Museum Research Visitor Profiles

Perhaps one of the least talked about audiences, within the museum sector, are research visitors. Here I don’t discriminate between what makes a researcher a researcher, it could be a titled world expert wanting to study objects, an enthusiastic budding biologist with some specimens to identify or an artist wanting to paint, sketch or draw museum specimens, and everything in between. Basically, all the behind the scenes visitors to museums as opposed to the tourists, day trippers, event attendees, school and university groups.

Facilitating research visits is one of the hidden, often time consuming, yet brilliant parts of museum work. In larger museums it’s a endless troupe (troop, troop?) of visitors and enquiries that can take up half the working year. At smaller museums it may be a quieter flow of enquiring minds a year. I say this work is brilliant because this kind of self-directed access to museums is one of the best things about them and speaks from the heart of a function of museums. We hold this stuff and information about this stuff with a dash of expertise (although many researchers bring their own) for you to access. How can we help you? First-time visitors (although often the first of many) express gratitude and often surprise at the help they receive but, although it may be forgotten or not often shouted about, it’s a big part of what museums are here for and we record and report researchers. In part this use justifies museum’s existence and is an absolutely unique function of them.

In my experience, there is a smidge of snootines sometimes about curation/collections management as service provision, but it is rare. Many museum colleagues go to extraordinary lengths to help enquirers and visitors despite it not especially being the big shouty project work or generate numbers that can in anyway compete with the raw through-the-door numbers, the flawed but unshakeable yardstick that still carriers a lot of the weighting of museums comparative worth. For my money the fact that you should be able to book a visit to any museum, see objects from their collection for reference, study or sheer pleasure is a key part of what they are there for, baked into the ethos of many museum’s founding and a fundamental function of accessibility to human knowledge held for the wider good in theory without cost, discrimination or judgement.

Read on for One and Done-rs, Precocious Prodigies and Inside Cricketers…

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Collections Newspeak 5.0

Museum collections are boring. There we said it. They desperately need a makeover. The words and language associated with museum collections have the amazing power of making even the soggiest of lemon drizzle cakes dry up and desiccate like a cracker left in the desert. Recently, one Welsh Museum director’s head famously dropped off through sheer boredom at a collections committee during a particularly dry discussion of making sure the museum legally acquires new obj… christ, it nearly happened to me just now. You know the story. In a recent Museums Organisation survey on perspectives on collections an astonishing 78% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement I wish our collections staff would die so I could get on with my work.

These days, fussing about the meaning of language has never been less important or inconsequential and it’s something we can all get our teeth into without really having to change anything that we do or say or think. Everyone can and should have an opinion about second guessing what everyone else is trying to say, regardless of their qualification or need to. It is known. With this kind of meaningless change we can all get behind, firmly commit to and not have to do anything about in mind the following significant update to Collections Newspeak, CN 5.0, was made at the 67th (virtual) Congress of Collections Concordance Registry (CCCR). Please diligently expunge all retired terms and update with suggested new ones. This way we hope to dupe the museum sector into thinking collections and collections work is as exciting as [this decades buzzword concept] or even the perpetual self flagellation of everything the sector does in the hope that somebody, anybody notices us.

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Museums and… Museum Studies Degrees

It’s been a funny week in museums. First of all Museum professionals are reportedly murdering each other over the new definition of museums and then this tweet about crediting museum curators in the press kicked off a days worth of slightly warm exchanges about who deserves credit for exhibitions. It would seem that the museum sector is struggling a bit with fundamental definitions so what better time to dust off a 2013 blogpost I wrote whilst at UCL on Will a museum studies degree help you get a job in a museum? Originally posted here all images (c) UCL.

This post is a bit inside baseball, but then so is the metaphor inside baseball.

We get asked the above question at the Grant Museum frequently by aspiring museum professionals and volunteers and it’s a question that isn’t simply answered. I can’t say that my view on whether it helps or not is the definitive view but as an employer (sadly not as often as we’d like to be) here’s my personal thoughts on whether or not it helps. Continue reading

Archives, Libraries & Museums: Time To Let Newspapers, Radio and Television Die.

A historic decision was made this week at the International Museums, Archives, Libraries and Heritage Committee (IMALHC) annual congress meeting in Oslo by international representatives of the global heritage sector. IMALHC members voted to stop giving deadmedia (newspapers, radio and television broadcasting) a free ride in order to let them die with “a bit of dignity left”. This welcomed decision is expected to be respected and actioned by heritage organisations in the coming year. The decision taken is to stop giving free time, resources and assets to deadmedia organisations to run cutesy stories or prop up the same three documentaries they keep making.

Brione Poplio, IMALHC member and Curator of Massmedia at the Museum of Communication, said “As an expert on obsolete media it was a difficult decision to pull the plug on creative industry stablemates. However, it’s been a rather one-sided relationship for the last hundred years or so. We waive filming and reproduction fees, give up our already limited staff time, help with their research and they run the same headline about ‘discovering lost artefacts in dusty basements’. It’d almost be offensive if anyone was actually reading listening or watching”.

Cereza Bayonetta, Head of Brighton Archives Centre added “We had the perfect example of this last month. We gave up two days of time and museum space for BBC filming How Old Is Your Celebrity Caravan and got three likes on our ‘we’re on the telly’ tweet. A local popular LGBTQ+ podcaster happened to mention they came to the centre in passing and our Instagram follower quadrupled overnight. They also got the name of the institution correct, unlike the BBC”.

Ian Dunlop, Director of Wenlow Museum of Horticulture said “Exposure is cheap these days. I was on the Today programme recently talking about hoes and I couldn’t even buy a coffee in my local cafe with the exposure. The young barista didn’t even recognise it as valid currency at first!”.

Jenny Jenson, Head of Marketing, Communication and Innovation at the Museum of Rocks and Dairies, offered: “We’ve got a live webcam of a creaky floorboard that once belonged to Charles I that has more viewers than at least three national newspapers have circulation figures. If we wanted to get a message out, we’d put a Post-It on the floorboard to be honest”.

Some heritage professionals welcome the decision to allow traditional journalism to end with some dignity such as Mia Norwich, Head of beeswax at GYRATE!: “When the lights do finally go off and the doors do finally close on the fourth estate and traditional journalism let’s remember them for speaking truth to power, for making world leaders quake in their boots. For holding those at the top accountable. Let’s make the memory of dead media one of these messages, not the papping celebs on the milk run in their PJ’s or the giving platforms to trendy fascists that they’re known for nowadays”.

Not everyone was unconcerned for the future of popular culture, newsmaking and communications though. N’Gari Hattershank, Chief Senior Junior Librarian from the Potter’s Library, warned: “Obviously, the Internet and social media remains the Wild West when it comes to ethics, checks and balances and accountability. This is a slight change to traditional journalism which has these ethics, checks and balances largely ignored but at least on paper”.

 

 

Elsewhere in the blogosphere update January

So here we are, two months since the last entry cobbled together with clips from around the web with ANOTHER ONE. I guess I’m sticking to blogosphere too. As with the last update, I’ve been contributing a lot elsewhere, some of which you may have missed.I struggle with the fine balance between trying to share ideas, what I’ve written and what others have written, enough so that people see it but not too much to end up spamming content he says whilst spamming content.

December and January have been fairly busy but here’s what I managed to squeeze out of the old brain tubes. Continue reading

Elsewhere in the blogosphere update November

Do people still use the word blogosphere? It’s been rather quiet here at Fistful of Cinctans and that’s because I’ve been writing a lot elsewhere, so like those cheap flashback sitcom episodes that are mostly made up of footage from older episodes, here’s some pointers to other stuff I’ve been writing instead. Continue reading

Subject Specialist Knowledge: The Answers Part 1

It’s been a hot minute (read two months) since I got back from the Museums Association conference and wrote this blog post about what subject specialist knowledge means when it comes to museum professionals. I felt that the term ‘subject specialist knowledge’ is used so often that the meaning of the phrase has become a bit abstract. Ambitiously, I said I’d upload the ‘answers’ in a couple of weeks but it’s taken me so long to write these up precisely because, those snap decisions that your friendly neighbourhood curator inherently knows when thinking about museum specimens, is such a huge amount of information to type up.

So here are the six objects and the answers to the first half of the 32 questions I posted, that every good curator will know. I’d like to iterate that these are ‘easy’ ones for a natural historian and I’m sure colleagues in other fields can think of similar examples. This is the knowledge you lose when you don’t have the specialist on staff or access to a specialist or specialist network to advice. Continue reading

Why Don’t More Men Work In Museums?

The 20th of January was #MuseumSelfie day, a day I don’t particularly relish nor begrudge, and overall probably a good thing to see museum professionals, who are the majority taking part, let their hair down, the unwary letting their hair down a bit too much but overall no harm done. Being the hilarious individual I am I rather glibly and a smidgen snarkily tweeted:

Why has my feed exploded with images of white women? Ah, I see why.

Ha ha. This led to a perfectly amicable Twitter exchange with two of my favourite geologists about diversity in culture, heritage and museums which I won which even through the difficult short format was clear there were a lot of different opinions and speculations particularly about gender diversity of museum professionals. This planted a bee in my bonnet, so I thought I’d put some thoughts here because writing a blog solves world problems. Continue reading

Museum Careers Advice- How to apply for jobs

Earlier this week, I was very kindly invited to speak at an employers panel at a Researcher Career Pathways Event at Oxford Brookes University. In preparing for the panel, I jotted down some top tips, which I thought I’d share here, kicking off 2016 blog content and continuing in the PSA theme I seem to be developing with the content here. Before I get into the tips, I will say that this is drawn from my experience in working in museums and universities, mostly for natural history and heritage related roles so is probably the most relevant to those sectors. Industry, particularly science and engineering is a whole different kettle of fish but certainly some of this information will be transferable.

I’ve had over ten years of experience in recruiting across a range of roles, from volunteers to project assistants through to being involved in the recruitment process for positions on the same level as me and above. The museum sector is famously ‘oversubscribed’ with people trying to get a foot in the door but in my experience, it’s rarely been challenging to shortlist five or six people from a long list of applicants. This isn’t because there aren’t fantastic candidates out there it’s more to do with the lost art of the job application. I’m almost loathe to publish this advice as it may make shortlisting that bit harder in the future.  So without further ado.

HERE BE TOP TIPS

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How to be More Helpful to Researchers

My last post was a ‘How To’ for researchers of all walks of life to write an enquiry to a museum. I’ve mentioned in a previous post for UCL Museums and Collections Blog about the foibles of finding and accessing museum specimens (specifically natural history museum in the UK) and I’d like to expand on that in this post. Accessibility and relevance of collections is enshrined in many museum’s ethos, founding principles or strategy yet as a museum researcher on occasion, as well as someone who works in a museum, the sector can make it very hard to link the people who would be users with collections. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a number of researchers who have had a poor response from museum enquiries, even well structured ones, and I’ve got a three year old and one year old enquiry lodged somewhere in the pipes at two well known UK National Museums. With ever present pressure on resources within the sector as well as a need to justify why we need to plough resources into maintaining vast collections, here are a few things I think we could do, to get those collections better used. Continue reading