I have finished, and submitted, my required essay about my time at the SEMC Annual Meeting. Now, I’ve decided to share it with you! Enjoy!
Thanks to a considerable amount of money I earned applying for a scholarship through the Arkansas Museum Association, I was able to travel from Little Rock Arkansas to the unknown territory that is Knoxville, Tennessee. Another stroke of luck reached me, when a fellow co-worker and museum professional, Allison Hiblong (Director of Operations at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum) also received a scholarship. Combining our powers, we were able to visit Knoxville, stay at a hotel right where the conference was taking place, and learn as much as we could in a three day span about museums and archives. As a first time museum conference attendee, I was very excited to not only receive a scholarship, but to be able to share my experience with another museum professional from my area. Representing the Arkansas Museum Association and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where I am currently a graduate student, is the best experience I could have asked for in 2014.
One of the most interesting sessions I had the pleasure of sitting in on was the one about Media in Historic Houses, by Lenore Hardin and Laura Overbey of the Biltmore. Such a gorgeous place should not be bothered by the frenzy that accompanies media personalities, but when it does, it is represented in top-notch fashion and the artifacts are protected with up-most care. Personally, I do not work at a museum that has such delicate and fragile materials. I do, however, work at a museum that has an old relic that needs to be respected. I am a tour guide at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, and the USS Razorback (a WWII submarine) is the main attraction. I set the rules in the beginning of the tour before we even get on board, and enforce the “no-touching” policy on things such as buttons and levers, since she is about 90% operational. The confidence and authoritative way that these women defended their positions in the museum world gave me added strength for the museum I work with currently, and the ones I will hopefully work with in the future. At the end of the day, it’s about the artifacts, and these women prove this statement!
Learning how to properly be interviewed or represent your historic site in the media was another session I was able to attend. This brought a different spin on the media aspect of museums, but is important in this digital age. In order to advertise for your site, many museum professionals are frequently called upon for interviews. In addition, newspapers and magazines may write favorable or un-favorable articles on your site. How will you defend yourself in these situations? I thought it imperative to understand the mind of the media, which Lisa Littlefield and her partner displayed as the speakers in this session. How do you appeal to the media as a relevant story that will make news? How will we as museum professionals defend our site against negative accusations? How will we highlight the positives in a bad situation, which may or may not ever occur? These were answered in the brief session, and I felt confident that if I had additional concerns I could contact these women immediately.
Another session that stuck out in my mind was my very first session: Media for Exhibits 101+. There were four presenters from this session, but Darcie MacMahon was one that I continued to speak with after the session ended. It is a fact that museums and archives need to push forward in technology, and the best ways to do this were explained in this session. Some of them may work for our site, but some may not since we are smaller than the Florida Museum of Natural History. Learning how to expand your museum exhibit past display cases front and center, or creating media that will be utilized by children is one example. Many children today are used to touch screens. If we put something that looks like a touch screen at a child’s level, they will use it like one. If it is not, this may actually confuse a child. We may not all be able to afford touch screens at our site, but understanding the new mentality of the next technologically driven generation will help create a legacy for our museum.
The underlying theme of the SEMC Annual Meeting was “Renewing Traditions, Rethinking Approaches”, and I agree that in museums today, we need to be able to take our old artifacts, and revamp our approach to displaying them for future generations. I learned that without understanding the media, we may never get our museum or site past the ground level. Advertisement is essential, and it is up to us to define what type of institution we will be to the public. In addition, it is our responsibility to teach each person who walks in our door, media or not, the value of the artifacts that are in our site. Without these artifacts and the history they represent, we would not have a site. These two go hand in hand, and the common ground is important to understand. We do need to realize that the times are changing, and embracing technology is a must to continue educating the public about our site, or even to stay relevant in the world. The keynote speaker, Michael Edson, was spot on with his talk about media in the future. Using real life examples, Edson brought to life how two men who only wanted to communicate via small, video recorded messages transformed what we think of today as communication. The VlogBrothers show that even people like you or me can bring relevance to absolutely nothing at all. Knowing this, museums which house important, nation changing artifacts have no excuse but to get out there, figure out the media of the future, and represent your museum, historic site or archive with a positive twist, and bring those patrons to your site. You just need to find your niche!