Community

Looking back to move forward: Museum technology in the age of the BIG data

By Dr. Natalia Grincheva, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

 

This audio blog is a series of short interviews collected from several speakers at the 2017 MCN conference, both academics and professionals while I was an MCN Scholarship recipient. They include brief conversations with former board members, newcomers to the conference, and those who already got addicted to the annual meetings of a unique cohort of enthusiastic museum professionals from the U.S. and beyond.

Each speaker was challenged with three key questions:

First, I asked them to share details from their conference presentations and highlight the most important takeaways from the projects they are currently involved in. A wide spectrum of projects ranged from developing hands-on museum apps and designing new interactive experiences across physical and digital worlds to reimagining what innovation means for contemporary museums.

Second, interviewees elaborated on how their projects fit with the current environment of museum technology, increasingly and rapidly moving towards a closer and more strategic engagement with “big data.” Even though big data and cultural analytics have a strong impact on how museums approach their tasks in enlarging audiences, entering new markets, improving access, and deepening engagement, a wide range of responses from different speakers interrogate the meaning and value of the “big data” in relation to creating eloquent museums experiences and establishing connections with key communities.

Finally, speakers sent their personal messages and birthday wishes to the MCN community celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of the network. Each speaker has a unique perspective, a distinct voice, and tons of positive energy to share with the rest of the MCN members.

If you missed the conference or want to get more details on some topics discussed during the 2017 MCN sessions, this is your chance! Enjoy!

 

Angie Judge, CEO, Dexibit

Session: Money, Data, and Power:

A Review of Museum Use Cases with Big Data Analytics

“It is great to see that the museum industry is moving towards the space where it’s becoming more informed and more aware and more purposeful in how it acts with data in its hands… ”
Listen the Interview on SoundCloud (2.52 min)

Kubi Ackerman, Project Director, Future City Lab
Museum of the City of New York

Session: Designing the Future:

Creating an Interactive Gallery on the Future of New York City

“the lab is extremely data intensive… we wanted to have a big picture approach that really emphasizes how this information directly relates to experience of the city…”

Listen the Interview on SoundCloud (4 min)

 

Ed Rodley, Associate Director of Integrated Media, Peabody Essex Museum

Session: Break Out of the Rut: Fresh Strategies for Innovative Projects

“there is nothing that digital doesn’t touch and probably disrupt…so, being able to do that in a way that is productive, rather than disruptive is the challenge that we are all facing…”

Listen the Interview on SoundCloud(2.41 min)

 

Neville Vakharia, Assistant Professor and Research Director

Drexel University, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design

Session: Beyond the Graphing Calculator:
A Deep Dive into Data Visualization and Cultural Institutions

“When you take data and when you create a tool that is useful for a particular audience then when you really have an impact.”
Listen the Interview on SoundCloud (3.16 min)

Nancy Proctor, Executive Director, Museweb

Session: The Access App

“Even though we call it crowdsourcing, in the end of the day what we end up doing is community sourcing…”

Listen the Interview on SoundCloud (4.29 min)

 

Nicole Riesenberger, University of Maryland-Phillips Collection Postdoctoral Fellow in Virtual Culture, The Phillips Collection

Session: Collaborations That Work:
Designing Effective and Inclusive Academic Partnerships in Museums

“…students are exploring location aware mobile apps to help visitors to navigate through the museum and discover interesting works of art that they want to see during their visit.”

Listen the Interview on SoundCloud (4.06 min)

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Seeing Myself in the Museum Community

By Monique LassereDigital Preservation Librarian, University of Arizona Libraries

 

As a first-time attendee and black librarian, I did not know what to expect at MCN2017. I had applied to the MCN Scholarship Program with the dream that I, an outsider, would be able to experience the museum computing community for a brief period of time. In no way did I expect my application to be accepted. I thought, what would my projects have in common with the other applicants—actual museum professionals and scholars? I arrived with an open mind and quickly realized my preconceptions about MCN and the conference were wrong. From the resonating keynote by three black innovators and thinkers in museums, history, and journalism, to the conversations surrounding agile software development to the wide array of projects the MCN Scholars presented on, I saw myself and the work I do in the community I was lucky to meet in Pittsburgh.

The conference kicked off with an inspiring, heavy-hitting keynote on diversity, representation, and hiring practices by Aleia Brown, Adrianne Russell, and Jamil Smith. At once, I saw and heard all the issues my colleagues in libraries so often talk about, the practices that are talking points for many but real issues for some, being discussed. We, in the academic community, often talk about giving power and voices to those not usually given it, about the importance of seeing yourself as a person of color in the spaces you inhabit or would like to, but this rarely happens. Finally, on stage, at MCN2017 I saw this in action.

Organizational culture continued to be a theme throughout the conference–in particular the issues of management, leadership, and methodologies for developing software. I recently started a new position in which I act as a product owner for software being developed as a part of our larger digital collections & preservation landscape. It’s a new experience for me–as it is for many libraries. To my surprise, there were a handful of incredibly dynamic conversations and presentations on leadership and agile software development, project management theory, and leadership as praxis. It was a great way to learn about what others are doing and get some comfort from the fact that we aren’t alone.

On the second to last day, the MCN Scholars presented our projects and my cohort’s work blew me away. One work I connected to in particular was Castle Kim’s work with the ESCAPE initiative, a program that integrates arts and science education and performing arts to enhance learning. It resonated to me as a poor-performing math and science student in junior high and captivated me by its creativity and collaborative efforts to think outside the box and engage with students. That’s the power of museum professionals, and further, the power of the MCN Scholars.

 

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MCN: It’s all about the people

Ben Fast (@benfaster),

Programs & Member Services Coordinator, BC Museums Association

 

 

MCN is all about the people. Dont get me wrong, the learning experiences available from the remarkably diverse sessions and the fun times visiting local museums and galleries are great, but it all comes down to who you meet.

From Day 1 it was easy to tell that MCN was centred on the people. Whether they knew you or only sort of knew you (hey, I know you from Twitter), MCN attendees were friendly and welcoming.

As a first timer from north of the border, sitting down with or taking an elevator with people from the Guggenheim, Smithsonian, or Getty (who each have staff larger than most BC towns) provided great opportunities to talk museums and learn about new trends from the people at the cutting edge. They are the gods of the Twittersphere, those names you see on blogs and that you think must be so much smarter and more capable than you. Or who at least have bigger budgets.

Being an MCN Scholar gave me the opportunity to meet these people who seemed so distant from my experience and professional context. It was the people themselves, however, whose genuine interest and friendliness revealed more commonalities and shared passions than I ever believed possible. And they sing just out of tune at karaoke, who knew?!

The 2017 MCN Scholar group was no different, 14 other museum professionals whose passion and innovation astounded me but whose friendliness helped create what Im sure will become long-lasting professional connections.

As an MCN Scholar, I also had the chance to meet with many MCN Board members whose encouragement and interest made us Scholars feel like an important part of the conference.  Thank you for supporting us in our presentations—it was great to see some of you in the crowd—and for supporting this meaningful scholarship.

At MCN we met our idols, we made our friends, and we were inspired.  And yes: we will be back!

Some MCN Scholars (and Marilyn Monroe) toasting MCN’s 50th at the Andy Warhol Museum.

Some MCN Scholars (and Marilyn Monroe) toasting MCN’s 50th at the Andy Warhol Museum.

 

The 2017 MCN Scholars meeting up for our first (of many) group photos. It was great to have a group of like-minded first-timers who also had to present and were also loving every minute of conference!

The 2017 MCN Scholars meeting up for our first (of many) group photos. It was great to have a group of like-minded first-timers who also had to present and were also loving every minute of conference!

 

Getting ready for our MCN Scholar Lightning Talks. Our group was so large we needed to rotate through the presenters’ table, but it made it look like there were lots of keep attendees right up in the front row. Can you spot some MCN staff and board members in the background? Thank you for coming and hearing our presentations - it was great to have your support!

Getting ready for our MCN Scholar Lightning Talks. Our group was so large we needed to rotate through the presenters’ table, but it made it look like there were lots of keep attendees right up in the front row. Can you spot some MCN staff and board members in the background? Thank you for coming and hearing our presentations – it was great to have your support!

 

Celebrating the end of our MCN scholarship talks with a trip to the Mattress Factory’s 40th anniversary party. Here some of us are in a roof selfie in the Kusama exhibit. Thanks MCN for putting us friends together and offering us such interesting cultural experiences too!

Celebrating the end of our MCN scholarship talks with a trip to the Mattress Factory’s 40th anniversary party. Here some of us are in a roof selfie in the Kusama exhibit. Thanks MCN for putting us friends together and offering us such interesting cultural experiences too!

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Eye Opening Inspiration

By Kat Quigley, (@kathryncquigley)

Senior Producer and New Media Lead, Lawrence Hall of Science

 

 

Attending MCN this year as a Scholar was not what I expected—and that’s because I really didn’t know what to expect. MCN 2017 was my first time attending a museum conference of any kind. Although I’ve been working at a museum for 5+ years, my work has mainly focused on our science curriculum efforts. In the last six months I’ve been shifting to the museum floor and when the MCN Scholarship opportunity came on my radar, I jumped at the chance to learn more.

My first impression of the conference was just how down-to-earth and friendly everyone was. The senior level people I sat next to at my Tuesday workshop Digital Storytelling for Museums  made a point to introduce themselves and make me feel welcomed. I was also struck by the depth of community that’s been grown. By day two, MCN felt familiar—the closest thing I can compare it to was the feeling I had going away to summer camp as a kid. I even sang with two other MCN folks at an open mic one night! But if MCN is camp, then it’s a camp full of genius do-gooders ready to tackle systemic problems and questions with the gusto that makes me think real change is actually possible.

Left to right: Ben Fast, Kat Quigley, Jessica Miller

Left to right: Ben Fast, Kat Quigley, Jessica Miller

Finally, I really couldn’t get over how directly relevant so many of the sessions were to the exact projects I had waiting back home on my desk. For example, I am working with a group of UC Berkeley students on making a VR learning simulation about fin whales…there was a session License to Krill where the Royal Ontario Museum shared their experience making video game about blue whales! Even the things that seemingly didn’t relate to my particular work stream, like chatting with businesses helping with museum asset management, were eye opening and helped me get a more holistic picture of the museum ecosystem.

I came to MCN a little nervous and slightly pessimistic about my career options and left with new friends and a fresh perspective on the museum world. A few weeks out and I am still glowing with gratitude for the opportunity to experience this wonderful community and hope to continue for years to come.

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More Than a Conference: A Place that Informs, Engages, and Inspires a Community

By. Castle Kim (@HelpingCastle)

Doctoral Student, iSchool at Florida State University

 

One of my favorite artwork is Irises by Vincent van Gogh, displayed at J. Paul Getty Museum. What I love most about the painting is the story behind it. Van Gogh did not truly ‘complete’ the painting, for him the painting was a study. A work that he could immerse himself to inform, engage, and inspire within, much like what I’ve experience at MCN this year.

Irises by Vincent van Gogh

Irises by Vincent van Gogh

 

As I was coming to Pittsburgh for MCN2017 there was a lot going through my head. MCN was my first ever academic/professional conference; I would be giving my first conference presentation and doing a 5-minute lightning talk presentation as an MCN Scholarship recipient. On top of it all, I was a little nervous because I’ve had little professional experience in the museum world. Yes, I worked in the education department at Seattle Aquarium, and I want to collaborate with museums in my doctoral studies, but there was a tiny voice in the back of my head that I might not fit in.

 

After attending my first session and the Ignite Reception, I quickly understood what Dr. Marty, my advising professor, told me about MCN—how it is a fun and unique conference. Quickly the tiny voice in my head disappeared. I was actively experiencing MCN—a community of people engaged to inspire each other, to learn from one another, and to strengthen their knowledge, work, and love in museums. From the buffet of sessions I’ve attended, the museum information technology professionals I’ve networked with, and the conversations I had with other MCN Scholars made me realize I was not an outsider. I had a voice. I was part of a larger community asking questions that supported each other. We were concerned about our messages, resources, collections, education outreach, and how to connect with people through emerging technologies. As I shared my study interest of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) and user-generated content to the MCN community, I felt the support and validation in the work I am doing.

A favorite learning moment came as an unexpected surprise during “All Roads Lead to the Bathroom: Human Needs Paving the Way to Awesome Digital Experiences” session led by Elissa Frankle Olinsky. By adapting Abraham Maslow’s human motivation triangle, Elissa reminded us with museum user experience design that it is important to address visitors’ physical needs, such as bathroom locations. Most importantly, telling the visitors that “you cannot fail a museum.” I think it is same with research. As a researcher, I need to make sure that my research is not about people failing but about the people helping me make things better.

Frankle's hierarchy of Visitor Needs

 

MCN is no ordinary conference or an organization, it is something more. MCN is a collection of individuals that are part of a community of practice to inform the users, engage professionals, and inspire a community. Like van Gogh’s Irises, MCN isn’t perfect or complete, but the 50 years of co-evolution with its members and community shows vividly.

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Looking for MCN 2018 Program co-chairs!

Hello, MCNers!

I hope everyone has had the opportunity to Look Back at a great MCN 2017 and 50 years of MCN history in the amazing MCN50 Voices series of interviews, Take Action at their institutions and in their communities, and … Think Ahead about MCN 2018.

The past year has been such an amazing experience as one of the Program Co-Chairs, along with Jennifer Foley and Trish Oxford. With Jennifer and Trish stepping down after their two-year terms have concluded, MCN is looking for two people to take their place and, with me, help plan our annual conference in 2018, then taking the lead for 2019.

It’s a lot of work, but you’ll be part of a sizable leadership and management team of MCN colleagues, as well as a field full of people who want to speak at, attend, and contribute to MCN 2018.

Here are 10 highlights of my first year as Co-Chair:

  1. Finding out just how much I already knew about the museum field—and how much there still is to learn.
  2. Working with the committee of local museum technology professionals in our host city and finding out the amazing work being done there.
  3. Crafting the theme, which starts pretty much right away and gets the Program Committee off to a rollicking start.
  4. Developing Keynote speaker(s) ideas, also with the Program Committee. This year we had some innovative ideas and it was great to see them realized.
  5. Calling for proposals in the spring—watching them trickle and then pour in, sending them out to the Program Committee for review, and then working together, with the help of a few hundred sticky notes, to turn them into a program.
  6. The weekly Co-Chair conference call.
  7. The conference itself, of course, which is a very different experience when you see it come together rather than just presenting.
  8. And yet presenting was still a joy.
  9. Developing the “other format” idea and receiving over two dozen proposals beyond the usual case studies, panels, and presentations.
  10. My favorite—being able to say to people, “You should really propose that as a session!”

The official call for Co-Chair applications is below. Applications are due to program@mcn.edu by December 22 January 7 (now extended!); I’m happy to answer any and all questions. Thanks,

Rob Weisberg
MCN 2018 Conference Program Chair

Trish Oxford, MCN2017 Program Co-Chair

MCN Program Co-Chair 2018 & 2019
Position Title: Conference Program Co-Chair

Period: 2 years
Start: late January 2018

Commitment: 3-5 hours/week throughout the year, increasing as the conference nears, with milestones in May and September, available full-time during the conference. Available one weekend in late March or early April for a site visit to that year’s conference location (paid for by MCN).

Compensation: the Conference Program Co-Chair is a volunteer role and is therefore not compensated; however, MCN does offer complimentary registration to the annual conference during the year(s) you serve.

Location: MCN’s Annual Conference is a North American based-conference that supports global involvement and has an emerging international following. The successful candidate is required to attend the Conference in person, as well as participate in regular phone or online meetings.

MCN2018 will take place in Denver, November 13–16, 2018, when the location of MCN2019 will be announced.

Deadline for applying: Extended until end of day, January 7!

Description: MCN is looking for two thoughtful, motivated, and dynamic museum professionals to serve as MCN Conference Program Co-Chairs for a two-year term starting in January 2018. This is an opportunity to help shape a major museum technology conference now and in future years, immerse yourself in cutting edge developments in the sector, broaden your networks on a national level, and to gain experience and professional development in event programming.

The Conference Program Co-Chairs provide leadership for the annual MCN Conference, creating the program through the conception and organization of workshops, panels and presentations in many different formats, experimental programs, keynotes, special events, and innovations not yet imagined. With current Conference Program Chair Rob Weisberg, the newly appointed Conference Program Co-Chairs will work as a team to develop an experiential conference program that serves the evolving needs of the MCN community and then serve as lead Conference Program Co-Chairs for the 2019 conference.

The ideal candidate will be passionate about the intersection of museums and technology and interested in developing an innovative conference program featuring proposals from participants from a wide range of institutions, backgrounds, and perspectives. They will be knowledgeable about MCN and the conference, having attended MCN several times in the previous five years. They will have existing networks within the sector, a strong understanding of the issues confronting museums with regards to technology and the practice of digital, and appreciate the challenges facing their colleagues from many different kinds of institutions and departments in the field. They will be active in the museum or cultural technology community and knowledgeable of trusted sources of information, and will be a proactive self-starter and a calm problem-solver with excellent oral and written communication skills. They will be a creative thinker both about big issues and small details, diplomatic under pressure, and ready to learn and adapt over the course of planning this conference.

About MCN: MCN is a nonprofit organization whose core purpose is to foster innovation and excellence by supporting professionals who seek to transform the way their cultural organizations reach, engage, and educate their audiences using digital technologies. We do this by building a community that attracts, nurtures, inspires and sustains exceptional professionals. Learn more.

For further information and a full overview of responsibilities, email program@mcn.edu.

To apply, please send an email articulating why you think you’d be a good fit for this position, and noting any relevant experience to: program@mcn.edu. Please include a CV or link to your LinkedIn profile.

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Feeling Welcomed and Paying Interns: The MCN Experience

By Courtney Titus, Former Educational Technology Coordinator, Blaffer Art Museum

 

MCN 2017 Welcome Sign

As I walked into my first MCN session as an MCN Scholar, I was reminded of the days when I started a new school. The same anxieties bubbled to the surface about being the new kid and feeling uncertain if I would fit in or feel welcomed. However, those fears were immediately silenced when I sat down and was warmly greeted by a veteran MCN attendee who was genuinely interested in getting to know me. I was delighted to discover that this was going to be a common occurrence throughout the conference. Everywhere I went—sessions, the membership lounge, bus rides, elevators—I was met with smiles, words of encouragement, and, on more than one occasion, much needed advice on the steps I could take to further my career.

I was equally delighted to discover that many of the session topics focused on how museums could create a similar welcoming environment for a more diverse group of staff members and visitors. The amazing keynote speakers set the tone for the conference by delving into the issues that prevent certain groups from working in museums as well as providing solutions for attracting these groups (e.g. pay your interns). Other sessions such as “All Roads Lead to the Bathroom” and “Museum Digital Content as Journalism?” explored ways museums could appear more inviting to visitors by caring for their basic needs and providing content that is relevant to them.

View of the keynote presentation

I walked away from the conference feeling inspired and motivated to apply what I learned as well as feeling genuinely grateful for having the opportunity to attend as an MCN Scholarship recipient. I know that regardless of where I ultimately end up in my career, the MCN conference will be a regular trip for me.

 

 

Headshot of MCN 2017 Scholar Courtney Titus

Courtney Titus

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#MCN50 Voices: Carolyn Royston & Annelisa Stephan on Having Better Conversations about Digital

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

In this post—the last one before the conference—Annelisa Stephan and Carolyn Royston ask some key questions for their own careers and for the field. How do you grow in a museum digital career if you’ve been in the field for 15 or 20 years? How can museum digital folks break out of silos to help solve challenges that really matter? How can we open up better conversations about digital?

Carolyn (above, right)  is director of digital at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and outgoing president of MCN; Annelisa is manager for digital engagement at the Getty. They’re both interested in digital literacy, content strategy, and cats. Also, they’re both finishing up midlife crises—which applies directly to digital, we swear.

 

Annelisa: Let’s get right to it. Midlife crisis.

Carolyn: My midlife crisis involved moving to the US in December 2015. Out of the blue, I had the opportunity to move back here after 30 years. I decided to take the big step and made my cats come with me as well. In all honesty, I didn’t really appreciate how big a move it would be to make at 50.

Annelisa: What precipitated the change?

Carolyn: An interesting job offer at the Gardner Museum and the chance to experience working in a US museum (thanks to Erin Coburn and Jane Alexander for recommending me). A move back to New England (I went to college there) and I didn’t want to look back and regret that I hadn’t given it a try.

Carolyn: How about you?

Annelisa: Since a good friend of mine died, I’ve been really interested in tidying my life: radically scaling down to only things that matter, which is a process of figuring out what those things are and jettisoning the rest. No filler.

Carolyn: So really thinking about what’s important and where can you have the most impact. Are you applying that thinking to your work as well? When you get a project you think is filler, how do you manage that?

Annelisa: Usually there’s wiggle room: Who are we doing this for? Why? What form is it going to take? That’s self-evident, of course, but to make that a consistent practice became very compelling for me all of a sudden. When I turned 46, I realized that I was more than halfway to 90, and that freaked me out a little. I started having some…different thoughts.

Carolyn: When I turned 50, I thought if I’m going to change something, I need to do it now.

In the last couple of years, I’ve really been thinking about what that means for me as a digital person working in museums. And increasingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really even want to have “digital” in my title anymore. I think our work is now about how to be part of an integrated approach with the physical and the human and the digital—they all have to work together. What we’re working on is creating a holistic visitor experience, whether that’s online or on-site, and how those pieces fit together. There’s no rocket science in what I’m saying, and I know that lots of organizations are working in this way, but I think it’s still very, very difficult to achieve.

Annelisa: I agree, and feel the same way about titles. Anything that foregrounds digital makes it into a thing, and it’s not a thing, it’s a tactic. What is it a tactic for? We foreground nouns like video, app, social, web. They become a box to fill, as opposed to a tactic that may or may not be appropriate for what we’re trying to do.

Carolyn: Absolutely. I think the structures we’re working in are for the most part outmoded, and our roles, along with others, are much more fluid now. That has been the biggest realization: I’m actually less interested in the digital and more interested in how digital fits in as one of many things. How do we think about things in a more holistic way? How do we organize ourselves internally to better facilitate and manage those conversations? It needs vision and leadership from the top and an empowered staff working together with a common purpose.

For example, I still find myself having conversations about why we are just creating content for the web over here, and then creating really similar content for print over there? Why aren’t we thinking about what we’re doing together, and why are we still the people having to drive that change and ask the questions? This is not complex, but somehow seems incredibly difficult to solve.

Annelisa: When digital people ask questions like those, are we seen as stepping beyond the areas we’re allowed to have an opinion about?

Carolyn: I think it depends where you are working, but yes, I think it can be seen as being “difficult.” We still feel like we are on the margins, when actually everything that we’re doing is core to what the museum does. Even after all this time working in museums, I’m still having to deal with these same organizational and leadership issues.

Annelisa: It sounds to me like you want a more strategic leadership role. Is that something that “formerly digital” people might be able to aspire to?

Carolyn: I think I’ve got to the stage where I’d like to see if I could put some of what I think about leadership, organizations, and ways of working into practice. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be a Getty Leadership Institute 2017 participant. I met some fabulous people and was totally inspired. It was amazing to have the luxury of spending two weeks thinking about leadership and my own learning and development. I came away thinking that I’d like to either lead a small organization or have more of a leadership and vision role in a museum, rather than a “digital” one. I think it’s just a natural evolution of doing this for a long time and having the breadth of experience working in national museums in the UK, with several different museums and arts organizations when I was consulting, and now having the US experience. I’m so interested in strategy and big thinking, new ways of working, staff skills development, and visitor experience. I’d love to be able to put all that together to shape an organization and take it forward.

Annelisa: Before this conversation we were chatting about some of the challenging digital conversations that we keep having, and what conversations we might like to have instead. Let’s compare notes.

Here’s one: the idea that the latest technology is going to make us hip and relevant. When I started, the hip and relevant thing was email marketing, which is hilarious now, right? Then it was web, then apps, then social, then video, now maybe VR/AR. I don’t want to have a conversation about a tool, I want to talk about the intent of the tool. Another one is talking about content as an end-product and not as a tactic. Shoveling content into rectangles is not the same as strategic activity.

Or that conversation about how long it takes to make stuff. I’ve worked on blog posts that literally took 30 hours. How could that possibly be? Images have to come from somewhere, texts have to get written. Writing is hard, editing is hard. Making good-quality material is time consuming.

Another conversation I find challenging is when digital is seen as purely marketing or PR—not a tool to accomplish the mission. Maybe this gets to the issue of digital folks (not) moving into leadership.

Carolyn: I agree with all of those things. My big one is around the holistic nature of the visitor experience. Digital is part of that, and yet so often we’re not included in that conversation at the right time, or we’re brought in because we’ve got to implement some kind of “digital” tool that will fix everything.

Like you, I’ve just seen a lot of change over 20 years, and shiny-object syndrome is still there. There’s still a lack of understanding at a senior level around basic infrastructure that needs to be supported, as well as what it takes to resource that. Maybe there will always be that tension?

Annelisa: A downside of the shiny is, who’s caring for these things we’ve already made? We talk about things we’ve already built as operational load, as opposed to stewardship. As I get older, stewardship becomes more important to me. All of us over age 40 have a landscape littered with broken Flash microsites, decayed apps, and god knows what else.

Annelisa: What conversations would you rather be having?

Carolyn: I’d rather be having a conversation around what might be more effective organizational structures. What different ways might we be organized that better reflect the way we work and enables us to work more efficiently so that we can be more effective and more impactful? What would it take to take for museums to take some risks around that?

I’d also like to have a conversation about what the career of a digital person in a museum looks like today. So many of us don’t come from traditional technology backgrounds, how do we forge a career pathway in the current organizational structures that we are working in?

And finally, how do we continue to build digital capacity in our museums? And help our staff to build the confidence to use digital instinctively in their work? I’m incredibly excited about a newly funded project in the UK that I helped to initiate with Dr. Ross Parry at the University of Leicester. Over the next two and a half years, the project will create a digital literacy framework for UK museums. I’m hoping that it’s something that can be mirrored here in the US, and I’m already thinking about how to make that happen.

Annelisa: I’m interested in all of those things. I’m also interested in talking about what the purpose of a museum is now and who we’re for, what change we want to make in the world, if any, and how digital plays into that at the ground floor.

Carolyn: Here’s another conversation I’d like to have: If we as practitioners are realizing that we have to work in a much more holistic way across our organizations, how can MCN as a professional body collaborate with other professional organizations like AAM, AAMC and AAMD to forge relationships and go into each other’s spaces a bit more? So often, we’re just talking to ourselves. Like you and I are right now.

Annelisa: Ha! Yes, we need to own our own responsibility for self-siloing. We feel comfortable with other technologists. Every year at MCN I hear us say we should have more curators on board. The same conversations we’re having about visitor experience, and equity, and what a museum is for, are being held at AAMC, but we’re not there.

Carolyn: As I step out of MCN, what I’d like to see happening moving forward is more opportunities for cross-fertilization between professional groups.

Annelisa: I’d add that travel funding is increasingly hard to get, so there’s a lot of folks who can never make it to any of these conferences. How do we provide spaces for conversation for those staff?

Carolyn: As a field, I do think we still are having the same conversations. Maybe they’ve got a bit more sophisticated, maybe our voice is a bit louder, but I still fundamentally feel like digital is a function—we need a website, we need social media, we need a CRM, but actually those are all just means of delivery, systems. I’m still not sure that we are seen as people who should be part of the conversation or positioned at the right level so that we can contribute strategically to show how these systems fit together, and about how they contribute to a holistic, integrated visitor experience.

Annelisa: What I really like about having been at the Getty for a long time is that I have wonderful colleagues and friends in other departments, like education and curatorial, who are ambassadors for these same messages—so it’s not just the annoying digital person going, “But wait, what about strategy?” All of us have been around long enough that we’re getting serious about where we’re spending our time, what we’re trying to do, and how we’re measuring it.

Annelisa: Tell us your best piece of advice for breaking out of the digital silo.

Carolyn: Doing a visitor journey-mapping project was a great example of really understanding how what I do fits in with other things. Out of that, we formed a visitor-experience steering group. Now I have lot more conversations about non-digital things, but where digital might be able to solve a problem, for the visitor or institutionally.

I had to be proactive about suggesting visitor journey mapping, even though it wasn’t a digital project, and then explain to everybody why it was a useful project for me to do when I was thinking about the website and about the on-site digital interpretation here.

What’s your best strategy?

Annelisa: Changing the way I talk about what I do, and about digital. I cringe when I think about all the times I did evangelism for digital, for social. I don’t do that anymore. I want to hear the aspirations of my colleagues, and then think about whether digital can help with those. A lot less talking about digital and a lot more listening. And a lot of prompting the difficult questions—maybe sometimes in an irritating way, I’m not sure—but people are really eager to talk about those.

I’m working on myself, is the short answer.

Carolyn: The interesting thing for both of us is that we’ve seen our roles evolve. You can’t just stay the same—you have to change and adapt. I still love the idea of working in a museum and being a change agent.

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#MCN50 Voices: Lisa Worley & Rob Stein

In continuing celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Museum Computer Network, Rob Stein and Lisa Worley spent some time by phone reconnecting and reminiscing about their own specific introductions to the museum technology field.  

 

Lisa Worley is the Director of Material Culture at the Historic Ford Estates and Rob Stein is the Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer at the American Alliance of Museums.  While they don’t know each other well, Rob and Lisa have crossed paths in museums a number of times, including during the 2015 “Reimagining the Museum” conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

Did you always want to work in museums?

 

Rob:  Remember those career aptitude tests you used to take in High School? Well, mine predicted that I’d either make a great priest… or an engineer. Of the two—engineering seemed to be a much more likely profession! More specifically, I was fascinated by astronomy and wanted to be an astronaut, so I entered University of Illinois to study aeronautical engineering. While there, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab for my classes. With this being the early ‘90s and Illinois being the home for the first web browser, this was a fascinating time to learn about technology. Eventually, I changed my major to computer science and began to explore how 3D computer graphics and virtual reality could tell stories about science. My first job was as a Scientific Visualization programmer and I worked to represent simulations of severe storms, supernova, and various kinds of fluid dynamics problems.

 

I continued to work in academia throughout the first decade of my career. I think I expected that it would be much more collaborative and to have much more direct impact on the public than I found it to. After working on a number of projects with museums, I became enamored with the public impact and collegiality I found there, so I left my job in academia and joined the Indianapolis Museum of Art as a software developer.

 

Over the next decade, I experienced a lot of great things and met thousands of talented people through museums. I’m so glad I made the change and can’t imagine working in any other field.

 

Lisa:  I’ve always loved history. I took AP history courses in high school, and studied history in college. Of course, I assumed this would lead to a career as  a teacher, but I discovered the museum field while getting my BA at the University of Arizona. I took a class in the Anthropology department where I learned to give tours to K-12 students through the Arizona State Museum. It was a game changer for me. I went on to study public history in graduate school, and I learned about architecture, decorative arts, furniture, textiles, and costumes. I loved historic homes, so I chose to focus my career working at historic sites. I love the stories you can tell in homes! After grad school, I ended up in Texas—the last place I ever thought I’d be. My initial plan was to get a few years of experience under my belt at a 1911 historic house museum then move back to Colorado, but life happened and I spent 18 years as a Texan.

 

What’s your connection to MCN? How’d you get connected with the museum technology community?

 

Lisa: I’m a big fan of professional development and networking having attended conferences through AAM, AASLH, ALHFAM, and the Texas Association of Museums. Before the Austin conference, I’d never really heard of MCN. I saw the call for volunteers and jumped at the chance to learn something new. I was only there for one day – but it was an eye opening experience.

 

As you move along in your career, its seems that so many other conferences have less and less new for you to learn. MCN was a fresh set of thinking and topics to explore. With MCN, I usually come home with REALLY big ideas, which is not something that I’ve found in other (or more familiar) conferences. MCN seems just unfamiliar enough that my brain can think the really big ideas.

 

Rob: This reminds me of a concept I first heard from Koven Smith I think. The “adjacent possible” is a concept from evolutionary biology that I’ve been thinking about recently.  The idea goes like this—If you took all the possible combinations of amino acids found in nature, the combinatorial number is absolutely enormous. But when we observe nature, we actually only find organisms and compounds that comprise a relatively small amount of real estate when compared to the universe of possible combinations. Because of the way that evolution works, new mutations are always expanding into those permutations directly adjacent to their current form. Expanding into the adjacent possible—so to speak.

 

I kind of feel that our careers, and the museum field are kind of like this.  Very rarely do we seize upon ideas or actions that are entirely disconnected and “random”.  It’s much more likely that we evolve our thinking and practice into the adjacent possibilities that no one has tried yet.  That’s why conferences or friends who stretch our thinking into new, but not wholly unfamiliar territory, can help provoke our thinking and innovation in useful ways.  The adjacent possible!

 

Lisa: In some ways, this collaborative way that the MCN community works together seems like a bit of new thinking for museums. My experience from working in a smaller museum is that we often see ourselves competing with the “big” museums. The collaborative experiences at MCN seem to have become prevalent for us only recently. Is that because collaboration like this isn’t as readily apparent at the more traditional museum conferences? Or are these competitive instincts present more on a local basis?  Big vs. Small museums in the same town?  But, networking and building relationships, like those at MCN and at other conferences seems to be key to moving beyond that.   

 

On the change in MCN conferences over the years

 

Rob: My first MCN conference was in 2006 in Pasadena. At that time, MCN tended to focus a bit more on IT and technology practice. Over time, I think MCN, and this part of the museum field has slowly becoming more broad in its thinking about digital working as a whole. There continues to be more discussion about museum strategies, process, and impacts. We don’t seem to have very many sessions on how to configure your Cisco router anymore. It’s still important to do that work, but the conversations at museum technology conferences have become more about museum work as a whole.

 

Lisa: I agree. I remember coming home from my first MCN conference with a list of technical terms (jargon) that I had to Google. I like that now, the discussions at MCN have been moving towards the outcomes for the visitors.

 

On sharing a conference experience together in Buenos Aires and how a global context for museum work impacted our thinking:

 

Lisa: It was really eye-opening to understand more about the cultures that other museums are operating in. Some of the realities in global museum communities would never have occurred to me from a US perspective on museums.

 

What’s the line between propaganda and history? Some of the Latin American museums were talking about how the government should sponsor museums on specific topics (such as State sponsored violence), but my first thought was “would the government ever give difficult topics the justice that they deserve?”

 

Rob: The conference in South America made me think more about my own museum experience in the US. Latin American museums are dealing with many of the same issues we are here in the States, but more acutely and more out in the open. Budget crunches, political corruption, remaining relevant to their communities, financial inequalities, etc… In the US, we are dealing with these issues daily now. I feel that we have a lot to learn from our Latin American colleagues, who have been achieving great successes with these issues, but many times working from a different perspective. The “adjacent possible” at work again!

 

3 Pieces of Advice

In thinking about advice they might give to people who are new(er) to the MCN community, Rob and Lisa came up with a few ideas that might be helpful.

 

Lisa:

  1. We’re all in this together: Avoid saying “that’s not my job.” It’s not about you or me—it’s about giving the people who come to us an amazing experience.

 

  1. Always be open to learning new things: Always be reading and exploring beyond your capacity. I love knowing what’s going on in the field—what cool things other organizations are doing. And, really, you never know how often a crazy idea that seems disconnected actually becomes connected sometime later on.

 

  1. Be Flexible: What we do in museums is terribly important, but lives are NOT on the line. We need to put what we do in perspective. Treat each other well and *really* think about what’s important. Pick your battles—it’s too hard to fight all of them at the same time. I’ve learned my way is not the only way, or the only right way. Just keep your eyes on the final outcome.

 

Rob:

  1. Give more than you take: The artists Jim Hodges used this as a title for a retrospective of his art that we exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Art in 2015. I really stood out to me as a great way to be successful in museums and in life. The times in my career when I’ve made this a priority have been among my most successful as well.

 

  1. Always be exploring: I find that giving myself permission to have side projects that interest me has been a key to maintaining creativity, connection, engagement to the larger world (both personally and professionally). Sometimes we feel guilty about taking time to explore things like this, but I’ve found that I’m often most productive plowing through the hardest parts of my “real work” when I’ve got an engaging distraction too!

 

  1. Prioritize: There are too many good things to do in the world. When we’re trying to do them all at the same time, we’ll never get anything accomplished. Be ruthless in deprioritizing the good things in favor of your best next steps. From there, you can be certain that you’re actually moving forward and not just spinning your wheels.
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#MCN50 Voices: Chani Knight  & Ilaria D’Uva

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

 

In this conversation, Chani Knight, Manager of Individual Giving at the Nevada Museum, and Ilaria D’Uva, CEO of D’Uva srl, spoke about how they got started in the musetech world, their advice for those just starting out, and the piece of technology they can’t live without.

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