New #musetech Jobs in a Mixed Reality Future

By Zejun Cai

 

In the past few months, the MCN Job Description History team has hopped on a time machine and documented the shifting and persisting trends in #musetech jobs over the last 50 years. Tracing back to the days when people who run or visit a museum had never used an iPhone has been a fascinating process for our group, who communicate with each other purely via digital devices and platforms—a virtual team of historians, if you will. Check out our previous blog posts for a moment of inspiration or nostalgia.

 

I am especially interested in the new job opportunities and titles that have emerged along with changing technologies. For example, Sarah Outhwaite and I have been looking the annual reports of Seattle Art Museum (SAM) from 1967 up to the present day. In 1996, the museum hired its first Chief of Information Technology to “offer access worldwide to information about art and Seattle’s collections through state-of-the-art technology.” Since then, new job titles have emerged each year, from Web Programmer (1997-1998) to Computer Technician (1999-2000) to Digital Media Manager and Digital Production Designer (2013-2014).

 

In 2017 Tech Trends Annual Report published by Future Today Institute, mixed reality (P17) was identified as a key trend for nonprofit organizations. Mixed reality, or MR, is an umbrella term encompassing augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 360-degree video, and holograms (P87). None of the MR technologies are strangers to today’s museums. At this year’s MCN alone, there will be at least three discussion sessions dedicated to these trendy technologies (Reality (doesn’t) Bite: AR vs VR, Best Practices for Creating Meaningful AR/VR Experiences and Virtual Futures: When VR is the Cost of Doing Business). However, probably all of them were alien to museums of the 1970s. During my research, I came across an article titled “Holography Takes Root in SoHo In a Museum Devoted to Future,” first published in the New York Times on December 29, 1976. The article reported on the newly opened Museum of Holography, a museum dedicated to new art and “visions of the future.” What amused me, however, was Rosemary H. Jackson, the then 29-year-old director, recounting visitors’ behaviors and the museum’s reaction to the visitors’ needs.

 

‘People Don’t Understand It’

“We have to remember that people who come here are not familiar with holography,” she said. “We’re going to put up numbers indicating the best places to stand, because people don’t understand it. Two days ago a man came in and looked at the black cube that is projected away from the wall. He said he didn’t see anything. I told him he was standing in it. He moved back and it came floating out.”

The museum will eventually open a children’s section because parents are complaining about lifting heavy youngsters into the right viewing positions. The new institution already has a book counter and will have a library. It is open from noon to 6 P.M. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission: $1; 50 cents for under-12’s. Telephone: 925-0526.

“Holography is moving along,” said Miss Jackson, “We already have people coming in and saying, apologetically, ‘I just have this old two-dimensional camera.”‘


This snapshot of the early days #musetech inspires our team to explore emerging #musetech job opportunities related to increasingly popular mixed reality technologies, especially VR. As Desi Gonzalez envisioned, multimedia production roles at museums might evolve into VR production, while artist-in-residence programs might involve VR game developers and designers.

 

At the early adoption stage of the technology, museums also need to consider new challenges posed to exhibition design and visitor services. I remember at last year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival, staff and volunteers from the American Museum of Natural History were assigned to facilitate visitors at the Virtual Reality Lounge. The museum ensured visitors’ safety by providing additional seating and assisted visitors’ viewing experience by reminding participants, especially first-timers, to “look around.” For more immersive and intense VR experience like “Real Violence” by Jordan Wolfson, featured in this year’s Whitney Biennial, museum staff needs to ensure one’s physical and emotional safety by providing clear instruction and guidance of exit points.

Photograph by Bill Orcutt. A museum staff (in green top) instructs visitors before experiencing Jordan Wolfson’s VR project “Real Violence” at 2017 Whitney Biennale.

 

The 2016 NMC Horizon Report predicted that virtual reality would have a significant impact on museum education and interpretation within the next two to three years (P42-43). Indeed, we have already seen new #musetech job titles and requirements brought by mixed reality. For example, Sheila Carey has discovered that a program facilitator job posted by Canadian National Exhibition in 2016 required “advanced knowledge of technology, specifically augmented reality and virtual reality,” and a managerial role in exhibition projects at Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, demanded experiences in “managing digital media projects such as virtual and augmented reality interactives/experiences and Apps.”

 

As mixed reality technology is making people’s physical and virtual reality increasingly interchangeable, at the same time, people’s relationship with MR technology is evolving. For example, we have witnessed the booming VR projects across industries. There are VR films, VR games, VR fitness, VR education, and endless possibilities for VR applications. What will the future museums look like when VR became the alternative/dominate way of experiencing the world around us? Perhaps, at one point, we may need museum historians to recreate a physical experience for us to reconnect with the primitive life.

 

No matter what technology a museum chose to adopt, the core of visitor-centered experience remains the same. Potential roles as VR curators or VR securities all demand understandings of the needs of museum visitors, both onsite and online. I would like to envision that the future museum professionals are accommodating to visitors who are different levels of technology adaptors: the future museums are welcoming places for different types of technologies as well as lifestyles, as depicted in the video clip below.

 

The clip is from The Series Has Landed, Season 1 Episode 2, Futurama. The episode aired on April 4, 1999.

 

 

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Check the Classifieds…

By Eric Johnson

 

As readers can probably tell from earlier posts by other members of this committee, mining old #musetech job listings is really a lot of fun.

My task has been to scour the last 50 years of New York Times classified listings, pulling together job ads for positions advertising some kind of use of technology in museums. As an aside, there’s some real historical and cultural anthropology to be done in old classifieds sections.

It’s notable how many ads–ads in general, not #musetech ads–in the 1960s and 1970s simply looked for “college grads” who would then be connected to a whole host of jobs. Apparently it was enough that they went to college. “Attractive people” were regularly sought to fill certain positions. “Fee Paid” was a common notation. Often employers sought a “Gal/Man Friday” and asked “No phone calls please.” I was tickled to see one non-technical museum executive assistant job listing seeking a “right arm to director” for whom “[p]oise and personality are vital to interface with art experts and artists. Average skills fine.” I mean, who needs skills, really?

Here are some highlights of the search:

January 4, 1970, pg. 267

This is the earliest job ad I’ve found combining museums and computers:

In case you can’t read it well, here’s the main info:

Financial Analyst . . .
Metropolitan Museum Of Art

Accounting background for work in expanding Treasurer’s office. Awareness of computer application helpful. Produce special financial studies of Museum activities.

Mail resume to Manager of Personnel . . .

I find myself wondering: what computer application (or application of computers) do they mean?

January 12, 1975, pg. 300

This position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was found under the heading “Data Processing”:

Computer Operations Supervisor

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is seeking an individual to direct the daily operations of its new data processing facility. Requires 3-4 years data center experience, including 1-2 years computer room supervisor responsibility on an IBM 360 DOS disk/tape system. Experience with data entry and quality control essential. Salary $14,000-$15,000 plus 4 weeks vacation & excellent benefits.

If you’re curious what an IBM 360 DOS disk/tape system looks like, here you are:

By ArnoldReinhold – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47096462

 

And just to get a sense for that salary, according to the U.S. Inflation Calculator, a $14,000 – 15,000 salary range in 1975 translates to a $63,889.70 – $68,453.25 range today.

 

September 17, 1989, pg. W23

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum found themselves in need of a Museum Registration Clerk:

Registrar’s office seeks technician exp’d in collections mgmt. Candidate creates & maintains computerized accessioning program, reviews insurance coverage & loan program for incoming & outgoing objects. Serves as timekeeper for dept & provides gentle technical & clerical support. Previous exp w/IBM PC & PS/Multimate & dBase III+ an advantage. Familiarity w/dec arts or design & foreign language helpful. 3 yrs exp req’d. Education may be substituted for exp. Sal $19,993. Send resume . . .

Multimate, for the uninitiated—and I count myself among them—is an office word processing software. Here’s a great review of it from the May 4, 1987, edition of InfoWorld magazine. And dBase III+ is a database management system for standalone microcomputers (consider it the Microsoft Access of its day).

June 6, 1993, pg. W7

Listing their needs under “computer” in the classified jobs section, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum used their ad to list a couple of openings for people talented with technology:

The Museum presents an exciting opportunity to combine the worlds of international art museums & leading edge computer technologies. We have a growing PC/Network environment of 200 PC’s and 250 users.

PC SUPPORT SPECIALIST

Serve as liaison with users and user groups for technical support and project advice; research, purchase, install and troubleshoot hardware/software; and work on small and large systems projects.

Requires intimate familiarity with PC’s, DOS, WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3; a love for troubleshooting & problem solving; detail orientation; excellent oral & written skills for dealing with staff of all levels; and an eagerness & quickness to learn. BA degree, Mac, Windows, Memory Management, and Novell a plus.

FINANCIAL SYSTEMS ANALYST

Maintain, modify and support existing financial systems: accounting, ticketing, point of sale, and merchandising. Systems are multi-user, based on DOS/Novell, and developed by outside vendors in various languages. Duties include designing/implementing hardware & software enhancements; troubleshooting; maintaining security; providing technical support; and acting as liaison with vendors & user group leaders.

Requires experience supporting complex, mission-critical database systems; familiarity with PC’s and DOS; excellent oral and written skills; and quickness to learn & juggle numerous large-scale systems. Financial systems, project management and Novell experience a plus.

This is the year I graduated from college, so the need for desktop support familiar with DOS, WordPerfect, and Lotus 1-2-3 is all too resonant. I like that both positions welcomed Novell experience, Novell being an earlier leader in computer networking. I also appreciate that the financial systems analyst position specifically refers to working with outside vendors, an indication of an important new skill set for technologists.  But Memory Management?  That was a new term to me–but thanks to Sean Blinn, we may have a handle on it.  Check out this article for a fantastic trip down memory lane through the state of computing–including memory management–in 1991.

August 8, 1999, pg. W13

The Brooklyn Museum of Art needed an Information Systems Manager:

Brooklyn Museum of Art seeks exp professional to develop & manage IS/IT dept; establish standards of hardware (PC & MAC), software & network operating systems (Novell, Windows NT); Y2k review; deal w/vendors; support major museum systems/databases & provide training & support to staff. Degreed, exp w/systems admin & knowledge of applications & operating systems read. Please FAX cvr ltr w/resume to . . .

Novell is still going strong, but Windows NT shows up. But the thing that made this ad stand out to me is the need to manage “Y2k review.” Many of us may remember that the IT world was very unsure about what would happen when computer clocks rolled to the year 2000 (the “Y2K bug”), so they threw a lot of resources at it all to make sure systems didn’t crash. The actual day came and went without major system failures, but that might well have been because of conscientious actions from people like this museum IS Manager.

One thing that stands out about viewing positions over time, as the earlier posts in this series have indicated, is the increasing specialization both of the positions themselves and of the software/hardware with which they will interact.  Another, as Sarah Outhwaite noted, is how the technology for submitting résumés changes as we work through the ads: first mail, then fax, then on to mail/fax/email.

 

Now the links to application websites are included.

What’s going to stand out about your job description in a decade or three? What are the skills that are timeless and which ones are only “here and now,” an artifact of being employed in 2017 (as opposed to 2067)?

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Technologist-in-Chief: When Digital Reaches Museum Leadership

By Desi Gonzalez

 

As digital technologies have come to permeate contemporary culture, social life, and workplaces, museums have increasingly recognized their value. This is nowhere better illustrated than when #musetech reaches museum leadership. In 2014, the Peabody Essex Museum’s Ed Rodley noticed an increase in technology-related C-level positions, sharing that “it was heartening to see another colleague who combines a passion for museums with a deep understanding of digital technologies climb into the senior management ranks.”

 

Oh, the C-suite life: just like their private sector counterparts, many major museums have top-ranking executives whose titles generally start with the word “chief” and end in “officer.” The MCN Job History research team has been digging into 50 years of technology jobs at cultural institutions in order to understand the professionalization of our field. So far, we’ve notice a shift from focusing on data processing to user experience, reflected on how technological advancements are reflected in job descriptions, and investigated how one role central to museums—registration—has evolved due to the emergence of computers. Along the way, I’ve been interested in examining when technologists entered senior management in order to examine what that means about a museum’s commitment to digital technologies.

 

Focusing on the construction “chief blank officer,” I mined sources such as Museums and the Web, MCN archives, LinkedIn, newspaper job postings, and museum annual reports and press releases to compile a growing list of C-level roles in museum. (Feel free to suggestion any I’ve missed!) Of course, museums hire technologists in senior management roles with other job title formulations—prefixes include “deputy directors,” “associate director,” and “vice president”—but I chose to compare similar terms for the purpose of my research.

 

It’s been about 20 years or so that technologists have joined senior ranks and began to report directly to museum directors. The Guggenheim Foundation and the Cleveland Museum of Art hired their first chief information officers in 1996 and 1999, respectively; the Museum of Modern Art has had a CIO since at least 2001. The term chief technology officer was the next wave. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had a CTO as early as 2000, the Walters Art Museum hired one in 2008, and the Seattle Art Museum is currently searching for its first CTO with the goal of using technology to “amplify the museum’s mission and improve business operations.”

 

Both CIO and CTO positions tend to be more about providing a service: they generally house the information technology team and thinking about internal systems and platforms. (Of course, this isn’t always the case: Jane Alexander, in her role as CIO at CMA since 2010, has been at the helm of ARTLENS, one of the most ambitious suites of visitor-facing technology experiences.) More recently, we’ve seen the rise of the chief digital officer in museums: at the American Museum of Natural History in 2008, charged with leading “digital strategy formulation and implementation”; at the Minneapolis Institute of Art since at least in 2011; and the high-profile appointment of Sree Sreenivasan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013, among others. (Cincinnati Museum Center announced the creation of a CDO role to oversee a technology vision for a consortium of cultural institutions just this year.)

 

These roles focus more on the external experience of digital technologies; in some institutions, the more traditional IT department is separate from the CDO’s purview. The emergence of the chief digital officer role in cultural institutions signals a move from viewing technology as something that supports the information systems and digitization to a more visitor- and audience-centered focus. Douglas Hegley, writing about his role as CDO at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, described how his division encompasses everything from digital collection management and information systems to software development and interactive media. For his museum, digital “is both service-oriented (reactive) and strategically-aligned (proactive).”

 

In 2015, Seb Chan was appointed the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s first chief experience officer; a year later, Shelley Bernstein took on the same title at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Bernstein describes her main responsibility as “ put[ting] a leash on digital and, instead, shift[ing] the focus to better experiences regardless of how they are implemented.” Or, as Seb Chan put it, “What if the museum experience meant people wanted to put their phones away?” While they both come from technology backgrounds, they’re now thinking about museums in a post-digital way. What their #musetech backgrounds bring is a digital mindset, a design-thinking approach, and an appreciation for well-architected systems, but their final products do not necessarily have to involve technology—making them the perfect candidates to break down internal silos across the organizational chart.  

 

Currently, the Baltimore Museum of Art seeks a chief innovation officer—perhaps the first museum to hold such a post. The job seems to be hybrid of a chief communications officer and a chief digital officer, providing a vision for “digital and traditional marketing channels” via “imaginative and innovative approaches.” The advent of leadership roles in experience and innovation signals two things to me: first, that museums are catching onto the rhetoric of innovation and user experience permeating our culture today, and secondly, that many museums are adopting a visitor-first philosophy.

I turned to Google Ngram Viewer, which searches the frequency of words or phrases within Google Book’s corpus, as a way to get a sense of how #musetech leadership roles might reflect. Mining Google’s massive repository of books published between 1800 and 2008, an Ngram search serves as an approximation of a term’s importance within the zeitgeist overtime. Three “chiefs” turn out to be chief: information, technology, and innovation. The first two roles—“chief information officer” and “chief technology officer”—have long been present at major museums.

 

Like Ed Rodley, I am thrilled to witness technologists enter the ranks of upper museum management. As digital technologies become embedded in our everyday lives, it seems fitting that museums are creating senior positions—like CDOs and CXOs—that move beyond technical systems and contribute to a larger museum vision. Technology has historically been an unlikely path to leadership, but museum directors are increasingly recognizing the value of having digital experience as part of senior staff.

 

However, as digital continues to gain prominence in cultural institutions, I urge the museum technology community in particular and museum leadership in general to remember that the race to the top hasn’t been such a positive story for all. It’s no secret that museum directorships remain overwhelmingly white and male compared to overall staff demographics. How might we #musetech folks continue to celebrate the rise of our peers into senior ranks while working towards more diverse representation.

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For the Record: How Times have Changed for Museum Registrars

By Sheila Carey

 

The MCN job description history team has been mining #musetech jobs over the last 50 years to learn about the evolution of our field. In this post, we’re on the island of registrarial positions. I’m looking at how the registrar’s job has changed over MCN’s lifetime, and in this post I’ll be using “registrar” and “collections management positions” interchangeably. I didn’t dive through archives, although I did dust off a few old (paper!) publications in the hunt for descriptions of registrarial jobs in the past with an emphasis on jobs from the 1960’s through the 1990’s.

A history of the Canadian National Museum of Science and Technology lists the responsibilities of the registrar in 1968 as: responsibility for all loans of artifacts, incoming and outgoing, arranging for transportation, as well as responsibility for creating, maintaining, and preserving the collections records. In 1968, a newly hired registrar drafted a worksheet to help curators document their acquisitions so that they could be fully catalogued in the form of an acquisition record form. In the 1970s a longer and more elaborate worksheet was created with expanded information about the acquisition along with qualitative information about the item’s geographical area and period of use.

This cataloguing work gained new importance in 1972 with the creation of the National Inventory Programme, which later became the Canadian Heritage Information Network, a federal initiative intended to create a computer-based inventory of Canadian cultural and scientific collections. This was a centralized inventory with a few terminals in larger Canadian museums. While the system was digital, there was still emphasis on printing reports and creating new catalogue cards and cross-reference cards. In some museums, registrars were dealing with paper and digital records. A 1978 article about the National Inventory Programme system described the “speed afforded through modern technology allowing a fine-arts record to be displayed in a specially designed format on the screen. A print of this record may be ordered on paper or card stock.” So, the jobs were changing, but the way of working was still very much paper-based. It’s a bit amusing to see the somewhat awed description and one can’t help wondering just how speedy it actually was!

One of the National Inventories Programme Univac 90/30 mainframe computers (Photos from the Canadian Heritage Information Network).

 

According to a brochure, memory sizes for this model ranged from a minimum of 32,768 bytes to a maximum of 262,144 bytes

 

Vucom Terminal (Photo from the Canadian Heritage Information Network)

 

A 1979 publication by the Canadian Museums Association described the primary duties and responsibilities as: compilation of clear and accurate records, accessions, carrying out limited research for documentation, recording gifts, loans and bequests, planning and supervising location and movement of objects in the collection or those borrowed, and assuming responsibility for insurance and contractual matters regarding the collection. Still in a paper world, the list also refers to classification cards, category and cross-reference cards along with maintenance of an accession book. The suggested qualifications included formal training in records management, a rudimentary level of museum studies training and effective written communication skills. No reference was made to computer training. Another 1979 research publication “Profile of a Museum Registrar” was written with the aim of providing helpful data toward the development of materials and methods for the training and education of museum registrars. The authors surveyed registrars and museum directors about the preferred setting, course content, and faculty for professional training. Regarding technology, some registrars commented that they had very little exposure to theory or application of computers, and several registrars commented that a critical lack was that they did not know how to type! However, in topics selected for study, “Cataloging by Computer’ was relatively low in order of preference along with “Film and Videotape Production” and “Importing/Exporting.”

A decade later, as shown in the first post of this series, the National Museum of American Art posted a job in the “developing field of museum work,” an internship with an Art History or Information Management background to “work on a new on-line database of the museum’s collection.” Duties involved interpreting and reconfiguring data. The word “data” had entered museum collection jobs, and collections jobs were becoming more frequently automated. With desktop computers becoming more common, the pace of change was accelerating.

A 1993 classified ad from the Detroit Institute for the Arts in the Office of the Registrar was quite a bit heavier on some more specialized skills as well as “computer literacy,” something not required a decade prior, but required everywhere now. As Sean Blinn points out, it’s a skill that is expected these days.

In the 90s, collections managers had new challenges to deal with when faced with the World Wide Web. Not only had they had to transition from paper records to electronic, but these records were also beginning to be shared online! Records that had been developed for internal record-keeping were suddenly being exposed to the eyes of the public, and new issues related to putting images online would arise as well. This is still a topic of discussion in some museums where they may not be keen to expose their research-focused records and related images.  Undaunted, registrars have faced these challenges and now records are not only online, but increasingly being made available in open formats.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Open Access on Github: https://github.com/metmuseum/openaccess

 

As Sarah Outhwaite’s post noted, registrars may have been the pioneers for modern tech-savvy museum staff. In MCN’s lifespan, collection records have come out of their cabinets onto computers and into the public space.

Are you a registrar?  How have these technological changes impacted your job and what new jobs might support initiatives in which you’re involved?  What do you think will happen next?

 

Sources:

Canadian Museums Association. A Guide to Museum Positions: Including a Statement on the Ethical Behaviour of Museum Professionals, 1979.

Getting Things Done: 1967 – 1981. Building a National Museum of Science and Technology

https://ingeniumcanada.org/scitech/doc/content/cstm/content-getting-things-done.pdf

Hoachlander, Marjorie E., Profile of a Museum Registrar, Academy for Educational Development,  Washington, D.C., 1979.

Homulos, Peter S. “The Canadian National Inventory Programme.” Museum Vol. XXX, 3 / 4 1978.

http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001272/127275eo.pdf

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The Tech It Is A-Changin’: 50 Years of #Musetech Trends

By Sean Blinn

 

In 1860, the Pony Express started running in the United States. It allowed mail to be delivered from one side of North America to the other in a couple of weeks, not several months. Though it became the stuff of legend, it actually lasted for only 18 months, driven out of business by the telegraph, the world’s first transcontinental data network. When the Pony Express went out of business, so did the jobs for horse riders delivering mail, the people who kept horses and riders moving through the country, and all of the other support functions it employed. In their place were new jobs for telegraph operators, people to lay and maintain wire, and for people to produce the electricity needed to power the network.

It wouldn’t be the last time in history that a digital solution replaced an analog predecessor. It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, that technological change would lead to changes in jobs and employment patterns.

Over the past few months the #MCN50 Job Description History Project has dug through as much data as we could find to understand the changing face of #musetech jobs (take a look at Sarah Outhwaite’s blog post about the challenge of finding and categorizing this data). New technologies have arrived, old ones have died out, and almost every museum job has been affected by these changes.

Here is one example, a job listing from 1993:

Image source: Spectra, vol. 21, No. 2. Fall 1993

This is a job description for a Computer Specialist in 1993, found by teammate Nicole Riesenberger. By today’s standards, this is a broad description—perhaps too broad to be seen today—for a wide-ranging set of responsibilities. Hardware, software, training, support, supplies, all in one job. Among other things, this suggests that computers and technology were things that a museum did, along with other tasks such as registration, visitor services, and exhibition design.

Or to put it another way, technology was separate. It was one museum function, but it wasn’t central to what museums did or how most museum professionals worked.

To get a broader picture across time, let’s look at a visualization showing changes in usage of technology terms in one museum’s annual reports (the American Museum of Natural History in New York), generated by teammate Sarah Outhwaite.   

Source: graphic by Sarah Outhwaite, data from American Museum of Natural History: Annual Report Archives

Note that this graphic shows the percentage of appearances among terms we searched for, not among all the words in each report. In 1975, for example, “computer” was the only one of the terms we searched for that appeared; “computer” was not 100% of the words in the annual report itself! Additionally, the number of terms in each report varied from year to year; this chart does not show the total number of references to each term in each year.

Of the terms that our team searched, the word “computer” was the most commonly used in AMNH annual reports during the first part of MCN’s 50 years. It doesn’t permanently drop below 50% of mentions until 1990 (when the job “Computer Specialist” was probably far more common than it is now). In 1997 it dropped below 10% for the first time. We can see the balance shift to much more specialized terms. Database. App. Interactive. Online.

In other words, use of a computer isn’t a specialized skill any more. Specific tasks are, such as database management, app development, and social media, to name just a few. But computers? We have reached the point where the ability to use a computer is like the ability to use a phone. It’s not a special skill, it’s expected. Do you need to use a phone? Yes! Is it something that would be listed in a #musetech job description? Not any more, because the inability to use a phone is practically inconceivable today—though making a phone call was once new enough to be the subject of training videos.

From a training video on how to make a long distance phone call. This shows how you dial. Texting was probably a significant challenge.

Occasionally, there are dead-ends. CD-ROMs were all the rage in the mid 1990s, and make a brief appearance in the AMNH annual reports. But in the long run they didn’t have much impact (though future archaeologists may date the late 1990s and early 2000s by the layer of AOL CDs found in landfills). They were the Pony Express of 20 years ago: briefly important but in the long run, a dead end, soon to be replaced by a quicker, more flexible alternative.

Image source

Of course, this pattern will continue. Disruptive technologies have always arisen and changed how humanity works. A new world-changing idea may be invented in a conversation in the halls in Pittsburgh this November at MCN2017.

Looking at the bigger picture and where we fit into our profession, computers and technology aren’t things we do, differentiated from the rest of museum work. Digital initiatives aren’t separate projects, or worse, expenses to be contained. Technology is a regular part of museum work and couldn’t be replaced any more than keeping the lights on. Museum technology will continue to evolve, and I am looking forward to hearing from whoever revisits this topic in 2067 as we celebrate MCN’s 100th birthday.

Next week, Sheila Carey will show how this change has altered one aspect of museum life and had far-reaching implications on how museums collect and use information. Stay tuned!

Sources:

The Pony Express: History and Myth

American Museum of Natural History: 2015 Annual Report

American Museum of Natural History: Annual Report Archives

 

For further reading:

Computer History Museum’s Timeline of Computer History

New-York Historical Society’s “Silicon City” exhibition

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Mapping islands: Visualizing a job history dataset

By Sarah Outhwaite

 

A #musetech job has never been an easy thing to find. They only emerge when enough institutional pressure builds up to break the surface.

How #musetech jobs are formed. IntermontaneArc.png, Wikimedia Commons, remixed.

The Job Description History Project team spent this summer hunting not for one museum technology job, but for hundreds. By scraping historic records, we aim to understand the evolution of these positions over time. You can learn more about our process from Desi Gonzalez’s inaugural project post.

Our team has pulled together several collections of job titles and descriptions. But mining data is always a messy affair. The datasets we’ve amassed each have their own special inconsistencies. Sample sizes and source types fluctuate. There are conspicuous holes within the 50-year timespan. As we begin to plot these varied findings in relation to each other, how do we analyze data that defies easy comparison?

I’ll take poetic license to describe the first of several datasets that we’re analyzing for this project as “a sample of MCN-affiliated job titles.” Job titles before 2016 were drawn from the Museum Computer Network’s official archives at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Team member Nicole Riesenberger dug into these resources and recorded job titles that were relevant to museum technology. Her sources included the journal Spectra (published from the mid-1970s to 2002), membership directories, conference speaker and attendee lists, and publications. Data from 2016 had a different source, as we were able to snag all job titles from MCN2016 conference attendees. (Consequently, 2016 boasts over ten times more job titles than any earlier year.)

This data is not a complete sample—it’s a group of islands in an ocean of missing information. We can’t directly compare our findings from one year to the next. I grappled with this uneven distribution by focusing on the moments when #musetech terminology broke the surface and appeared in job titles. First, I crunched all job titles down into individual vocabulary terms (like collection, technology, and information). Next, I charted the emergence and disappearance of these terms throughout time. In what year did web first pop up in one of these job titles? Which terms were brand new in 2016, and which disappeared after the 1990s?

For this chart, I selected a handful of the terms that shed light on trend shifts in the museum technology field. In order to be included, terms had to emerge or disappear from the dataset; they couldn’t appear in every year. Terms also needed to trend up or down over time, relative to the total number of titles analyzed on given years.

For example, the terms registrar and specialist featured contrasting trends. In 1984, fifteen out of 39 job titles included the term registrar; but only five of 589 would do so by 2016. The term specialist didn’t break the surface until 1988; yet it appeared in twenty-three job titles by 2016. Taken as statistics, these trends don’t hold water—but they do map the outlines of a story. I like to imagine the pioneering registrars of 1984 gathering new technical savvy for their institutions. These enterprising tech generalists would have paved the way for the tech specialists of 2016.

The chart also shows how job title terminology shifted toward media, content, and the creative or production process over the last twenty years. Terms like community, engagement, and social were introduced in the last ten.

More patterns begin to suggest themselves. Data processing in the ‘80s led to effective information systems in the ‘90s. Web exploration in the ‘00s set the stage for digital content expertise. The recent explosion of social media gave museums the tools to connect with individual audience members, and supported the even more recent rise of user experience as an expertise.

The further that GLAMs specialize in applications of technology, the more we’ve trended toward audience outreach. In her 2007 blog post Hierarchy of Social Participation, Nina Simon described “collective social action with content” as the highest level of museum experience design. Many of today’s freshest #musetech roles serve this goal. From networking objects, we’ve expanded to networking humans.

Nina Simon’s Hierarchy of Social Participation, 2007. Source: http://museumtwo.blogspot.ca/2007/03/hierarchy-of-social-participation.html

What #musetech will the generalists of 2017 build into new institutional expertise? Could today’s focus on digital wayfinding and building experience lead to future job titles like Visit Personalization Specialist or Gallery Intelligence Coordinator?

But even as new technology roles emerge, there are some baselines we can count on. Consider the Computerization Coordinator who went to the MCN conference in 1980, and the Digitization Coordinator who went in 2016. Museums will always need staff to convert objects into data.

At least—until the objects get smart enough to catalogue themselves.

DATA GEEK NOTE:

Some top job title terms that didn’t make it into this chart included director (total: 197), manager (total: 169), head (total: 55), coordinator (total: 46), and assistant (total: 43). If you’re interested in the ways that hierarchical terms like these have shifted in #musetech, stay tuned for our team’s upcoming blog about digital roles reaching senior management.

 

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Colleagues in Museum Automation: Introducing the MCN Job Description History Project

By Desi Gonzalez

 

Screen shot from Spectra journal vol. 19 no. 1, 1992

From Spectra journal vol. 19 no. 1, 1992

 

This year, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of MCN. In other words, it’s been fifty years since a group of individuals galvanized around changes in technology and cultural institutions to form this loose field we call #musetech. A community of practitioners came together with the aims of sharing knowledge, developing best practices, and building toward common goals. Or, as an issue of Spectra journal put it a few decades later: MCN aimed to connect “colleagues in museum automation.”

Over the past few months, a scrappy team of researchers have been mining #musetech job history past and present to uncover the emergence and evolution of our field. Our team—consisting of Sean Blinn, Zejun Cai, Sheila Carey, Eric Johnson, Matt Morgan, Sarah Outhwaite, and Nicole Riesenberger—has been digging into archives, scraping annual report data, and dredging up old job postings.

 

Image from Spectra journal, vol. 16, no. 2, 1989

“Unique opportunity in developing field of museum work”: or, when museums provided more generous and equitable internship stipends. From Spectra journal, vol. 16, no. 2, 1989

 

Through these efforts, we’ve made some fascinating discoveries: patterns in how we discuss technology-related jobs in the cultural sector, technologies that have risen—and fallen—in popularity, and the introduction of digital into senior-level roles. But perhaps equally meaningful are the questions that have arisen along the way. What is a “museum technology” job, anyway? Which departments and roles do we consider to fall within the realm of what we today call “digital”? To put it another way: what are the boundaries of our field? Today, we take for granted that virtually every staff members has a computer; but as Rachel Allen recently reminded us in an #MCN50 Voices post, when the Smithsonian installed its first three Wang computer terminals in 1982, staff members had to sign up for time slots to share these cutting edge tools. As technology shifts from new to ubiquitous, so does the focus of our field.

 

Image of a Wang 2200 Basic Computer

Wang 2200 Basic Computer – Public domain image of Wang computer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wang2200.jpg

 

Over the next few weeks, team members will be sharing their findings and reflections on the MCN blog. Our writings will cover a variety of themes and methodologies: We’ll share the most amusing job listings out there, discuss how trends in the larger technological zeitgeist are reflected in museum roles, and provide visualizations that illuminate the change and continuity in our field. We’re excited to mine the past with you, and we hope that these insights might inform the next fifty years of MCN and the role of digital in cultural institutions.

 

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