All posts by Bethany Frank

Meet the Blogger: Kimberly Alderman of the Cultural Property and Archaeology Blog

For the average person, archaeology and legal issues may not seem to have an obvious connection. Tales of archaeological discovery evoke feelings of adventure and connection to our fellow humans past and present. Not so much for the legal system. Yet there are potentially a mountain of legal issues that could put a stop to any excavation. Kimberly Alderman tackles these topics in her blog Cultural Property & Archaeology in an approachable yet substantive way.

[Note: This blog is currently inactive, though Kimberly still works in this field]

Where did your interest in archaeology and law originate?

My undergraduate degree is in Art History and Archaeology.  After university, I was doing contract archaeology work when I had the bright idea to go to law school to study “archaeology law.”  I had no idea at the time what that meant, and as it turns out there’s really no such program. But I was able to fashion myself an education in the subject by taking seminars in which I could choose archaeology law-esque paper topics.

What’s the mission of your blog?

I started blogging to better position and educate myself as a scholar in cultural property law.  They say there’s no better way to learn about something than by writing about it.  Also, I’ve met a lot of people with similar interests through the blog.  I feel like I am now part of a community of people who are dedicated to the scholarship of cultural property law, even though they aren’t all “scholars” in the traditional sense of the word.  The mission now is simply to maintain a high-quality blog dedicated to this very specific subject area.  There are others focused on similar subject areas, but mine is topically unique, as are theirs.

How did you decide blogging was the right tool for you?

Two years ago, I was living in remote Alaska, feeling fairly disconnected from the scholarly and legal communities.  The day I got satellite internet set up, I signed up for a WordPress blog and started “reporting.” I scoured the news for interesting articles, and typed up little summaries as best as I could figure out how.  I subscribed to a bunch of blogs that were topically related, and I started to get to know the other people who were blogging.  Voila!  The Cultural Property & Archaeology Law Blog was born.

Why is it important that legal issues are addressed in the conversation regarding archeology and cultural heritage?

It’s one thing to have a fascination with ancient objects, but without an understanding of the meaning of those objects, they’re just pretty trinkets.  It is equally important to have an understanding of the modern significance of those objects, whether as political tools, legitimizers or something else.  The study of cultural property and archaeology law is a quest for sustainability.  The physical manifestation of our past is finite, and if illegal excavation or exportation goes unchecked, then those artifacts and sites will be destroyed without having extracted the full possible social value from them.  Put simply, there could be no heritage community without legal protection for that heritage.

Your blog made a list of “50 Best Blogs for Archaeology Students.” How did you feel about that?

The only comment I would have on this distinction is that I think its good to educate archaeology students on the more pragmatic aspects of the discipline.  Traditionally, the study of archaeology has focused more on historical meaning than present meaning, even though both are important.  In art history, I learned that a painting created in 1750 about biblical times can tell you far more about life and society in 1750 than it can tell you about Judas or John in whatever biblical setting is pictured.  Similarly, how our modern society and legal system approaches the protection of ancient objects, and which objects are given preferential value over others, is sometimes more revealing than studying the objects alone.

Describe the big legal issues that arise in archeology/cultural property.

One of the biggest points of discussion at present is the international dispute over repatriation of objects seized in the past (quite often, in colonial times).  Less “hot topic” legal issues include looting, theft, the illicit trade and protecting sites of historical value in the face of development.  There is also significant discussion over where the burden should lie when dealing with unprovenanced antiquities — should museums and private collectors require that objects have paperwork proving they were legally excavated and exported, or should the burden be placed on source countries to stop these objects from leaving the country or post notices on the international databases of missing objects?  A topic that I’ve been getting increasingly interested in as of late is intangible cultural property.  Sometimes people (particularly indigenous groups) can inherit a “cultural property interest” in something that is intangible — an old song melody, a dance, even a sunrise.  This is taking us out of the property model altogether and that’s fascinating.  In terms of my role, I’m just an observer.  I report my observations via the blog, but whether the world cares or not, well, that’s up to them.

Where do you draw inspiration for your content?

I read a lot of other blogs, my favorites on similar areas being those by Tom Flynn, Derek Fincham, and Paul Barford, each for very different reasons (Tom’s insightful and witty, Derek is always right, and Paul is mind-bogglingly prolific.)

I also have Google News set up to give me an RSS feed on critical keywords (“cultural property,” “UNESCO,” things of that nature).  I sort through a lot of junk via those feeds to get to the interesting and relevant stuff, and that’s what makes the blog valuable.  I don’t purport to present *everything* of value on my subject area, but I try to make sure everything I post has value.

How has social media helped you share your interests?

I have no doubt that without blogging I never would have connected in the way that I have with other people who are interested in my subject area.   By utilizing social media, I’ve been able to create a virtual network of friends and colleagues who have helped me tremendously in terms of staying involved and progressing in my scholarly pursuits in this fairly narrow subject area.

What is your advice to someone interested in learning more about heritage-related legal issues?

In terms of starting a blog, that is very easy: write.  Getting involved with heritage related issues is another thing, and depending on your area of expertise there are a lot of organizations which would serve as great starting places.  A couple that come to mind include the AIA (Archaeology Institute of America), ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes Against Art), LCCHP (Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage and Preservation), and SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone).  There are also groups on the other side of the fence in terms of political views, including the ACCG (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild).  You have to figure out what your personal goal is (preservation at all costs? context over commerce? repatriation of objects to source nations? protection of traditional notions of property rights?).  Whatever your philosophical disposition when it comes to ancient objects and sites, there’s an organization to suit your needs.

What is planned in the future for your blog?

I intend to keep doing what I’m doing to the best of my ability.  Recently, I’ve started to focus more on multimedia sources of information (promoting audio and video on other sites), as that seems to be the thing.  I’m also always open to readers making suggestions as to what they’d like to see more or less of, whether in regard to content or delivery.  That’s one of the great things about blogs; they are dynamic.  They are easy to change when you yourself change, as you grow as an individual or as a scholar.

What is your blog’s ultimate goal?

My blog’s ultimate goal is to promote the scholarship of cultural property law in a fairly impartial way.  Not impartial in a way that I’d hesitate to say if I think a particular argument espoused in a book, article, or on another blog is rubbish, but legally impartial.  In my opinion, there is so much morality loaded into cultural property and archaeology law perspectives at present that a lot of the reporting is spoiled by preconceived bias.  The Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog strives to provides a middle ground, where the strengths and weaknesses of all sides’ positions can be considered with the impartiality of a legal observer.

“Justice” teaser graphic by mindgutter on Flickr

Results of our survey on how heritage professionals use the web

At the end of 2009, we opened up a survey about social media usage among professionals in the heritage fields. The purpose of this is to see where folks are in social media, learn how to reach them and see where they want to go.

Basic Demographics

326 people responded from all over the globe. Most participants came from the United States (50.1 percent) and Europe (40 percent). The ages averaged evenly between 20-65 years of age.


Location Demographics


38.6%            22-35

34.6%            36-50

20.8%           51-65

3%                  18-21

2.4%              over 60

<1%               No response

Heritage-related occupation:

39.2%          Archeologist

7%                 Conservator

5.2%             Heritage Communicator

5.2%             Enthusiast

4.6%             Educator

2.4%             Landscape Architect

2.4%             Architect

1.5%             Caretaker

<1%              Scientist

<1%              Engineer

30.3%          Other

<1%              No response

Breakdown by Profession


The majority of the archeologists who participated lived in Europe and were in the 22-35 year-old age bracket. They mainly used the Internet for email and research, with about half of them using the Internet for networking and casual browsing. Most of the participants considered themselves “joiners” in social media, with about 20 percent of them creating content. They saw social media helping increase awareness of important issues and topics and to help with networking. They were least interested in the project journaling aspect of social media. Among what they would like to learn in regard to social media, they were most interested in optimizing heritage content for the web and tracking multiple sources of online content.


79.6%         Europe

3.9%           US Southwest

3.9%           US Northwest

3.1%           North America (Not in the US)

2.3%           US Southeast

2.3%           US Northeast

2.3%           US Midwest

1.5%           Australia

<1%            Africa


53.9%         22-35

27.3%         36-50

12.5%         51-65

5.4%           18-21

<1%             over 65

Primary Internet Use:

89%             Email

72.6%          Research

54.6%          Networking

45.3%          Casual Browsing

38.2%          News

7%                Web Development

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

40.6%          Joiner

26.5%          Spectator

19.5%          Creator

7%                Collector

2.3%            Critic

2.3%            Inactive

1.5%            No Response

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

32.8%         Joiners

28.1%         Spectators

7%               Critics

5.4%           Creators

5.4%           Collectors

3.1%           Inactive

16.4%         Unsure

1.5%           No Response

Access heritage-related news:

51.5%       Online News Feed

11.7%       Google

8.5%        Newspaper

4.6%        Television

4.6%        RSS Feed

16.4%      Other

2.3%        No Response

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

3.3            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

3.4            Networking

3.8            Advance Research

4.4            Career Opportunities

4.6            Promote Organization

4.9            Easy Web Publishing

5.6            Inexpensive or Free Tools

6.0            Project Journaling

Beneficial Social Media Training

The most prominent training was learning how to optimize heritage content for the web, followed by managing and tracking multiple sources for online content. Archeologists were least interested in learning how to use social media or manage their online reputation.
The most prominent training was learning how to optimize heritage content for the web, followed by managing and tracking multiple sources for online content. Archeologists were least interested in learning how to use social media or manage their online reputation.


The majority of architects who participated were from the northwest United States and were in the 51-65 age bracket. They mainly used the Internet for email and to read the news. Many of the architects participate with social media as spectators, but 25 percent create content and join the conversation. They see social media as a way to advance research and increase awareness of important issues/topics. They see the most beneficial social media training to be optimizing heritage content for the web.


37.5%       US Northwest

25%           US Midwest

12.5%        US Southeast

12.5%        US Northeast

12.5%        North America (Not in the US)


50%             51-65

25%             36-50

12.5%          18-21

12.5%          22-35

Primary Internet Use:

87.5%       Email

75%           News

62.5%       Casual Browsing

62.5%       Networking

62.5%       Research

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

37.5%      Spectator

25%          Creator

25%          Joiner

12.5%       Inactive

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

37.5%       Joiners

25%           Critics

12.5%        Spectators

25%           Unsure

Access Heritage-Related News:

37.5%           Online News

12.5%           Television

375%            Other

12.5%           No Response

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

2.6            Advance Research

3.0            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

3.4            Networking

3.7            Promote Organization

5.0            Career Opportunities

5.6            Easy Publishing to the Web

6.0            Project Journaling

6.7            Inexpensive or Free Tools

Beneficial Social Media Training

75%                How to Optimize Heritage Content for the Web

37.5%            Producing Heritage Videos for Online Sharing

37.5%            Introduction to Social Media

37.5%            How to Create a Community Around Your Content

37.5%            Best Practices in Online Photo Sharing

12.5%            Managing and Tracking Multiple Sources of Online Content


The majority of the conservators came from the northeast United States and were in the 36-50 age bracket. They primarily use the Internet for email, but more than half of the participants research on the Internet. More than half of the conservators consider themselves to be a creator of social media content. The conservators think social media is best used to help them increase the awareness of important issues/topics and to aid with networking. They are most interested in training that helps them optimize heritage content for the web, and use open access and Creative Commons to advance research.


21.7%            US Northeast

17.3%            US Southwest

13%                Australia

8.6%              US Northwest

8.6%              US Midwest

8.6%              North America (Not in the US)

8.6%              Europe

8.6%              Asia

4.3%              US Southeast


39.1%            36-50

34.7%           22.35

26%               51-65

Primary Internet Use:

78.2%           Email

56.5%           Research

39.1%           News

39.1%           Networking

30.4%          Casual Browsing

8.6%            Web Development

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

52.1%           Creator

13%               Joiner

8.6%             Spectator

4.3%             Collector

13%               Inactive

8.6%             No Response

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

39.1%          Spectators

17.3%          Creators

13%              Joiners

4.3%            Collectors

8.6%            Inactive

8.6%            Unsure

8.6%            No Response

Access Heritage-Related News:

30.4%          RSS Feed

26%              Online News Site

13%              Google

4.3%            Television

17.3%          Other

8.6%            No Response

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

2.8            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

3.2            Networking

3.5            Advance Research

4.1            Promote Organization

4.3            Easy Publishing to the Web

5.7            Career Opportunities

5.9            Inexpensive or Free Tools

6.5            Project Journaling

Beneficial Social Media Training:

39.1%          How to Use Open Access and Creative Commons to Advance Research

39.1%          How to Optimize Heritage Content for the Web

34.7%          Best Practices in Online Photo Sharing

30.4%         Producing Heritage Videos for Online Sharing

30.4%         How to Create a Community Around Your Content

26%             Managing and Tracking Multiple Sources of Online Content

13%             Introduction to Social Media

13%             Blogging Research Projects


The majority of enthusiasts who participated live in the northwest United States and are in the 36-50 age bracket. They primarily use the Internet for email, and more than half of them use it to access the news. They consider themselves to  be joiners in social media, but about 30 percent of the enthusiasts are content creators. They find social media to be best adventitious for networking, increasing awareness and advancing research. The enthusiasts are most interested in learning how to optimize heritage content for the web.


23.5%         US Northwest

17.6%         US Southeast

11.7%          US Southwest

11.7%          US Northeast

11.7%          North America (Not in the US)

11.7%          Europe

5.8%           South America

5.8%           Australia


29.4%          36-50

23.5%          over 65

23.5%          22-35

17.6%          51-65

5.8%            18-21

Primary Internet Use:

82.3%          Email

58.8%          News

47%              Research

47%              Networking

47%              Casual Browsing

11.7%           Web Development

Approximate Social Media Level Participation:

35.2%          Joiner

29.4%          Creator

17.6%          Spectator

11.7%          Collector

5.8%           Inactive

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Level Participation:

35.2%          Joiners

23.5%          Spectators

5.8%            Creators

5.8%            Critics

5.8%            Inactive

17.6%          Unsure

5.8%            No Response

Access Heritage-Related News:

35.2%           Online News Site

11.7%            Newspaper

23.5%           RSS Feed

29.4%           Other

How Social Media Can Achieve Professional Goals:

3.2            Networking

3.5            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

3.6            Advance Research

4.0            Promote Organization

4.7            Easy Publishing to the Web

5.1            Inexpensive or Free Tools

5.7            Project Journaling

6.2            Career Opportunities

Beneficial Social Media Training:

The majority of enthusiasts were interested in learning how to optimize heritage content for the web. They were the least interested in learning about reputation management and producing heritage videos for online sharing.
The majority of enthusiasts were interested in learning how to optimize heritage content for the web. They were the least interested in learning about reputation management and producing heritage videos for online sharing.


The majority of caretakers are from Europe r the northeast United States and are in th 36-50 age bracket. They primarily use the Internet for email, research and networking. They consider themselves to be joiners or spectators of social media. They consider the most beneficial training to be in learning to manage and track multiple sources of online content.


40%            Europe

40%            US Northeast

20%            US Southwest


80%            36-50

20%            22-35

Primary Internet Use:

100%            Email

80%              Research

80%              Networking

60%              News

60%              Casual Browsing

40%              Web Development

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

40%            Joiner

40%            Spectator

20%            Creator

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

40%            Joiner

40%            Spectator

20%            Creator

Access Heritage-Related News:

40%            Online News Site

40%            RSS Feed

20%            Google

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

2.0            Increase Awareness of Important Issues

3.5            Networking

4.0            Advance Research

4.2            Promote Organization

5.0            Career Opportunities

5.0            Easy Publishing to the Web

5.2            Inexpensive or Free Tools

7.0            Project Journaling

Beneficial Training

40%            Managing and Tracking Multiple Sources of Online Content

20%            How to Create a Community Around Your Content

20%            How to Optimize Heritage Content for the Web

20%            Producing Heritage Videos for Online Sharing

20%            Blogging Research Projects

20%            Best Practices in Online Photo Sharing

Heritage Communicators

The majority of heritage communicators that participated are from the northwest United States and Europe, and about half of them are in the 22-35 year-old age bracket. They primarily use the Internet to access their email, but they also use it for research and networking. More than 30 percent of the heritage communicators consider themselves to be social media creators, and many see themselves as joiners and spectators. They see social media as a way to increase awareness of important issues/topics and a means to promote their organizations. They are most interested in learning how to create a community around their content and learning to optimize heritage content for the web.


35.2%          US Northwestern State University

35.2%          Europe

11.7%           North America (not in the US)

5.8%            US Southwest

5.8%            US Southeast

5.8%            US Midwest


41.1%            22-35

35.2%            51-65

23.5%            35-50

Primary Internet Use:

94.1%       Email

64.7%       Research

47%           Networking

35%           News

29.4%        Casual Browsing

17.6%        Web Development

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

35.2%            Creator

29.4%            Joiner

23.5%            Spectator

5.8%              Critic

5.8%              Collector

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

41.1%            Spectators

35.2%           Joiners

11.7%            Inactive

5.8%             Creators

5.8%             Critics

Access Heritage-Related News:

29.4%            Online News Site

23.5%            RSS Feed

17.6%            Google

5.8%              Newspaper

23.5%            Other

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

2.8            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

3.1            Promote Organization

3.9            Networking

4.2            Advance Research

4.8            Easy Publishing to the Web

4.9            Inexpensive or free tools

6.1            Career Opportunities

6.3            Project Journaling

Most Beneficial Social Media Training:

Heritage Communicators are most interested in learning to create a community around their content, and they are least interested in learning to blog research projects, introduction to social media and reputation management.
Heritage Communicators are most interested in learning to create a community around their content, and they are least interested in learning to blog research projects, introduction to social media and reputation management.

Landscape Architect

Most of the participating landscape architects came from parts of North America not in the United States and were in the 51-65 year-old age bracket. They primarily use the Internet for research and email, and they consider themselves to be social media joiners. They see social media as a way to network and increase awareness of important issues or topics. They are most interested in learning how to manage and track multiple sources of online content, how to use open access and Creative Commons, and how to create a community around their content.


50%            North America (Not in the US)

25%            US Northeast

12.5%         US Southwest

12.5%         US Northwest


75%            51-65

12.5%         22-35

12.5%         36-50

Primary Internet Use:

100%         Research

100%         Email

50%           Networking

37%           Casual Browsing

25%           News

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

50%            Joiner

25%            Collector

12.5%         Spectator

12.5%         Critic

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

50%            Joiners

25%            Spectators

25%            Unsure

Access Heritage-Related News:

50%               Google

25%               Television

12.5%            Online News Site

12.5%            RSS Feed

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

2.0            Networking

2.9            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

3.4            Promote Organization

4.2            Advance Research

5.5            Inexpensive or Free Tools

5.6            Easy Publishing to the Web

5.8            Career Opportunities

6.6            Project Journaling

Beneficial Social Media Training

The majority of architects are interested in training to help them optimize their heritage content for the web.
The majority of landscape architects are interested in learning to manage and track multiple sources of online content, how to use open access and Creative Commons, and how to create a community around their content. They are least interested in learning to blog research projects, introduction to social media and reputation management.


The engineers who participated were from the northeast and midwest United States and were in the 22-50 age brackets. They use the Internet for email, gather news and research. They primarily consider themselves joiners to social media. They think social media can help advance research and aide with networking. They are interested in learning about optimizing heritage content for the web, reputation management and blogging research projects.


50%            US Northeast

50%            US Midwest


50%            22-35

50%            36-50

Primary Internet Use:

50%            Email

50%            News

50%            Research

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

50%            Joiner

50%            No Response

Colleagues’ Social Media Participation Level:

50%            Spectators

50%            No Response

Access Heritage-Related News:

50%            Other

50%            No Response

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

1.0            Advance Research

2.0            Networking

3.0            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues/Topics

4.0            Promote Organization

5.0            Career Opportunities

6.0            Inexpensive or Free Tools

7.0            Project Journaling

8.0            Easy Publishing to the Web

Beneficial Social Media Training:

50%            How to Optimize Heritage Content for the Web

50%            Reputation Management

50%            Blogging Research Projects


The scientists that participated are from the southeast and northwest United states and are in the 18-21 and the 51-65 age bracket. They primarily use the Internet for email and research. They consider themselves to be joiners to social media. They think social media can help them network and advance research. They are most interested in learning a basic introduction to social media.


50%            US Southeast

50%            US Northwest


50%            18-21

50%            51-65

Primary Internet Use:

100%            Email

100%            Research

50%              Casual Browsing

50%              News

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

50%            Joiner

50%            Inactive

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

50%            Joiners

50%            Spectators

Access Heritage-Related News:

100%            Online News Site

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

1.0            Networking

2.0            Advance Research

3.0            Increasing Awareness of Important Issues

4.0            Inexpensive or Free Tools

5.0            Project Journaling

6.0            Easy Publishing to the Web

7.0            Promote Organization

8.0            Career Opportunities

Beneficial Social Media Training:

100%            Introduction to Social Media

50%            How to Optimize Heritage Content for the Web

50%            Managing and Tracking Multiple Sources of Online Content


The educators primarily are from the southeast United States and Europe, and are in the 36-50 age bracket. They primarily use the Internet for email and research. The majority of educators are social media spectators, but about 20 percent join the conversations and 20 percent create the content. They think social media can hep increase awareness of important issues and aide in networking. They are most interested in learning how to optimize heritage content for the web and learn to blog research projects.


20%            US Southeast

20%            Europe

13.3%         US Southwest

13.3%         US Northwest

13.3%         US Northeast

6.6%           US Midwest

6.6%           North America (Not in the US)

6.6%           Australia

Age Range:

53.3%            36-50

26.6%            51-65

13.3%            22-35

6.6%              over 65

Primary Internet Use:

93.3%            Email

86.6%            Research

40%               Networking

40%               News

26.6%            Casual Browsing

6.6%              Web development

Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

40%           Spectator

20%           Joiner

20%           Creator

13.3%        Collector

6.6%          Inactive

Colleagues’ Approximate Social Media Participation Level:

40%             Spectators

33.3%          Joiners

13.3%          Inactive

6.6%            Creators

6.6%            Unsure

Access Heritage-Related News:

40%            Online News Site

20%            Google

6.6%           Newspaper

6.6%           RSS Feed

26.6%         Other

How Social Media Can Help Achieve Professional Goals:

2.3            Increase awareness of important issues/topics

2.6            Networking

3.5            Promote Organization

4.5            Advance Research

5.1            Easy publishing to the web

5.2            Career Opportunities

5.5            Inexpensive or free tools

7.3            Project Journaling

Beneficial Social Media Training:

Educators are mostly interested in learning how to optimize heritage content for the web and how to blog research projects. They are least interested in learning reputation management and a basic introduction to social media.
Educators are mostly interested in learning how to optimize heritage content for the web and how to blog research projects. They are least interested in learning reputation management and a basic introduction to social media.

Audio Podcast: Jennifer Souers Chevraux on the role of museums on the social web

Coming up on this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast, we’ll explore the role of museums on the social web.


Intro: And welcome to Voices of the Past. The podcast that helps you use the web to advocate for the preservation of cultural heritage. I’m Jeff Guin and today we’re going to join Bethany Frank as she interviews Jennifer Souers Chevraux of the blog MuseoBlogger. Now Jennifer helps museums and cultural organizations engage their audiences by developing compelling experiences and using new media to cultivate a new generation of patrons. Here’s that interview.

Frank: Hey Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us for the podcast.

Chevraux: Hi, glad to be here.

Frank: So, to go ahead and get started. How did you get involved with museums?

Chevraux: When I was in undergrad, I volunteered at a couple of museums because I was an art history and anthropology major, so it made sense to go to both of those museums. And that was the only access I had to artifacts and original artwork. So I volunteered there, and I thought that it may be something that I would want to do. And then my first job out of college, I worked for a traveling museum on a train. It’s called the Art Train, still in existence, and I worked with them. And being on the train and working there wasn’t exactly your typical museum experience. So then I thought maybe it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I tried archeology, that’s what I went to graduate school in. And then I tried teaching, which I did like, but I kind of wanted everyday to be a little bit different. And so I went back to museum work. Kind of went through the back door deciding that this was a good way for me to work in a place where I got a little bit of education, a little bit of working with artifacts, a little bit of outreach and talking with the public and volunteer training. I got all of that, and everybody thought my job was really cool.

Frank: Wonderful. So could you go ahead and tell us some about Illumine Creative Solutions?


Chevraux: Illumine Creative Solutions, that is my consulting business that I have. What happened is, I was on staff at several different museums. At the time that I founded Illumine Creative Solutions, I was on staff as the director of exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and I was pregnant with my first baby. And I was working about, I would say, averaging 50 hours a week, sometimes 60 hours a week. And realized that I didn’t really think that was going to jive so well with motherhood. So it came to pass that I had the opportunity to help another smaller museum here in Cleveland with a project they were doing while I was still on staff with the Natural History Museum. And it was really a great opportunity to come into a place that didn’t really have an exhibit instructor. They needed some new ideas and a fresh approach, and so they reached out to a colleague of mine who said, “You should talk to Jennifer.” And I was doing this project, and it really seemed that I could balance that with my job that I already had with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and so I thought that maybe I could balance some consulting work with being a mom too. And pretty soon, people started calling me. My phone was ringing for other projects saying, “Well now that you don’t work at the Natural History Museum, can you help us with this project? Would you have time to do this?” And so it kind of blossomed that way. So now, i do for museums what I used to do on staff. I do on a project basis.

Frank: You mentioned that you got into museums because you wanted each day to be different. So what all would a general week pertain for what you do?

Chevraux: I generally work about three days a week. I dedicate two days to my kids and going to museums and orchestra performances and fun things they want to do. Spending time being a museum consumer, and a consumer of cultural events and organizations and living history places. Because they love that, and that gives me the opportunity to see it from the visitors perspective. And then the other days, I am working on projects. Some of what I do is helping museums engage audiences, and I do some visitor evaluation and project/program evaluation. I’ve helped some nonprofit clients, who are not museums with grant support because they don’t have as large of a staff. Often they are only two people, and they get snowed under. And so I help them put together surveys and assessments and help them show that the programs that they are doing are reaching people in a meaningful way. And meeting their missions. And I do that with museums too. And so any given week, I could be putting together an exhibition working on developing a traveling exhibition program, which I am doing right now with a museum. I am working with an artist to put together a traveling retrospective exhibit of his work that’s going to go to museums. So I am reaching out to some of my museum clients and colleagues to see if we can form good partnerships for that. It’s very diverse, and it makes me feel like I still get to contribute to the field that means so much to me. And  I get to also balance that with enjoying museums and historical centers with my kids.

Frank: So, what role does your blog play with all of this?

Jennifer Chevraux and daughter

Chevraux: I started my blog not really knowing where it was going to lead. Once my daughter was born, I realized I wouldn’t do nearly as much writing as I did as director of exhibits, when I was putting together exhibits and having to write text and interpretive panels. And I wanted to keep my skills sharp, so I started a personal blog. And then I realized quickly that I didn’t have enough that I thought anybody would want to say. And about a year later, I thought, “Now I really want a place to say things that normally, on staff, I would say to colleagues.” Conversations we would have. Discussions we would have. Things that I would encounter with my work with clients. Things that would come up and I would have something that I wanted to say about that, but instead of coming home or coming back to an office with a museum where I had lots of colleagues were we could talk about that, I would come to my house and nobody really wanted to talk about my day job. So I needed a place that even when nobody was listening, I could pour out my perspective on certain issues that came up. So I started my job to sort of give me a place to not vent, but share. Because I had all these things in my head, and I no longer had a director of exhibits or director of education or a marketing director, where I could go in a say, “What do you think about this?” And the MuseoBlogger site that I have, gives me that opportunity. And then I realized that it didn’t take long before a lot of my clients and my former colleagues and people that I knew through the Ohio Museum Association were following me, and then I would get these emails from them saying, “Oh, I really liked your perspective about this, I really liked what you had to say.” And it was funny to me because I didn’t realize that they were reading it. It’s definitely allowed me to make new connections that I never would have expected.

Frank: What all goes into creating your blog?

Chevraux: My blog is not museum specific, I would say, although most of what I put in there has to do with museum work. Some of it has to do with just cultural organizations and the challenges that they face today. The world changes so quickly that I think sometimes museums have that institutional glacier effect, where we hear about something that we want to change…orchestras, operas, all those organizations, they are very traditional. And they have traditional boards and traditional constituencies, and so when all of a sudden something like Twitter comes along, “Ooo! Twitter! Ooo! What’s that? Let’s get on that!” And they don’t know who in their organization is going to be that person. Or “Oh! There is all this social media, we should have marketing do it!” And marketing says, “But we’re already doing so much. We don’t really have time for anything.” But I think my blog gave me an opportunity to say from the outside, some observations I thought would help them keep in touch with the average person. Because sometimes, I think, they are looking at a constituency that’s no longer average.

Frank: And so, in your blog you discuss the future of museums. Can you explain to me where you see museums going in the next so many years?

Chevraux: That’s a tough question because I think there’s the place that I would like to see them going, and then the place some of them are going to end up. I think museums are coming to a crossroads where they’ll have to decide who they are going to be in the future and is that who they’ve always been. I think some museums will dare to reinvent themselves the way they do their own business. in terms of the way they meet visitor expectations. They way they reach people. Maybe even the way that they staff museums. And then certainly the way that they find funding. I think some museums will resist the change and become more and more disconnect with their own communities. Because the community is changing. It is no longer just wealthy while industrialists who are looking for the Andrew Carnegie approach to funding a worthy adventure. We don’t have any of those people anymore. And when you look at what Bill Gates funds, he isn’t just making a museum anymore. He’s funding human rights projects or world health projects. And museums can’t be the ones who are missing out at the table. They need to look at their sustainability and find a way within their own communities to become sustainable. And I hope that that means they’re going to become more visitor focused. And it’s a delicate balance. When you have collections of historic artifacts, you have to be collections focused. You have an academic curatorial staff. You have to be focused on their needs and their important research. But all of that has to be balanced very carefully with what people in your community expect from you. What do they need from you. And if you are always answering that question the way that we answered it 20 to 25 years ago, pretty soon you become irrelevant to a large selection of your constituency.

Frank: How do you think social media plays into this and into museum’s futures?

Chevraux: I think social media is a wonderful way for little expense. I say that accepting that you probably need to have a staffer these days just dedicated to it. But I think it’s relatively inexpensive compared to traditional media for having constant access to your potential visitors and your museum members and funding base. It’s like having your own TV station in your museum. You might not be able to constantly broadcast a visual image, but you can continuously broadcast events, upcoming activities and programs. You can tell your audience and your community and even your funders, if you’re here (I’m in Cleveland), the Cleveland Foundation is on Twitter. If you put something up there and they’re following you, which they do for most of the museums and nonprofit organizations that they support. They want to know that you’re out there. They hear about the good work you’re doing. How wonderful is that? You didn’t have to put a stamp on anything. They get it right away, and I think you’re constantly in touch. Now, they might not be watching at the very moment that you post that, and that happens. People turn off their TV too. But I think, in a general sense, it gives you a constant access to those people who could potentially be your visitors and patrons.

Frank: Speaking of patrons, in what ways do you use new media to cultivate the next generation of enthusiastic patrons?

BW meChevraux: The web has become the go-to resource for so many people in today’s culture that it’s a first stop for people. They no longer check their mail to see if they got a recent museum publication. They’re not looking for the museum magazine or the latest newsletter in their mail. If they want to know what’s going on with the museum, they click on the museum’s website and hope that there’s an updated calendar. This is a little note to all museums: make sure your calendar is up to date. Because that is where people go. And I think that today, helping museums understand their visitors behavior and propensities just by looking at their own. I was talking to a museum colleague a few weeks ago who works at a small decorative arts museum at an historic home, and we were talking about how we tend to go to Wikipedia. And sometimes that’s a bad thing because we go there first, and we take that information and we don’t want to internalize it too much. And how we were looking for an answer about when something was coming, and the first thing we went to was that particular website. And then she said, “You know, this makes me think that I need to make sure that our calendar is up to date.” And that’s one of those things, sometimes, that I think there’s a disconnect: between the way people use the web themselves and the way their websites for their museums or their cultural organizations are kept. If yours wouldn’t make sense to you or you were frustrated because it wasn’t up to date or it didn’t have enough content on it, then maybe you need to take a hard look at who else is using it. And maybe you need to make sure that it is giving you lots of good content, and that it is completely fresh.

Frank: You mentioned in your Lent post different things museums could do with their exhibits to make themselves become more relevant. What kind of things can they do?

Chevraux: I like to go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and feel like I’m not being bombarded by information all the time. It’s like a nice space where you feel comfortable and you can learn at your own pace. At the same time, if they’re doing a good job in an exhibition of getting your creative juices flowing or getting you to think about a particular topic. It also then seems logical to have someplace in the exhibition where you can tap into those creative juices or that stimulation you’ve created with your visitors. And allow them to share that. So, whether it’s just a suggestion box in the end or it’s something that’s using media or it’s encouraging them to tweet about what they’ve learned. Just giving visitors a way to feel that their impressions of the exhibition are relevant and important to the institution. People today have become very focused on themselves. Not in a negative way, but they want to know, “What does this mean to me? This Mastodon is very fascinating, but why should I care about it?” The exhibition needs to at first relate that somehow to the person’s own experience. Perhaps we talk about climate change and extinction, and relate that back to something that a person cares about in today’s world. Once you’ve made that connection, perhaps it would be nice to maybe share that meaning that you’ve created for them in a way back to the institution. Nina Simon does a great job in her recent book talking about how participatory experiences shouldn’t go just from the museum down to the individual, but the best experiences come back to the institution. And then they can even be shared with future visitors. That’s a wonderful way for the individual to feel important in a space where you are telling them that everything around them that belongs to the museum is important.

Frank: We can see in your blog ways that museums are engaging with new media and national events, like the Super Bowl and things like that. What other ways are people doing this and why is it beneficial?

Chevraux: I would say that anytime a museum takes itself a little bit less seriously and can share that with their communities, it’s never a bad thing. And I think that one of the things that we need to understand about today is that so few people go to work in a three-piece suit anymore. Ladies don’t wear gloves, men don’t wear hats, and a lot of these museums were built and their programs were built during times when people did all of those very formal things. And museums are slow to come around to the idea that we don’t have to be so buttoned up and look quite so self important to be important. And in fact, when you let your guard down a little bit, and you make a bet like the New Orleans Museum of Art did with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which I think is what you are talking about, I put that on my blog. I thought it was wonderful. They tweeted about this and they got this wonderful bet going that they were going to basically two pieces of fine art were wagered, if you will, between these two institutions based on who would win the Super Bowl. All of a sudden it went viral, and everybody thought, “How fun is that?” And it’s art museum based. I mean, how many people who care so much about the NFL ever cared that much about those two fine arts institutions. Maybe a lot of them do, I love art museums myself, and I also happen to love NFL football, which maybe is why it struck me as so much fun. But I think that there were a lot of people on both sides of that coin who thought that was a really great way to show that they live in the same world as the rest of us. Here in Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a very find institution with a remarkable collection, and when our Cleveland Cavaliers were in the NBA playoff, they put “Go Cavs” banners on the very front of their building where they usually have these beautiful banners that say, “free.” Because we are very lucky here that our institution is free and open to the public. But also, they took that opportunity to be a little less serious, and they took down those banners, and they put up these “Go Cavs” banners, huge banners, on the front of their building. Because I think that it gave them the opportunity to say to our community, “We live here too. We want them to win too.” And in fact the orchestra, which is very fine here, but of course plays to a very much higher brow crowd, they actually did a promotional web video for the Cavaliers as well. And it was great from my perspective to see that because it said, “We understand that not all of our people here in Cleveland are regular orchestra members. Some of them are just Cavs fans. Some of them love the Browns. And we live here too.”

Frank: So as you’ve said before, you have a presence on Facebook and Linkedin. Where else are you, and why did you chose to use those mediums?

flowerChevraux: I have a Facebook page for my business, Illumine Creative Solutions. Although I will say I don’t have a whole lot of really exciting content on it. And that’s my fault just because I’ve gotten busy with just the blog and other things. And usually what I do is I use it as one more venue to post what I recently put up on my blog. So, and every now and then I update it saying what I’m up to. But it’s nice because that let’s people that I know outside of my professional circle know what I’m doing in my work because they think that working for a museum must be the most fascinating thing. And I also have, of course I use LinkedIn, and I think most people do these days, which is great. At the very beginning when I had a LinkedIn account, I had no idea what I would use it for. But now I use it a lot. So it’s linked to my Twitter, so when I put something on there that I am working on professionally, it shows up on my Twitter account. And then I also, I have to admit, am a newbie on FourSquare. I have FourSquare, and I sometimes check in, but I have to say, a lot of times I forget. I’ve gone to a cool place, and I realize, “Oh! I’m in the parking lot. Oh! I should have checked in while I was at the art museum. Or I should have checked in when I was at the Cleveland Clinic doing something. Or Oh Man! I was just in a really cool place that does FourSquare, and I should have clicked.” So I have yet to really make that a part of my presence if you will. And as I said, I have website, and it’s just about to be redone and relaunched, and it will be up in the next couple of weeks.

Frank: What is FourSquare?

Chevraux: FourSquare is kind of Twitter meets your GPS. When you go somewhere, you have the application on your phone, and you click on it and you tell your followers and friends where you are. So if I go to Chipotle for a burrito, I can “check in.” And it says, “I’m here, and if anybody else in my circle is around and wants to have lunch, I’m here.” And it also keeps track of where you’ve gone. And so it sort of makes that human connection between Twitter, which is “let’s communicate with all these people out in cyberspace” to now “They are in our building, let’s engage them in a meaningful way.” You know that they are there because they’ve just checked in. And people can get badges and even become the mayor of the place. So for example, because I used to work at the Natural History Museum, I go there a lot with my kids. I enjoy it so much. And I could probably be the mayor of the Natural History Museum just if I checked in every time I went there. The person that checks in the most would get to become the mayor until someone else checked in more than they did. But I would certainly earn my badge. If museums or other heritage sites that are looking at this haven’t checked out FourSquare yet, I would say check it out. Because it is sort of that step between having people know you in the virtual world and bringing them into your world on site, which is what all of us are hoping social media will do for our organizations.

Frank: So what is your advice for folks wanting to get involved with new media to promote their heritage organization or communicate their own personal heritage ideas?

Chevraux: I have a couple of things. I would say, one of the easiest things to do if they haven’t yet done the Facebook page or if their Facebook page is lacking, is to just do that because I think that that’s the largest low-hanging fruit audience out there. People will “like” you virtually just to add you to their circle. Just because they want to see your updates. And then all of a sudden you’re getting all of these people who never really knew what you were about or just, “Oh! I went to that place. That living history site when I was in fourth grade. I haven’t been there since.” Click on them. Like them. Now they get all sorts of interesting information about what your organization does today, which we are all hoping is a lot different than somebody who’s 25 was in fourth grade. And that’s an easy one. I think the more that institutions do this, the more that they see the potential and the more that they may realize that they have to have someone in charge of maintaining it. Because I think that the best people I follow put up really great content. And for example, one of my favorites that I am happy to plug, is the Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. Now maybe people wouldn’t know that Sue the T-Rex tweets. But not only Sue tweet, but in the most incredible way. It’s funny. It’s new content. It meet their mission because it’s talking about paleontology and interesting dinosaur behavior. But it’s also smart and savvy and funny, and somebody, I’m sure, at the Field Museum is in charge of keeping it so. So if you want to be really good at it, you probably have to have somebody who’s dedicated to it. The other thing that I would say, is that if you’re a small organization, and you’re willing to let your guard down a little bit, you could always share it. You could make Twitter five different people’s responsibility, and you could get five different people’s input. And that’s fine. That’s a good way to start. But if you’re willing to let your director tweet, I think it’s awesome. Because I think that’s something that people really care about. The leader of an institution is somebody that’s usually respected and revered, and when they can share some of the insight about leading an organization or things that they find meaningful. For example, Max Anderson at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, he tweets. There are many directors that do. But it is great to know that that person who has a lot of professional experience and cache is sharing that not only to his colleagues, but also the museum consumers at large. I think it’s great.

Frank: Well Jennifer, it’s been so much fun talking with you today. Thank you so much!

Chevraux: Thank you so much for having me! It has really been an honor to be included in your webcast series. Thank you.

Outro: Now you can learn more about Jennifer and MuseoBlogger or Illumine Creative Solutions at our shownotes site. That’s Voices of the Past dot O-R-G. There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others that we’ve done with other folks in the field of cultural heritage who are using social media to make a difference in their world. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. And until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and we’ll see you online.

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Use online photosharing to visually tell the story of heritage resources

It has been said by many that photos say a thousand words. But now, thanks to photo sharing sites, photography has the power to unite people across cultures and throughout time.

There are many different photo sharing sites out there, such as Photobucket, SmugMug, dotPhoto and Webshots. All of which have individual aspects to them that aid in your organization’s ability to share and express ideas. But for the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the popular site, Flickr.


Flickr is an image-hosting and video-hosting website, web services suite, and online community created by Ludicorp and later acquired by Yahoo!. Hosting more than four billion images, Flickr is ideal for you to begin your photo-based heritage-related conversation.

Flickr enables you to share your photo’s story in many ways such as:

  • Title: Your photo’s title is important. It tells readers immediately what your photo is about. Did you host an event or do you want to address an important heritage topic?
  • Captions: Titles are wonderful, but this is where you get to begin the conversation. Captions can be as simple as identify who or what is in your photo to asking those difficult questions.
  • Add people to your photos: Just like you would “tag” your friends in your Facebook pictures, here you can “add” them. (In Flickr, tag means a little something different that we will address in a minute). Adding your friends to photos lets them know they are in them and helps you organize your photos.
  • Tags: This is how people FIND your photos. You can add a title and caption, but the conversation can’t happen if folks can’t find you. Tags can be as specific or as general as you would like, but don’t over tag! You want to make sure everything you tag is relevant.
  • Favorites: This helps you remember photos you like throughout Flickr. While you are searching and participating in photo-based conversations, you can “favorite” a photo to save for later. You can access your favorite photos from your photo stream (and other’s can access YOUR photos that they “favorited” from theirs too!!)
  • Sets or Collections: This works much like categories in a blog. This is your table of contents and helps you organize your photos in a way you and others can find them. The way it works is sets fit into collections. So let’s say you take photos at three events. Each event would have its own set holding the select photos from that specific event. Then you can put all three sets into a collection. Perhaps the collection is titled “events” and so all of your event sets would go there. This just helps viewers find photos they want to see instead of digging through all of your pictures.

Picture 1

Now adding and sharing your photos can be as simple or complex as you would like. You can upload photos using your phone, through email, from your web browser or from Flickr’s desktop app. You just need to decide what is best for you and your organization.

Picture 2

Now once you have done all this, you can participate with everyone on Flickr through groups and galleries and MORE! It is about finding where you want your heritage organization’s voice to be heard. Perhaps you want to participate in The Commons and explore snapshots through time with organizations like the Smithsonian and Cornell University.

Picture 3

Or perhaps you want to be more place-based. You want to work with individuals around you and share your photos. With Flickr Places, you can look at your photos on Flickr maps and view your area.

Or you want to take it a step farther and take your place-based photos and compare the old with the new like the Flickr group Looking into the Past. Here, folks take old pictures and “merge” them with photos of what the places look like now to show the contrast and growth and history.

Picture 4

Or maybe you want to take it one step farther and add animation to your pictures. Like Flickr user The Surveyor, you want to take the comparison one step farther.

When you are on Flickr, there is a WORLD for you to explore. But before you do it, you need to get your camera out, dig through old photos and get them up there. Because the conversation begins with you!

Have fun and stay tuned to hear how other organizations are using Flickr!

Meet the Blogger: Kurt Thomas Hunt on putting the sexy back in archaeology

sexy light tan

Kurt Thomas Hunt and “his crew” are redefining archaeology, and collaborating to bring excitement to this old-school profession. Hunt promotes his blog and his brand, Sexy Archaeology, through a variety of social media tools, including FlickrTwitter and Google+. He even does a little e-commerce on the side…

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you developed an interest in archaeology?

Kurt HuntMy interest in archaeology started when I was a child. Being a product of the early 1980s, it goes without saying that the Indiana Jones films had a massive influence on me. I was enthralled by thoughts of traveling the world searching for treasure. I dug up my entire sandbox looking for ancient ruins.

As I got older, I began to see that archaeology was nothing like what it is in the movies, it’s much more rigorous and scientific. While some people may be turned off by this, I found it even MORE interesting.

I received my BA in Archaeology from SUNY Potsdam and my Master’s at the University of Bristol. Bristol has a fantastic Archaeology for Screen Media program that allowed me to combine my interests in a both media production and archaeology. Now I’m putting some serious thought into a PhD. I figure if I’m going to go, why not go all the way?

You have a unique blog. Where did the “sexy” moniker come from?

I’ve always enjoyed blogging. To me there is something deeply appealing in writing a piece and having the ability to receive feedback from people from around the globe. Right about the time I started my Master’s, I found myself becoming increasingly anxious to share archaeological news with people and sort of highlight what I considered to be the best archaeology out there.

Sexy Archaeology, by my definition, is any archaeology which is excitingly appealing. It’s my brand, my seal of approval. It’s the discoveries and research that I feel should be basking in the public spotlight.

You find different ways to get your viewers involved. Could you tell us about the Sexiest Field Crew Competition?

The sexiest field crew competition was a lot of fun, and there was an enormous amount of positive feedback from it. The idea behind the contest was not only to promote the Web site, but get people involved in it.

Most archaeologists start out working summers on a field crew. That can mean long, hot days working with the same people. I thought the contest was a great way for archaeologists to get creative and have fun with their jobs and the people they work with. Judging by the feedback and the pictures, I’d say the crews really enjoyed themselves. I think there was something like 30 entries overall, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that it was 30 crews from all around the globe, I think it’s pretty impressive.


You are currently soliciting on your site for various archaeologists of different backgrounds for an ongoing television series. Could you tell us about that?

The idea of creating an archaeology-based television show is something that’s floated around in my head for years. Like I said, my real interest is blending media and archaeology. I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in contact with a few different production companies who share a similar interest. Executing that idea is a different story. I’m very critical of the way archaeology is portrayed in the media. Production companies are focused on entertainment and pulling in viewers, and they are endlessly recycling things like the search for the Holy Grail, Atlantis and all the 2012 nonsense. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to place the science first. But it’s very difficult to find that happy medium between entertainment and education, especially when archaeology can often be a very tedious process. In the last few months, I’ve taken things into my own hands. I’m currently refining the concept I have for the series, and hopefully in the near distant future I can start making the rounds with it.

You currently have one of the (if not the) largest archeology groups on Facebook. Why did you start it, and what are your goals or intents with it?

The Facebook group started well before the Web site. The idea behind it was to assemble people under the same banner and get them networking. So much more is possible when people in the same field start networking. I’ve managed to meet dozens of very interesting characters through the group. I was in Reno for New Years and bumped into a couple members in a bar, had a great chat about what they were doing in the field. I know quite a few people who have come to the group looking for suggestions on field schools and employment and found the help they needed. That is exactly what I wanted to see- archaeologists helping archaeologists.

Where else are you online and how do you use that to communicate archaeology?

I have a blog where I unload all my non-archaeological thoughts. It’s a place where I can keep in contact with my friends when I’m traveling. I’m quite interested in non-science writing as well, so when I find a free chance I vent there.

One of my favorite things about your site is how daring it is… Why did you choose to take archaeology to this “level?”

One of the biggest challenges I encountered when I was creating Sexy Archaeology was finding a way to stand out among the already sizable number of archaeology-based Web sites out there. I knew that if it was going to succeed, my Web site had to be unique. Too many good news stories are lost in boring presentation or dense literature. I wanted to avoid that. I wanted to attract people to the news as much as my site. Therefore I knew that my little niche in cyberspace had to exist on a different level.

In your blog you mention how every archaeologist has a story to tell. What is one of yours?

I remember working in the southern Kenya Great Rift Valley in the hundred-degree heat. My back hurt from sleeping in a tent and hadn’t bathed in weeks; I was covered in dirt and sweat, struggling to take the next step. At one point I had to stop and ask myself, “what the hell I was doing. Is this really what I wanted to do with my life?” Then something caught my eye: a small, circular ostrich eggshell bead. I remember holding it in my hand, realizing that I was the first person to hold that artifact in tens of thousands of years. It put me back in the game. Archaeology is a lot of hard work, but when you find something like that, it really reaffirms your love for the field. I live for moments like that.

Who contributes to your site?

Sexy Archaeology owes a lot of people a big thanks for contributing their time and energy to the website.

Matthew Davenport (aka the Spaz) has been with the Web site since the beginning. He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve met and is just as passionate about archaeology as I am. Matt contributes stories when he has the time.

Matt Thompson from has been incredibly generous in the financial support of the website.

Then there is David Connolly from BAJR, the British Archaeological Jobs Resource. David was a great help in promoting the Sexiest Field Crew Competition in 2009 on the ArcheoNews podcast.

Tim Taylor and the crew from both the UK and American Time Team series have also been a wonderful help.

I could never begin to list the number of people who send me links to stories or other websites. It’s a big world out there, I think without the contributors Sexy Archaeology would cease to exist.

You have something even more unique on your blog–a store. What all can folks purchase and what all is entailed on your end to maintain the store?

The store is in the midst of a massive revamp right now. Some archaeologists are very particular about their field wear so I’ve made it a priority to design something that people would actually want to sport in the field. The store itself is thankfully maintained by a third party, but a portion of every T-Shirt purchased goes in to helping pay the bills. So buy some T-Shirts!

What can we expect for the future of Sexy Archaeology?

Sexy Archaeology isn’t going away anytime soon, that’s for sure. When I launched in 2009, I wanted to give it a year to see how things went. If I enjoyed doing it and if it received a positive response then I knew that when the second year rolled around I’d really push it forward.


Now the time has come. I plan to have a lot more thought pieces this year. I think a lot of archaeologists are good about keeping up with the happenings in their field, but I’m not sure how many ever peel back the surface on some of the issues. I want to drive archaeologists to think a bit more theoretically and not just familiarize themselves with the big issues, but understand the implications our work may have and how it affects our field.

Aside from that, I’m going to be rolling out a podcast miniseries in the coming months as well as a brand new Sexiest Field Crew Competition for 2010 and some new T-shirt designs. I’m very excited about it.

What is your advice for folks interested in getting into archaeology and blogging?

Anyone with even the slightest interest should give it a go. So much of archaeology is made possible through the financial contributions of the general public (in fact almost all of CRM). Our careers depend on people remaining interested in our field. We as archaeologists have an obligation to the public: to keep them interested, to share discoveries and information and to educate. The more people we have involved in doing that, the brighter the future of archaeology will be.

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Meet the Blogger: Lynne Thomas of “Confessions of a Curator”

Lynne Thomas is the Head of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University, a teaching and research collection with a special emphasis on American popular culture materials from the 19th and 20th centuries. At Confessions of a Curator, she blogs about collections and the social web. She is the co-author with Beth M. Whittaker of Special Collections 2.0, which examines Web 2.0 tech for cultural heritage collections, from Libraries Unlimited.

How was Confessions of a Curator “born”?

I launched the blog in August 2007 as an attempt to do departmental outreach and promotion. I wanted an easily updatable place to post announcements that didn’t require re-coding our website by hand. I had seen some other examples of library blogging, and thought I’d give it a go.

In one post, you ask your readers about your blog’s role in the online world. What do you feel that is and how do you feel you communicate with your audience?

kidlitconfsmallMy blog’s role in the online world has shifted over time as I’ve gotten more comfortable with the format. It originally began as a way to promote the department and occasionally share links of interest with our patrons. After a year or so, I realized that I was more interested in sharing my thoughts about the profession than focusing solely on our collections (I’m a bit of a process geek).  My readership reflected that interest: the bulk of my readers turned out to be other special collections professionals, rather than patrons who might use our department. I renamed the blog “Confessions of A Curator” and made it more about me as a library professional than about the department that I’m in charge of.

That post asking about my role in the online world comes up about annually, as I tend to wonder periodically if it’s worth continuing the blog, given that the bulk of my readers tend to be passive consumers of the blog through aggregators and feeds rather than active commenters on the blog itself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; the blog still fulfills an important function by sifting through the information wave and picking and choosing things worth reading for folks in my field. My most popular posts tend to be my linkdumps and my write-ups of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Preconference.

I’ve come to think of the blog as a clearinghouse of links related to my job and the profession, along with some commentary and the occasional departmental announcement, all of which add up to a snapshot of being a special collections curator in a non-ARL library.

It’s easy to think of rare books and special collections work as some kind of mystical calling if you don’t know much about it. I’m trying to de-mystify our profession both as a recruiting tool for new professionals and as a way to explain to the public what we do, while using the blog as a way to encourage myself to stay active and connected to other professionals in the field.

Collections professionals sometimes have the reputation of being more focused on protecting objects than communicating their significance. Yet they seem to be among social media’s most passionate adherents among the  heritage professions. Do you think that’s true, and what makes social media  so appealing for this group?

That reputation of special collections professionals being the “dragons guarding their hordes” is something that I truly wish would die a horrible death. The bulk of professionals in our field are service-oriented librarians and archivists who firmly believe in connecting people to our materials as a way to keep them relevant and useful (and funded!). Social media tends to be appealing for us as a group because it’s an easily maintained, inexpensive tool to promote our collections, our libraries and our work, and to reach our patrons where they are, rather than expecting them to know where we are and come to us. Plus all of our friends are doing it.

Your blog includes stories about how you and your family experience books. They’re very powerful, but also very personal (Your blog even has the  word “confessions” in the title!). Was it natural for you to communicate  these concepts so personally, or was it an intentional choice to connect to  your readers?

It’s a little of both, I think. I’m an extrovert, which means that I’m often a little more forthcoming about family experiences and such than other folks may be. My job and my life are very much intertwined, and I can’t really separate them very well even if I wanted to. It’s just not who I am.

My basic message is that just because something is “special” doesn’t mean that it needs to be permanently locked away. This is partially a political stance, because I’m the parent of a special needs child with severe disabilities. Children like my daughter (much like the books that I care for) would have been locked away in institutions and rendered invisible up until very recently. Given the right tools and adaptations, however, children with disabilities can and ought to be part of everyday life out in the world. Visibility promotes understanding, and reduces fear.

Special collections materials work the same way; providing handling adaptations and tools for their preservation helps them to survive for longer, but it doesn’t mean that we have to keep people away from them!

Helping people to understand what I do for a living, using a easily-relatable context like a family, encourages people to support cultural heritage institutions in general (and hopefully mine in particular as well).

As far as the title, it sounded appropriate; we have a lot of pulp magazines with similar titles in our collections.

You posted an interesting video regarding the end of publishing. As a curator and someone who works directly with books and preserving their importance, what do you see in the future of publishing and the traditional  printed word?

Hand-written manuscripts didn’t go away just because Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Books have not gone away in the nearly 20 years that we’ve had some version of the Internet, or in the more than 20 years that we’ve had relatively ubiquitous personal computing. I don’t expect the printed word to go away anytime soon; it is too useful, portable and accessible. I fully expect that the technologies will continue to coexist for quite some time, unless there is good reason for them not to do so. I do think that some major changes in the economic structure of how the printed word is sold and distributed will happen, because the current model is looking rather unsustainable right now. What that new model will be remains to be seen.

You have a post detailing requirements for archiving. Why is it important authors begin archiving things such as blogs and scratch notes?  And why have you decided to do this all digitally?

The way that authors work has fundamentally changed in the age of personal computing. While there are still authors that work exclusively in longhand on paper, most writers either compose exclusively on their computers or bounce back and forth between paper and electronic documents. Blogs, in particular, have replaced paper-based diaries, journals and writing notebooks for many working writers. To document only paper-based materials means that we’d be literally missing half of the collection—specifically, the half with all of the “juicy bits” about the writing process that interest scholars!

Writers are creating born-digital artifacts. Since so much of special collections work focuses on preserving the artifact as close to its original form as possible, so as to not lose the context of the content it contains, we need to work in the digital realm as well as that of paper. Otherwise, we will end up in a situation where we will have destroyed the papers of authors by not saving the formats that we’re less comfortable with, just as if we were the family of a 19th century writer, throwing manuscripts into the fire to prevent embarrassment after that writer’s death.

Tell us about your book, Special Collections 2.0.

The book came out of the blog, actually. One of my colleagues, Beth Whittaker (now head of the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas), saw me muse about the preservation of electronic manuscripts and social networking, and called me. She noted that the can of worms that I had opened was a rather large one, about an issue that had not really been addressed in a pragmatic way within the profession, but ought to be.  We used a private wiki to collaboratively write a proposal, submitted it to Libraries Unlimited, were approved and co-wrote the book.

Special Collections 2.0 is basically two things: an acknowledgment of the fact that the special collections community now has to deal with a hybrid of paper and electronic archives, and an examination of how the advent of social networking might affect our work. We look at social media both from the perspective of “how can I use these tools to my library’s/collection’s advantage?” and “how on earth am I going to preserve these things?”

We surveyed our profession to see what everyone else has been doing: what works, what doesn’t, and where librarians and archivists can best direct their invariably limited time and resources. What we discovered is that there are some really powerful tools for promoting, building and documenting our collections out there, but that preserving those digital objects we are ultimately responsible for is still a challenge for many libraries and archives.

In addition to your blog, what other social networks do you use and how do you use them? (eg: delicious, twitter, facebook, etc)

I’m consistently on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Delicious under my real name. I use them for outreach to our donors (it’s how I keep in touch with living SF writers who archive with me), as well as for link-sharing with other cultural heritage professionals and people in shared fandoms. Most of these accounts are linked in some way: my Delicious account posts automatically to my blog; the blog posts automatically to our departmental Facebook page. My Goodreads account, which picks up my blog automatically, is visible on the blog and on Facebook. I use Twitter to post links to Facebook, and that is often how I publicize new blog posts. I also have FriendFeed and LinkedIn profiles that are basically dormant, created as part of the research for Special Collections 2.0.

I’m on LiveJournal, where I maintain a personal blog under a different username focused on my family and the media fandoms that I follow, rather than on my library work. That blog is also linked from my Facebook account. It’s mostly an easy way for far-flung friends and family to keep in touch, and for me to be part of a community of fans.  I’m also on Ravelry (a knitting/crochet community) under the same username.

What advice do you offer other collections specialists who are exploring social media as a way to communicate?

The biggest lesson that I have learned from social media is that you really need to please, inform, interest and entertain yourself first. The grease for the social media engine is interesting, consistent content. Empty profiles are boring: if you aren’t going to use your account consistently, don’t bother building the profile in the first place. The best way to ensure consistency is to contribute what interests you. If you’re bored, so are your readers.

You can set expectations for your account that fit with your comfort level. For example, I subscribe to quite a few professional blogs that only post a few times a month, but the posts are worth waiting for: really engaging, well-thought out and interesting. I know when I subscribe that they are not high-traffic, based upon the information given in the blog’s profile; their quality rather than their quantity keep me subscribed.

The other part of working with social media is figuring out how much of yourself as a person or a professional that you would like to post. Many folks maintain dual profiles, one professional (say, on LinkedIn) and one personal (Facebook), and that works well for them. The key is to manage expectations; state your policies about “friending” or “following” outright on your profile, so that folks know where best to connect with you for their situation.

That’s not to say that everything has to be personal: there are plenty of special collections blogs out there that are about the collections, not the people that work with them. If the collections are interesting enough, that can work really well. There are some great correspondence blogs, for instance, that post a letter every few days from their collections, and archival blogs that post pictures and transcripts of recently processed materials.

Because I work extensively in the science fiction writing and fandom community as part of my job, and am a fan myself, I don’t bother to separate my at-work and not-at-work identities: my fandom is, in my case, a professional asset, and a large group of the SF authors that I work with follow my LiveJournal rather than Confessions of a Curator. Your mileage may vary.

That being said, despite the fact that I’m fairly public about much of my personal and professional life, there are certain things that I choose not to blog about or share on social media. I firmly believe that nothing on the web is truly anonymous or hidden, even if you can make it rather difficult to tie the person to the pseudonym. My rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t want to see it published on the front page of your local newspaper, don’t post it on social media sites. What constitutes “willing to share publicly” is an individual choice: it’s all about figuring out what you’re comfortable with.

Audio Podcast: Kaitlin O’Shea on collaboration, platforms, and the role of historic preservation in the blogosphere

In this edition of the Voices of the Past audio podcast, we’ll meet Kaitlin O’Shea. Kaitlin is the creator of the Preservation in Pink blog and newsletter. She will explain how the iconic pink flamingo, and a group of bloggy friends, have helped her  find her voice to take the conversation about historic preservation to a wider audience.

Intro: Coming up on the Voices of the Past Podcast, we’ll meet a blogger who’s painting the preservation world in pink.

And welcome to Voices of the Past, the podcast that connects you to the world of heritage online. I’m Jeff Guin, and today I’m talking to Kaitlin O’Shea of the blog Preservation in Pink. Kaitlin uses a combination of collaborative blogging and printable media to reach her audience.

And Kaitlin, thanks for being here, and I wonder if you would just start by telling us, what is Preservation in Pink?

O’Shea: Well, it’s a long story. I am happy to share it. It was first a newsletter. When I graduated from Mary Washington in 2006, I went to work for a couple of years. And in the first six months, I realized just how much I missed my classmates and the comfort of the department, and the constant conversation that we would have anytime of the day. Whether we were in classes or studying or out drinking coffee or whatever. I suddenly had this one project that I loved. It was an oral history project. But it was only one thing. I didn’t have my buildings, I didn’t have my conversations. I was interviewing people and transcribing. And that was the extent of my day usually. So I decided that I need to do something. And I could have just read book after book, but when you get home from work, you are still kind of tired. So I have always loved to write and once upon a time, I had a dream of working with a preservation magazine. And I decided that maybe I could write about it. I have this one friend who had been blogging, but she just had a personal blog. And I thought, well, that is kind of interesting, but I didn’t start with a blog. So I decided to try a newsletter. I had four years of journalism experience in high school. I still remember all the lessons that I learned there. I did layout and editing and things like that. My very first issue, I think I only told one preservation friend about it. And she encouraged me. She’s like my preservation cheerleader. And I said, well, I am just going to write all the articles and show people what I can do. And then next time I will ask people to contribute. And she wrote one article, and I wrote six pages of stuff and sent it out to everybody I knew.

Also back in school, senior year, in one of my classes, we watched an anti-Walmart video about how Walmart came into Ashland, Virginia. And the people were fighting, and for whatever reason they chose the pink flamingo to be anti-Walmart. And the movie, it was just so heart-wrenching and by the end Ashland, Virginia lost and they got their Walmart. And my friends and I, we were distraught. We were heartbroken. Some of us were already not shopping at Walmart, and we decided we loved the pink flamingos. And so that kind of just picked up speed that last semester of school.

To fast forward again to the newsletter. This time, flamingos have just been out of control. We would send each other little flamingos and do little things like that. So I was tossing around the idea of including flamingos just for fun, and thought it was not that serious, but then I decided that it was going to be mine and I wanted it to be fun and not just “preservation.” Somehow I came up with Preservation in Pink, and it just kind of went from there.

Guin: Excellent. I think sometimes when people think preservation and they think preservationists, they think strident… obstructionists… just talking about average, everyday people. And this seems to be a reputation that has developed overtime, justified or not, but looking at your blog and even the beginnings of it, you’ve got some elements in there where you have a very strong preservation ethic, but it’s presented so well and so subtly that it has a different tone to it. Is that something that was intentional on your part?

O’Shea: I started Preservation in Pink with the mission of teaching people and showing them that preservation is not just academic, it’s not just professional, it really applies to every part of everyone’s life. Because it’s not just buildings, it’s not just battlefields. It’s quality of life, it is pride where you live, it’s heritage, it’s knowing where you came from and where you want to go in respect to the past. And all these things together, whether it is shopping locally or respecting the environment, it’s really important and if we do all that then we will all live in a better place.

And that is a lot to take in all at once, so I try to insert it here and there where it is talking about local shopping or this fun preservation activity, I mean really. I can connect anything to preservation, just give me a few minutes.

Guin: Well, how do you define historic preservation? What’s your personal definition?


Kaitlin O'Shea in an architectural salvage shop
O'Shea visits one of her favorite places: the architectural salvage shop

O’Shea: It means a lot of things to different people. For me, preservation is collectively looking toward the future with respect for the past. It’s understanding communities, the way of life, your built environment, your heritage values, in the sense that we need to remember the past in order to create a brighter future. That’s the basis of my definition. But the methods of doing that are all the facets of historic preservation, which to me is this huge umbrella term. But it involves architecture history, research, community and preservation maintenance, folklore, museum studies, economics, archeology..the list is never ending. For historic preservation, it provides us the opportunity to shape and direct a world in which people are proud of where they live even though people may be proud of different areas for different reasons. We have to respect cultures and areas and regions. When people have tried in what they and where they live and where they came from, then every action they do in a place matters. And that’s how we can create a better place and that’s how I believe historic preservation has the ability to save the world.

Guin: I guess in that same thing, taking that a step further, looking at your blog, you have a lot of things that are strictly historic preservation or strictly heritage values, but then you sometimes go into some things that are a little peripheral there. And you mentioned Walmart earlier, and actually one of your most popular posts is about Walmart. Can you talk about that?

O’Shea: Sure. That post–Save Money, Live Better–I wrote because the campaign just bugs me, and I won’t go into that. I think that one is one of the most popular because people are Googling “Walmart” or “save money, live better,” and for whatever reason, Preservation in Pink just pops up. So that remains one of the most popular posts every single day. We can get 100 views in one day, just that one.

Guin: Looking at your popular posts, and what people seem to respond to, what seems to make up a good blog post?

O’Shea: I guess I would categorize a good blog post in a few different ways. One is obviously a popular one. One like Save Money, Live Better. If that is getting a lot of people to visit Preservation in Pink, and maybe see the blog and are looking for something preservation related, and not just Walmart related, then that’s great. That helped increase the visibility.

But I guess a good blog post, from my perspective, is one that is well thought out and meaningful, and brings people to historic preservation maybe in a way that they didn’t know before. There is just some little anecdote I told that they became more interested in it. Maybe the story was interesting that day or maybe one of the guest bloggers wrote something fun, maybe broadening their horizons, and hoping that they will come back.

Sometimes I say that a good blog post is one that my sister, who is a freshman in college, will comment on. Because she is just starting to understand what I talk about and what I do. And if she found it enjoyable, then I figured that a lot of people might have enjoyed the post that day.

Guin: Well, tell me bout your favorite blog post on Preservation in Pink. What’s the must read blog post on your site?

O’Shea: I have a few that are my favorite, a lot of them relate to my oral history project, kind of just days on the job. Because they mean a lot to me and to kind of share what I do and what I did as an oral historian, and remember a fun day of what it was like to be in oral history every single day.

One of my favorite to write is called, Why they don’t let me outside. And the title is inspired because most of the time I am inside. But once in a while, in my office we would just go outside. And that day I jumped and kind of twisted my ankle and it was still a really good day, but by the time I got home and sort of fainted from a swollen ankle. And it was a mess of a day. But after I fainted and woke back up, I was fine.

Guin: And you still have good memories of that day?

O’Shea: Yeah. So kind of posts like that. Another one is Oral History and Me: It is Complicated. Not love-hate, but sibling relationship with oral history. It’s so frustrating, but you love it no matter what.

And then I have some others that are more personal reflections. One is called Old Memories: The Evolution of My Favorite Place. And that’s about my grandmother’s town in New York. And I grew up playing on the beach, but now that I’m older, I don’t play as much, but I run on the beach. And I appreciate the place in a different way. And all of those I attribute to touching out on preservation values in a non academic way that I hope people enjoy.

Guin: The reason that we have these cultural resources is because of the people and the traditions handed down. In talking with those people you get a lot more insight and context about the cultural resources themselves. So I think that’s great. Well, you mentioned earlier your newsletter and your journalism experience, and design and layout. You’ve used that in the Preservation in Pink newsletter. Now not many bloggers do this. Why did you do this, and who is this newsletter targeted to?

O’Shea: Again, the newsletter was first and the blog came after. I needed a way to keep Preservation in Pink on the web for anyone who wanted to access it because I can’t afford to print it and mail it to everybody. And that is kind of silly since everything is on the web. So the blog, at first, was just two posts a year. I need articles for the newsletter, and then in 2008, I started putting on more posts every couple of months. And then toward the end, I really wanted people to read Preservation in Pink. I really needed this to go somewhere, and so I started making it a daily blog. And the newsletter and the blog are intended for the same audience. But it is a wide audience. It is anyone who is interested in preservation because it is what they do or because they don’t know much about it. And I try to gather articles from the wonderful contributors that seem to always be willing to add something. But everyone has different experiences, and for me to just share my own on the blog is not the same as having a newsletter. Having a newsletter kind of bring out more voices than my own, which I imagine people don’t want to read all the time.

Guin: Then let’s look at how your blog has developed over time because aside from having a newsletter, which is kind of rare for a blogger, you also have multiple contributors. And that’s not that rare for a blog. For a heritage blog it is fairly rare. How did that start?

IMG_4753O’Shea: Really, having a 5-day per week blog was kind of hard. And to come up with something that is hopefully interesting everyday. Right now it is three to four with grad school getting in the way. But I thought maybe I could be like other bloggers. I read a lot of different blogs: running blogs, wedding blogs, friends blogs. And a lot of people have guest bloggers. And I thought that would be a good way to draw in more readers/viewers. People could say, hey I wrote for this blog, go read it.

So the guest bloggers, I guess they started out kind of slowly. People I knew, my friends from college and fellow preservationists. And it was a nice break for me, and I figured it was a nice break for the readers. It was something different. It was something I couldn’t write about because I didn’t know much about it. And now I have a permanent posting up on Preservation in Pink asking for contributors and bloggers. Some people are more willing to contribute to the blog because it seems like less pressure. I mea, it is. I always feel like the blog is less serious than the newsletter. I mean, when I talk about cats and flamingos and whatever, it is a little more fun. And it is also more time-sensitive. So, one guest blogger, Brad Hatch, he has a ton of “preservacation” blogs, as he calls them, because he has a whole series that he wrote for me. And we posted them every couple of weeks or so. Whereas keeping all that for the newsletter would be a lot. And having a series in the newsletter that’s only twice a year is hard because that is asking readers to remember or go back six months ago and follow up from that first article. Whereas on the blog, I can link from post to post and readers can find it that way.  So I guess the newsletter developed the same way, there was not a lot of people at first and now there is many many people. For this next issue, I have even different contributors than usual. It’s really just helped to bring more of an audience. And more diversity.

Guin: Excellent. Well, you talked about being a grad student. I know that’s a lot of pressure. I want to hear about how you balanced being a grad student with doing such a rigorous blog schedule. Also, I am sure you are involved with other forms of online media or social networks as well. How do you balance all that?

O’Shea: I am just the type to do what I have to do. And it was a concern, maybe I wouldn’t have enough time. But I decided, no. It has come this far, it is still getting a lot of viewers. And I really enjoy it. It is kind of an outlet. So, if I don’t feel like writing my paper, maybe I can do something a little bit easier like writing a blog post. It also keeps me connected with everyone in my grad-school bubble. It’s the same of balancing anything else. I like to run a lot, I help out with the UVM track team. As far as other social networking, I have a few other blogs that are not like Preservation in Pink, they are just for fun or to keep track of running or something. Those I only do when I have the time.

Guin: Do you promote Preservation in Pink through any other networks? Do you do anything else other than consistent blogging to attract readership?

O’Shea: I do. I have a Preservation in Pink Facebook group page. And when I have a newsletter or I am asking for contributors, I pretty much email everyone who has ever met me. Any more former and current classmates have done a lot to help. They will share it with people they know. Send on the newsletter or send on the website. Last year I made business cards and postcards. So anyone who wrote for me, I send them a “thank you” with some business cards and also a Preservation in Pink magnet. Some people put it up at work so their coworkers saw the magnet and asked about the website. I try to make sure the tags and the categories are sometimes general and sometimes specific. So it could come up in photography, it could come up in preservation, and people could come across it that way. I have it on my resume. I like to share it with fellow preservationists.

Guin: Knowing that you are in graduate school right now, and knowing that you are going to have to get a job, does that affect what you blog or what you blog about?

O’Shea: It’s the same as when I started. I won’t write anything that I think is too judgmental or something that I would look back and go, “Oh geez, why did I write that?” I mean, my opinions might slightly change or my intellectual understanding of something might change, but I feel that what I put on Preservation in Pink is fit for anybody to read. And I am really honored when people way above me have read it.

Guin: Well the great thing about a blog is that if you do evolve intellectually or learn something new, you can always update the post or you can go and write another post and reference the old one. And it’s OK to show that you’ve learned something. And your readers learn along with you. So that’s great. Well, you mentioned early about using WordPress, and I use WordPress. I am active in the WordPress community. And you talked about tags and categories. And I don’t think that is something I have covered on Voices of the Past before. Can you tell me, in your opinion, what the different is between a tag and a category. And how you use those concepts to optimize your posts.

O’Shea: Well, this is just my understanding, and I might be slightly off. But from what I found, is tags are what people come across when they Google something and categories seem to be just within the site itself. I have a lot of tags because of all the posts, and I try to minimize the categories. So categories I use if someone is searching within Preservation in Pink itself. How can I find out your roadtrip posts. Whereas tags I look at as something people search on the web that could bring them to Preservation in Pink.

Guin: You said that you actually get inspiration from other blogs sometimes. What other blogs do you actively follow?

O’Shea: A new blog that you just did a feature on, My Own Time Machine by Sabra Smith. I think we are blog soulmates. Our blogs are similar, they are complimentary, they are a lot of fun. I love what she writes, so I have been following that since she started.

I follow Place Economics, which is not updated that much, but I like reading whatever he writes.

I follow Route 66 blog. Another WordPress blog. It is like the clearinghouse for Route 66 news.

Then I follow unrelated preservation blogs as well.

Guin: Obviously social media and blogging and all this stuff is growing. And a lot of heritage folks, although some have been slow in coming on board to using the social networks, that is going to change. And folks are getting on there wondering, what do they do to get started. Especially with blogging because that seems to be the heart of any social media effort. What advice do you have for those individuals or organizations getting involved in blogging for the first time?

Kaitlin O'Shea with the "flamingo girls."
O'Shea and the "flamingo girls."

O’Shea: I would say, if you have something that you love and you want to start a blog and write about it and talk about that subject, don’t start it expecting tons of readers and comments. Do it because you love it and keep doing it. I mean, Preservation in Pink isn’t the biggest blog out there by any means or even close to it, but the readership has grown immensely between this year and last year, and it is just consistency and I don’t really do it for anyone other than myself. I write for people who are interested in preservation, but I do it for myself too. So just keep at it and share your blog with anyone you know. I guess that’s my best advice for anyone.

Guin: OK, I want to take a step back a bit. What made you decide to use WordPress instead of any of the other blogging platforms that are out there?

O’Shea: Well, I love WordPress, let me just say that. I don’t really like Blogger for a professional looking blog. I think it is too simplistic and too kind of bubbly. You can’t create very many pages, and I don’t know much about creating your own template. Whereas WordPress had all these beautiful templates and you could change them all the time. And add all these Widgets, I think we call them. And those were really the only two I knew. I guess TypePad and so many others you have to pay for, or at least you used to. But anyone who is going to start a blog, I always recommend WordPress because it is just really easy and really fun.

Guin: Well, good. Kaitlin, thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

O’Shea: Thank you very much!

Outro: And that was Kaitlin O’Shea of blog and newsletter, Preservation in Pink.

Now, if you would like to learn more about Kaitlin and Preservation in Pink, that is at There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others we have done with other folks in the heritage field using social media to make a difference in their world.

That’s all for this edition of Voices of the Past. Until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and we’ll see you online.


Learning the relevance in heritage values

“A baptism by fire.”

That’s the phrase I often use to describe my experience as a new intern in the heritage preservation field. But the more bloggers I meet and with each news article that crosses my screen, I realize the ignorance behind the statement.

I was convinced  preservation and heritage values were for the elitists. They were things far beyond my grasp that required a doctorate to participate or even comprehend. Granted, those things might help with understanding some of the more technical jargon, but they are not a necessity.

I will never forget meeting Folklorist Dale Jarvis from Newfoundland, Canada soon after I volunteered to help  at Voices of the Past. We discussed his uses of new media and how they intertwined with his job as a folklorist. He discussed boat builders and campfires and fairy tales. And there was something about the conversation that intrigued me. Dale became the first of many heritage-minded folks I began to “follow” and “RSS” (a term I have learned because of my new interest in heritage preservation).

There was a question that was addressed during the interview that seems ingrained in my mind. “Is this storytelling a dying art?”

To which Dale responded,

“I really believe that things are always in a constant state of evolution. I think traditions are always changing, and I think that the rise of things like YouTube indicate that people are really passionate about storytelling. They really want to share their own personal stories.”

The thing about heritage preservation, it’s more than simply excavations, campfires and tombstones.

Heritage focuses beyond keeping the “old” around. Rather, heritage focuses on ensuring the “old” remains relevant. Heritage is about the “why”: a word as a future journalist I have come to adore.

Why King Tut was brought to Dallas, Texas. Why Twitter has become a phenomenon. Why everyone and their grandmothers (literally) are on Facebook. Why you come and visit Voices of the Past.

I didn’t have the “baptism by fire” experience I thought, rather it has been this ongoing experience throughout my life. It is the endless days I would sit mesmerized with my grandparents as they shared their stories. It is the shoebox of memories buried at the top of my closet and the homecoming mums that dominate my childhood-bedroom wall. It is my fascination with the Mona Lisa and the folks’ desire to discover if she is the infamous da Vinci in drag.

Heritage isn’t something that we need a degree to participate in or comprehend. Heritage is found in the simplicities around us. And as Dale said, it is the constant state of evolution we all participate in.

Meet the Blogger: Carla Bruni of “The Green Preservationist”

Carla Bruni is an historic preservationist, architectural historian, soon-to-be energy rater, and neurotic volunteer, and in this Heritage Blogger profile, she discusses how she combines her passions to create a hospitable environment to discuss preservation-related ideas in her blog, The Green Preservationist. Carla hopes to bridge the gap between historic preservationists and green building advocates…one post at a time.

Carla Bruni (2)

How do you try to bridge the gap between historic preservationists and green building advocates? What role does your blog play in your mission?

Well, if I were to sum up how these two groups often view each other via “light bulb jokes,” it might go something like this:

Q: How many historic preservationists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Change? We should just go back to candles and forget this light bulb nonsense!

Q: How many green building advocates does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Well, that old fixture isn’t terribly efficient so we’re going to go ahead and tear your old house down and design a better one.

Obviously this might be a wee bit exaggerated, but I’ve been in meetings where the tension was so thick that I thought the cornice would explode off of the building, and as a result, nothing is accomplished. I think we need more people working with, and listening to, both green building advocates and historic preservationists with an open and creative mind. I like to think that me being active on both sides of this coin gives me a unique angle, and honestly, I’m still learning all the time, so having a blog is a great way to throw my questions and opinions out there and see what I get back.

I also give lectures and workshops for universities, preservation and green building organizations throughout the city; this gives me the opportunity to introduce “greenies” to preservation issues and vice-versa. I have recently been working with an organization to administer grant funds for green retrofits on historic homes, and the homeowners get really into it, which is super fun. On the flip side of that, I worked as a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Environment while getting my Masters in Historic Preservation, so I would always weave my preservation agenda into my environmental tours, when most of the time they expected the answer to be “buy solar panels” or “replace your windows with triple-pane low-e fiberglass sashes.”

So, after two light-bulb jokes and a couple paragraphs, I guess the answer is simply “educate people through whatever means possible.”

Why do you think historic preservationists and green building advocates need each other?

Well, it’s completely unrealistic to think that we can build ourselves out of an environmental crisis. Any new building takes a whole lot of energy and creates a whole lot of waste—from the manufacturing and mining of building materials (also depleting our resources), to transportation, to creating new infrastructures, to demolition—there is simply no way around it. Of course, it is also unrealistic to think that human beings will never build new, so we need to be much smarter about building materials, sustainability, design, density and walk-ability than we have been for the past 50 years. What I spend the majority of my time doing is working on projects that involve making older buildings more energy efficient.

Of course, beyond energy, we also need to remember our history and culture and honor much of the existing architecture around us, which typically has incredible detailing, craftsmanship and materials, not to mention that our country is so young that this stuff is literally some of the oldest architecture in the history of the United States. It’s a tough balance right now for preservationists. I think that both groups are starting to come around a bit, however, and finding ways to work together. Preservationists are realizing that due to the current state of the environment, we need to worry less about the thickness of mullions during restoration projects, and begin focusing more energy on HVAC systems and weather stripping if we want to be socially responsible and actually save more buildings. Conversely, there has been more focus on energy efficient retrofits at green conferences lately. Both of these changes are likely encouraged by the current economic recession, but hey, at least some good is coming of it.

Carla Bruni (4)

How did you get interested in preservation and architecture?

Ah, well, I stumbled upon the Robie House as a child and have dedicated my life to architecture since then. Ha, yeah, that’s totally not true. I was an English Literature major in my undergrad with a poetry focus, and thought I might go back to school for a Master’s in either Comparative Theology or Medieval Literature. In the meantime, I did public relations for the City of Chicago, worked in an orthopedic office promoting a knee replacement device, was a shipping and receiving manager at a software company, and then worked in a custom metal welding studio, among other things. Fortunately, a coworker friend introduced me to his future wife, who was a preservationist, and I was like “people can actually save buildings for a living? Whoa.”

Once the greystones started coming down around me, or being turned into unrecognizable monstrosities, I decided to volunteer with a local preservation group called Preservation Chicago, and was inspired by their chutzpah much more than I was by the work I was currently doing. I started studying architecture on my own and soon after applied to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Historic Preservation Master’s program. I began paying more attention to environmental issues at around the same time and managed to snap up an internship with the for Green Technology, where I was able to help the public on a regular basis and gather information for a manual that I was writing to help historic homeowners “green” their homes. It was both a challenging and seriously cool experience. I’m currently in the process of becoming a certified energy rater and am thinking of also getting my LEED Green Associate certification just because I can’t seem to learn enough about how these issues impact each other. I figure if I’m going to write about these things and express my opinions, I had better have an intimate knowledge of what they are all about.

Carla Bruni

Tell us about your blog “About” photo. Is there a reason you are “Superwoman?”

Oh, I’m just mostly poking fun at myself for taking on huge, seemingly insurmountable projects because I just get so obsessed and excited about things. A recent “To Do” list on my desktop actually reads: 1) Get three new certifications by the end of the month, 2) Clean apartment until it sparkles and get rid of 50 percent of my total belongings, and 3) Change the general public’s perception of architecture throughout the United States.

I realize, of course, that #2 will never happen.

Why did you decide to begin blogging?

I think it was a combination of reasons. First, I realized I was really skirting both careers and thought that perspective could be useful. There are a lot of preservationists who know about environmental issues and vice-versa, but I think that it is easy to maintain a (strong) bias when you come much later to one field than the other. While I started off with preservation, I very quickly saw the connection between the two fields in light of recent trends, so I don’t think I even know how to separate the two most of the time. Also, I think that preservationists really need to change their image, and we seem to be struggling with that. We live in a very different time than we did even 10 years ago, and now preservation is constantly measured up against exciting, innovative technologies and a sort of environmental morality that didn’t exist before. To top it off, there are a zillion new (supposedly) “eco-friendly” products and homes out there that are being marketed like mad, and it’s a lot easier to market new things than old things. It is also difficult to make the argument that some things should not change when we are constantly told that anything that isn’t new and “green” is responsible for killing baby seals.

Beyond making people understand how crucial it is environmentally to preserve, maintain and perform energy efficient retrofits on existing buildings (somewhere along the line we lost sight of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”), Historic Preservation needs a more energetic, creative and fun side to it. You can certainly debate whether I have these qualities or not, but I can at least point out the fact that we need more of this if we are going to win over the masses and save more buildings.

And also, I think my friends and family would have thrown me to the wind turbines if I didn’t start talking about something other than architecture and the environment, so I figured I’d ease their burden a bit and find a more, er, tolerant audience.

What is your dream for your blog?

That’s a really good question. I suppose I want it to be a touchstone for students, preservationists, green building advocates, planners, landscape designers and architects, etc. when they have some downtime, and ideally a way to generate more discussion on the timely and important topics. I have also been using my friends as lab rats to see if the content is accessible for people who do not already work in the field. It’s a difficult balance to strike because I try to keep the posts relatively short—an almost impossible feat for a notorious rambler—so I can’t spend too much time explaining concepts and then also get down to the nitty gritty. I suppose it would be great if a more general public could at least start thinking more about these concepts and then possibly even get more involved in their free time.

Carla Bruni (3)

Your blog has a fascinating combination of “personality” and fact throughout your posts …

I think that having a more casual and accessible tone makes more people want to listen to the issues and better able to grasp them. And as I’ve mentioned before, accessibility is really key. It is also important, in my humble opinion, to not take oneself too seriously or be so self-righteous that you ostracize people vs. bring them into the fold. I am certainly not infallible and always have more to learn, and want the blog to be casual enough that friendly and useful discussions can bubble up from posts. Of course, I also come from a rather large and loud Italian family—if you want to be heard you have to be either really, really loud or funny enough to at least warrant a pause.

I can’t yell on a blog…

You have some interesting guest bloggers. How do you go about finding them and getting them engaged?

I realized from the beginning that I needed to get some perspectives on these issues from places other than Chicago and beyond my own experiences. Whenever I meet an enthusiastic soul—either through my blog or various events—who have a different experience either nationally or internationally, I find it to be incredibly valuable. I’ve been fortunate to do preservation work in Louisiana, Washington and Idaho, and realized pretty quickly that different places have different battles and feelings regarding preservation. I’d like to keep growing the blog readership around the country, so including these voices is really important. And heck, they’re interesting!

How do you develop and maintain a relationship with your viewers?

I always to respond to people who contact me through my blog. I’m curious about what they do and ask them to come back and express their opinions. I also try to keep the tone playful enough that it is engaging and people want to check back periodically. Fortunately, some local advocates and organizations have also put me on their blog roll and this bumps up my readership. I think I’m really lucky to be involved in two fields that are brimming with feisty advocates and like to keep stoking those coals to keep the dialogue between groups alive.

Are you engaged anywhere else online? If so, where and why?

There are so many great places to read about what is going on in these areas. Vince Michael’s incredibly insightful blog on preservation issues is an excellent source for preservation info and great fun to read. I often to jump over to Matt Cole’s Twitter page, which covers a variety of issues, often involving planning, preservation, and sustainability issues—he updates it obsessively, so there is always something new and fun to look up. I also work with the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association on a variety of projects, and we’ve recently been discussing a series of video podcasts that cover discussions with contractors, architects and energy raters, as well as filming how to properly weatherize and insulate single-family homes. It is somewhat similar to the This Old House website links that I like to check out when I cant wrap my brain around how something works—really practical, budget-conscious and effective projects for homeowners. Check in at in the near future for that. Beyond that, there are a variety of online research sources that I can access for free by logging into the Chicago Public Library site, and is perfect for digging up historic census information.

What is your advice for anyone wanting to start a blog? Or get involved with preservation?

My favorite thing to do is convert unsuspecting citizens into preservationists, and when they are within my clutches, I can’t help but rattle off a variety of volunteer organizations or free field trips that I know will ensnare them. I occasionally even undergo covert operations with design school students to try and convince them to weave creative adaptive reuse ideas into their projects. It is always rewarding to fight for something that you are passionate about. In my experience, looking up and noticing the architecture around you, and having someone explain that many of these buildings are, or likely will be threatened for demolition is a startling discovery—call it a preservation baptism or bar mitzvah or whatever you like. Once people start really seeing the built world, the whole city becomes alive and more engaging, and once that relationship is there a person will fight to keep it because there is a connection and respect.

As for blogging, well, I think that we are incredibly lucky to have these forums where we can talk about whatever it is that we want to talk about and share it to a much wider audience than ever before. Some will argue that “tweeting” is the best way to do this, others just don’t like writing all that much, but if you have a hankering to express yourself, why on earth would you stay silent? Restorations may cost a lot of money, green retrofits can add up sometimes, but our ability to rave and educate and change a collective mentality for the better is free, and ultimately, what is more exciting than changing people’s minds? It’s simply the cheapest, most effective way to take over the world.

Create your own heritage-themed social network in minutes with Ning

Sometimes the needs of a heritage group extend beyond the simple need to convey information. Blogs and Facebook fan pages allow limited interactivity. But for groups whose members are intensely passionate about a topic, a free social networking site like Ning could be the way to go.

So what is Ning, and who is using it to talk about heritage?


Essentially, Ning allows you to create your very own Facebook, complete with groups, design customization, forums, RSS capability and individual profile pages that incorporate blogs. There are also multimedia sharing functions whereby members can upload photos and videos.

According to, an estimated 6.8 million people access Ning a month. Far fewer than Facebook, but you have to consider the quality of communication going on in these sites. Unlike the “drive-by” communication common to Facebook, Ning flourishes when ongoing, intense discussion is needed on a topic.

Compared to other social networking sites, Ning provides the a solid platform for effective, good-looking sites with minimal effort, according to TechCrunch.

There are several general factors to consider before starting a Ning site.


  • You have an instant social network with a lot of the functionality of Facebook and your own brand
  • It’s customizable with colors, graphics and typefaces
  • There are a variety of privacy options for the site and for individual users
  • Feature set is continually improved.
  • Ability to track your web statistics through Google Analytics


  • Unless your potential membership is highly prolific and motivated, you will have to manage your community intensively to keep the participation level up.
  • Once the information is in Ning, you can’t readily export it to another platform (like a blog).
  • There are hundreds of social sites out there and many folks are fatigued with signing up for them.
  • While Ning is improving, there will still be some instances (like getting a photo to show up in a post) where a rudimentary knowledge of HTML code is helpful.
  • It’s also your responsibility to deal with spambots and members behaving badly.

Participation often comes in waves. This may be affected by a major news item, event or recognition by other sites and blogs. Just prepare yourself for it.

Heritage organizations worldwide have joined Ning to share their values. Here are a few examples:

Natchitoches Preservation Network (collaborative small town heritage site)

Nat Pres

Natchitoches, La., the first permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, is home to more than 30 organizations dealing with heritage issues. These organizations have long worked together to preserve the town’s historic legacy. While each has had its own website (often several years out of date) and publicity methods, the duplicate efforts wasted the energy of these organizations.

Ning was used to create the Natchitoches Preservation Network site.

The 151-member site uses groups and blogs to keep the community apprised of various heritage events and informs them of ongoing research and volunteer opportunities. Blog posts include anything from Community Cemetery Cleaning Day to thesis project presentations by Heritage Resources Students at nearby Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

The site also makes use of RSS and embedding of other social media to enhance the experience. It includes a virtual library of links from the social bookmarking service Delicious. It also incorporates a Friendfeed group that allows members to add news stories related to Natchitoches heritage from other sites, embedding them on the front page.

Members post photos and videos about events and places around the parish including the a series of “This Place Matters” videos in which individuals explain the importance of their favorite landmarks around the parish.

The site was also used to communicate intern research hosted at the National Center for Preservation Technology an Training during the summer. The interns blogged to the Natchitoches community weekly about the progress with their projects and how the projects benefit them as a community. They then presented their research at the end of the summer during the event “Preservation in Your Community.”

Heritage is more than just ensuring that a place matters, some heritage individuals find their passion preserving more intangible aspects, such as the art of music.

GenealogyWise (Genealogy Research)


Genealogy is one of humankind’s favorite hobbies. We all want to know what makes us “us.” Not surprisingly, there are numerous genealogy networks on Ning. GenealogyWise is one of the largest. With more than 14,000 members and 3,000 groups, it’s very active. Using its group function, it also includes an interesting method for people to connect: by surname. The groups also tackle specific topics such as dating photos and outdoor genealogy. Nearly 400 videos (many of which are how-tos) have been posted. And to help the large membership connect, the site also holds scheduled live chats.

Museum 3.0 (Discussions on museums in the digital age)

museum 3.0 screen shot

Museum 3.0 poses the question, “What will the museum of the future be like?” More than 1,600 people from all over the world have joined in seeking an answer to this question.

The forums serve as their discussion board for a variety of topics including the future of the audio tour, new virtual tours on different sites, Twitter as a business tool and museum-related surveys.

Museum 3.o also uses the events function of Ning to promote different conferences, seminars and networking opportunities.

Museum 3.0 also uses Ning’s video and image sharing opportunities to post more than 500 images from different museums and about 50 videos ranging from interviews to museum-related speeches to videos depicting the “Reel Texas Cowboys.”

ning homepage

But heritage is not something that needs to be simply left to professionals. With social networking sites like Ning, heritage values are now in the hands of the individual.

For some, Ning enables them to research their family heritage and unit individuals globally giving them one centralized place to share aspects of their lives.  The families use their Ning sites to post family photos and videos, discuss family reunions and also research their family trees.

Regardless of the heritage you find important, let it be community heritage or your own family’s history, Ning enables you to share it all globally with folks who share those same values at the click of a button.

The sites we’ve covered are only a sampling of what’s out there. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite heritage-focused Ning sites.


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