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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MCN50 Voices: Chris Alexander & Marty Spellerberg

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 Chris Alexander and Marty Spellerberg, who have never met, share stories about projects they have worked on, and museums they have worked in, and consider museum technology’s past, present and future.

 

Chris Alexander (left) and Marty Spellerberg

 

Chris:  We didn’t know one another before this, and we’ve been paired together. So, maybe we should start out by introducing ourselves.

Marty:  My name is Marty Spellerberg and I am an independent designer and developer based out of Austin, Texas.

Chris:  And I am Chris Alexander and I reside in San Jose, California. I just finished a fixed term contract at the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University and I think the word will be out by the time this goes live that I have just accepted a position with Gallery Systems as an account manager.

Marty:  My first MCN, though I had heard about it previously, was Minneapolis 2015. And it was great, I loved it.

Chris:  The first one I went to was Chicago in 2007. I was fortunate enough to get one of the scholarships that was offered at the time, so that helped to pay for it, which was great. And I got to write a blog post about it afterwards, which was kind of fun. It’s always been a great bunch of people and always very informative and very focused on certain topics.

Looking Back

Marty:  Did you enter the field through museums, or did you enter it through technology, or always both?

Chris:  I was working at the San Jose Museum of Art. I started on the installation crew as a part-time person on call, and then did membership for two years, got my feet in some database stuff there. I missed being around the art, so I applied for an assistant registrar position and did that for three years.

I went back to college, got a Web design certification and right around that time, the museum was challenged by the director, Dan Keegan, to create an iPod tour. That was when they had the scroll wheel iPods. And so the education department was kind of like, “What the heck? How are we going to do that?”

I had known about this notes-only mode on the scroll wheel iPod, which was also called ‘museum mode.’ And I said, “Hey, well, I think I might be able to help you guys out.”

Marty:  This is like a set of tracks but there’s no audio?

Chris:  You were basically creating these really small HTML text files that go on the iPod. You’re scrolling up and down these, almost like mini webpages without images, but there’s hyperlinks and you can hyperlink to an audio file. You can hyperlink to a video file. You can hyperlink to photos. So you’re kind of in control of steering a visitor in a certain type of direction using these notes. And you can link the notes together. It was kind of challenging creating a user interface just out of text.

Because I really enjoyed creating the content and the interface (and because I was getting my certification in Web design), I proposed a position to the director, “Hey, what do you think about a manager of interactive technology position who looks at the website and manages that, but also creates these audio tours and mobile tours?”

He was like, “That’s great. Let’s do it.” So I basically wrote my own job description, which was really awesome.

Marty:  Doing websites has basically been the only job I’ve had in my life! I got into it as a teenager, when the Web was just coming up. We were a bunch of kids who were interested in art and here was this new medium that anyone could publish to. After college I started working for galleries and art collectives, and moved through the ranks of arts organizations until I found myself in museums.

When I arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario, they’d had a website for many years, maybe a decade. But the institution’s relationship to it was changing. It was going from being this thing that was maybe a bit to the side, to something that was central to everybody’s concerns. And the way that was directly expressed in technology was the adoption of a content management system. Instead of submitting changes through a central person who maintained the site, the responsibility was distributed throughout the organization. Everybody in their own department had the responsibility of making sure that the their programs were represented. And the role of the Web department changed from being these people who you’d send your Word docs to, to people who were trying to introduce new features or architectural changes.

Chris:  When the iPhone came out, that changed everything as well. It really was a disruptive device within the museum field because, you think about companies like Antenna Audio and Acoustiguide, and their whole business model was based on the rental of audio devices within museums. And suddenly, museums were able to create their own mobile tours. Apple had these great tools too like GarageBand and iMovie or Final Cut to create content internally, which kind of negated the need to have a company create it for you. I mean if you’re the experts on your own collection, it just changed the whole field.

Marty: The iPhone also motivated change in the relationship to photography. Back in 2007 “no photography” was the baseline policy, and it was so hard to have those conversations about “well, can we open it up?” Now it seems like the whole mode has changed. It’s not only about allowing photography, it’s about encouraging photography and encouraging discussion on social media, premised on photography.

Chris:  Absolutely. I know there are some museums that will focus on a specific exhibition to make it more social media friendly. You think about Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room, where it seems like there’s just tons of people taking photographs in that place and posting them. It’s great.

Marty:  I have friends, non-museum people, who said, “We have to go to Houston and take Infinity Room selfies.” So we did a day trip, just for that. They were motivated by the social cachet of that of having that experience, and broadcasting having that experience.

I remember when there was no such thing as “social media.” There were “social networks,” and at the Art Gallery of Ontario we had a group called “online communities.” It was an informal meeting group that came about first, then evolved into social media, and into a dedicated position.

It seems like, at this moment, it’s a lot about getting into the apps that people are already spending their time in, the social properties. They set the aesthetic boundaries of what’s possible, so you give up a lot of control. But it’s a new audience too, of people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to that artist or exhibition.

Chris:  I think once museums started realizing that their physical walls weren’t a boundary anymore, websites really started getting beefed up and you look at a lot of the collections on the web now, like The Met, for example, and like the Rijksmuseum, with open access to their collection, where you can basically download high resolution images and do whatever you want with them.

Marty:  One thing about the technology, we haven’t touched on, but maybe we should, with you going to TMS (The Museum System, Gallery System’s Collections Management Software), is the digitization of – would you call it back office? Stewardship of the collection is a core foundational piece of what a museum is, and technology like TMS has had a transformative effect on that work.

Curators can now search each other’s collections, to know what other people have. They’re able organize loans in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without computers, without the Internet. The entirety of the scholarship has been impacted, and I’m sure this has had an effect on the scope of exhibitions. Even though the technology is not front and center to the visitor, it’s boosting what’s possible.

Chris:  Yeah, and I still think there’s even a lot more room to grow on the back end database side. We’re making it easier to tap into APIs for use in galleries or with the website or whatever other technology is going to come down the road.

Marty:  One thing that I didn’t really know about museums before I got in was the relationship of museums to their members. I always thought of museums as facing the general public, and they do, but being in museums you learn about how trustees and volunteers and all these groups are very committed to the museum, and the museum is very committed to them. It was a surprise to me how much support goes into the membership programs and the trustees, and the amount of technology that we have to support them.

 

Looking Forward

Chris:  I’m still trying to figure out virtual reality and how that’s going to come into play. One of the things that I’ve thought about as a great use for virtual reality is for exhibition archiving. You have a curator that spends years on an exhibition and then it’s only up for three months. How do you give that experience to future generations? You could be a researcher and go to a museum and experience their virtual reality of this exhibition that was there 20 years prior, which I think would be pretty cool. You’ve got to think too that it could also become a vehicle for designing exhibitions. Virtual reality could also give the curator the tools they need to layout an exhibition before the exhibition even goes up, to problem solve certain things.

Marty:  Not to mention when artists start designing them, and when curators start picking up projects from artists that are virtual or augmented.

This maybe will be the kind of thing that we’ll look back on 50 years from now and laugh, but I have a pet theory that exhibition designers will become the new web designers. That in the augmented-reality future, everybody will be an exhibition designer, because in our field we spend a lot of time thinking about how to pair information about objects with the objects themselves, and how to present it spatially. Even going back to your example of using the iPods, and how to create an experience that’s unobtrusive and adds to the appreciation of an objects without getting in the way.

You know, just thinking about the next 50 years, something I think our sector could really look to is the webzine A List Apart.

Chris:  A List Apart was like major in the shift with Web standards. It was kind of like the go-to place, you know, 10 years ago.

Marty:  Totally. I don’t know if they’ve had a blockbuster like this in a while, but “Responsive Design” was an article on A List Apart. Now we all do responsive design, and it’s called that because that’s the title of the article. And now they do chapbooks, which are essentially required reading. I would love an easy-to-digest publication in the museum technology space that has that amount of influence. Just putting that out there!

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#MCN50 Voices: Leslie Johnston and Miranda Kerr

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.

 

Leslie Johnston, Director of Digital Preservation U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and Miranda Kerr, Manager of Digital Learning, Learning Programs, John G. Shedd Aquarium, conversed over Twitter on a variety of topics including career paths, MCN, silly moments at work, and #LOLCats. For more of the conversation, explore the storify.

 

Leslie Johnston (left), and Miranda Kerr

 

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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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MCN50 Digital Experience at MCN2017

Planning a 50th birthday takes time. We began planning MCN’s 50th almost 2 years ago but things really started to move forward when Susan Edwards and Marla Misunas agreed to join forces as co-chairs of the MCN50 Planning Committee early last year.

For the past 18 months, Susan and Marla have meticulously planned a myriad of ways to pay tribute to MCN’s first 50 years. Enrolling and directing an army of 40+ volunteers from our community, Marla organized a dive into MCN’s archives kept at the Smithsonian Archives in Washington, D.C. From the trove of boxes, Susan and Marla developed a series of sub-projects that together provide an overview of MCN’s first 50 years, including a Timeline of MCN and a history of Job Descriptions, and the incredibly successful community project called “MCN50 Voices” conceived by Susan.

To help us put this narrative together, CultureConnect graciously offered to provide their platform to us, pro bono, to create an “MCN50 Digital Experience” that you’ll be able to enjoy during the conference on touch table hardware generously provided courtesy of Ideum. Recapping this process, is a short interview with Susan, Marla, Samantha Diamond and Seema Rao.

MCN50 Digital Experience image

Eric: Hi Susan and Marla. So we’ve been planning for MCN’s 50th since mid 2016. What were the initial goals you set for yourselves as you began that process?

Susan: When we first met, Carolyn Royston, the incoming President of MCN, told us that she really wanted to activate the MCN community for the entire year leading up to the 2017 annual conference. She saw the anniversary as an opportunity to extend the amazing energy and community of the conference. Early on, we set the following goals for the anniversary year:

  • Recognize past accomplishments, past and current leaders and volunteers
  • Celebrate the MCN community, the organization’s mission and how it’s helped shape the thinking around the possibilities of technology in museums over the past 50 years
  • Reinforce how MCN remains a future-looking organization
  • Re-dedicate the next 50 years to its core mission and continue to remain relevant to future generations of museum technologists

With these goals in hand, we then reached out to the community. We invited a few long-time MCNers to have some conversations with us. We called these folks our ‘brain trust’ and it was really from those folks that some of the great ideas for the MCN50 program were born. From our conversations with our “brain trust,” we defined 3 key areas of focus: the history of the organization, professional development, and “in real life” meetings.

Eric: So tell us about the key programs that came out of the MCN50 planning effort this past year?

Susan: Unearthing the archival materials and history of MCN was one of the most straightforward things to do for the anniversary. Huge kudos go to Marla and the team that spent several days at the Smithsonian Archives in Washington, D.C. looking through the organization’s papers. That was a huge event to organize. At the New Orleans conference, we also had several volunteers reach out to us with interest in putting together a timeline of the organization and digitizing documents.

As I recall, the idea for the job descriptions project came out of a conversation I had with Eric Johnson at one of the conferences about using data from historical job descriptions to dive into the history of the types of roles in our profession. Eric was really excited about the idea, so we tapped him to lead the project to do this research and report out.

The idea for Voices came out of a desire to create a professional development moment during MCN50. The original idea was to pair people with a lot of experience in the field with more junior people. I had an idea that a mentor-mentee-ish conversation, recorded as an interview, would be useful to others in the field. It turned out that we did have many pairs like this. But we also had many pairs of very good friends interviewing one another, which provides a wonderful peek into the camaraderie and community of the field, and demonstrates the role of MCN in this community. The response on this one project has been so incredible. So many amazing conversations and insights. I have learned so much from everyone.

Finally, our desire to bring people together at moments and places outside of the annual conference manifested as birthday parties for MCN. About once a month since January, there has been a party in a city somewhere with local museum professionals who have been enjoying cake and toasting to MCN.

Marla: I have been a little obsessed with MCN’s history for years. When I was president, I spent a lot of time in the SFMOMA archives, going through the director’s papers (SFMOMA joined MCN in 1968), going through old Spectra issues for an MCN presentation about job descriptions, and going through a ton of material we had in the museum’s library for the MCN history article Richard Urban and I wrote back then.

It’s always been a goal of mine to turn the spotlight on MCN’s history in a more enduring way so future MCNers can learn about what came before, and the really wonderful accomplishments of so many amazing people in MCN’s past. When planning the anniversary came up, I knew I had to be involved. Most people didn’t know that the official MCN archive is housed at the Smithsonian Archives. The idea of going through so much original historic material to prepare for MCN50 was very exciting.

Among our goals for the two Smithsonian Archive dives (January and July) were to fill out the collection of scanned MCN conference programs and Spectra issues, find significant events in MCN history, and to hopefully find some intriguing surprises along the way.

The time spent at the Archives was really a delight, with stacks of boxes, piles and piles of documents, “aha!” moments, and funny moments (David Vance’s voluminous correspondence and dry sense of humor); working closely with some great people from MCN’s past and future.

The dives could not have happened without the hard work of Charles Zange, MCNer who works at the Smithsonian Archives, and David Bridge, an early MCN member and long time Smithsonian Archives staff member. David knows more about MCN than anyone else I know, and can get his hands on it, too.

The timeline came about as a natural way of sharing the historical information we found. MCN timeliners, led by Richard Urban and Andrea Ledesma, used the archive materials and other resources, to create two timelines–one is a higher level, broader approach, and the other is more detailed for the dedicated MCN history enthusiast.

MCN50 Digital Experience image

Eric: So Samantha, you’re the founder and CEO of CultureConnect, an award-winning producer of digital interactives for museums.

Samantha: Yes! CultureConnect helps museums create beautiful and meaningful digital experiences for their visitors. We’re unique in that we offer a comprehensive platform solution that publishes a full suite of mobile and in-gallery interactives. I’m also a bit nerdy when it comes to user research and user testing so we do that in our services practice too.

Eric: CultureConnect has been supporting the MCN annual conference since 2014. Last year, you developed the New Orleans City Guide, and this year, you generously offered to lend your platform to produce the “MCN50 Digital Experience” that will be available for attendees during MCN2017. What inspired you to do this? Why is this important for you to do as a vendor?

Samantha: 50 years is a long time (laughs) so it’s impressive, first of all, that MCN has endured. Technology evolves so quickly, we have a sense of “history” looking back less than a decade – it’s extraordinary that MCN has thrived for five decades. MCN’s founding members were early adopters in many ways! We wanted to be a part of this celebration.

With this much history to share and so many personal stories to tell, I thought a great way to bring this to life would be with the sort of digital interactives we already use in the galleries. A mini in-gallery interactive, if you will. The touchscreen experience offers two parts – MCN Voices showcases the people that make up this community while the Timeline gives historical meaning.

Susan, Marla, Seema and the whole MCN50 team did an amazing job rallying member contributions and digging through archives – the digital component provides an organized, centralized point of discovery.

The MCN community has always been welcoming and collaborative which has meant a lot to me and my team at CultureConnect. So, it was our pleasure to offer up our platform to create and publish this MCN50 Digital Experience.

Eric: Hi Seema, given your expertise developing content, you’ve generously taken on the lead in helping us put together the content for the “MCN50 Digital Experience”. Can you tell us about some of the choices you made to try to capture 50 years in a short digital experience?

Seema: The MCN volunteers had been working for months to capture the last 50 wonderful years of this organization for months before I joined the team. They had been focused on two big facets: understanding the organization through its people (MCN Voices) and capturing snapshots of the organization over time (MCN Timeline).

By the time this exciting opportunity for a CultureConnect App came up, both of these teams were swimming in content. Even I, myself, as a member of the committee couldn’t get through all the content that was produced. There was just too much. It was like having too much of a good thing. So, my goal was to try to create a framework that showcased a taste of the content, like giving the conference goers the best slice of the pie. Now, everyone has their own appetites, so the challenge was also to find a way to give enough that everyone could find their ideal slice of the content.

With the help of careful planning, and the filtering tools within the CultureConnect infrastructure, my hope is that everyone will be able to dip into some of this rich content. Our goal though is that, after people go to what is appealing, they then find something unexpected.

Eric: Can you give us an example?

Seema: Sure! For the Voices content for example, you might be interested in Museums and Technology. But, once you read a few quotes by the best and brightest amongst us, you could easily move into ideas about career paths or the supportive environment of the MCN community. In the timeline team, you will find that something as simple as a new database is really the beginning of a new way of thinking of collections.

In other words, as you wander through the app, you will hopefully be able to see an ecosystem of ideas and events in a way that is engaging but not overwhelming. For me, this is exactly what MCN is–immersive, thought-provoking, supportive, and safe. Hopefully, the app evokes that same sensibility.

 

I’m really looking forward to delving into the “MCN50 Digital Experience”, and I hope that those of you who will be joining us in Pittsburgh next month for MCN 2017 will get an opportunity to interact with 50 years of MCN at a glance. And make sure to thank everyone who’s been involved in making this project possible. Happy birthday MCN!

 

Eric Longo

Executive Director

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#MCN50 Voices: Douglas Hegley & Rob Lancefield

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.

 

 

Douglas Hegley (L) & Rob Lancefield (R)

 

A former psychologist and a sometimes-ethnomusicologist walk into an MCN conference-hotel bar.

The former psychologist says, “Hello, how are you today?”

The sometimes-ethnomusicologist answers, “Well, context is everything.”

Psychologist: “Wait, are you saying that before we can attempt to reach conclusions, we need to explore and understand potential underlying forces? And also how meaning itself might be conveyed—and may often be misconstrued—whether by perception or cognition?”

Ethnomusicologist: “You sound like a psychologist! Yes, that makes sense to me. I tend to think first, though, of how useful it can be to explore and try to understand the cultural contexts, and other contextual factors, that affect how people make meaning from their experiences.”

Psychologist: “Ah, yes, context and meaning and experiences—You know, it’s beginning to sound like we should work in museums.”

Ethnomusicologist: “Now you’re playing my tune!”

Okay, so that conversation never actually happened, but anyone who’s met former MCN Presidents Douglas Hegley and Rob Lancefield knows that it could have. Warning: It can be risky to listen in on their often jump-cut conversations, and this installment of #MCN50 Voices is no exception. You never know where it’s going to end up; but if you’re willing to step off that edge for awhile, read on.

 

Who are these guys and what are they doing in museums?

Douglas: So Rob, let’s start with introductions. Who are you? Where are you? What do you do?

Rob: I’m Rob Lancefield. I lead (and do) digital work at the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, where my job titles are Manager of Museum Information Services and Registrar of Collections. The “Manager” role includes designing, implementing, and managing digital services and resources (collections data, images, etc.) in ways that serve our mission. When it comes to people who report to me (mostly grant-funded digitization staff), I think of my role as hiring, training, leading, supporting—not so much “managing” as bringing together a team who can understand what our aims are and how best to accomplish them with my strategic guidance and removal of obstacles. Alongside working with collections data and images, this is one of my favorite roles; and my approach to it is based in part on leadership models I first heard about via MCN. And you, Douglas? I’ll note here that it is most definitely “Douglas,” not “Doug.”

Douglas: Thank you Rob! Yes, because Douglas is a name, and dug is a verb, and one in the past tense at that. But I digress. I’m the Chief Digital Officer at Mia—the Minneapolis Institute of Art—where I’ve been for a little over six years. Before that, I spent fourteen incredible years working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At both organizations, I’ve been deeply involved with digital transformation: that is, helping these world-class institutions that are steeped in history and tradition find paths to be even more successful in our current, digital-forward world. It’s been both a great challenge and a highly rewarding experience. Before I got involved with museums, I was on my way to becoming a psychotherapist, so I represent the “former psychologist” in the corny joke above. The truth is that I never actually expected to work in digital technology, let alone museums—and yet somehow in hindsight it all makes sense. I was one of those early adopters when desktop computing came about. I bought one of the first-generation IBM PCs, you know, the ones with no hard drive, just dual floppies. I could see the potential of personal computing to help me and others get things done faster and better. I’ve brought that attitude and spirit to the work I’ve done in museums, along with my commitment to helping people. What about you? Did you see museums on your career track, Rob? How did you get onto this crazy rollercoaster anyway?

Rob: Via what looked like a sidestep and then led to a new professional world! In pre-museum life I was a musician, recording engineer, music copyist/typesetter, photographer—freelance work that often involved both the arts and technology. I went back to school for graduate work in ethnomusicology (the study of music in/as culture), and partway through that I was invited to apply for a museum job. I agonized over a two-year commitment, which now makes me laugh. I’ve worked for 23 years here at Wesleyan University’s Davison Art Center, which has quite a significant collection of more than 25,000 prints and photographs, and where there have always been new things to accomplish as digital tools, platforms, and community practices evolve.

 

Paths to MCN, trajectories within MCN

Douglas: Let’s move on to the Museum Computer Network. Rob, when did you first encounter MCN, and what is your history with the organization?

Rob: I first heard about MCN in 1995, when I’d been a museum person for just a year, was the only digitally oriented person under our roof, and was starting to design an in-house collection database system (things were different back then, and that was actually our best path at the time, crazy as it sounds now!). With the invaluable support of my supervisor, I made it to San Diego for MCN 1995—where I discovered that I wasn’t doing digital museum work in a vacuum, but could be part of a geographically distributed community of welcoming people working on related things in related ways. “What?! NO WAY! Cool.” It was a wonderful moment. I haven’t missed an MCN conference since.

I was first drawn in behind the scenes as the Standards SIG Chair, when Richard Rinehart was leaving that role and persuaded me to step up. A few years later, having been encouraged by Rick, Susan Patterson, and Sam Quigley to run, I was elected to the Board. That was in 2002, right when it was discovered that MCN was facing an internal existential crisis (now there’s a story for the bar, dear readers). Interesting times. During both of my three-year terms on the Board, I wore too many hats to list, and then was elected President for 2008–2009, just in time to face an external threat: the trough of the Great Recession. While dealing with the day-to-day, I tried to focus my leadership on community, transparency, and sustainability. These three things struck me as key forward-looking values as well as immediately critical factors—along with an extremely smart and dedicated Board, plus the financial reserves we’d built up since 2002—in MCN’s ability to weather the global financial crisis and keep moving forward. So, my Board service was “in with an internal crisis, out with an external one.” Lots of interesting challenges, and MCN continues to thrive and evolve nowadays with successive cohorts of leaders. Hurray!

Setting aside formal roles, though, the real core of my engagement with MCN is the rich web of relationships it’s enabled over more than twenty years, with people I think of as both long-valued colleagues and old friends, and with newly-met fellow MCNers each year. But speaking of old friends: Douglas, did we first meet at MCN 2004 in Minneapolis, long before you moved there?

Douglas: Ironically, yes. That was my first time attending the conference. I had been requesting to go earlier, but my then-boss would not approve my travel. I managed to get to the 2004 conference by convincing that person to come along too. It was a great experience, I was guided by my outstanding colleague Susan Chun, and I got to meet and connect with several people who would have a strong influence on me: you, Sam Quigley, Diane Zorich, Chuck Patch, Len Steinbach, Holly Witchey, Bill Weinstein, Max Anderson, and the list goes on! I have to agree with you that while the content of the conference sessions was informative, what was truly transformative for me was the network of professionals into which I had suddenly tapped. People were smart, supportive, and welcoming. I loved it!

It wasn’t long before I was proposing sessions year after year. One that got accepted and stands out for me took place at the 2006 MCN conference in Pasadena. I gave a presentation on a project that I had co-led, but which had frankly been a failure. The atmosphere of MCN enabled me to talk about getting things wrong; in fact, I believe that talking about failures is in many ways even more important than boasting about successes. If there is one thing that a professional network can really do for anyone, it is to let us know where the land mines are located. Sharing mis-steps and failures helps everyone avoid repeating the same mistakes and wasting time and resources.

Rob: And after you had given a few presentations, we persuaded you to take on an official role with the organization, right?

Douglas:  Yes, I was honored and excited to be nominated and then elected by the members to join the MCN Board in the fall of 2008—under your Presidency. Joining the organization in a formal role enabled me not only to benefit from your experience and counsel, but also to really get to know so many of my colleagues. And it all started from just talking together!

Rob: I’m glad I could be useful, and I love those kinds of informal onboarding conversations.

Douglas: Me too. As the years flowed past, it was so helpful to me to establish a rhythm of annual conferences and monthly Board meetings. I haven’t missed an MCN conference in a long time. In 2011, I moved into the role of President, just as you had three years prior—another honor. I endeavored to continue the work of those before me to professionalize and modernize both MCN and our cultural heritage sector. Over those years and since that time, you and I have had many conversations about the history of MCN and the potential futures on the organization’s horizon. I’m curious: How do you think MCN has evolved over the years?

 

MCN’s evolving scope and influence

Rob: For one thing, based on the long curve of our time with MCN, I’m struck by how less-strictly “technical” topics have come to be an explicit focus of more of our conference program content than they usually were in the past. This underlies some of the growing importance I believe each of us feels MCN has, both as a professional organization and in its wider impact on the field. These topics include strategy, project management, and so on, as well as “soft skills” (I’m not a big fan of that term, but the interpersonal competencies it references are critical), and in the most recent years, diversity, inclusion, social justice, and related topics. Many of the people who do and lead digital work in museums now conceive of what we do as being concerned at least as much with these things as with more stereotypically “techie” stuff like hardware, software, data, media production, and so on. Those things remain essential tools, but they were never the ultimate point, and MCN’s expanding scope reflects that. It’s been a real transformation.

Douglas: I think we’ve seen that MCN—as a professional service organization—has responded to and perhaps even helped to lead that evolution, not just in terms of the focus of the annual conference, but also in providing a professional network for staff who wrestle with these issues on a daily basis.

Rob: Yes. And I know we agree that many of the people who make up the MCN community have been focused on so-called soft skills and social interactions for some time—often not in on-program ways, but in the conversations, connections, and follow-up correspondence that spin off from the conference, year after year after year.

Douglas: Of course you know that my point of view will always focus primarily on people—as a former psychologist, I am a firm believer in what people can accomplish when the circumstances are right. I think you and I have imagined out loud that we could almost see changing the name, from Museum Computer Network to something like Museum Community Network. Of course it’s not the name that really matters, it’s who we are and what we represent that counts.

I think that our community is made up of museum professionals who are generally forward-thinking and proactive. Because of the strength of the interpersonal relationships among those in our network, we know and trust one another. That foundation of trust then allows us to tackle the really hard topics together—whether that’s the challenges of digital or the difficult work of change-writ-large: workplace culture, leadership, inclusion, equity, and the role of museums within the traditionally dominant western culture. I’m not surprised at all that our community is ready and willing to face up to these issues, and probably at a faster pace and earlier moment than many of our home organizations.

Rob: That foundation of trust is essential. And this importance of working environment, of social environment, applies across museums and in professional communities like MCN. In both kinds of organizations, it’s crucial to establish and grow a culture where people can do great things. And in MCN, it’s been wonderful to see discussions of how to foster this, as they expand out from informal conversations to on-program engagement—shepherding these topics out from the shadows of conference-hotel bars and onto the dais. This is especially valuable for newcomers, who may not yet know their fellow conference participants who are having those private conversations, but can easily find and attend a public session as a kind of discovery path. In this and related ways, MCN is helping to advance the broader field of museum practice, and not just in regard to “digital stuff.” This risks sounding a little cheerlead-y, but there’s truth in it.

Douglas: I think we would readily admit that the two of us are big fans of MCN, and that the organization has had a profound impact on us, both professionally and personally. So I’m not surprised that either of us might sound like cheerleaders! As the organization continues to evolve from its focus on deeper technology—after all, MCN was born from techies trying to actually network their respective mainframe computers together—to people and the so-called “soft skills,” it does put MCN at what is perhaps a crossroads or inflection point. Do you think there are any potential downsides to these changes to MCN over time?

Rob: If this were a hard shift away from MCN’s long-time set of technical topics and toward another, it would be—to use the technical term—bad. It’s critically important for MCN to continue to be a place for people whose interests are fundamentally technological, not only people more focused on organizational culture. This core part of the “traditional” MCN crowd brings huge value to our community; and as a key space for those conversations, which help participants advance that work in their home institutions, MCN advances the field in highly important ways. I don’t see this as a hard binary choice, but a valuable kind of expansion—not an “OR,” but an “AND,” like an overlapping Venn diagram, with some MCN topics and community members focused on technical matters and some more on “people matters.” And as each of those discussions plays out, what might seem to be a surprising number of “technical” or “people” topics end up engaging deeply with both.

Douglas: I totally agree. I have always seen technology as foundational—it’s necessary and essential, which makes it important and strategic. But technology itself was never the goal. We use technology to get things done, and for museums that includes running a modern business and delighting customers. I believe it’s important to find a balance—to have enough focus on technology to keep us all on our toes, and to have enough focus on people to support us all in our efforts to make our sector the best one in which to work, for everybody.

 

Community-building, professional development, mentoring

Rob: Yes. Finding that balance in MCN’s work, and opening paths for people to find their way to their own versions of it, is a big part of how MCN helps the community and the field. People encounter MCN at different points in different career trajectories. Some have a solid technical background but are new to the museum sector (and possibly to nonprofits of any sort), some have worked in museums for years but are suddenly engaging with digital transformation and need more technical knowledge, and some are new to our intersecting professional worlds in both of those ways. Whatever the mix, there are people in MCN who enjoy helping people find their way into that intersection, and helping them gain a sense of balance once they’re there.

Douglas: For me, MCN and its members and leaders have been my most important professional mentors. That mentoring has been informal most of the time, but also formal at times. I’ve been able to approach colleagues and benefit from a one-to-one conversation about my own career and choices I’ve made. I am also serving as an official MCN mentor this year, in the first cohort of that program, so I feel like I’m giving back at least a little. Although I will readily admit that I have learned a lot from my mentee as well. Emerging professionals in our field have much to teach us old dogs—I just hope we can continue to learn.

Leadership and organizational culture

Rob: So, Douglas. One of our favorite hotel-bar topics is teasing out specific aspects of organizational culture and leadership models, often in regard to how they play out in particular moments or patterns of interaction between people who work in museums (no names, no foul!). You’ve been one of the key people who bring leadership models into the MCN community, in presentations as well as off-the-record conversations. I’ve learned a lot about those models from you and from resources you’ve recommended. How do you see them functioning in regard to MCN, in its formal program and otherwise? How are they helping MCN move the field forward?

Douglas: That’s a great question and probably worth another long discussion! This is a favorite topic of mine, so I can go on and on, but let me attempt to summarize a bit. From my perspective, museums grew out of an academic model, more or less. Very hierarchical and siloed. That wasn’t much of a problem for the first several decades of their existence. Perhaps there was a bit of disruption when education became a more central operational goal of museums in the early to mid-20th century, but most museums simply created yet another department and went happily along their siloed way.

I think two things laid the groundwork for challenging that traditional leadership model: digital transformation and changing workforce expectations. Digital was perhaps the first externally driven force that had a significant impact on all of the museum siloes. Museums are still struggling with where to “put” digital, and most tried to make it just another silo—but the very nature of technology has been to permeate every aspect of organizations and institutions. To the second point, the modern-day workforce is very different than its preceding generations. We are all knowledge workers, not drones doing repetitive tasks. And knowledge workers expect—fairly, in my opinion—to have a say in what they are focused on (initiatives) and how they do their work (methods). That attitude requires flatter, non-siloed structures and cross-functional collaboration the likes of which museums have never really seen before. Effective leadership in this environment is fundamentally different—it is no longer about being “in charge” and much more about empowerment and transparency. I see MCN as helping move us all forward in terms of organizational culture, toward lean and agile practices—an evolution that will continue to be a challenge for our sector for the next few years.

Rob: And you do a real service to the field by helping people in the MCN community discover resources for developing as leaders—for example, in this blog post you put together right after MCN 2016. Leadership connects naturally to almost endless topics, but an especially critical one is succession. I know we both think a lot about the long-haul sustainability not only of the digital resources our home institutions create, but also of the organizations we care about the most—including MCN. It’s always interesting to consider how to balance useful continuity, institutional memory, and the value of ongoing service with, to put it plainly, clearing out to make room for new leaders to do their thing and make useful change without feeling constrained by the presence of past leaders. Does this resonate with your continued involvement with MCN?

Douglas: Absolutely. I have tried to position myself as a “contributor,” rather than a “demander.” Does that make sense? I want to be a resource to MCN and to the entire community, but I don’t want to be pushing my agenda, nor do I think that my interests and needs should be something that I expect MCN to satisfy. I would prefer that MCN is a broad and collaborative body, shifting along with the needs of a wide range of people and institutions. So, what does that make me, some kind of “consultant” to MCN? Not exactly. I guess I just want to be a part of it all! Rob, how do you remain involved with MCN—if I recall, you still have official capacities with the organization even now?

Rob: It can be, shall we say, hard to break up! I’ve dialed back my involvement, but that’s a relative thing. I’m always happy to be a governance resource for things like By-Laws revisions. And some time after I left the Board, then-Treasurer Diana Folsom asked me to join the Finance Committee, and that committee has kept me aboard. I love serving on Program Committees, reading some proposals, and being part of collaboratively shaping the conference. And at the pleasure of successive MCN Presidents, year by year I’ve continued to represent MCN on the AAM Council of Affiliates, which has representatives from 27 museum organizations, and which I now chair (as they say, “if you stick around long enough…”). So, yes: eight years out from leading MCN, I’m more enmeshed than I would have foreseen; but I love helping to move our community and our field forward, while—I hope!—not encroaching in any way on space for current leaders to lead. Said an “old-timer” who’s still always on call when asked.

 

What now? What next?

Douglas: Isn’t it interesting to have become old-timers in MCN? It’s funny how I don’t think of myself as wizened or graying, yet I suppose both are now true! You might laugh at me, but as I’ve been thinking about my own future at MCN I’m already putting consideration into how much to step away and let others lead—I’m thinking of Shakespeare:

More light, you knaves, and turn the tables up;

And quench the fire, the room is grown too hot.

Ah, sirrah, this unlook’d-for sport comes well.

Nay, sit, nay, sit, good cousin Capulet,

For you and I are past our dancing days.”

(Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, scene 5)

What do you say Rob, are our dancing days coming to a close?

 

Rob: I’d say “not yet,” but we’re also both listening and watching and trying not to step on toes or crowd the floor. If it doesn’t belabor the metaphor, sometimes the most rewarding experience is to watch a crew of more recently arrived friends take the floor and lead things in new directions, knowing that we have their backs if and as that may be useful. Corny? Maybe so, but true. And PS: I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you—at both of us. In a good way.

 

Addendum: Things we could have discussed, but we just ran out of time

  • Sequential ((and nested) (and multiple)) parenthetical phrases in spoken language
  • The Spinny Bar Historical Society
  • IPAs and IBUs
  • Freud
  • Rob’s old band, an intercultural ensemble of Ghanaian and American musicians: Talking Drums
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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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#MCN50 Voices: Darren Milligan & Marla Misunas

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.

 

Darren Milligan is a Senior Digital Strategist at the Smithsonian’s Center for Learning and Digital Access and the current Secretary of MCN’s Board of Directors Executive Committee. Marla Misunas is a former MCN President and board member currently working as the Collections Information Manager at SFMOMA and an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. They discussed the highs and lows of MCN’s organizational structure, what it’s like to make a commitment to serve on the board, and shared an exciting vision for MCN’s future. Also, they really want go to London.

 

Darren: So, shall we start off by introducing ourselves and how we are connected with MCN?

 

Marla: I’m a long-time MCNer; my first conference was in San Diego in 1995. I founded the California SIG, which lasted from 1999-2014; was on the Board 1999-2005, and was President from 2005-2007. Since I termed out I’ve been enjoying watching the organization grow and change, with better and better conferences, and broader diversity in speakers, conference attendees, and membership. I’ve worked in museum technology on the database side for twenty-five years. In the early days, MCN was really the only way to connect with people who knew what I was talking about, who had the same concerns.

 

Darren: For the past twelve years I have led digital initiatives for the Smithsonian’s “central” office of education, once called the Center for Education and Museum Studies, and now the Center for Learning and Digital Access. My MCN connection began in 2010, in Austin. While it was not my first conference, it was my first time speaking at a professional conference and I was absolutely terrified. For some reason, I had pictured myself on a giant stage, cowering behind a podium, in front of hundreds of my peers digging for the holes in my argument. I found the opposite, of course, a room with a few dozen encouraging and curious friends and colleagues. I have attended almost every year since and continue to revel in the warmth and generosity of the community that MCN supports. This past year, I was fortunate enough to join the Board and am serving on the Executive Committee as Secretary.

 

Darren: Marla, when you first joined the Board in the mid 90s, what made you want to sign up? Was there a pet project you wanted to accomplish, and did it happen?

 

Marla: The real answer to this question is Leslie Johnston (currently the Director of Digital Preservation at the National Archives). She was on the Board when I attended MCN in 1995. I shared a cab to the airport with her post-conference, and I was so impressed with her ideas and her commitment, that I thought being on the Board of MCN was probably the coolest thing I could ever do.

Although I didn’t have a specific pet project, my goal has always been to de-mystify museum technology and make it easier for people who consider themselves “non-techie” to understand, and to participate in. Making sure there was a wide variety of skill levels represented in the conference programs was always important for me.

But my mission on the Board was to put MCN in the black. When I joined, we were suffering from extremely low finances, due to a disastrous situation with a conference hotel. The other Board members, President Chuck Patch, and I vowed that MCN wasn’t going down on our watch! The conference I chaired that first year actually made money for MCN for the first time since anyone could remember.

When I was President, we were able to institute a new website, put on some successful conferences, and create a strategic plan.

 

Darren: So incredible! I remember, when we met during the 2017 MCN Archives Dive here at the Smithsonian how shocked I was to hear how the organization really had teetered on the edge; how, more than once, it had really come so close to disappearing. The Board finds itself in a similar, if not so precarious (luckily) situation now. Stemming from your intervention, the conference continues to be the activity that sustains the organization, but we are always in danger of relying too much on the conference for survival. We are working obsessively right now to find a way to ensure the organization can survive without absolute reliance on that event.

I should back up: I decided to join the Board as many of my most cherished colleagues here at the Smithsonian had previously served and I had learned what an incredible opportunity it had been for them to meet new people, grow professionally, and give back to the organization that had helped their own skills (and careers) develop. What an incredible opportunity to work alongside colleagues, peers, and frankly GLAM-crushes! I am happy now to be part of this group and help it become even stronger.

For me, as well, there really wasn’t a specific project that I came in hoping to achieve. Actually, right now the Board and the organization are at a really healthy moment. We have our first full time Executive Director, and we continue to professionalize many of the aspects of managing this non-profit. I am currently working, alongside other members of the Executive Team, on researching and developing that new approach to sustaining the organization. We are exploring a wide variety of membership offerings that we are all very excited to start sharing (soon) with everyone.

 

Marla: From your perspective as a new member, what are the top issues facing the Board?

 

Darren: I think the Board and the organization are in a moment of evolution, which is extremely exciting. Budget is always an issue and we are working to see if we can successfully transform MCN into a true membership organization. This will help. We too are at a time of growth, which is exciting, but also dangerous, as an organization that successfully served the needs of a few hundred might not be the same type of organization that can serve five hundred or more. We are working to figure that out. How to not spoil the uniqueness and community vibe of MCN when that community expands is what is very important to the Board right now.

 

Marla: If you were asking me this, I’d say, the budget, membership, and whether or not to charge for MCN-L (the listserv). OK, maybe sort of kidding about the last one. But it came up a lot.

From the 2006 membership survey, top three, in order: online collections access, digital asset management systems, and digital preservation.

 

Marla: I think we can probably both answer this one. Why should someone run for the Board, and what advice do we have for future Board members?

 

Marla: Running for and serving on the Board is a great feather in anyone’s cap. It’s great for your own professional development, and helps you build your network of colleagues that will most likely persist throughout your career.

To future Board members, I’d say, go in with both eyes open. Be sure you’re ready for the level of commitment that’s going to be asked of you. The more you put into your service on the Board, the more you’ll get out of it—it will be frustrating, but it’ll also be satisfying and fun.

 

Darren: I couldn’t agree more. It is an incredible opportunity for professional development; a glimpse inside the management of a non-profit, and an incredible way to connect with those outside your museum. But this is a working Board, so it’s not just your brilliant insights that the organization needs, but your week upon week of time and effort. It is worth it in the end, though.

 

Darren: I think we should both weigh in on this one too! If we could plan an MCN conference in any city, which one would it be, and why? (Are you listening MCN Conference Committee?)

 

Marla: I would love to plan a conference in London. Not only is London an amazing museum city, but the UK museum community has done a lot of great things in terms of organization, standards, technology, you name it. A London location would also attract larger numbers of European museum professionals, which is always a huge boost for the conference in terms of the variety of attendees and the institutions they represent. We could partner with someone like the Museums Computer Group. I’d sign up for that.

 

Darren: I love the idea of London! Connecting with the MCG group, incredible museums and universities, and tapping into the digital museum folks there would be a great bridge and perhaps help to grow the international attendance at future US-based conferences. You’ve got my vote!

I was at a meeting in Monterey this year, at a conference facility called Asilomar. It was built in the early twentieth century as a scout camp, all lodgy—perched right on the edge of the ocean. Everyone attending that event stayed onsite in one of their lodge-like buildings, shared meals together in a communal dining hall, etc. The whole time, I was wishing all my MCN family could be there in a similar situation. Trapped, perhaps, but so super concentrated. It would be interesting…

 

Marla: I love Asilomar and the beach there. It would be a great place for a conference! The concentrated togetherness would be great for team building.

 

Marla: Where do you see MCN in ten years? What differences do you predict, or will the organization be mostly the same?

 

Darren: It will be interesting to see where an organization developed to support technologists within museums evolves as those responsibilities become even further integrated into the roles of all museum professionals, right?

 

Marla: I predict a solid, robust organization that’s composed of the same caliber of innovative, smart, and generous people that we have at present. I’m excited at the possibilities of greater involvement by members scattered all over the world.

 

Darren: Am I sensing an interest in your responses to internationalize the organization more? I have to agree with you. As we strive to become “more than just a conference,” I hope our brand and what we offer to our members is not seen as a U.S. offering, but rather the organization can be one that supports a global cohort of change makers and technologists.

 

Darren: What do you think MCN does really well? In what area(s) do you think MCN has the most room for improvement?

 

Marla: MCN does a great job with conferences, and MCN’s greatest asset is its people. The people at the conferences, the people on the listserv, MCN’s Board and committees, and the MCN staff are all passionate about museum work, and about sharing their successes and near misses. MCNers are generous with their time and valuable experience, especially when it comes to helping colleagues figure out the latest puzzle.

In my experience, one of the areas for improvement is in keeping track of MCN’s own history and accomplishments. We have always been a forward-looking organization, but that has meant while we are achieving the next big thing, the big things we did last year get lost and forgotten.

MCN’s organizational archives are held at the Smithsonian archives, and some of us have been working with that material. I hope we can surface more of our history, and sustain it. In the past we’ve had trouble with continuity, so I hope we can improve on that.

 

Darren: Sounds to me like the Board might want to consider an historian role, someone to make sure, on a year by year basis, that we maintain our records and ensure that, 50 years from now, those who come after us, aren’t struggling, as we did, to put together the pieces of the organization’s history.

 

Proudest MCN moment so far?

Marla: I had quite a few proudest moments associated with MCN, and it’s hard to pick just one.

So here are my top three:

 

3. Pasadena, 2006. I probably never stopped grinning for the entire conference in Pasadena.

I was so proud to address the crowd as MCN’s president, do all the thank-yous, and introduce Ken Hamma, our keynote speaker. I’d been very involved in planning that conference, and seeing it come to fruition was a fabulous thing.

2. Taipei, 2007, inaugurating the Taiwan chapter of MCN, on national TV in Taiwan. We were there while a huge national digitization conference was happening, and we were treated like royalty. It was the one and only time I’ve ever been on TV, anywhere. Establishing this alliance with our colleagues in Taiwan was not only groundbreaking and exciting, but we made some good friends there, too.

1. Las Vegas, 2003, chairing the annual conference. The program was outstanding and attendance was too. But hosting the conference reception at the Liberace Museum (since closed), complete with Will Collins, a wonderful, piano-playing Liberace tribute artist, was absolutely the best. The pictures from that party remain my favorites of all the MCN reception photos. Will was resplendent in Liberace’s capes and rings, and we had a blast with him.

 

Darren: I think my proudest moment might be yet to come. I am so looking forward to being in Pittsburgh in November to celebrate the 50th anniversary. On top of its usual firehouse of inspiration and wisdom, it’s just going to be a weeklong party, a great time to reflect on how museums have changed and how all of our careers have been created and evolved over the past decades. See you there, Marla, right?

 

Marla: Wouldn’t miss it!

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#MCN50 Voices: Essie Lash & Angelica Aboulhosn

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.

Angelica Aboulhosn, public affairs specialist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, speaks with Essie Lash, Marketing Manager, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, about a broad range of issues from the way that technology plays itself out in marketing and communication to what’s on the Spotify playlist right now.

Angelica Aboulhosn and Essie Lash

 

What’s your current position, and how do you describe it the family and friends on the weekends?

Angelica Aboulhosn: I’m a public affairs specialist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. In short, I get to tell folks about the fantastic things our center is doing in the world, among them, producing the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and a number of exceptional cultural sustainability projects across the globe. If I’m lucky, that also means access to some delectable international cuisine.

Essie Lash: I’m a Marketing Manager at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where I help to share and promote the museum’s programs and exhibitions. On one day, I might be focused on a campaign for an upcoming artist talk, and on the next, on our summer hours—every day here is different. I work closely with the Global Communications, Education, and Visitor Experience teams at the museum.

 

On Social Media & Technology

What are some spots/websites you look to for inspiration? For rejuvenation?

AA: The Smithsonian Learning Lab has always been a favorite of mine, both as a user and as an observer. One of my favorite things to do is assemble my own collections and see what others are gathering. I’m also a big fan of The Artist Project from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The web series brings together contemporary artists to reflect on traditional works and the result is something altogether extraordinary.

Which social network can you be found on most often?

AA: Twitter.

EL: Same.

What are the apps you can’t live without?

EL: Pocket—my mind is like a sieve sometimes, so that app has been a lifesaver. I feel like 50% of my day is just spent bookmarking things to come back to. Pocket lets you do that easily and tag things obsessively. I also find the Moon app, which tells you the phase of the moon and days until the next new moon, pretty great. (Shoutout to the Still Processing podcast for that one.)


You and I are both in PR/marketing and communications. I think our relationship to technology isn’t always as obvious as it may be for some others in the field—but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

AA: It’s a topic I was just discussing with a colleague. Whatever your title in a museum or cultural institution, digital is part and parcel of your work. From the curators researching the new and nuanced exhibitions that we enjoy to the web developers translating those experiences online, each and every one of us is thinking about bringing cultural scholarship to people who might not have the luxury of visiting our museums. Technology offers an elegant platform on which to do that.  

 

On Work and Career

What career moves and aspirations brought you to your current role?

EL: I worked for a cultural partnership for four years in Brooklyn after being in a corporate communications role. That was really when I decided that working in a museum would be a dream job. I was able to collaborate closely with the cultural institutions in central Brooklyn, and observe how they built audiences, communicated their missions, and served their communities. That was when it first clicked for me that being an effective storyteller and marketer has a role to serve outside of the corporate world.

What do you think makes working at a Smithsonian different from other museums?

AA: The Smithsonian is more than a single museum. In fact, it’s 19 museums, nine research centers, and a zoo. The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where I work, is one of the research centers and each and every day I meet someone new or learn something new about someone I’ve already met. Smithsonian staff are unlike others I have encountered in that they are endlessly curious about the world around them and want to explore it. Every day.

I think you and I first crossed paths when you were looking for participants in a Twitter chat. What role does museum collaboration have in your strategy and your work?

AA: Collaboration is fundamental to our work. We are always looking for ways to share our scholarship and our expertise with partner research centers and cultural institutions. In fact, this October we are co-producing “IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food, and Cultures,” to celebrate the reopening of the Freer|Sackler galleries.

What is your favorite aspect of your job? What do you get excited about when you wake up in the morning?

EL: My absolute favorite thing, which helps keep me inspired to work on everything I do from planning to tracking, is being in the Frank Lloyd Wright building itself (especially before the museum is open or after it’s closed to the public). This hasn’t really changed since Day 1 at the Guggenheim. My offices are actually not at the museum itself—we’re downtown in the Financial District—but I try to get uptown to work about once a week. Being in the physical galleries, either on my own or when I can watch people engaging with the exhibitions that we’re promoting, is still a total thrill.

AA: At the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, we privilege community voices. The musicians who perform on our stages, the artists who color our walls, and the master craftspeople with whom we partner are all part of a rich and expansive community. It’s something we bring to our programming, too. You’re never alone at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, for instance. Whether at a discussion stage or a live music performance, you are experience culture as part of a larger community, you are seeing children light up at the sight of a performer or people who have come to the Festival every year delight in the reunion with old friends—that sense of community is something magical.


You and I are both in PR/marketing and communications. I think our relationship to technology isn’t always as obvious as it may be for some others in the field—but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

AA: It’s a topic I was just discussing with a colleague. Whatever your title in a museum or cultural institution, digital is part and parcel of your work. From the curators researching the new and nuanced exhibitions that we enjoy to the web developers translating those experiences online, each and every one of us is thinking about bringing cultural scholarship to people who might not have the luxury of visiting our museums. Technology offers an elegant platform on which to do that.  

 

On Art

The subject I can’t stop talking about lately is…

EL: For lack of a better term I’m going to steal the phrase “Old Art Lady Style” from Sophie Buhai , which I recently read in Racked.  When the Georgia O’Keeffe show was up at Brooklyn Museum, I was so taken by her fashion, and how her personal style integrated with her work and her art-making process. My own style is very haphazard, so I’m in awe of anyone who can pull off a uniform look and make it their own. Anything at the intersection of fashion and art is probably up my alley.     

What’s been your favorite Guggenheim exhibition since you started at the museum? Why?

EL: I think Moholy-Nagy: Future Present has been my favorite show in the Guggenheim rotunda since I started working here, having visited the museum to see everything from Picasso Black and White to Tino Sehgal’s This Progress here over the years. I didn’t know much about László Moholy-Nagy before we started working on the exhibition, but I’m pretty enthusiastic about all things Bauhaus, and I thought it made the ramps really come alive. It also included a reconstruction of Moholy-Nagy’s “Room of the Present,” which was conceived of but never built during the artist’s lifetime. The entire exhibition displayed an optimism about technology’s capacity to improve society that I responded to (and that fits in pretty well with the mission of MCN!) The show was later on view at LACMA and the Art Institute of Chicago, which I love; sometimes I wish I could just be a traveling show groupie and hit them all.

Tell us about your favorite digital/web/social project at or beyond the Guggenheim.

EL: We have a series on social media called #FrankLloydWrightFridays where we share photos of the building alongside quotes on Friday afternoons—it’s a perfect sendoff into the weekend and consistently sees high engagement. Over the past year or so, our Digital Marketing team has featured visitor photos and quotes about their visit, which is part of our larger strategy to spotlight visitor experience in our marketing and planning. I’m also totally obsessed with SFMoMA’s #SendMeSFMoMA project, which is a pretty perfect combo: the messaging bot showcases their collection and just sparks joy and surprise in users. I think the most effective digital projects are totally addictive and fun, and I’ve gone down a pretty long rabbit hole with that one.

 

On #MCN50

Have you been following other #MCN50 stories? What have you found surprising or inspiring about the community voices that are surfacing?

AA: From the #MCN50 stories I have read, museum technologists across the globe are facing similar challenges but are addressing them with an invigorating rigor. Each and every conversation brings with it sage advice and a handful of useful recommendations for museum practitioners young and old.

On Inspiration

Where do you go to stay inspired?

EL: Love this question. Living in a city offers constant inspiration, but I definitely need to take some breaks and trips to rejuvenate. I’ve made day trips up to Beacon to just run through the Dia galleries and grab a homemade ice cream right by the train station. Within the city limits, I find Coney Island pretty inspiring and just remote enough. (I gravitate towards long train trips to points of self-reflection, apparently.)

What’s in heavy rotation on your Spotify?

EL: I’m pretty impressed by the Spotify algorithm and what they’ve done with personalization in general—my Summer Rewind list is a lot of Dire Straits, Paul Simon, and Amadou & Mariam. (My tastes haven’t changed much in about three decades, but new things get into the rotation occasionally.)

AA: I’ve always been a Gypsy Kings fan, but I’ve recently gotten into some of Argentinian singer Suni Paz’s rich and stirring music.

Describe your personal aesthetic in three words.

EL: Colorful; Active; Geometric—or: “Changes by day.”

AA: Clean, spritely, and Seinfeldian.

What’s on your reading list?

EL: New York recently launched an initiative called “One Book, One New York,” which I’m very on board with. All of the nominees were either personal favorites, or have been on my list for a while. The ultimate selection, which I’ve just started, is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi. I’m also in a book club with a bunch of museum gals, which I highly recommend as a way of establishing some structure in this crazy world.

What’s your top local food spot?

AA: In DC, Sushi Taro on 17th Street.

EL: In NYC, probably Dimes.

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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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