Thursday, April 5, 2012

Professional Development

image from
Today I had lunch with a few colleagues, and after lunch we had another colleague visit the office which meant even more shop talk. Maybe it's because of the upcoming workshops, but the topic of professional development and staying current came up during both conversations. I am paranoid that I will fall out of touch with the field. How can I be an effective museum advisor if I don't have a grasp on the challenges faced by our members, and trends within the sector? Put simply, I can't. And at the risk of people getting very annoyed with me, I would argue that museums can't stay relevant in our ever-changing world unless they also keep up to date with these challenges & trends. Museums are educational institutions, ie we are focused on the pursuit of knowledge. That sounds like a call to action to me, and one that has to begin internally.

Now before you start getting defensive, I recognize that many of our members simply do not have a budget for professional development. We do our best to keep workshop costs low and to share resources and information for free via Facebook, the Beacon, regional meetings, etc. But there's just no comparison to actual people-people training. As I've been promoting our core curriculum workshops, I have heard a number of reasons for people not attending - and money is at the top of the list. Well, that's exactly why the CMA has a travel bursary

As I was thinking about how museums (of any size) could/should be participating in professional development opportunities, I came up with the following list:

1. Attend conferences - I'm going to skip the international specialized ones and start at the national level. The Canadian Museums Association's conference is coming up. This year's theme is "On the Edge". It consists of pre-conference workshops, post-conference study tours, and the program is chock full of concurrent sessions (not to mention the famous ice cream break). Anita and I end up picking sessions together, trying to figure out which ones are most important to ANSM and then parting ways to get as much learnin' as possible. We regroup over breaks and tell each other all about our respective sessions.
Provincially, ANSM has a conference every year. This year we'll be in Wolfville, September 13-14th. Again there will be a pre-conference workshop & study tour, and lots of sessions about engaging youth. And did I mention we're launching our collections website at the conference? I'm so excited for this that I'm already thinking about what to wear (anyone that knows me would tell you this is not normal).
And there are always a host of other conferences taking place - archives, built heritage, genealogy, marketing, tourism...the list goes on and on, and the information is either directly related or very transferable to museum work.

2. Attend workshops - I've already mentioned workshops a bit, so I'll just say that these are extremely important. Learning in a group setting through lecture, hands-on activities, and discussion will help you retain the information much better than just listening or reading something on your own.

3. Take advantage of site visits - I travel all summer, visiting museums from one end of the province to the other (literally - Wedgeport to Cape North). These visits are scheduled in advance as it takes a lot of coordination to cover an entire province in one summer. As I deliver training or converse with staff/volunteers I often hear things like "oh I wish so-and-so were here for this". If you know that someone from a professional organization will be visiting your site, call in the troops! Sure we may find it a little intimidating to be met with an entourage, but we would much rather endure this than repeat the same training or conversation for the same museum. Don't say yes to a site visit when there will only be summer students around. I love to meet students and see what they're working on, but they'll be gone at the end of the summer. You have to have a permanent staff person or volunteer on-site for these visits.

4. Regional Meetings & Listservs- Networking is important, and each of the four heritage regions have bi-annual meetings to compare notes, talk about opportunities for partnership or advocacy, etc etc. And sometimes they invite guest speakers to share information on a particular topic of interest. The meetings are announced via the regional listserv, an email list that facilitates discussion on all kinds of museum issues.

5. Read books - Most of the museum people I know are also avid readers. I have found some amazing resource books in used book stores and libraries, and every once in awhile a publisher will have a great sale on 'specialized' subjects (that includes museology). And did you know ANSM has a reference library? Well we do, and right now we're working on getting those books into CollectiveAccess so we can share the catalogue on our website.

6. Follow blogs - I follow 16 different museum-related blogs. A few belong to our member museums, but most take an overarching look at the field and focus on innovative ideas and techniques that anyone can mimic. The beauty of blogs is that you can check in with them whenever you have time, and the posts are short which means no worries about when the book is due back to the library or carving out 16 hours of reading time. Some of my favourite blogs are the Center for the Future of MuseumsExhibiTricksMuseum 2.0, Museum Audience Insight, Technology in the Arts, and the Uncatalogued Museum.

7. LinkedIn - I'm not really active on linkedin, but I am a member of several museum groups and once in awhile participate in a discussion. For anyone unfamiliar with this site, it's basically a professional forum. Some of the discussions can be really fascinating because these people are genuinely interested in what happens in museums worldwide. Talk about staying current.

It doesn't matter if you've been in the field for 30 years or are fresh out of school. If you aren't challenging yourself or investing in your staff/volunteers, it will become harder and harder to stay relevant to your community. Or as my predecessor would say, if you're not stirring the pot you're not cooking.


Linda Norris said...

Thanks for linking to the Uncataloged Museum. I'm just about to start work on a series of workshops for Newfoundland, so I'm thrilled to make more Canadian connections. And I think the issue of professional development is critical as we think about how to create more value for our museums in our communities. Lifelong learning for all!

J Goreham-Penney said...

Karin, I would love to know more about your blogroll, I hope some time you'll share a links list of known ANSM member blogs here with us. Anyhow, a timely post, CH and I were discussing last week what kind of training opportunities we'd like to try and arrange for our volunteers.

Karin said...

@Linda, great to hear from you! I'll be sure to check in with our Nfld friends about your workshops. We love to compare notes.

Karin said...

@J, I'll be sure to send you my list. If there are any museums in NS that are blogging, please let me know so I can follow you!