The Trend-Followers

Museums strive to influence culture, to argue that they are a nexus, the ground zero of things like civic engagement, social responsibility, and visual learning. Ha! That is such bullshit. An example: the web. Museums are constantly looking at emerging technologies as in, How do we get in on that? Museums say “What’s with this Twitter thing? What is the need for social networking?” rather than sitting around thinking proactively about how to put these tools to use — its all retroactive. It’s kind of like reading Snow Crash today and saying Wow! This Stephenson guy really took the avatar idea and ran with it, gave it life. (For those who don’t know, Stephenson invenvted the whole avatar thing.)

I mean when I started applying my writing skills to museum exhibits, the most exhibit experience I had was in doing online exhibits….as in on this thing called the interweb. This was no secret — I made it completely clear that I had very little hands-on experience with making a “real” exhibit. And yet, my boss said something to me like “See, here’s where we differ. I don’t think online pictures can replace the real thing!” Let me be clear. Web exhibits are not supposed to “replace” the real thing. People come to museums to see stuff. But what we do online can help get people to come see stuff. And give them an unstructured space to explore what we’re all about.

I taught myself a bit of HTML & CSS, I do a lot of database admin for my work, and have had to learn basic SQL, networking, etc. And yet I’m almost always the most knowledgeable about this tech-type stuff among my coworkers, except in places that have staffs large enough to hire *actual* IT folks. Which is scary, because I only know enough to be dangerous. I can figure out how something is put together, and it takes me a long time to break it down, recode it and put it back the way I want it. It can be done, I can do it, but it takes me awhile. I am self-taught in Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Access, Google Sketchup, and tons of other stuff, which means I can figure something out, but it takes me longer than folks who’ve had formal training in these things. But at least I recognized that for my future career, I would need to know these things and try to at least keep up with the curve, rather than falling hopelessly behind. Like the luddites with whom I seem to work. I mean I said something about how stupid it was for all of these Second Life museum classes I keep getting advertisements for, and these folks look at me like I’ve grown a second head: “What’s Second Life?”  OMG, ARE YOU SERIOUS?! I get “I don’t believe in Facebook” or “What’s the point of Twitter?” I think my points are lost when trying to explain that Facebook can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool, and Twitter is just plain awesome. Especially for writers — it helps me hone my skills of saying what I want to say in less than 140 characters several times a day. What better way to become more concise AND tell all of my followers about my thoughts on the a penis invasion on Second Life?

In Which I go Through the Open Window

Today was my last day at my museum job! On to another museum-ish job. Not exactly a museum, but a private art collection, where I’ll be managing the collection and doing research. It’s going to be different in a lot of ways, but the one that I’m looking forward to most is having a clearly defined role that will enable me to concentrate on one project at a time and do each well. I wasn’t able to negotiate putting off the start date, so I’ll be starting after a long weekend, rather than after the years weeks of vacation I actually need to rest up & recover from my museum job, but at least I landed a job in my general field. And that is a feat in and of itself in this economy.

Work Assessment

So in looking for new work, I’d applied to a position at another nonprofit that seemed to have its act together. I wasn’t sure if the position was right for me, but as I got to know the company, I felt like it was a really good fit. Read: they pay well and offer benefits.

But the hoops to go through in applying for the job were borderline ridiculous. In addition to the usual cover letter and resume, phone and in-person interviews, I had to take an enormous battery of personality assessments. I had been told that regardless of whether I was offered the position, I’d be given the results. After I’d gotten word that I wouldn’t be offered the position, I hadn’t heard from the HR folks, so I finally called to inquire and had a phone consultation with them today to go over the results. The first thing the HR woman asked (excitedly) was, “So! Did you get the job?!”

Um, no.

“No? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

(Um, why the hell didn’t you know that already? Weird!)

“Do you know WHY you weren’t offered the position?”

No. I simply received a letter that stated that another candidate had been offered and had accepted the position.

“Well, we’ll see what we can find out on our end and give you a little more feedback on that at another time. In the meantime, just try to understand not to take this personally and ….”

I tuned out. It’s hard not to take this sort of thing personally.

Anyway, on to the results. I was shocked at how accurately the results reflected my work style and personality. I was measured in four cognitive ability areas: vocabulary, numerical and visual analysis, verbal reasoning, and critical thinking. For these four tests, I rated “far above average” in these areas. But that wasn’t the interesting part. The assessments also measured my work personality in several areas.

As far as my leadership style, I am comfortable at being in charge but it’s not something that I have to have at work to be fulfilled. (Check). I am open and willing to challenge the status quo and challenge authority, not a blind follower. (Yup.) I am willing to voice unpopular opinions, but I am also concerned about what other people think of me and my work. (So far, three for three.)

On a scale of introversion to etraversion, I am in the middle. Which means I need to be around people and be given the opportunity to work on teams, but I also require alone time to think, contemplate, and do the tasks that contribute to the overall project. Sounds right.

I am not only comfortable working among people who are different from me, I actually prefer that because I am inspired and fueled by the diversity of approaches and ideas brought to the table. I have strong empathetic skills. I am good at listening to and understanding others, I am concerned about others’ feelings, and I am approachable. I am dependable and see that follow-through is important, but I’m not overly concerned with details to make me a perfectionist. I am highly focused on achievement and strive to exceed my goals. I prefer to be self-directed and independent, but I like a lot of variety in my work — I get easily bored with the same thing or repetitive tasks. I am naturally curious, I am skilled at understanding myself, my thoughts and feelings, and reading non-verbal cues. The tests even revealed that I’m quite sensitive, that it is difficult for me (though not impossible) to address sticky or sensitive issues and I take constructive feedback way too personally.

While I may not have landed the job, I think all of this info is a really key takeaway as I look for other work, particularly since I’m considering bailing on the museum, and even nonprofit, sector altogether. The problem is I don’t know how to find work that best suits me…


All I do at work anymore is fundraise. The annual fundraiser is in three weeks, and my coworker (singular) and I have been working our asses off to make it go smoothly. I cannot believe how poorly planned the event is. With the Boss on her maternity leave, it’s up to me and the administrative assistant to make it happen. The board committee shows up for weekly meetings during which they play on their Blackberrys under the table while half-heartedly listening to whether we should have the same dessert as last year or a new one. The meeting breaks, an hour and a half later, with no decision made. The only decision is that we should all email our choice by 2 pm tomorrow.

Instead of all the work I came here to do — collections management, archival digitization, exhibit development — I spend all of my time putting together packages for the upcoming Silent Auction, take reservations for the event, book bands and photographers, and work as a bartender at all of the other smaller special events. This upcoming fundraiser is mission critical. It raises all of our operating expense fund for the entire upcoming year. All of our operating expenses.

My boss has all but said that the next year depends entirely upon the money raised at this event. But never having done this before, there’s no training, no help, nobody who did this last year to walk me through this. Until the museum can create a stable financial base, all of my efforts are going to be oriented to the season’s fundraiser. In the spring, it’s the major annual fundraiser. In the fall, it’s gearing up for a booksigning and lecture. In the winter, it’s a holiday themed dinner. And in the new year, it’s another booksigning and lecture. The museum has zero endowment, and barely scrapes together enough to pay its staff.  I have no idea why the museum decided to spend their hard-earned money on me, who has very little experience in special events and fundraising, when they could have spent their funds more wisely on a development director to raise money.

An Unlikely Ally

The other shoe dropped. Today my boss presented to myself and the president of the board her plan for her maternity leave. She’s taking her leave starting now, even though the baby’s not due for another two weeks. And then after her six weeks off, she’s returning to work.

Via telecommute. From home. Part time.

So I’m going to continue to be expected to handle all on-site concerns and duties. For six months after her maternity “leave” ends. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

But something interesting happened at this little get-together too. I have never really had any interaction with the board president, partly because it’s not my place and partly because she and my boss seem so buddy-buddy. So it was weird when the board president had my back during part of the meeting.

The Boss announced that the next exhibit would open in October. The board president lost it. She said that it is totally unrealistic and unfair to expect an exhibit to fall into place in 7 months, especially given all of my other responsibilities and immediate priorities. The Boss insisted it was “fine” and that it “has to happen. Period.” (Of course it’s fine for her! She’s not doing any of the work!)

The board president persisted. She is an exhibit developer for another museum and she said that at her institution, they take up to 2 years to put together new exhibits, because it takes that long to research and develop content, fundraise, write the text, gather the visuals, select the artifacts, prepare the gallery, and install the exhibit. The Boss, having zero experience in exhibit development, drew a line in the sand. “We have never taken more than a year to put together an exhibit and I’ve already committed to an October opening and that’s when it will open. I’ve told potential sponsors that it opens in October.”

My boss went straight from her MA into being a museum director. She’s never worked in exhibits, education, collections, or anything else. She has no clue what it takes to put together an exhibit. She couldn’t articulate the steps that have to happen if her life depended on it. And since she rules with an iron fist, when I tell her that I can’t accomplish a given task in the time allotted to me, she sees that as my own shortcoming, that I’m disorganized and not managing my time wisely. But maybe she’ll listen when the board president speaks.

Phone Tree

If you call a major museum and ask for the curator, you probably get handed off to some assistant to the assistant curator, or the registrar, or an office manager. If you call my museum and ask for the curator, you get me.

99 percent of these calls shouldn’t even make it to me, but our front desk volunteers are ancient and can’t follow instructions, nevermind filter my calls. So they just send them straight through to me. I get dozens of the following questions weekly, if not daily. You get to choose the proper response from the choices provided under each question.

1.  I have an old newspaper / rock / dinosaur bone. I’m at the front desk. Can you come tell me what it is?

a) No. We are unable to provide identification and authentication services (not to mention we don’t collect newspapers or dinosaur bones or rocks).

b) Screw you. I’m not an on-call curator.

c) Oh Goody! A Newspaper / rock / dinosaur bone! I’ll be right up!


2. I have a Declaration of Independence, and I want to sell it to you. How much is it worth and how much will you give me?

a) At this time, our museum does not have any funds available for the purchase of artifacts. More importantly, it is against museum policy to provide any authentication, monetary valuation, or appraisals for any items. I am happy to provide you with a list of professional appraisers.

b) Ha-ha SUCKER! I hate to tell you this, but the chances of your document being authentic are slim to none. Can’t wait to see the look on your face when the documents dealer tells you as much! How much did you pay for it?


3. I have a very urgent research question and hope you can help me right away. [15 minute story about the person’s great grandmother] Can you help me with my geneaological research?

a) Our archives and library are open by appointment only, according to museum policy. You are welcome to make an appointment with me to come in and use our archives and library for your research. My earliest opening is…

b) Who cares?! Your stupid genealogy is neither my problem nor in my interests.

c) I know you’ve got no one to talk to besides your 17 cats, but I’ve got better things to do. Could you hurry the hell up here?!

Where’s My Maternity Leave?

Okay, last straw. I have been doing all of the work that falls under my job title PLUS that of the Education Director, along with all of the work that would be done by the phantom archivist, collections manager, registrar, exhibit developer, IT department, and on and on. But today the hammer came down.

My boss is about to embark on her maternity leave. There’s going to be no hiring or temp help during her leave. So during her leave I’m expected to take over her duties as well. In theory, should be easy since she doesn’t really do anything. But in reality, it means managing the upcoming annual fundraiser, even though I’ve never been here to even see it before. I’m supposed to coordinate all of the event’s components and make it happen. This is a huge event — it raises all of our operating funds for the entire upcoming fiscal year. And I’m supposed to just pile that on. On top of managing the move of all collections. On top of running all tours and educational programs. On top of staffing the front desk myself. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There’s only two of us now — myself and my coworker (who works as an administrative assistant), and we’re both working ridiculously long hours, sleepwalking through our jobs, and exploited by our employer with nowhere to turn. I hate that I’ve already decided to bail and look elsewhere for work, because it would further screw over my remaining coworker, but realistically, it’s going to take me awhile to find other work anyway, and I’m sticking to my decision to leave.

A Tale of Two Departments

To say that my boss is a micromanager would be wrong. She is a micromanager who does not communicate. I am expected to know what she wants and how she wants it done, but I only find out when I’m doing the wrong thing and doing it wrong. When it comes to my department, she tells me what my priorities should be, in which order I should be doing things, and how to go about doing them.

I feel like she just does not get that people have different work styles, and that that’s okay. The Boss doesn’t seem to understand how much time I need for thinking, contemplation, and the actual steps it takes to put a project together from beginning to end. I’m not asking for weeks to mull things over. It’s just that I would like a little more lead time on things. If today is the first time you mention a grant application that’s due tomorrow at noon, don’t expect my finest work.

She is applying for a grant to create a paid internship position at the museum in my department, and she wanted to get “examples” of the kinds of projects that I would have my intern working on. This is easy. The collections are largely undocumented and almost wholly uncatalogued. Only about 0.012 percent of the collections are catalogued in the database. So I would definitely have my intern cataloguing. That is a real-world job skill. You have to find the documentation, learn the collections management database, digitize any photos or documents associated with the object, do data entry, and research, measure, photograph, and describe each object, then label it and return it to storage. You learn object handling, photography, research, database administration, and have a sense of real, measurable accomplishment.

Her response? “That is not a valuable project. The intern has to LEARN something. They have to be doing something that contributes to our needs but also improves their own skills and abilities, that gives them real-world museum experience, hands-on. Sitting in front of a computer all day is not appropriate.”

Funny, cause as a grad student, I did three internships in three different museums and archives. And all three of the internships were….cataloguing a collection. Sure, there were other projects along the way, but the bulk of my work at all the internships was cataloguing. I think as a curator and the direct supervisor of whomever this intern is, I know what they should be working on and I definitely know what my departmental needs are, other than a NEW BOSS.

For contrast, I present you with the Education Department intern. Before Twitwit was fired, she had arranged for a college student to work in the Education Department full-time (40 hours per week) for 4 weeks starting today. She had arranged no specific project or details. The intern arrived from Connecticut with no idea what she would be doing here or what would be expected of her. Since I’m the de facto Education Director, the Boss has instructed me to orient, train, and supervise this new intern. When I asked her what I should have the intern doing, she said: “That’s for you to determine.” Um, I’m not an Education Director and don’t really know what the fuck she should be doing. How about a hand here? She has no understanding of the amount of time and planning it takes to create a project for an intern and then hand hold them through every step of the way, especially one who is here full-time for the next four weeks, during which I’m supposed to be preparing for and then overseeing the move of all collections, on top of the usual working the front desk and developing the new exhibit.

It’s official. I’m looking for other work.

Employer of the Month

One of the problems with working as much as I have been is I’m getting run down and sick a lot more often. Today I called in sick with strep throat. I can barely talk and I feel like crap. But not nearly as bad as I felt when the Boss yelled at me for taking a sick day.

The crypt keepers volunteers meet once a month and have a speaker give a presentation before they hang out and bitch for the rest of the morning. Today I was scheduled to lead a brief talk. I was supposed to pull some things from the collection and do a show and tell for the volunteers. The collection is full of wickety wak and so when it came to picking items, I thought, I’ll just do some pottery. I know a lot about prehistoric southwestern pottery, we have a lot to choose from, and it’s easy to just pick a few and talk off-the-cuff about this stuff. I figured I’d do a 10 minute introduction to the types of pottery and describe what’s important about each type, and then just answer questions and let the volunteers examine the ceramics up close. The volunteer association is so casual. They always have a group activity or game to fall back on if the presentation isn’t long enough or, less likely, if they run out of stuff to bitch about.

So I didn’t think it was a big deal to call in sick. Even if I could have come in, I have strep throat and couldn’t talk, not to mention these elderly volunteers do not need any more opportunity to come down with something. So imagine my surprise when the Boss bitched me out about how inappropriate it was that I called in sick when I had obligations and how irresponsible it was of me not to save my presentation on the server so that someone else could give my presentation in my absence, and that I would be written up for this incident.

I’ve always taken pride in my work. My work is important to me. It matters that I do a good job, I see work as a reflection of myself, and I want to be good at my job. So it’s very upsetting to me that I’m not living up to my own standards these days. I feel overwhelmed and the work that I’ve been producing does not meet even my lowest level of acceptable quality. I don’t need your yelling at me to make me feel any worse than I already do.

It’s demoralizing to work for someone who doesn’t seem to value my input and to have my opinions dismissed so readily. It sucks to work for someone who seems not to understand what I have to offer. It’s frustrating beyond belief to be spread so thin that I can’t do high-quality work because I’m doing too many things. It’s made me question my abilities as a museum professional. Nay, as an employee, period.

I’ve become someone who does things half-assed just to get them done, rather than do them right, because there isn’t enough time to get things right.  I don’t feel appreciated. I don’t feel like my boss understands my work style, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and limitations. I get dinged just because the way I go about something isn’t the way she would. And it’s hard to communicate with someone who always has a look on her face and a body language that say “What the fuck do you want now?” Her feedback is closer to “this is all your fault and here’s why” than to “what we need to work on is…” I came here with such high hopes, the confidence that I had the abilities to make a meaningful difference. But I work for a bully who likes to make other people feel bad about themselves. Thanks, but I got that all under control on my own.

Am I in the Wrong Field?

Since my post yesterday about the importance of websites to museums, I’ve been thinking. A dangerous thing, I know.

But it’s made me wonder: should I be doing web development instead of history and anthropology?

As I said yesterday, it’s become evident that I know far more about the online environment and computers in general than anyone I work with. I asked my boss this morning about an error I was getting on the server when I went to back-up my database, and her response? She came back to show me how to click on “Help” on a Windows-based PC to look up my question.

I’d already tried that, Genius, or I WOULDN’T HAVE ASKED. I’m not retarded, but thanks.

I end up being the one who figures out a SQL command to update our database. I have had to help my boss map network drives because she didn’t know how and seemed impressed that I knew how to do this. I’m the one that my coworker (singular) comes to when she can’t print to a network printer or figure out our ancient membership database. And I’ve added ports to my computer at work, even though my boss strictly forbade it because she thought I would break it. Just because you have no idea how to do something doesn’t mean the rest of us are equally unskilled. She thought it was a waste of my time and efforts to try to figure out why our networked copier can’t be our shared office printer, even though she refuses to replace my empty printer cartridges because it costs too much money. (I’ve been printing on another office machine that hasn’t run out of toner. Yet.) And she doesn’t understand why we need software like Adobe Creative Suite to do stuff like exhibit design, the creation of text panels, and layout of brochures and newsletters. She’s astonished that I know “complex” databases designed specifically for managing museum collections and has no idea why she should care that I know some HTML or what open source software is. She can’t make heads or tails out of the Google Sketchup I did of the museum’s exhibit layouts. She doesn’t know the difference between a GIF and a JPEG and couldn’t care less about why it matters in archiving digital information.

Yet I feel completely out of it and behind the times when it comes to technology. I try to keep up, thumbing through Wired, sifting through stuff online, or hitting the bookstore when I need to know something more in-depth and complicated, like how to work with Layers in Illustrator. My brother definitely knows way more about this stuff than I do, and my mom knows more about several applications than I could ever learn. But maybe it’s all relative. Among geniuses and trained IT professionals, I’m simply a moron. But among these rubes, I’m Super Techno-Geek Supreme. Makes me think a lot about switching fields, getting a little more training to certify my skill set and jumping from museums into stuff that pays something other than Monopoly Money. If nothing else, it’s tempting to consider that all of this hard work and long hours that seem to go unnoticed here by the Boss could be put to use where I might actually get recognition for all of the skillsets I bring to the table. And even more tempting when you consider that steep terrain that lies ahead not just in this woefully underfunded and understaffed museum but in the nonprofit world in general. I’m seriously considering making a big switch…