Adapting Museum Studies Programs for a Digital Future

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Adapting Museum Studies Programs for a Digital Future. Kelsey Johnston (@kelseysjohnston) and Caitlin Kearney (@caitkear)1

-Kelsey and I are about to graduate from the museum studies program at the George Washington University. Weve learned so much and met some really inspiring mentors. -Weve also noticed that there are some tangible digital skills--whether its using Drupal as a content management system, reporting on Twitter analytics, or doing some HTML coding--that dont necessarily have a place in our academic classes. -Weve learned a lot through internships, jobs, and some of our own research, but weve also been thinking about how grad students and emerging museum professionals can get better exposure to and hands-on training with some of the specific skills we find in digital museum job descriptions today.


-As Caitlin and I searched, applied, and interviewed for jobs these past few months, weve noticed differences between what museum studies programs teach in terms of technology and new media and the job market. The courses that weve taken, and those offered at other programs around the country, allowed us to think critically about the museum field. Weve taken a brief look at whats been offered at museum studies programs and then also job descriptions. These sample courses show the wide spectrum of approaches that museum studies programs are taking to digital technology: University of San Francisco - Digital Technology Practicum John F. Kennedy University - Museums , Interactive Technology and Electronic AccessNYU - Museums and Interactive TechnologiesJohns Hopkins - Digital Preservation Digital Media in the Museum-Job descriptions, however, ask a lot more of us than weve gained in our classroom and internship experience. Weve seen some interesting combinations of skills in these job descriptions:-Must be fluent in current mobile technology, social media and cloud-based computing platforms-Use Drupal content management system to create and update content on the Museums website and microsites-Research on new digital tools, partner promotions, etc. in the best interest of the Museums digital presence-The candidate must have 1 years experience using social media tools for blogging, micro-blogging, online social interaction, online media sharing (YouTube), social media monitoring and web analytics.-Demonstrated success working with digital asset management solutions and workflows-Unpaid internship: ...knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and After Effects are preferred. Familiarity with Google Analytics is a plus. - As full time students, Caitlin and I have sought opportunities to gain many of the skills mentioned in these job descriptions, but we wonder if there could be more opportunities for grad students and professionals to better understand each others skills and expectations.


So these are just some of the things weve been thinking about as we go through this process. -What makes museum studies grads hirable? What are the expectations?

-Are the digital museum jobs out there entry level? Is entry level understood differently by recent grads and by those hiring? -Digital is now a real field...meaning that, maintaining a website or Tweeting are no longer added onto an educators or collection managers regular duties. How do we envision this new and evolving path to professionalism? -The tools and technology are always changing. Of course, you want to hire someone whos a digital storytelling master or Google Analytics expert today. But how do museums hire for the tools and skills that will be valuable 3 years from now?


-Is it possible for museum technologists to adopt the teaching models of other industries?-Lets think about apprenticeship models, like those used in the culinary field. Some young, aspiring chefs learn the basics in culinary school, but most learn on the job. Chefs train young cooks in the tools of the trade. Students work alongside their teachers to master techniques and practice on the spot. -What if we applied this model in museums? Directly sharing knowledge between museum professionals and students would allow the next generation of museum technologists to have a better grasp of the hard skills needed to make museums successful.


-I [Caitlin] used to work at a tech PR company, where I was hired straight out of undergrad with no proven PR experience. Startups are characterized by nimbleness and constant change, which means that a lot of new hires are brought in based largely on their potential and enthusiasm. -This model depends on providing new hires with the tools and training they need to thrive in their roles, and opportunities for on-the-job growth (which yes, sometimes also means on-the-job failure, as I discovered firsthand. But its a great way to learn!) -Museums are probably more risk-averse than startups, but this is a good reason for there to be early skills-sharing among museum professionals and grad students.


-There are already some great examples of museum professionals thinking inclusively about skill sharing. -#MuseWomen is an online collective where emerging museum professionals learn from more experienced technologists on a variety of topics, including HTML coding. This helps new professionals gain the hard skills required for these positions. -In an effort to apply the principles of some of these models, this job posting for a fellowship from the Center for the Future of Museums aims to create a new, innovative position, instead of recycling a job posting, the Center is looking for someone with the potential to develop new skills on the job.


-So, why should museum professionals interact with museum studies programs? Its mutually beneficial. Youll find out who the next emerging professionals are, what they know, and what they would still like to or need to learn. Students will learn what you are looking to hire for, so that we can better enhance our classroom studies by seeking out exposure to current technologies and digital skills. -Internships and mentorships are essential, and they need to be paired with intentional skills sharing. See what I do AND do what I do are both valuable learning approaches. It should be just as normal for a student to ask you for a quick MailChimp tutorial as to approach you for an informational interview over coffee.


-On-the-job training tailors the expectations for positions to your specific institution. By hiring emerging professionals with the capability to learn and innovate on the job, museums benefit in the long run. Recent grads are eager to continue the learning process, and museum professionals can encourage that through skill sharing. -When hiring, also take personal social media, website management, and volunteer experience in various digital initiatives into the required experience for a position opening. Skills are developed in all types of work, so thinking outside the box can lead to more creative outcomes.


Thank you! Wed love to hear from you and continue the conversation.