May Day 2014 – Constant Vigilance!

In the immortal words of Mad-Eye Moody (or Barty Crouch aka the 10th Doctor, David Tennant depending on the book), “Constant Vigilance!”  Not only will it protect you from the Dark Arts, it can also save your museum, archive, or historic site in the event of a disaster.

How is this the first gif I’ve used on this site? Expect many more of these in the future….

Today is once again MAY DAY.  Last year I wrote about preparedness, and in the midst of the problems in Egypt, I wrote about the destruction at the Egyptian Museum.

This year I was asked to lead a workshop for the Tennessee Association of Museums for other museum professionals… I decided to take the Scare Tactics route.  Share as many horrible stories as possible, some with good endings, some with horrible, no good, very bad endings – then offer solutions so that professionals are prepared!

BE PREPARED! - Scar

BE PREPARED! – Scar

bepreparedhyenas

I dunno… Maybe…

tumblr_mnoiuocVbD1r1mr1po1_500

Massive Floods

Cow-in-a-tornado-from-the-movie-Twister

Tornadoes and flying cows?

 

The apocalypse?

The apocalypse?

 

Or perhaps worst of all, a:

SHARKNADO!?

SHARKNADO!?

Ok, maybe not.  But there are plenty of horrible things that could happen in your own backyard, such as sinkholes, water main breaks (this one was WAY too close to work for my comfort), vandalism, and countless other things we don’t like to think about.

While we can’t prevent these things from happening every time, we can be prepared and practice constant vigilance! I’ve prepared a list of several resources that are helpful for museums.  Some favorite are:

A complete list is available here.

What is YOUR worst fear at a museum or historic site?  Have any experiences with an disasters?  Share in the comments below:

 

TAM It 2013 – Recap and Highlights

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

It is once again the time for me to regale you all with tales from the Tennessee Association of Museums Annual Conference.  This year, the meeting was held just up the road in Franklin, which gave participants a great opportunity to visit the sites of near-by Columbia and the rich Civil War history of Franklin.

This year I attended as a conference presenter (twice!), PhD Candidate for MTSU, and as the Director of Collections, Interpretation, and Development for the Sam Davis Home and Museum (that’s a whole other post – if you’ve wondered where I have been, there is your answer – I intend to post more updates in the next week).

In among the sessions, great lunch and dinner breaks, site visits, and of course, hospitality suite shenanigans, I had a great opportunity to chat with and learn from other museum professionals about struggles and triumphs that we all share.  This fit in very well with the theme of this year’s conference, “Against All Odds: Stories of Determination and Resilience.”

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

The first day we traveled to Columbia, Tennessee to visit the James K. Polk Home, the Athenaeum, and a private residence.  We then had the awards dinner and tons of fun at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall.

Early the next morning, I chaired a panel called, “Acting on Accessibility in a Post-ADA America” with Dr. Brenden Martin from MTSU, Jared Norwood from MTSU, and Ashleigh Oatts from Marble Springs State Historic Site.  We asked such questions as: Is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enough? Is your site targeting and building an important audience by creating new opportunities for visitors with disabilities? The session  discussed ways that museums and historic sites can develop accessibility through exhibits, site layout, and program offerings in a post-ADA world by going beyond the typical “fixes” of ramps and benches.  Topics covered included the historical context of ADA, universal and exhibit design, reaching out to Special Education classrooms and individuals with cognitive delay, and struggles specific to historic sites and historic house museums.  Strategies and tips were provided, and we facilitated a short discussion about possibilities and solutions for specific sites.  Below is my presentation: 

Emerging Professionals Discussion

Emerging Professionals Discussion

The same afternoon, fellow PhD Candidate Rebecca Duke and Rachael South Bogema from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa joined me for a session called, “Rookie Roundtable: Discussions and Tips for Young Emerging Professionals.”  The session was designed as a group discussion to talk about challenges, issues, and advice for people just getting started in the field, students, or those that are trying to figure out where to go next.  We had a great conversation with people from all over the state, and everyone had great stories and advice to share! Please see Rachael’s blog on the C.H. Nash Museum site for more information!

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

 

 

Thursday night we visited Carnton Plantation, and then we got to experience the highly-anticipated dinner and live auction!  Table 1 walked away victorious, with every person seated there taking home at least one prize.  I even walked away with the most coveted prize: the Hospitality Suite Painting, which was created in the bathtub of the suite by TAM members the evening before the auction.

On Friday I attended two great sessions: “Against All Odds: Social Media Strategy and Planning on a Shoestring Budget” with Catherine Shtyenberg, assistant curator/web and social media coordinator, at the Frank H. McClung Museum and then a session about commemoration at historic sites which included: Melissa Davis from Humanities Tennessee,  Myers Brown from the TN State Museum, Charlie Rhodarmer from the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, and Jeff Wells from TN State Parks.  I know I took a lot away from both of these sessions, including a great program through Humanities Tennessee that will take place at the Sam Davis Home next month!  More information here.

You can see Shtyenberg’s wonderful and informative presentation on slideshare by clicking this link.

As always, I could go on much longer about how wonderful TAM was this year (as it is every year).  Instead, I will include these pictures from Rebecca Duke and Tori Mason and the official TAM facebook page so you can live vicariously:

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End of semester updates

Well the semester isn’t QUITE over, but it’s so close I can feel it!  This will mark the last spring semester of course-work EVER (which yes, I realize I have said that a couple times now…), but for real, I will be finished with PhD classes other than residency and dissertation hours in a little over a week!!!  I have had tons of news and breakthroughs in the past few weeks, so this post will try to encapsulate those and catch you up on what I’ve had going on.

Professor?

– I have a residency!!  After several really great meetings with organizations across the state, everything finally came down to funding (as always).  Luckily, the Public History program offered me the opportunity to do a Teaching Residency for the History Department at MTSU.  I wasn’t too excited about it at first, since I had a preconceived notion that teaching would mean I would have a class of US History 1 in the Fall semester and US History in the Spring semester.  That’s not the case at all!  Instead, this fall I will have a section of World Civ I, which will be great experience actually teaching college, because in the Spring I will be teaching Explorations in Public History, which is an upper-division undergraduate introduction to Public History!!  I have never taught my own courses, so this will be great experience, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind… As I was told several times the  next week at NCPH, I’m super lucky to have this opportunity, and I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  I’m really excited to teach, and any advice is welcome!!

At the NCPH Opening Reception by the bay

– I went to the National Council on Public History Conference in Pensacola, Florida at the beginning of April, and it was INCREDIBLE for a million reasons.  I met a bunch of great professionals and other graduate students in my field and reconnected with other contacts, I went to some great sessions, I got to spend a long weekend away from Murfreesboro and even got a little bit of beach time in!  There are countless stories, but I’ll stick with just a couple.  First, I signed up to be paired with a mentor through NCPH, which I recommend to any students or young professionals who go to the meeting.  My mentor and I met for lunch on Thursday of the conference, and he just had great advice and encouragement, and it was really just nice to have lunch with someone new who had perspective on my school stuff and my future and just life in general.  Second, I went to a session on teaching intro to public history, since I had JUST learned 4 days earlier that I would be teaching the Explorations in Public History course next spring.  I got some great advice and got to hear about what others are teaching, and made some contacts with others in my position.  Third, and possibly most importantly…

The site of my dissertation epiphany

– While walking through the pretty Pensacola park we passed each day on our way from the hotel to the historic village, I had an epiphany.  Out of the blue, my dissertation and research topic popped right into my head!  I don’t want to get too detailed into it since it is still developing in my head, but it is something I am really excited about, its meaningful to the world and community (which is super important to me), and hopefully it will help museums, historic sites, and people in general.

– On a related note, I have assembled my pre-dissertation committee, and I think they’re pretty awesome, and basically the best committee of all time.

That's me!

– Perhaps MOST exciting (though really, everything has been MOST exciting lately), was a surprise I found on my MTSU account last week.  Apparently the history department has a few scholarships they award each year, and I was the recipient of one!  I am the honored and happy recipient of the Bart McCash “Outstanding Graduate Student  in History” Memorial Scholarship!  It was definitely a welcome surprise, and I’m so grateful to the committee for selecting me for this award and recognizing my work in the time I’ve been back at MTSU.

With Dr. Sayward

– I also accepted a nomination to be the Association of Graduate Students in History’s PhD Representative to the Public History Committee for the Fall 2011-Spring 2012 school year!

– Things are going GREAT at the Sam Davis Home… we are all getting ready for Days on the Farm (which also happens to fall right at the end of finals week…) and school groups almost every day the next several weeks, then summer camps right around the corner as well!  It’s keeping me busy, but I love driving on to that beautiful site in the mornings and spending the days with the greatest co-workers.

Pretty drive in, even in the rain

So, yeah!  That’s pretty much all of my exciting news of late, and hopefully once the semester wraps up I will have more time to post all the crazy ideas I’ve had running through my mind.

Thanks for reading!

Conference and Meeting Fever

I realize it has been a little while since I posted.  With the holidays and beginning of a new semester, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and put all my thoughts into words.  Part of my hectic schedule has been planning for travel and conferences this spring and summer!  Below is a list of the conferences I plan to attend, as well as some information about those meetings. 

Tennessee Association of Museums – The TAM Annual Conference is in Johnson City this year, near ETSU.  Registration for this conference is a bit pricey for a graduate student ($175 for the three days of meetings), but the price includes meals, so I can’t complain too much about the cost!   The conference also includes visits to sites in the area, such as

  • Rocky Mount, a Living History Museum that invites visitors to “become part of the happenings of the year 1791”.
  • Hands-On! Regional Museum offers over 20 permanent, interactive exhibits for all ages.
  • Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site is a Living History Museum.  The collection of buildings show the history of an early Tennessee settlement through the Civil War.
  • Gray Fossil Site is a sinkhole formed from a collapsed cave.  This is the largest and best preserved terrestrial Late Miocene to Early Pliocene site east of the Mississippi River.  Many species of animals have been discovered at the site including a saber-toothed cat, short-faced bear, ground sloth, rhino, alligator, camel, shovel-tusked elephant, Eurasian badger, red panda and the world’s largest cache of tapir fossils.

National Council on Public History – The NCPH Annual Meeting is in Pensacola, Florida this year.  The Council offers complimentary registration for student volunteers, so I have applied for that opportunity (fingers crossed!), and the Public History Department at MTSU is providing transportation for students.  The theme of the meeting is “Crossing Borders/Building Communities – Real and Imagined,” and the program offers many interesting sessions that I’m interested in attending.

American Association of MuseumsAAM Annual Meeting is in Houston, Texas in May.  I have applied for both the AAM Emerging Professional Fellowship and the NAME Student Fellowship. (fingers crossed for one of those, too!!) Cost for this one is definitely prohibitive without one of the fellowships, since registration is set at $375 for the discount, early bird rate.   However, this is THE conference for people in the museum world.  “Museum of Tomorrow” is the theme this year, which is relevant to the question I am often asked: “Are museums going to be around forever, or will they go digital?”  This may be an almost overwhelming experience, from what I have heard from others who have attended AAM, but I’m sure there is a lot of networking and learning to do while there!

So these are some of the conferences I’m hoping to attend.  I have not yet experienced a Public History or Museums conference, so here are some questions for YOU:

What are some meetings you have attended? What are some suggestions you have for a meaningful conference experience?  If you are going to any of these meetings or know of a particularly interesting session at one of these, please let me know!

Management Class: Made Relevant to Museum Studies!

I just finished my homework for this week’s Operations and Production Management class.  I’m pretty excited because this week’s assignment was essays instead of math problems, so I felt pretty comfortable with it.  I was also pretty thrilled to be able to relate the questions to my work in museums!  Check them out, and I hope you will take the questions and answer them in relation to your own work, life, or organization!

*Disclaimer* These essays were written for a professor who is not a museum professional, so they are a little bit different than work I have done for museum studies courses.

1.      How do customers in your business define “good quality?”  What are the important features/attributes?

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, customers expect services found at a high quality museum where they will learn about Native American cultures and archaeological methods.  The “good quality” they expect may relate to exhibits, activities, educational programming, tour guide effectiveness, level of learning, or gift shop item selections.

Aesthetics at the museum have been recently improved from their previous state.    The appearance of the museum is somewhat problematic, as it was built in the 1960’s as, what appears to be, a Cold War-era bunker.  This is something that has been improved through the use of flower beds and colorful mosaic on the outer wall of the museum.  The museum itself previously contained several exhibits which have not been updated since the museum opened in the 1960s.  However, the current staff and director are undertaking several projects to make these exhibits more interesting, accurate, and updated.  Another aesthetic, which is problematic and out of the control of museum management, is smell.  Unfortunately, the museum is located across the river from a water treatment plant which sometimes affects the outside portion of the educational tour.

The perceived quality of the museum has also presented struggles for the new staff of the museum.  The museum itself is located in what some consider a less than desirable part of Memphis, and until the relatively recent past, the quality of the entire museum was not perceived as overly awesome.  This has resulted in a reputation the museum is working very hard to move past.  Through community activities and engagement as well as several updates and advertising campaigns, the museum is overcoming that reputation within the Memphis community.   One of the main ways of improving quality at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in which I was involved is through valuable and curriculum-based educational programming.  By offering programs to local teachers that are valuable to their students and related to the state standards of education, educators are more likely to choose the museum as a destination for field trips.   This can be perceived as serviceability because by attending the programming offered, students learn important lessons and information that will be later used on the standardized tests that are so highly recognized in education.  Special features of these programs include hands-on opportunities for students.  Rather than attending a “regular” museum where students may look but not even think of touching objects, at Chucalissa students are encouraged to handle actual artifacts from American Paleolithic archaeological sites.

2.  Identify one of the Process Improvement Tools discussed and describe how you could use it to improve a process you are involved with.  The process can be work related or from your personal life.

The DMAIC approach to process improvement is a basic, valuable tool for any processes in life or business.  I find the tool especially useful in my life, where I tend to over-react and stress out over small things which could easily be fixed.  DMAIC stands for: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control.  These five actions seem to be common sense, but many time people forget to use these simple tools.

In my own life, I am currently beginning dissertation research and analysis.  By using DMAIC for the preparation as well as the research, my life will probably be made a bit easier.  For example, my first step in this process should be to define the problem.  The problem I will seek to define is the effectiveness and efficiency of the educational programming I have produced in the museum.

Once that problem is defined, I will move on to measurement.   For this process, I will research different tools used for measurement and evaluation of the current programs.  Once I have determined the best ways to measure effectiveness of the programs (i.e. teacher evaluations, evaluation of test scores, effectiveness of pre and post testing), I will move on to analyze the data I collected.

As I analyze the data I have collected, I will be able to see what does and does not work with the programming.  The data should reveal if the approaches used, such as lecture followed by question and answer sessions versus the use of hands-on learning and experimentation, are effective.  Once the effectiveness has been analyzed, I will be able to determine that can be done to improve the process of delivering and developing educational programming at the museum.

Once improvements are made and implemented at the museum, the staff and director will maintain control of the process through periodical evaluations of the staff delivering the programs as well as changes within curriculum at the state schools.

** How have you used similar process (possibly without knowing you were using a business model!) in your personal life or organization?   What are some ways you could use them in the future to improve processes of your own??

Organization and Flexibility in Museum Education

There is something to be said about planning.  However, there is also a whole lot to say about rainstorms, middle-schoolers, and outside educational events.

When one is involved in a museum or public education role, one must always remember that while groundwork and orderliness are important to the planning process, flexibility and improvisation are also essential attributes.

This past week, the Museum of Biblical History’s Archaeology was an excellent example of organization gone out the window for uncontrollable reasons.

I have always been a planner and an organizer.  I run off prioritized lists and goals.  I probably spend more time preparing for things than actually doing things.  This event was no exception.  The detailed daily schedules, worksheets, and activities, attest to fact that our camp was set to run like a well-oiled machine.

Our Happy Diggers

And the first day, it did!  Gracious volunteers and a fabulous director prepped our freshly dug archaeological “excavation”, and the kids were eager to get in that dirt and dig.  After a lesson on the basics of archaeology, we headed out to our “site”, Rome, and got to it.  The kids were a bit hasty and sometimes did not use exactly the proper techniques of a “real” archaeologist, but at least they were getting some good information about how we learn new things without text documents, stratigraphy, and excavations.

Then came the Memphis Monsoon of July 26, 2010.  Monday night brought storms and rains the likes of which we had not seen in this part of town for weeks.  The wind blew away our tarp (which was not going to hold out too much rain anyway), and Tuesday morning we were left with a pit of mud and muddy water.

When the students arrived, we started work on invitations for the opening of our exhibit, “Rome at Home,” which exhibited the artifacts that the students found throughout their days of digging.  After delaying the trek out to the pit in hopes that it just might dry out some for the kids, we finally headed out to the trench with the children to assess the damage.

Jacob and the Mud Pit

Jacob, the director of the museum, is luckily a very good-natured and obliging man, and he jumped right in the middle of that pit to test it out.  After immediately sinking up to his ankles in mud, and becoming a little bit stuck, we decided that it wouldn’t be safe or really even a good idea at all to let the kids in the pit, or too close to it.

Luckily for me, I had a pair of rain boots stowed in my car, so after grabbing those, I jumped right in with Jacob.  To save the kids from potentially cutting themselves on glass or pottery sherds, Jacob and I sifted through the mud as efficiently, yet archaeologically-accurately, as we could.  We put the mud into buckets and let the kids more safely search for artifacts in those

Sortting through mud for artifacts

.  Some kids set to sifting through the mud or recording what had been found.

Overall, the students still had fun searching for artifacts and essentially playing in the mud.  I believe they did still learn something, even if that lesson was simply that archaeology isn’t always fun, and that life doesn’t always go exactly as you had planned.

Once they all made their ways home, Jacob and I returned to the pit to dig through Layer 3 to uncover all of the artifacts that were meant for Thursday.  The trench was so muddy and so wet that we had no hopes of it drying in the night, especially with the threat of more rain and storms clouds overhead.

Wednesday morning, we built a small new dig area with topsoil, and reburied the artifacts so at least the students would have a chance to get in there with their tools one last time before the dig was completed.  After a morning of recording artifacts, using archaeological tools correctly, and cleaning up our dig site, we all returned to the air-conditioning to finish our exhibit for our visiting families.

Building the exhibit "Rome at Home"

The exhibit was, I believe, a success for several reasons.  Students learned how a museum works and deciding what information about an object is important for the visitor to know.  In addition, they had to analyze the objects they chose from their grid-square and decide which are important, and what stories those objects tell.  Teamwork was also an important lesson of this activity, and throughout the whole camp, because of the need to work as a group to figure out what exactly was going on.

As is usually the case with groups of 9-15 year olds, crazy Tennessee weather, and just life in general, our plans and schedules went out the window for the most part.  Fortunately, just about everyone involved in this process was flexible and understanding and willing to simply go with the flow to make sure everything we set out to accomplish was completed.  The students still seemed to learn a lot about Rome, archaeological methods, teamwork, and museum exhibits.

I am by no means saying that the scheduling and planning are unimportant or unnecessary, because without that structure we would have been even more lost than we already were.  However, if you are in this business or hoping to get into it someday, you should be prepared for the unexpected, because Murphy’s Law is inevitable.

When working with the public, especially in an educational role, keep up the planning and organizing, but always make sure to stay flexible!

The happy, muddy archaeology team after a hard day's work