Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Technology and the Young Professional

I just finished a post that was more stream of conscious that was necessary, but one thing I was interested in finding out it how people are integrating technology into their careers. Last week I was able to attend the Summit on Digital Technologies for Museum Education at George Mason University. The point of the summit was to convene educators from around the country and examine the many ways that technology is being employed in their institutions. If you are like me, you probably are thinking "seriously, are we still talking about this subject?" But, yes, this topic is still a large part of our professional dialogue. And I beleive that this is due to a number of factors. First, the technology is still extremely new. It is in some ways analogous to the zipper--invented before it had a purpose. So, many tools require a great deal of experimentation to see if they even have any educational value. Second--and related, museums on the whole are risk adverse. Even some of the most progressive institutions are fearful about what technology is and who has the power to use it. I am stunned by the number of repeat discussion threads on the Museum-Ed list serve that inquire about other museum's policies on Facebook and social media. In not sure that it is solely human nature, or if it has something to do with the often bureaucratic and expert-obsessed nature of museum work, but some institutions seem wholly unwilling to even experiment. Third, dispite recent achievements, there is still a wide technology gap between generational groups. Many people (often, but not always in the older generations), dont understand, see the point or see the value of technology. Conversely, the data supporting how technology is effective and worth the ridiculously expensive investment is inadequate or non existant.

One last thought is that, museums today are always trying to broaden their audience and their appeal. Technology has become a defacto panacea for reaching out to those untapped masses. But, I can't help but wonder if our investments in technology are only reaching an even smaller subset within our already existing audience. Is a digital deliverly method going to make the subject matter any more paletable or accessible? Until some more data is found, I think that remains to be seen.

However, I dont want to come off as completely against technology. In fact, I feel that it should be embraced, experimented with, adapted, and shared. I just think we need to have a clearer reason for using it beyond "it's the newest trend" or "that's what the young kids want and expect."

So, I am curious to know, how is everyone else using technology? Has it proven successful to you? Are you reaching new audiences or the same people? And if its the same people, is a deeper, more meaningful, or more frequent contact? Has it lead to any other opportunities? Have you found any interesting (and cheap) applications that have proven useful to you?

Feeling less like a "young" professional

Wow, once again I am looking at this blog and seeing how much time has slipped away once again. I am not sure how easy I originally thought it was going to be to keep up with a blog, but I should have been able to guess based upon my many failed journal attempts.

The reason I came back to the blog is that I have recently started a new job that is venturing into the arena of new media for the first time. We have a facebook page, an e-newsletter, a blog, and thinking about a twitter account. But I have so many mixed feelings about what is the most important thing to expend energy on. I am ceaselessly amazed at how much time I can spend looking and interacting with Facebook. Multiply that by each social media outlet you can participate with, and in no time you can spend hours each day keeping up.

I am also looking at the title of this blog and smirking some. I can't recall when I first started this posting (I could probably look that up, but I am in edit mode right now), but it has probably been at least three or four years. Although that isnt long, and I am only a few years older, I am not sure that that moniker "young" museum professional is really apt any more.

this past year has brought a lot of change for me both professionally and personally. My old job as director of exhibits and programs was eliminated this spring and I, along with several friends and colleagues, found myself without employment. Although I was allowed to transition into a temporary position, it was important that I move on. I was extremely fortunate to not only land a new job back in my home state, but I was able to make a move up. Well, its a move up in title and position at least. I became director at a local history museum just west of Denver and it has been a fun and challenging new opportunity.

The original purpose of this blog was to offer a venue for emerging professionals to talk about issues as they grow and progress in their career, ask advice, and voice frustration. What is interesting to me is the many and varied ways that people can move through their career in this field. The opportunities are limited, the market is competative, the economy is challenging, yet people are still growing and advancing. I'm interested in hearing how other people are making head way. How have things changed for you in the past year? What new challenges lie ahead? Are you planning on sticking in your current job, or actively seeking new opportunities?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Where Are We Cutting Back?

As budgets get tighter, where are we cutting back?

Hearing previous bloggers expand upon the lack of jobs and salary increases; I'm interested in where else you're feeling the pinch?

Is it in your benefits, such as the loss of retirement matching, or the increase of health care coverage for a decrease in benefits?

Do you think museums are cutting back on programming? If so, how and where?

Are we seeing a decrease in visitorship? Or an increase if you're at an admission free museum?

Please share your thoughts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Surviving, Adapting, and Making Do

While I have heard that things are starting to turn around for our economy, it's a sad state of affairs when the"good news" is that jobs are being lost at just a slightly slower pace than they were over the past few months. While it appears that there are some job statistics on the for-profit sector, there seems to be a dearth of information about the non-profit sector--specifically museums. I have heard from numerous colleagues about massive lay-offs, hiring freezes, and ridiculously large pools of applicants for the handful of jobs that pop up. But, I dont really seen any hard and fast data about how museum employees have been affected.

Has your museum laid off workers? If so, how many? What department were they in? Have you recently lost your job? Have you found other work? How is the search going?

Any advice for job seekers out there? How are you coping in this economy? Have financial issues forced you to change or adapt your career path?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is anyone out there?

We haven't posted on this blog in forever! For a lot of us out in museum-land our jobs have changed and our museums have changed significantly as a result of the economic downturn. Jobs have been cut, department budgets slashed, raises reduced or eliminated and in some extreme cases museums have closed.

Have you fallen victim to any of these? How are you coping? What have you changed about your career or how you do your job?

My brother asked me last week if I was pigeon-holed in my career and if I had options for careers outside of the museum? I've been thinking a great deal about that and it's hard for me to imagine myself in a non-museum setting. Has anyone transistioned to another field and found happiness or fulfillment?

Would love to hear from anyone out there and get this blog back on track. When times are tough like these we need to network and learn from each other now more than ever!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Salary Conundrum Continued: Wages

It has been a long time since I have updated any posts to this blog, but one subject matter that still seems to attract a great deal of attention is the one related to salary. Several people had questions related to salary and income, so I thought I'd try to answer some here.

Who should be responsible for making sure salaries are decent?
This is a tricky question to answer. Being that we live in a capitalistic economy and are subject to the laws of supply and demand, it is only logical that the more people there are wanting museum jobs, the less museums have to pay for qualified staff. And that is the basis of my feeling that surplus of museum studies programs around the country are actually doing a disservice to the field. Sure, they can tell a student that they are going to make very little money; however, most young students in graduate school don't really have a strong concept of how much income they require to survive until they are out of school and living in the real world. To many people, $25-35K is the most money they have ever made in their lives to that date and they are happy to make that income. As they get older, however, they realize that those wages aren't enough to pay rent, car payments, insurance, and other necessities. If programs truly cared about their students they would limit the numbers they accept and also perhaps only accept students into a graduate program who already have some sort of museum experience. Paying $50K or more for an education for which you have no real idea what you are getting yourself into is a difficult path to follow.

But, obviously, schools are not the only ones to blame. If we as employees are willing to accept the job when we are offered it, then we should accept the consequences of taking that position--and that often comes with the knowledge that your salary will probably not increase much over time. When you are at the point of accepting a new position, it is important that you as the perspective employee as about opportunities for advancement and how survey how seriously that institution values its staff and staff development.

Museums, in my mind, have an obligation to at least provide a salary range for posted positions. That kind of honesty in reporting not only makes the institutions stand by the meager salaries they offer, but it also can help weed out applicants who really require more money.

How can I help improve salaries?
This is also a difficult question to answer. If you are a manager or ever in the position to hire someone, encourage your institution to list a salary range. Perhaps with time this will become a common practice. Also, as an employee, make yourself as flexible as possible. Someone commented on here to ask your development staff to raise more money for your position. If you want to keep in the good graces of the finance team, this is probably not the best approach. Insead, prove your ability to earn cash. Seek out and find grant opportunities. Find new ways of charging for programs and educational activities that help underwrite your salary. Find ways for your department to save money. Always think of yourself as part of the development team. Encourage docents, visitors, and program attendees to become more involved and contribute more to your program area. Use your professional development time to learn a new skill such as fundraising.

Where can I find out more about salary bases?
Most regional museum associations conduct a biannual salary survey. You might have to pay for it, but it could be a good investment for job hunting. Get a friend to chip in with you. Also, find out when the next survey is happening and encourage your museum to participate. The more data that is gathered, the better and more accurate the results will be. When the time is right, approach your manager about better aligning your salary with those similar in your region. Also, don't assume that bigger cities pay better. In fact, from those I have met, I would opine that metropolitan areas such as New York City actually pay less than many other parts of the country and instead use the prestige of the city and institution as a reason to pay you less because they indoctrinate the idea that it is a priveledge to work there. If all else fails, do some reconnaisance and ask. If you are considering applying for a job somewhere, try to get some inside information on that institution and how they pay their staff.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Learning in Museums Seminar 2008: Technology, Interpretation and Learning in Museums

Last week I attended AAM's LiM seminar in Minneapolis. The two-day event was well worth it.

Topics explored included but not limited to, audio and cell phone tours, blogs, Web 2.0, interpretive planning, social networking and web-based communities for learning, digital learning games...etc.

I enjoyed the mix of participants, many of whom I've never met (not like I know everyone but when you go to conferences and workshops you end up seeing the usual suspects). I was surprised to see such a diverse age range represented, you could tell the age of participants by their questions and "cyberspace," who uses that anymore? - But more power to them for stepping out of their comfort zone to learn something new.

Listening to where other institutions are with technology and new media provided some perspective. Sometimes it is good to know we all struggle with the idea of giving up control when it comes to user-generated content.

If I could plug one book explored during the seminar it would be, The Digital Museum: A Think Guide, edited by Herminia Din and Phyllis Hecht. Many of the chapters' authors were part of the seminar, the content of the book is totally relevant to museums today.

Anyways, I should end this stream of conscience with questions... Did anyone attend LiM? If so, what are your thoughts? Where is your institution when it comes to technology? Are you meeting advancement with resistance from other colleagues?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Museums: A Hot Bed of Liberalism?

I am biased. I admit it. I voted in the Illinois primary for Obama and will most likely do it again in the general election this fall. While I don't think I fit the cookie cutter mold of a card-carrying liberal, I have to admit that I support most of the things the Democratic party stands for. I know that these points of view inform my decisions in both my personal and professional life. But, I also work for a museum that discusses freedom--an subject important to all people no matter their political persuasion, yet simultaneously fraught with political implications and biases. In everything we do at the museum--exhibits, programs, professional development for teachers--we are extra conscientious to make sure our content is accurate and politically balanced.

But, then today I read this article from the Weekly Standard that was forwarded to me: and I was both disgusted and intrigued by the author's critique of a new exhibit about the Ancient Americas at the Field Museum. The author PJ ORourke lambastes the exhibit and says, "The ancient Americans themselves are not portrayed as savage or barbarous. The savages and barbarians are the museum's curators. They plunder history, ravage archaeology, do violence to intelligence, and lay waste to wisdom, faith, and common sense."

The man clearly has not taken a museum studies course or an anthropology class in the past 30 years.

But, despite his rambling, ill-informed, and often tangential tirade, the message that I take away here is that he--indeed many people--are threatened by the forces of what has been dubbed "revisionism"--school of thought that reexamines past truths, questions the greatness of past leaders, give credence to unheard voices, and retells history itself. It is a force that logically started within universities and has made its way into museums. And while it has uncovered a trove of unrecognized history and elevated the stories of the marginalized, it has itself marginalized the mainstream and devalued or discredited the accomplishments of great leaders by pointing out their humanness and holding them to unachievable standards. Many conservative individuals are angered--perhaps rightly--about the short shrift given by historians and curators to the accomplishments of white people, while simultaneously think that the faults of traditionally the marginalized (indigenous peoples, slaves, etc) are downplayed and their accomplishments over hyped.

Unfortunately for people like me who wish to examine the legitimate concerns about the problems of revisionism, it is frequently difficult, if not impossible, to discern between the actual issue and the cloud of obvious racism, hatred, and ignorance with which the arguments are made. But, if we museum professionals truly wish to practice what we preach and live the lofty ideals of "Excellence and Equity" and other manifestos purporting the inclusiveness and welcoming of diverse viewpoints, should we not also include political affiliation as part of the diversity?

Vituperative attacks on museums such as Mr. O'Rourke's arise from a sense that those who hold conservative points of view are not valued as visitors and that their world views are not only out of style, but simply wrong. When museums don't at least address concerns such as these, it fuels the widely trumpeted notion that universities and museums are places run by the liberal elite. While I don't believe that it is necessary to validate wrongly held views, simply acknowledging points of view can help facilitate productive discussion and debate.

Do you know the political allegiances of the people in your museum? Have you conducted visitor studies asking about political affiliation? Should political balance be something that museums include in diversity initiatives?