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.

Here We Go Again

Yesterday was a rough day.

One of the fundamental things that I expect from a boss is that s/he will be a leader, a visionary who can guide the organization. But the other is that s/he will be someone to whom I can take my questions and concerns so that we can work towards solutions together. Yesterday I went to the Boss with a major problem — I have to present a program tomorrow to 250 kids and as of this moment, still have nothing to present. Today I’m stuck at the front desk taking admissions all day, so I thought I came prepared — I brought all of my notes and files up to the front desk to work from the computer there all day.

No dice. On an average day, that 386 is so slow it’s ridiculous. But today I can’t even get Word to load, and it can’t make a connection to the network, which is a problem because the files I need are on the server. I called the Boss (who is at home today, leaving me as the only staff person on site) and her response?

“We have to do a better job taking care of the equipment we have. We may not have the nicest computers or projectors or whatever, but we are responsible for taking care of what we have. I can’t help it if you are not taking care of the equipment you are provided. I’m not going to call some computer repair company to come in and tell us that we are not taking care of our stuff. You’ll have to make do with what you have.”

It’s through no fault of my own that the network cable is so frayed that the wires have split and are spilling out of the casing all over the place. And she expects me to man the front desk all day with no resources to do my job, but still holds me accountable at the end of every week for the work that I haven’t been able to accomplish. Guess I can subtract several hours from my sleep tonight so I can type up what I’m going to hand-write at the desk today.

Legal Mumbo Jumbo

I already have two immediate projects on my plate at my new job. One is that in a couple of months, the museum will start major building improvements. The museum is installing better climate control and compact shelving in collections storage, where all of the artifacts are stored. As a result, I will be in charge of managing and coordinating the move of all collections. We have to clear everything out of collections storage before construction and renovation can begin, and then move everything back in to the new shelves & storage furniture once the renovation is complete.

The second project is to research, write, and create a new temporary exhibit. In addition to the museum’s permanent exhibit, the museum opens a new smaller (1200 square feet) year-long exhibit on various topics. While the topic would normally be up to me, this time I’ve been handed the topic that previous curator was working on before she left. And it is

sorry, fell asleep there. The new topic is….yawn…Local legal history.

Just makes you want to jump up and down, doesn’t it!

I’ve spent this afternoon trying to discern what “local legal history” means, but I still have no idea. The way the Boss explained it to me was that the topic was already researched, an exhibit develop committee was in place, ideas had already been formed, the structure and content was being worked out. But all that’s in the files are scribbles and brainstorming notes from a couple of different meetings. There’s no overall theme or concept here. Some of the notes pertain to individuals who played a role in shaping local legal history — a lawyer who worked in water rights, a criminal whose case resulted in Miranda Rights, and a bio of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner. There are print-outs of wikipedia articles on specific crimes that happened here, and a list of books about the Indian wars. I’m not seeing how this all relates. And it’s not a topic I am particularly interested in, nor sold on, which makes it hard for me to get other people excited about it.

It strikes me that this topic was chosen simply because it’s sensationalist and not because of anything particularly significant. Don’t get me wrong, there are juicy episodes here — murder, cases that set national legal precedents, and nefarious characters. But to weave together these unrelated episodes is artificial and contrived. I’m all about using the trees to present the forest — each display and topic relates to another and together, help to convey an overall point. But this? I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing here, and I’m unable to draw any conclusions from these tidbits. I mean what are we trying to say here? That Phoenix is riddled with crime, racist cops, and an unevenly applied justice system?

The bottom line is if I can’t wrap my brain around what the story is here, and I can’t be bothered to summon interest, how can I expect our audiences to do the same?

Still having no clue and no guidance for the museum’s legal history exhibit, I had asked the Boss for clarification on the idea behind the exhibit. As in, what is this supposed to be about? What was the thinking behind this, in terms of the overall concept or point? What she handed me was a one-page writeup that she had submitted as part of a small grant application. The writeup confused me even more. Basically it said that the exhibit would be about the “history of laws, vice and crime.” Okay….

Hoping for more meaningful advice, I turned to a discussion forum for help. I posted a question asking if anyone had any ideas on any themes or patterns I might expect to find? Like, do laws in western cities from the 1800s through today say something about the community, and what should I be looking for?

The responses nearly all started with, “I’m not sure what you mean by the history of laws, vice, and crime.” HA! Yeah, me neither!

Work. Sigh.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we had a staff meeting about the fallout from Twitwit’s firing. No juicy details, but this is going to be major. Until the museum hires a new education director, I am to take over that position. All duties, responsibilities, and tasks of the education department. On top of my regular job.  Which is the job of about 6 people. I’m the curator, but I’m also the registrar, collections manager, the exhibit developer, the volunteer coordinator, and the archivist/librarian. And now I’m adding another hat into the pile — that of education director. So here’s a (partial) list of my job duties, all of which are to be completed within my 40 hours per week (yeah, right.)

  • document all donations and loans to the museum
  • research all of the museum’s artifacts and collections
  • develop relationship with potential donors to encourage donations to the museum’s collection by attending meetings, networking, and correspondence
  • meet with donors to collect donations to the museum’s collection
  • data entry and database management for museum’s collections
  • research, develop, write, and present a Collections Policy to the museum’s board for formal approval
  • obtain and manage insurance for collections in preparation for collections move
  • manage ongoing digitization of photographs project and make available online
  • help researchers find the books, archival collections, and photographs they need
  • process photo reproduction orders
  • organize, plan, and closely supervise the upcoming collections move
  • get quotes for and order the new storage furniture for storage of all collections, plan the configuration for the new storage room
  • get dimensions for all items in collection to order storage boxes for all items for upcoming collections move
  • photograph all collections to document appearance and condition before collections move
  • attend weekly meetings for updates on upcoming building construction project
  • train & supervise 5 volunteers
  • grant writing
  • historical research on the region in general, and research on our collections
  • exhibit development for the next major exhibit
  • staff the admissions desk up to 24 hours per week
  • research and production of three 5-minute videos featuring local history
  • reservations and billing for all educational programs
  • deliver all educational programs, on site and off site, for children and adults
  • develop, plan, and run all girl scout programs
  • manage, organize, and staff annual Silent Auction fundraiser

After the meeting, I decided that one of the things I needed to get on top of (and fast) was the upcoming Education programs. So I went to Twitwit’s office to mine her files to find records of upcoming tours, dates, and content for each of the programs the museum offered. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I found almost nothing. I found no “scripts” or documents that covered the content of our educational programs. I found no records of upcoming school tours. I found no receipts or correspondence to indicate any loose threads I could pick up on. It’s not that we don’t have educational programs or upcoming school tours; we do. It’s that she didn’t keep any records of anything whatsoever.

Thanks, Twitwit. I’ve come back from my holiday “break” only to find that on Friday, I have to present an educational trunk show to 3 consecutive classes of over 250 students. But you left me no record of a) where this school is, b) what age group these children are, c) if the school has paid for this program, d) which trunk show they requested, and 3)the CONTENT of any of the educational trunk shows. I opened a document on the server today titled “Trunk Show script” and all that was in it were the words “Good morning boys and girls.” That’s it. That’s all that was there.

So I go to the Boss to let her know of this problem and her response? Consult the manual. Oh! I hadn’t THOUGHT of that yet! What a tool I am! I should just open the manual and there on page 3-34 will be the instructions. Except THERE IS NOTHING IN THE MANUAL. I already checked. I am a resourceful problem-solving person. I used everything I had at my disposal to try and answer my question before I decided to bother you with this to try and problem solve this conundrum. In pointing this out to her, she offered no assistance whatsoever in devising a solution. She simply shooed me out of her office so she could get back to staring at her laptop doing nothing, I guess.

So now I am spending the next 48 hours pulling my own artifacts from collections storage, researching and writing my own content, and developing my own trunk show after having called the teacher myself and sheepishly having to ask the following questions two days before the show: 1) have you paid? 2) what age(s) are these groups? 3) which show did you book? 4) where is your school?

I do NOT appreciate looking like an idiot and looking unprofessional. That really pisses me off about this place. I do my best to get my own work done, even when it means taking it home with me and working til 11 pm most nights and working at my laptop all weekend from my couch, as it usually does. During the week, my time is so fractured between managing volunteers who don’t follow the rules, running educational programs for fourth graders, collecting entrance fees at the front desk, and trying to fix the computers that don’t work so that I can do work that it’s hard for me to get any of my own projects done. It’s hard enough for me to manage the upcoming collections move and the upcoming exhibit, both of which I am ostensibly capable of. But I never asked to be a museum education director, have never done anything like this before, received no training, and continue to receive no support. But since it’s my responsibility now, the presentations and tours are a reflection of the institution and of me, and I don’t appreciate looking like an unprepared, unqualified idiot.

Can I run away? Fake my own death? I’ve already routinely been working well over my 40 hours each week just to get on top of my existing duties. And now I’ve got to figure out how to clone myself just so I can get adequate time off on my days day off. All without any additional compensation. I already work benefits-free — there’s no health insurance, no retirement, no fringe benefits. In a larger, better funded institution, one person would be dedicated full-time to almost each of my tasks and duties. But here, I’ve got to learn to juggle all of these different things and still expected to stay on top of a collection of 25,000 objects I don’t know and can’t track. Sigh. I would say I need an intern or six, but training them would just be more work at this point.