Museum Magazine, American Association of Museums

Ok, I guess the title of my posting might say something.  From our readings, I just learned another acronym that will add to the many acronyms I’ve learned over the course of 1 year in University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign GSLIS (“Graduate School of Library and Information Science” – another acronym!).  That is MIP – Museum Information Professional.  It kind of has the cache of an MVP but more nifty and short – MIP…

Some of us are already in museums, some of us want to work in museums, and some of us are just wanting to develop ourselves broadly.  Well, I don’t work in a museum though as a kid, I dreamt of living in a museum – in particular the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s section of French Decorative Arts with its fine furnishing with its gilded beds (the dream was to have free use of the museum all night and sleep there in fine style. Of course, I had the same dream of sleeping over at Macy’s New York).  My dad’s museum inoculation of me started at the age of a toddler.  I thought all families spend their time in museums, don’t they?

Of course, as an adult, when I attempted to even “volunteer” at a museum, because to be hired was like a .0000000001 % chance since the museums were so tight in budgets, I realized, at least from my perspective, this is a tough market and I might just have to accept never working in a museum at all.  My volunteer experience to several un-named Southern California museums was quite eye-opening.  I didn’t realize a museum volunteer was equivalent to an ancient Roman slave.  I have to say I didn’t realize what a racket it was, i.e. you are sooooo lucky to work in a museum at all, you should be glad to swab the decks, and while you are at it, you are in charge of grant writing because we can’t afford to hire anyone.  If I was lucky to get in, maybe I’d be happy with a 17,000 or even more fantastic, 22,000 salary a year.  I think from what I understand, that salary would qualify me for poverty level and Medicaid benefits (since they also don’t want to pay you any health insurance because they can’t afford it).

Museum Magazine, American Association of Museums

I also noticed it was quite a clique and very insider.  I really needed to be a friend of the friend of the curator or at least relative would make a big difference.  Now, understand, I am talking about some museums in Southern California.  This one museum I “labored” for paid ONE person, yes ONE person, contractually (not a hire) to do all their exhibits and particularly their special exhibits from the British Museum, and other high-toned big international museums.  One un-named Latin museum I interviewed wanting me to do registrar work, front desk, tours, exhibit support, grant writing, and hold events…. for free.  I was always told, why it is a privilege to work in a museum and you are giving back.  What I didn’t realize was that there was actually a waiting list for this “slave” position.  This also included doing errands and getting lunch for upper staff.

Yes, you could say I was disillusioned.  However, I have been inspired by our Museum Informatics class, by my fellow students, and my fellow students who work in museums, by GSLIS grads who work in museums, and by the growth of technology within museums and the merging of some elements of LAMs.

Paul Marty (r) with fellow museum informatics superheros Richard Urban and Michael Twidale at Museums and the Web Conference 2007.

Paul F. Marty produced an informative article for MIP wannabes: So You Want to Work in a Museum…  Guiding the Careers of Future Museum Information Professionals.  He starts off with the question we all might ask “How do I become an information professional in a museum?” Based on interviews of professionals, he elaborated on 5 key factors that influence LIS graduates to succeed as MIPs:

The 5 Key Factors

1.  The MIP will benefit by having expertise or credentials in a background domain or discipline relevant to the museum where he or she works.

My Question:  Do I need to get an MA or more desired a PhD in Art History?  What if I want to work in botanical gardens, do I need to get an advanced degree in Botany?  How about Film Archives?

2.  The MIP will benefit by having expertise or credentials in library and information science relevant to the museum where he or she works.

My Question:  What additional LIS credentials are most museums looking for?  Do I need to specialize or get further education training in collections, archives, metadata, digital curation or preservation, web 2.0 and website development, cataloging, application development, instruction design, etc.?

3.  The MIP will benefit by having expertise or credentials relevant to the museum he or she works.

My Question:  Is it worth getting or certificate, or even further, a master’s in Museum Studies?  How can you take courses on curatorship, collections management, learning museum culture, and registrar duties?  There is a quote from a study participant:  You cannot work in a museum unless you understand the museum culture.”  Ok, so how can you learn this if you can’t get into a museum.  How can you learn what is the museum culture?

4.  The MIP will benefit by having prior experience working in a museum.

My Response:  Duh!  So, the age-old problem – have to have a job to get a job.

5.  The MIP will benefit by having the ability to learn new skills and face new challenges on the job.

My Response:  Ok, I understand that.  I will need a museum job to get that experience.  Darn!

I would love to hear from  MIPs  that have had some experience in museums to give their advice and their perspective on how to become an MIP, how to become employable for a museum, and how to become indoctrinated into a museum culture.

I wanna be an MIP!  Hmmm, I don’t think I should put that in my cover letter… a little too blatant.