A new book featuring blogs from museum professionals is a testament to the challenges facing our sector—and the great number of awesome people working to solve them.
I count at least 12 friends, acquaintances, fellow-conference-attendees, or just plain twitter peeps among the 60+ blogs which contributed to The Museum Blog Book, from Edinburgh-based publisher MuseumsEtc. As a views-my-own blogger in the museum field, this isn't just great reading, it's "I want to be in the next one … if there is a next one."
Obviously, I have a blog (you're soaking in it), I cross-post on Medium (changing again, what is it with this new economy?), and I've been trying to get another blog off the ground after I organized an unconference on views-my-own museum bloggers at last year's Museum Computer Network conference in New Orleans. Creating content is hard, and getting it discovered is harder, and putting together a book of text that lurks in the near-ephemeral work of online writing is most impressive of all.
It's not that blogging is unappreciated as much as it's unforgiving and unrealistic—when so many of us in the museum field are working harder than ever, trying to do more (reach new audiences, participate in necessary digital endeavors) with less (reduced budgets everywhere, nevermind a looming defunding crisis), the idea of spending precious spare time writing for a likely small readership is quixotically commendable. It's a reason many of us got into this field in the first place—to help tell stories to others under difficult, non-monetarily-enriching conditions.
The museum field in blog form, in book form
One of the earliest posts in my blog was about the MuseumsEtc. printed compendium of the first CODE | WORDS series of essays, Technology and Theory in the Museum. This book is longer, at 676 pages, but the entries themselves are brief; as a whole, it's encyclopedically rich, and a book of this size would be intimidating if it weren't so easy to open and just start reading.
Blog posts in a book can take a little getting used to—where are the links? Why can't I boot up a game of solitaire?—but once you get going there's something edifying about seeing this content on the printed page. The ephemerality of blog posts is a function of the medium, not of the quality of the content, especially when you have serious professionals writing about their passions which are so important for our society.
The usual rules that govern blog posts—SEO! images!—don't come into play here either. It's a relief that makes you want to read more museum-field blogs and, more importantly, do something back at your institution to put these many, many views into practice.
All the entries are readable, and when I started a list of posts worth mentioning, it started to sprawl. For instance:
- Joan Baldwin, whom I've cited on this blog and in twitter, has four entries from her LeadershipMatters blog. (28, 32, 36, 40)
- Haitham Eid writes about IDEO designer Liz Ogbu's keynote at MCN2015. (88)
- Alyssa Greenberg and Nina Pelaez discuss the "rogue session" at the American Alliance of Museums which led to the ongoing Museum Workers Speak. (100)
- Gretchen Jennings writes about the first anniversary of #museumsrespondtoFerguson. (116)
- Incluseum co-founders Rose Paquet Kinsley and Aletheia Wittman along with Porchia Moore describe the reaction their blog received for praising Michelle Obama's statement, at the reopening of the Whitney Museum, that many kids—remembering herself as a child—would say about a museum like that, "well, that's not a place for me." (130) (This sentiment, when pushed by museum leaders and resulting in increased focus on new audiences, can sometimes generate strenuous pushback from museum staff.)
And this is just in the first fifth of the book!
Read on and there's a poem about museum technology by Chad Weinard (164) and the position that a museum is a person (dear to my empathetic institutional heart) by Maria Vlachou (176). There's a series of interesting posts on the possibilities of art objects as real and metaphors, asking questions and posing answers which lead to more questions: How do you make collections truly open and accessible? (Michael Peter Edson, 220). How do you really make searching through massive museum object data sets workable? (Ed Rodley, 260) What is the right relationship between collections and the public in a way that balances art and audience? (Merete Sanderhoff, 268).
There's a great section delving into research and experimentation of how students of all ages learn best in the museum, from museum educators who've done the work, followed by a section with many entries on the development and testing of in-gallery and remote technology.
In light of the current controversy at the Whitney Biennal (also here), Adrienne Russell's description of a similar issue—are white artists using black pain for profit or at least career advancement?—at a Chicago gallery in 2015 is predictive. (488) It's proof that you'll come back to these entries again and again.
And finally, Jeff Gates has the last (after)word: how to write a good museum blog post. (628) If only I'd known!
Full disclosure: The publisher of The Museum Blog Book reached out to me for a blurb and provided a digital proof; I got a comp copy later. Humble thanks to Dana Mitroff Silvers, whose post "Five Steps for Embedding Design Thinking in a Museum" appears in this book (154), for passing my name along to MuseumsEtc. as a potential recommender. (Scroll down to see what I said.)
Once you've read the book, tweet me your thoughts on the book and also on blogs you'd have liked to see there.