Thoughts on How to Get a Museum Job


Fitting for Labor Day here in the United States is a post about employment in the cultural heritage sector, specifically, museums.  Users of LinkedIn and various LISTSERVs often post discussions lamenting the lack of jobs in the Museum sector and the glut of students graduating from Museum Studies Programs.  In response, I often comment that although the employment picture is not rosy, there are steps job applicants can take to enhance their possibility for employment in the museum or cultural heritage industry.

Please note, I am aware that there are many individuals who have taken all the steps I list below and remain unemployed.  I accept that as true not just for museums but for many other industries.  My intent in this post is simply to offer examples of what has worked for some folks, not to discount or dismiss the very real concerns of those seeking employment.

As a starting point, today the employment picture is not particularly good for most job sectors.  The profession I left over 25 years ago as an industrial machinist now has a 26% unemployment rate.  Unemployment rates for telemarketers is 23% and actors is 28%.  On the low end of the spectrum astronomers, biomedical engineers, judges, and nurse practitioners all have less than 1% unemployment (see here for data).  For technical occupations in museums, the unemployment rate is reported at 5% in one source and 1.8% in another, both below the current U.S.  average of 7.4%.  I am not interested in defending the methods for computing unemployment rates – a controversial issue to be certain.  But the data show there is variation in rates of unemployment among job sectors and the museum industry appears better off than most.

Given these data, my experience as an employer of museum professionals, as an educator in a museum studies program, and observing internet employment boards leads me to conclude there are jobs out there – though not as many and of the types and geographic locations suitable to all.  However, I believe there are steps to better prepare oneself for the limited number of employment opportunities in museums.

First and foremost, the time to start thinking about getting a Museum job is not upon graduation with degree in hand, but before walking into the classroom on the first day.  An excellent framework to think of this process is laid out in The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Career.  Don’t despair of the Anthropology in the title – the approach is the essence of the volume.  The book covers the critical importance of creating a skills portfolio, internships, volunteerism, and professionalism – all issues that must be considered long before applying for the first job.   A Life In Museums: Managing Your Museum Career from the American Alliance of Museums is also very insightful with a similar coverage of topics, though a bit light on resources.  Museum Careers: Fit, Readiness and Development is a free download from Virginia Association of Museums that has some basic Q & A info to help determine the type of museum work for which a person is best suited.  These are three examples written by professionals on how to get a job in the Museum sector.  If you are seeking employment or will someday seek employment in the cultural heritage sector, and you are reading this blog post but have not read the above resources, you should go over to and order the first two titles immediately.

If you seek employment in a small to medium-sized organization that make up 75% of the museums in the U.S. today, you will be one of just a handful of employees.  If there is single consistent response to the LISTSERV questions on education and experience needed for the first job in a museum, the mantra is experience trumps degrees.  Therefore, a skills portfolio, published and conference papers, internship projects, and so forth can be the tipping point.

What have you done?  This question is critical and a point of departure I have with some folks when discussing paid vs unpaid internships.  Internships are the opportunity for hands-on training and experience.  Internships and volunteer positions should be negotiated agreements among all parties.  If one has a career interest in collections and has a choice between an unpaid internship assisting with condition reports and learning PastPerfect software vs a paid internship to arrange publicity for the opening of a blockbuster exhibit, which is the better deal?  Upon graduation when applying for jobs in collections, the resume line will read either a three-month position assisting with collections inventory and condition reports or arranging publicity.  .  . paid or unpaid will not be relevant.  A common response is that all internships should be paid.  Ideally, yes.  For small to medium museums with shrinking budgets, in the 2013 economy, that option is often not possible.

Flexibility is also key.  If you intend to work in a museum, and unless you live in a large metropolitan area like Washington DC or London, you may need to relocate.  This fact should not be surprising.  If you live in a city with 50 or fewer museum jobs, you might snag one of them eventually, but you will likely need to be mobile for the first few years.  Relocation is a commonly accepted fact for those with graduate degrees seeking jobs in academic institutions.  I raise this point as I am often surprised by the number of folks who seem surprised by this reality.

Flexibility in career choice within a museum is also key.  For example of the over 5000 respondents to the American Alliance of Museums 2012 Salary Survey, less than 1% were conservators yet nearly 12% were educators.  Assuming no bias based on job title in survey response, there are far fewer museum jobs for conservators than educators.  Knowing this fact the day before you take your first class is a valuable insight.

Careers, especially today, are processes and not events.  I am 61 years old.  I got my “dream job” at the age of 55.  That dream job resulted from my previous experience working in heavy industry, archaeological excavations, teaching, managing nonprofits and a few other things – all of which I enjoyed.  I have been perplexed on more than one occasion when unemployed graduates turned down a museum position offer because it was not their “dream job.”

In summary, yes, getting a job in a museum today is not easy.  And yes, academic institutions are into recruitment in a big way to bolster their sagging finances.  However, the student is responsible from separating the hype from the reality.  Know what you are getting into. I advise students that cultural heritage institutions will continue to be viable and vital institutions in the future.  However that future involves less thinking outside the box but expanding the boundaries of the box.  The Center for the Future of Museums and the Institute of Museum and Library Services host many reports and studies to contextualize the future employment in the cultural heritage sector.  Knowing this information is crucial the first day of class so that a student can tailor their academic career to suit the existing and future job market.

Finally, if you are looking for an unpaid 150-hour internship based in prehistoric collections research, educational programming, or community outreach that will provide all you need to then write a conference and/or published paper, we have a limited number of internships available at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.  Drop me a note at rcnnolly(a) to discuss.

What is a museum? Back to the Future with John Cotton Dana

start trait wordle

The International Council of Museums defines a museum as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

Though the ICOM definition still works, for the most part, today the very concept of a Museum is being pushed, pulled, and repackaged.  For example, the Museum Association blog published an interesting piece on the impact of the Google Art Project on the study of artworks.  The article considers how folks studied a work of art in the past and today.  Not having the books in the distant past meant the only means for studying a work of art was to go to a museum.  Five years ago in my Museum Practices graduate seminar I recall the literal gasps at my suggestion of a virtual museum.  Today the study of art on a computer screen is no less legitimate than viewing portfolio sized books, 35 mm slides or those arcane film strips of the not too distant past.

At the start of each semester in the Museum Practices seminar I ask students to take out a piece of paper and spend a couple of minutes doing some trait listing to the prompt “What is a Museum?”  The above Wordle contains the words the 18 students listed on the first day of class this fall.  The Wordle below contains the terms the same students listed at the end of the semester.  The difference reflects the shift in museums from being collections centered to focusing on the visitor experience as expressed in the New Museum by John Cotton Dana nearly a century ago.  Dana’s emphasis on the notion of museum’s being institutions of public service is more relevant today than ever before.  The Wordles suggest the students get this.

We will discuss some of the most challenging readings of the entire semester in our final class this Tuesday including:

Visit the Center for the Future Museums for these and other resources.

The pundits who explained the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election by noting “It’s not a traditional American anymore” would have done well to read the above articles.  They also would be better prepared to deal with the 21st Century by reading the words of John Cotton Dana written some 100 years ago:  “The museum can reach only those whom it can attract.  This fact alone is enough to compel it to be convenient to all, wide in its scope, varied in its activities, hospitable in its manner and eager to follow any lead the humblest inquirer may give . . . Remember always that the very essence of the public service of a public institution is the public’s knowledge of the service that the institution can give . . .”  (Cotton, p. 39 The New Museum).

The Wordle below suggests the Museum Practices seminar students agree.  Do you?

final wordle

A response to A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses

This past week I attended the webinar A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).  The webinar defined MOOCS as everything from iTunes U to the edX initiative of Harvard and MIT.  Here are a webinar resource list and a link that compare the range of MOOCs.  Seven Things You Should Know About MOOCs provides the basics that can be ingested in 5 minutes.  Also, I previously blogged about MOOCs.

The webinar title suggests a less than favorable overall assessment of MOOCS.  The 60 minute webinar bore out that expectation.  I won’t expend much figuritive ink on the bias except to note a couple of points.  The moderator’s near fanaticism in noting that “elite” institutions led MOOC initiatives was overkill.  The same was true for references to the “hype” around MOOCs.   The moderator’s comparison of MOOCs to the Oprah Book Club suggested the webinar would be as “fair and balanced” as Fox News.

Here are a few things the webinar coupled with my MOOC experience got me to thinking about:

Who are MOOCs for?  The obvious answer is potentially everyone with internet access.  As of June 2010 this means 77% of the United States population with no state at less than 60%.  A tremendous potential of MOOCs is the ability to engage in informal, free-choice, and lifelong learning, concepts today in the forefront of museum discussions.  Outstanding reports from the Center for the Future of Museums are available on these topics.  Academic sponsorship of MOOCs responds to this social need.  A good bit of the critique of MOOCs rests in their perceived impact on traditional academic degree models.  The perception is greatly inflated.  Coursera is one of the more successful MOOCs at this time.  Their home page notes that you can “Improve your resume, advance your career, expand your knowledge, and gain confidence by successfully completing one of our challenging university courses.”  All of that is true.  I believe that making such coursework available to all citizens, in their homes/libraries leads to increased civic engagement.  For academia to argue otherwise is self-serving.

What About MOOC content?  The criticism of MOOC content is difficult to take seriously.  For MOOC courses taught by tenured professors at Princeton, Harvard, or any other institution, one might reasonably assume that the content will reflect those very credentials.  I did not complete the Human Computer Interaction course I previously blogged about specifically because of the course content.  As opposed to alleged comparability to the Oprah Book Club, I dropped the course because I could not keep up with assignments that  required peer-interaction and review.  The course was more about the subject than I wanted.  I do look forward to other courses I have registered for that are more relevant to my research and career interests.

How can MOOCs be sustained economically?  The panelists were surprised that the biggest reason webinar respondents gave for liking MOOCs was that the offerings were open or free, causing one panelist to ponder “perhaps” we should be examining the cost of higher education.  As I often argue in my blogs, when our institutions demonstrate their relevance to the public that they serve, that relevance will be translated into economic support.  For example, in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum, over the past five years, we have moved from a position of extracting resources to inserting resources into the community in consultation with the community based on their expressed interests and needs.  When it comes time for the public of our community to demand of the elected officials support for programs, we are now in a much better position to receive that support.  I don’t see this as opportunism, rather, as living into our mission as an institution created to serve the public.

MOOCs, whether manifested as iTunes U,, edX, Ted talks, or the Oprah Book Club, ultimately operate from the same starting point.  In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky (2010:98) writes “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”   In the same way MOOCs is a technology that enables the publics desire for Massive Online Open Courses.  If this is wrong, then MOOCs or whatever they evolve into, will fail.  If the behavior is real, then all the hand-wringing and excuses will not stop them from succeeding.

What are your thoughts on MOOCs?

Celebrate Museum Advocacy Day

Below is an op-ed written by Mallory Bader, graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum for the February 28, 2012 edition of the MemphisCommercial Appeal.  The piece is based on the American Association of Museum’s Advocacy Day activities for 2012.

Guest column: Museums have mission to serve, educate

Today is National Museum Advocacy Day and it’s an excellent time to express support for your local institutions.

  • By Mallory Bader, Special to The Commercial Appeal

In tough economic times, government officials trying to balance their budgets often consider cutting funds for cultural institutions such as museums. Some view museums as luxuries we cannot afford. However, museums are much more than warehouses filled with objects. They are places where change occurs and lives are transformed.

I believe the museums that continue to flourish despite tough times are those that embrace their communities and address the challenges of our times. Instead of simply being repositories for “stuff,” public museums have a mission to serve, educate and empower our citizens.

Museums serve the public by providing fun and engaging educational opportunities. According to the American Association of Museums, museums spend $2.2 billion a year on education alone. At least 22 percent of our nation’s museums are located in rural areas and act as a primary educational voice for a community’s cultural heritage. Many are surprised to learn there are more than 75 museums in West Tennessee alone, most located outside of Memphis.

Museums can engage with communities to tackle a variety of issues that are debated in the political forum and affect our everyday lives. Nationally, discussions through the AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums take up issues such as local food movements, sustainability and human rights, to name a few. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is at the forefront of local and national discussions on human rights and social inequalities not just of the past, but of the present and into the future.

One way that museums can be centers for social change is through education. More than ever before, museums work in collaboration with schools to meet students’ educational needs. The idea of a “participatory museum” means more than just hands-on activities; it means a museum where the students and other visitors help to create the experience. Students now have an active role in their museum experiences and develop critical thinking skills while engaging interactively with the subject matter.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we provide K-12 students with engaging educational opportunities that are tied to a school’s curriculum standards. For example, students and other visitors have participated in the creation of our new outdoor exhibits such as the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary. When completed the exhibit will serve as an educational tool for visitors to discuss the role of traditional plants in the lives of the prehistoric Native Americans who lived at Chucalissa. The exhibit will also serve as a model for preserving and conserving medicinal plants for future generations of Memphians.

At Chucalissa, we are working to better address the needs of our community. For example, in redesigning the museum’s exhibit hall, we are going well beyond simply updating our exhibit cases. We are involving the public by holding focus groups and interviews with teachers, community members, archaeologists and Native Americans to help determine the content of our museum exhibits.

Museums now tell stories and build exhibits that paint a larger and more inclusive picture of our society. These stories often deal with people who have been marginalized or issues that are politically charged. Museums must become socially responsible and connect to the communities they serve, or else they will become irrelevant.

Institutions such as the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and the Pink Palace Family of Museums are publicly owned. Blockbuster exhibits and tax dollars alone will not keep these museum doors open. To be successful, the public must take an active role in defining what museums are to become. This crucial connection cannot happen without museum visitors being advocates and voicing their support of museums to our government officials.

Today is National Museum Advocacy Day — an excellent time to express that support. Remember, like libraries, schools and other public institutions, museums are meant to serve the public, but the public must also support and serve those institutions.

Mallory Bader is a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and a graduate student in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis.

Blogging for the Monkeys

I started out this post wanting to consider blogs in the same way I discussed Wikipedia last week – as a source or direction for research and scholarship.   There is a good bit of discussion on this subject.  A year or so ago I came across an interesting post by Molly Keener at Wake Forest University that reviewed the range of responses to the research potential of blogs.  More recently, is an interesting post on the use of blogs in the Tenure and Promotion process at universities.

A significant difference between the two is that blogs are more creative, more opinionated, and less encyclopedic than Wikipedia, though both forms rely on the same user-generated content.  Not recognizing this distinction is another flaw in Keen’s basic thesis of the Cult of the Amateur referenced previously.

In addition to scholarship, I have found that blogs are an excellent means for disseminating and receiving information, creativity, and ways of thinking outside the box.  That is how I perceive the Archaeology, Museums and Outreach blog. In the first post I noted that my intent was to provide a platform for folks involved in archaeology and museum outreach to consider what works and what does not work.  I do not know of any other regular media resource that addresses this area.  This past week at the C.H. Nash Museum, we launched a new blog, Chucalissa e-Anumpoli.  We see the new blog as filling a need that is not addressed by any of our other forms of communication at the C.H. Nash Museum.

Beyond research, in reviewing offerings from the Museum and Archaeology fields, I have come up with a few categories of blogs:

Career Networking – Much like Linked-in, although on a less redundant and more user-friendly level, blogs such as the Emerging Museum Professionals act as a vehicle for collaboration.  The blog solicits input from others, irregularly issues posts of interest to folks new to the museum field on topics such as interviewing for career positions, skill development, and regional meet-ups of like-minded people.

Trends – The American Association of Museum’s  Center for the Future of Museums blog and the associated weekly Dispatches from the Center for the Future of Museums are phenomenal resources on trends in museums.  The Dispatches does for me what I hope my blog does for others – provides information and resources relevant to a field of interest but that are outside the regular box and expertise of operation.  For example, the Dispatches provides links to the latest trends in philanthropy, demographics, and tourism that are important for me to stay on top of, but are outside the scope of my normal range of reading.

Institutional Information –  I really like the Museum Bulletin the Alaska State Museum publishes as a regular blog.  The publication is very outreach oriented, and reports the activities, acquisitions, internships, and events at the Museum.  The Museum use to “blog” their newsletter.  Were this an e-newsletter type communication that requires buy-in registration, I likely would not have come across the publication.  The Brooklyn Museum’s blog is another institutional publication that is quite creative in their posts.  See for example the Brooklyn Museum’s split-second basis project for selecting pieces of art to display.

Teaching/Research Interest – This type of blog is like finding that interesting book on the library shelf that works as a bonus supplement or even points one down a new road in preparing for a lecture or research.  For example, today I got the latest post for Museum Beyond that reviewed the Tate Museum’s new Race Against Time app for the iPhone – not a terribly glowing review either.  Also, Jennifer Carey blogged this week from the Independent School Association of the Southwest’s Annual Meeting.  Her final post was on the presentation by Jane McGonigal author of Reality is Broken.  Jennifer provided quite a few related links from the presentation.  Between the two blogs and the Wikiversity entry I noted from last week, these will likely find their way into my syllabus next fall for the honors course I will teach on gaming for social good.

Just Plain Interesting Today, Katrina Urban’s  NewMuseumKat blog posted a review and link for a virtual visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.  The website is a convincing example that counters the Luddite rant against the concept of virtual museums.  One should not need to travel to Amsterdam to experience the house, albeit remote.   Kris Hirst’s long running archaeology blog at has short nuggets of information about the latest goings on in archaeology.

Here is my punch line – all the above resources provide real and worthwhile information that is not readily (or at all) available in the traditional media. Contrary to Keen’s dire warning in the Cult of the Amateur of a future where “The monkeys takeover.  Say good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.  In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show.  With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future” (p. 9).

I can only respond – and what a fine job us primates are doing!!

My Favorite Free Downloads for Archaeology, Museums, & Outreach

There are many resources relevant to Archaeology, Museum and Outreach now available on the internet as free downloads.  Below are some of my favorites  as they relate to the general focus of this blog and are not already referenced by everyone and their brother/sister.  Here goes:

  • The New Media Consortium Horizon Project has just published their 2011 Museum Edition as a free pdf download that “is a co-production with the Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA) and examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in education and interpretation within the museum environment.”  The report begins with an executive summary followed by “Time to Adoption” discussions of different technologies. For example, under the Mobile Apps heading are the following discussions: Overview, Relevance for Museum Education and Interpretation, Mobile Apps in Practice, and Further Reading.  Of particular value, each technology discussion includes links to many live examples. This publication is an excellent resource for investigating the potential of digital outreach.
  • The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide published by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2009 is one of my favorite think pieces.  The 30-page free pdf download has nine discussion themes such as building sustainable institutions, evaluating program impact, and sharing authority with the public.  Each theme contains real-time examples and discussion questions that are as relevant to the small county museum as to the professional organization evaluating their outreach program.  I am using this document as the basis for the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar next week.
  • In a similar vein the Center for the Future of Museums site has several excellent reports on current and future trends.  The 2008  Museums and Society 2034 discusses demographic, economic, communication, and cultural forecasts.  Each section includes proposals on how museums must evolve to meet these shifting trends.  The 2020 report Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums focuses specifically on ethnic demographic trends in the United States and the need for museums to shift their orientations to serve the evolving public.  Both reports are available as free pdf downloads.
  • The Society for American Archaeology’s Archaeological Record is a fantastic resource for exploring different outreach themes of the discipline.  I previously posted about the Careers Issue of the Record.  Other themed issues of interest include a history of archaeology in the media and applied archaeology curriculums,  Published five times per year, the magazine is available as a free pdf download.
  • Kevin Smith at Middle Tennessee State University provides a prime venue for archaeology outreach with the Tennessee Archaeology journal.  Each issue is available as a single free pdf download.  Although I am certain formats will continue to evolve through time, the journal is in the vanguard in providing a readily accessible public resource for the types of archaeological reports that either never make it beyond conference proceedings or are buried in hard to find regional journals or Cultural Resource Management Reports.  Tennessee Archaeology is a step forward in the discipline’s need for public accountability.
  • For one stop preservation and conservation needs you cannot beat the National Park Service for their Tech Notes and the three-volume National Park Service Museum Handbook, all free pdf downloads.  The latter is of particular value as a comprehensive “reference guide on how to manage, preserve, document, access and use museum collections.”  I find these publications ideal to assist interested lay persons in preserving family heirlooms and other privately held cultural heritage objects.  The straightforward style of these reports provides an excellent opportunity to educate the public on stewardship issues.
  • The Visitor Studies Association provides free pdf downloads including articles from their bi-annual peer-reviewed journal Visitor Studies.  The VSA is the “premier professional organization focusing on all facets of the visitor experience in museums, zoos, nature centers, visitor centers, historic sites, parks and other informal learning settings.”
  • The proceedings from the 2011 Museums and the Web Conference held in Philadelphia this past April are accessible on-line in a variety of formats.  With sessions covering topics such as data storage, gaming, organizational changes, e-book publishing, the proceedings provide current thinking on a range of museum online issues.  Some of the online resources are typical conference paper texts, others link to Slideshare PowerPoint files, and others link to institutional websites that host not just the presentation but related materials as well.

The above list just scratches the surface of available online downloadable resources for Outreach efforts in archaeology and museums.  What other downloads have you found particularly useful?

Wellness and Museums

With a quadrupling of childhood obesity in the last 40 years, food and wellness seem to be all over the museum world of late.

  • A recent blog post at the Center for the Future of Museums by David Curry reports on last month’s Feeding the Spirit: Museums, Food and Community held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   The meeting was organized through a collaboration of institutions ranging from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden to the Association of Children’s Museums.  Curry notes that his “. . . key observation (which I am still reflecting on) is about how rich the collaborative networks were that underpinned all these projects.”
  • The current issue of Museums & Social Issues addresses Pursuing Wellness.  The volume draws on museums focused in science, art, health care, agriculture, and outreach projects such as the Field Museum’s Division of Environment, Culture and Conservation.
  • The Institute of Museums and Library Services’s  Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens initiative dovetails with the program sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama.  The Let’s Move’s October 2011 newsletter lists nearly 500 institutions that launched activities around the initiative. Twenty-five percent of those  institutions are Children or Youth Museums.
  • The Dallas Crow Collection now hosts a Yoga for Youth activity to “provide family programming using original art, stories, music, and sensory integrated activities to align healthy Minds, Bodies, Hearts through Art.”
  • The Museums Association in the UK calls for the integration of museum visits into the measures of “wellbeing” from the Office of National Statistics.

The wellbeing theme flows directly from the American Association of Museum‘s 2002 publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.   In that volume Ellen Hirzy (2002:9) considers civic engagement to mean “ . . . when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business.”  She also argues (2002:16) that “Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

A key part in this discussion harkens back to Robert Janes’ call for museums to be relevant in the lives of the public they serve.  I am struck that if that relevance does not draw on a museum’s mission and collections then the relationship is unsustainable and will simply become another piece of baggage to weigh the institution down.  A quick scan of the October 2011 Newsletter of the Let’s Move initiative shows how this relevance occurs at the many reporting institutions.

At the C.H. Nash Museum, the visiting public was way ahead of our own work in this area.  We were quite surprised, or at least I was, that 60% of the respondents to a spring of 2011 visitor survey asked that we expand our programming to include more of our 100 acre wooded natural environment.  We have a good response to our calls for volunteers to help with our herb garden, arboretum, sweetgrass bed, and  as we go about launching the next phase of the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary along our nature trail.  After our volunteer activities on November 19th, Graduate Assistants Megan Keener and Mallory Bader will host a tea tasting made from plants grown in our herb garden, along with snacks inspired by the traditional foods of the Chickasaw Nation.

How can your institution promote a healthy lifestyle for visitors?

Gaming & Museums

In early 2009, the Center for the Future of Museums hosted a webcast lecture by Jane McGonigal on Gaming and the Future of Museums.  The gist of the presentation was that given the amount of time folks, particularly the youth, invest in playing online games, how could museums tap into this trend to further their mission?

A load of archaeological sites host games of varying quality.  The Society for American Archaeology’s  Fun for all Ages lists some game pages.  Mr. Donn provides a whole suite of archaeological online games from the very simple to the reasonably complex  At Colonial Williamsburg the Dirt Detective is a very simple and straightforward educational attempt.

Perhaps more along the line that McGonigal advocates are several other games:

Wolf Quest is available in both Mac and PC formats and provides an action game environment with education on wolf ecology.  Players track scents, mate, and pretty much do just about everything a wolf does during its life cycle.  Although I am not an expert on wolf biology, the game appears authentic and does not rely on glitz to keep the player engaged.  I cannot imagine playing at this game for a bit and not coming away considerably more knowledgable about wolves – and it’s a free download.

The McCord Museum in Montreal provides historic era gaming options to online visitors.  McCord uses an increasingly popular option for museums in online gaming that allows the visitor to “tag” items on display to develop more reliable and robust keyword searches.  The McCord Museum games also include role-playing, observation, and quiz type games.  Overall, the McCord Museum offerings are quite engaging and provide a considerable information on the historic era Montreal and interacts with their broader on-line presence.  For example, the quiz game includes an image of an Iroquois headdress, ultimately connecting to the digital collections catalogue containing 40 odd other headdresses curated by the Museum.  Less complex than Wolf Quest, McCord-type offerings can be created through basic Dreamweaver programming skills.

Perhaps the most low-tech but ultimately the most community engaging gaming is the recently launched Interrobang a joint project of Nuvana, Microsoft, and the Smithsonian.  Interrobang is geared toward K-12 grades who choose real-time missions from those listed on the Interrobang site.  In collaboration with other team members, players develop a plan to achieve the mission.  The team then performs the mission, uploads documentation to the website and describes the experience.  Missions are regularly added to the Interrobang website and include Trash Reincarnated where players visit a recycling center and gather information on the recycle process from curbside bin to ultimate reuse.  In State of Song players create, perform, and video document songs to teach the names, capitals, and features of U.S. states.  Teams receive points for each completed mission along with badges and listing of team scores on the web page.  Interrobang gaming is aimed at problem solving.  The on-line presence is quite low-tech and manageable with a minimum of digital experience.  It’s not clear how successful Interrobang has been during its brief lifespan, however, the content seems completely in-line with McGonigal’s approach to on-line gaming and museums.

What is your experience with on-line gaming, archaeology, and museums?