that tends to be involved with historical societies. I love them dearly, please do not get me wrong, but boy sometimes it is like nailing jello to a tree.
Except Sometimes They Surprise You. One of my big projects has been introducing curriculum standards to our school programs. While I’ll get into that more in the next post, I wanted to briefly touch on it here. I had a pair of museum educators that I was sure would be very difficult when it came to getting them to change their program, to the point where I lost sleep leading up to our big meeting. But, hah, turns out they led the charge and made huge improvements to their program. Which is funny, if you know that they are my military guys :)
You Won’t Get Everything Done. And I don’t mean that you’ll be surrounded by half finished things (although that might happen). I mean that, coming out of grad school especially, you are full of innovative ideas on how to help shape your institution. And sometimes those things are contrary to the direction the institution is going, sometimes you just simply don’t have the time to execute them. My advice is to keep a rainy day list, and don’t forget those things. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to come back to them at some point.
It Is Easy To Ignore Your Weaknesses. If you’ve read anything on this blog, or know me personally, you know that education and programs are my area of interest. I have never been exceptionally interested in collections management, other than how I can use artifacts to help tell the story. Except, well, I’m the assistant curator as well as the educator, so part of my job is taking care of our collection. And unless I make myself set aside the time, it just sort of coasts. So, what I’ve started doing is setting aside one morning a week where I just go into the storage room and work. And, any time I pull something for an exhibit, I make sure it is properly labeled and that everything is in Pastperfect.
It Is Okay To Ask For Help. Ugh, this is a hard one for me. Especially in a small institution like mine (5 full time employees!) it is very easy to feel like you’re alone. In reality, between my other staff members and my amazing volunteer group, I am not alone. The key is identifying those things that can be done by volunteers, and then trusting them to do it. I am still workign on identifying not only what can go to volunteers, but also which volunteers want to do what. Have you heard the phrase it takes money to make money? I think the same is true for time.
Find Someone To Talk To. I am my institutions entire education department. And while my librarian and curator are totally 100% behind me on any ed initiatives, they don’t always know what I’m talking about when I say things like STEM and Common Core. Real life gets busy, and it is hard to keep up with people (and blogs *cough* sorry *cough*). But, when I do get a chance to talk with my classmates from grad school or other museum professionals I have worked with who know museum ed, it is a breath of fresh air. In line with the previous comment, it shows me that I am not alone. And sometimes, talking out an issue or a problem you’re having with a third party can really help. Even just hearing somebody else get excited about a project you’re working on can really level things out for you.
Find an Outlet. Along the same lines as the above two. Stress is going to happen. You need to make sure (and I’m talking to myself some here) that you have a healthy outlet to help maintain and keep yourself healthy. Unfortunately, yoga is still a stretch for me (har har), and volleyball is definitely out. Yesterday, however, I did go for a bike ride, and my backside is much grumpier than my shoulder so I’d call that a success. I’ve also started taking a few online courses through Coursera, and I read almost ever night. Find what works for you. Your work life will be better for it.
I’m lucky that sometimes just walking around the grounds of my gorgeous museum is its own stress relief!
So, that’s quite a bit, but I think it is a pretty good summary of things I didn’t think about heading into my job. For those of you that are also in the field, do you have anything to add? Any big surprises once the real world hit?
Wow. One year and one week ago, I finished my first day at my museum. It has been a crazy year. As with any job, there are sure to be ups and downs, but the general direction here is definitely up. I wanted to write a few posts for you, especially those of you lovelies who are in school now, to let you know what year one in the real world has been like for me. I know if you ask my former classmates, we will all have different stories to tell, but I hope this helps you! Look for the following posts over the next few days:
1. What I Didn’t Know
2. What I Achieved
3. The Next Year