Monday, April 14, 2014

The Graduate School Conundrum

I'm excited to announce that a panel I proposed for the New England Museum Association's 2014 Annual Conference has been accepted.

My idea for the panel has been growing over the last few years, as I meet young & emerging professionals from all over the country. It seems like every conversation I have leads me to discover a graduate program I've never heard of - and too often, students aren't prepared for the real world of museum work.

I'm designing a survey right now aimed at two audiences: first, museum graduate programs themselves, to see what kind of degrees & classes are offered, how the program is structured, and essentially attempt a snapshot of what's out there.

The second audience is museum professionals and will attempt to discover how many currently working professionals have graduate degrees; how useful they've found them; what skills have transferred; what skills have been useless; whether they hire graduate students.

The basic question is this: if graduate school is becoming the new gateway to the museum profession, what's it really teaching us? Is it really that important?

I'll share my reading and thinking here on the blog as I continue through the project, and will publicize the surveys when they go live.

In the meantime, I'd greatly appreciate any links to reading about museum studies programs, whether published, online, or unpublished, and would appreciate any feedback about what questions you think need to be asked or what issues should be addressed. Comment here or shoot me an email at amanda.gustin[at]gmail[dot]com.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exhibit Workshops + Cultural Heritage Professional Gatherings in Vermont

Same old excuse for not blogging, though I have what feels like a dozen ideas a day. I can't remember the last time I sat down at my home computer to do my own writing/thinking!

But regardless, here is a very cool thing I've been working on at my job: exhibit workshops and cultural heritage professional gatherings around Vermont. I'll be teaching program planning & community outreach in preparation for Vermont History Expo at each of these workshops.
Thinking about an exhibit for the 2014 season? Whether you are planning an exhibit for Vermont History Expo, your historical society building, or to travel to schools or other venues, the Vermont Historical Society would like to invite you to attend a workshop that will provide some useful information for creating a successful exhibit.
These five workshops across the state will offer guidance from Curator Jackie Calder, Public Programs Coordinator Amanda Gustin, and Community Outreach Coordinator and Conservator Laura Brill, as well as provide time for organizations to work on their own exhibit planning. 
All workshops will take place from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm and are free of charge thanks to a grant from the Patrick Foundation. Most will be followed by a reception for Cultural Heritage Professionals in the evening.

Friday, March 28 -- Bennington Museum, Bennington
Friday, April 11 -- Middlebury, venue to be determined
Monday, April 14 -- Vermont History Center, Barre
Friday, April 18 -- Woodstock Historical Society, Woodstock
Monday, April 28 -- Old Stone House Museum, Brownington
If you would like to register or have any questions please contact Laura Brill at or (802) 479-8522.
Here's info on the Cutural Heritage Professionals Gatherings:
Cultural Heritage Professionals - archivists, educators, curators, librarians, conservators, preservationists, students, etc., are invited to join us this April for an early happy hour. We'll get a few appetizers, but other food and drink are up to you.

Friday, April 11 - 51 Main in Middlebury

Monday, April 14 - Mulligan's in Barre

Friday, April 18 - Richardson's Tavern at the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock

Monday, April 28 - Bailiwick's in St. Johnsbury

Curator Jackie Calder, Public Programs Coordinator Amanda Gustin and Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Brill will definitely be at the restaurants from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Please let Laura know if you are planning to attend, or (802)479-8522, and feel free to pass along this invitation to your colleagues!

Thank you to the Sheldon Museum, the Woodstock History Center, and the Old Stone House Museum for hosting the Exhibit Workshops on those days as well, and to the Patrick Foundation for a grant supporting the workshops.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting blog posts from the museum world.

Pinterest as a Museum Tool from the Columbus EMPs

I've been playing with Pinterest for some months now, and I have to confess, it's not yet my thing. I'm not a terribly visual person. But I am really intrigued by the creative possibilities for museums, and this post is a great roundup of what's out there and how museums are using it well. Many of the ideas shared are good general-application thoughts about communicating with the public.

@HistoryinPics brings history to the public. So what’s the problem? (Part 1) from History@Work

I admit, I follow this Twitter account - but declined to RT something they posted when I saw it hadn't been credited at all. I had no idea about the commercial motivations behind the account. I'll think twice about whether I even follow them or not. (Also, two teenagers making $50,000 a month doing this? I am doing something wrong...)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a roundup of interesting blog posts in and about museums (and a few that are not directly about museums but are useful anyway).

Organizing your employment history at Unclutterer

One of the biggest favors I ever did myself was to organize all my files on previous employers, both digital and paper. I weeded, kept useful information, and re-labeled all my resumes, job descriptions, and contact information. I can't overstate how much of a relief and help it is to have all that information at the tip of my fingers if necessary. It's not just in a job search - I keep it up to date now because I'm always being asked for a copy of my resume for grant applications.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Managing the Email Monster

Communication is key to nearly any museum job, and even the jobs that used to be able to hide away without much talking to people (archivists, curators, registrars, conservators) are being asked to step to the forefront and interact more with the public - and more with their colleagues in the public sphere.

I have been in the background, and in the front lines. I prefer the front lines. When I'm not on the front lines in person, I am an email fiend. I'm that smartphone-addicted person who checks email every 20 minutes. I don't really play games and 90% of my apps are practical or utilitarian, but email alone is the main reason I love my smartphone.

Used and managed well, it is an unbelievably powerful tool - especially for those of us who think more clearly in text than verbally.

But after one particularly busy day last week, I counted: I had sent 55 emails and received well over 150. I felt exhausted and drawn out. Most of the emails I sent had been substantive, answering question or chasing down new things. My hands were actually sore from typing - and email was far from all I'd been doing that day.

I flashed back to a workshop I'd attended a few years ago, before I had such a busy and intense job; we'd had a group discussion about workflow and the topic of email came up. I volunteered that I often put email on a to-do list: I set aside a concentrated time of my day, perhaps 20-40 minutes, to answer what needed to be done, and then I moved on to other things. A few of the more seasoned museum professionals in the room scoffed at me, and no doubt secretly though I was more than a bit naive. (If memory serves, someone in the background even snorted derisively.)

Fast forward to today. There is zero chance that putting "email" on my to-do list and setting aside 20 minutes will take care of it. (I still use that tactic for voicemail, though.) It comes in too often; there are too many urgent and semi-urgent questions to answer; it requires too much thought and follow-up to answer the questions. (Even my personal email is frequently out of control, though not quite as busy as my work email.)

That said, I still maintain that the basic principle of my idea is sound. Here are a few tactics I use to manage even the hugely increased amount of email I go through on a daily basis.

Inbox Zero. This is my holy grail, as it is for many others. I believe the system has layers to it - and it's even marketed - but in essentials, for me, it means two things. First, any email still in my inbox is essentially a to-do list item. It represents a question unanswered, a task unfinished, or a person who needs to hear from me. Second, once that item is done, the email is taken care of. It's deleted or slotted into a folder. Period. Gone. I have hit it only a handful of times with my work email, but it's my preferred default for personal email, and I'm there on a semi-regular basis.

No Unread Emails. Nope. None. I have a coworker who marks items that she needs to respond to as unread, and lets them build in her inbox. That's fine! It would make my skin crawl. I may set them aside for brief, specific periods of time (usually while digging in to answer older emails) but I don't even just not read them. I always glance at them. Unread emails are information floating orphaned out in the void, and that means that I'm not processing everything I need to. Not ok.

Folders. I am obsessive about folders (in Outlook) and labels (in Gmail). I have tiers upon tiers of folders. I keep them closed up when I'm not actively working on that project, but they're an extensive filing system that I'm constantly tweaking. Once an email has been processed, I decide whether it contains useful information; if so, it gets filed. If not, it gets deleted. It does not sit in my inbox longer than strictly necessary. (For some categories of email that I may need to refer to - but not actively answer or read every day - that means I've set up automatic filters to label or file emails as they come in.)

Letting Go. Sometimes, a conversation could go on endlessly. That may mean it's a pleasant conversation - or it may be someone nagging you about a product or service to sell. I try hard to judge the point at which the necessities of polite conversation have been satisfied - and then move on. That may mean deleting, but most often it means filing or archiving. I don't want that line of thought cluttering up my inbox or my mind.

Staying Connected. This is not a gospel for everyone, but for me - checking email first thing in the morning, before I'm even up and out of bed, is a crucial part of my system. I'll often skim important things and start processing and thinking about my answers to them as I get ready for my day. Checking email quickly while waiting in line somewhere lets me get three or four more deleted or archived. It's rare for me to actually reply to an email using my phone, but taking advantage of the otherwise empty moments lets me get ready to tackle the bigger stuff when I'm sitting down at a desk.

What about you? Any tactics you use, or have you given up?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

You Know You Work in a Small Museum When...

I recently saw this great blog post linked on the AASLH website: You Know You Work in a Small Museum When...

Nearly every single one of them rang true. My institution is large for its area, but small for just about anywhere else. It's the second-largest institution I've ever worked for.

Small museums have some great perks - the flexibility, creativity, and efficiency is second to none - but they definitely have many drawbacks.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting & exciting posts from the museum blog world.

First up: this is not a blog post, I know, but it has potential to be really excellent. A group of public historians are putting together an "unconference" in Boston that they're calling History Camp. I'm loving watching this develop; the interactive nature of planning, the open sourced presentations, the transparent fun of it all. I'm trying to get some time off to go down and talk but even if I can't, I wish them well!

How much interpretation is too much? from Every Word Counts

I have a grad school friend who swore that she'd never write another exhibit label after we graduated. I'm the opposite: I love them. I love the wordsmithing and the thinking and the tweaking. I love it until I violently hate it, but I always swing back around to wanting more by the time a new project comes up.

This is a great post about the times when you can do too much explaining. I've found myself falling more and more into the minimalist camp for labels; I want people to say what they mean and then get out and leave the rest to me. (That doesn't mean I want a basic tombstone label - but I don't want to read 500 words, either.)

News Roundup from Museum, Politics, and Power

I know: I'm rounding up a roundup. Consider this my way of saying that this blog makes me think and react and consider in ways that I don't usually. It's a fascinating multinational project that's tackling big issues that we don't often get to address.