Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Wish I'd Known....

What do you wish you knew when you started your first museum job?  This week, I began a new project with the Connecticut Humanities Council and the Connecticut League of History Organizations,  facilitating a series of workshops as part of the new StEPs CT program which uses AASLH's StEPs program, combined with active mentoring and training, to help 20 plus organizations in the state move forward.

My meeting this week was with a talented group of project mentors, who bring, in total, decades worth of experience to the table. To get to know each other better, we began by talking about what we wish we knew when we began our first museum jobs.  Here's what we shared:
  • That what I learned as a camp counselor would be far more useful than what I learned in graduate school.
  • That I could temper my expectations and be more realistic.
  • No matter how good the programming or exhibits, all the board cares about is the bottom line.
  • Customer service never ends.  Every time the phone rings you have to be on your A+ behavior.
  • That all institutions are so different from each other.
  • That when you come to work in an institution, there's a whole host of existing relationships that you can only guess at.
  • I have to be me--not what others expect.
What do you wish you knew when you began your museum career?  Let's hear it!

Photo by elycefeliz on Flickr


Bob Beatty said...

That belief in the mission is paramount and probably the first job requirement.

Program grants are often more trouble than they're worth.

The first two questions any group of school kids asks when they arrive are: "Where are the bathrooms?" and "When's lunch?" The next question is "Where are the dinosaur bones?"

Jamie said...

They may be wrapped in different vocabulary, but all the critical issues are exactly the same as they were in the for-profit world.

Gretchen Jennings said...

Great question. Coming from being a college and secondary school teacher, I wish I had appreciated more how different museums are from schools- took me years to learn this.

Melessa said...

That my experience as a PTA President would serve me more as an Executive Director than any class I took in college.

David said...

Two things that are more connected than I knew:

1. The high cost of paying your dues in order to get even the most poorly paid job in a museum.

2. The amazing number of types of jobs that exist in history (and how many have to be simultaneously accomplished by just one person at a small museum). If I had known about historical architects, I probably would have become one of those, but would likely still have to fix the toilet.

T.H. Gray said...

I wish someone had told me that museums are not about art and history, but about keeping the institution running (so when there's time & money enough we can talk about art and history).

T.H. Gray

Katie, Museums Askew said...

How valuable it is to find a mentor and champion, and the importance of reciprocating that role for someone else.

That as much as you continuously have to sell and justify your institution to others, you'll likely have to sell and justify yourself to your institution.

The importance of a personal brand isn't just about being marketable, it's a way to clarify for yourself who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to do it.

Linda Norris said...

What great responses everyone--as I read them I think about how differently each of us learn, and how our experiences that we bring to our work shape us. I've been thinking a fair amount lately about mentors and mentoring, and as Katie comments, it's a vital activity, and one that each one of us need to pass on. It's one of the things I like best about teaching. But, at the same time, reading all your comments, it makes me wonder about all the museum graduate schools out there. Worth it?

Katie, Museums Askew said...


I chose to go to through a MS in Museum & Field Studies because I knew I wanted to work in museums. Every job listing I saw wanted that degree. So I got it.

While it's true that most of my experience happened on the job, I will always value graduate school for exposing me to more fields within museology than working could have done alone. I also think graduate school was important for encouraging me to look at my profession academically. I've worked with many people who don't see the value in museological research, publications, conferences, etc. and I have gained so much from being a part of those dialogues.