Category Archives: Work Portfolio

Case studies and applied knowledge from my body of work in the digital humanities and elsewhere.

Museum Interactive: Alchemical Quest Rare Books Exhibit Case Study

I managed development of a museum interactive for an exhibit called The Alchemical Quest, which featured rare books. The books originated during the golden age of alchemy, from the 16th and 17th centuries and were drawn from the collections of the Othmer Library of Chemical History. The report below documents the project team’s efforts to make these texts accessible and alive to visitors via a touch projection technology museum interactive.

Project Goals:

  • Reinforce the depth and complexity presented in the exhibition content
  • Implicitly reiterate the exhibition narratives while allowing for visitors to enjoy the imagery of the books through the interactive experience
  • Provide visitors with alternate means of experiencing the books in the exhibition
  • Foster curiosity and encourage deeper exploration of images and text
  • Demonstrate an example of an alchemical process in its entirety
  • Reflect the fantastical and practical balance found within the books

 

Case Study: Museum Interactive for The Alchemical Quest Exhibit by jkguin

 

Check out other downloadable case studies on Voices of the Past.

Case Study: Livestreamed Interactive Webcasts for Cultural Institutions

Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels from ChemHeritage on Vimeo.

In 2013, as part of my work managing digital initiatives at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, I created a livestreamed program titled #HistChem to establish a deeper dialog with CHF’s audiences around topics of history, science and culture.

Among the program’s objectives:

  • Make the institution accessible by featuring its people, collections and research initiatives
  • Unify traditional & social media platforms
  • Spark compelling conversations about History & SciTech
  • Track effectiveness through metrics & social curation tools

A channel of the program’s episodes can be accessed here: https://vimeo.com/channels/789012

You can access the interim evaluation report with tips for other cultural institutions wishing to adopt livestreaming as well. View it below or by accessing this link: scribd.com/doc/232511146/Program-Report-Livestreaming-Engagement-Model-for-Cultural-Heritage

Program Report: Livestreaming Engagement Model for Cultural Heritage by jkguin

Strategy Kit: Goals, Objectives and Tactics for #DigitalHeritage Outreach Planning

The pervasiveness of online tools makes engagement ever easier, and as a result, a less meaningful measure of influence. Conversely, planning for digital communications is often an uncomfortable and intensive process that results in more effective online initiatives by clarifying audiences and expectations. Based on my presentation at the 2013 Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, the following media will illustrate effective strategic planning approaches for organizations that seek to advocate for heritage resources through the web. Methods examined will include the development of measurable tactics to gain internal buy-in, leverage online partnerships and determine appropriate engagement tools.

Versions of this Post

  • Watch the narrated slidecast version of this post on YouTube below and be sure to subscribe to the Voices of the Past Channel for more content.
  • For a simplified version of this concept, read my previous post on Voices of the Past.
  • Download the full paper here: Digital Planning for Cultural Heritage

Please share a comment regarding digital heritage planning approaches that have worked for you. All of us who use the web to advocate for heritage resources would love to hear your story.

Background

In the decade since the widespread emergence of social media platforms, strategic planning for the web and digital media is still a rarity among heritage organizations. Often, the preferred approach is to nurture innovative ideas ahead of audience needs, or the sustainability of the approach over time. The web, digital libraries social media and mobile tools provide effective platforms for heritage advocacy, but truly leveraging these technologies means continually re-anchoring them with strategic context over the course of time. At the core of strategic concerns for digital heritage on the web are considerations of audience outreach, providing authentic interpretive experiences online, and establishing foundations for future “born digital” data. While these concerns are frequently addressed as separate issues, the effectiveness of each is highly dependent on sustainably the systems interrelate. Ultimately, digital strategy is by, and for, people— from planning to consumption. The key to successfully translating good ideas and intentions for outreach through the web and digital media is to develop them into more defined goals, objectives and tactics that can be measured for mission-based results among audiences. Illustrative elements from the strategic plans of the following heritage organizations and programs will be examined:

  • Chemical Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on the history of chemistry. CHF houses a library, archives, oral history program, public museum, gallery of historic art, and visiting scholars program.
  • National Center for Preservation Technology & Training, a U.S. National Park Service research and granting agency. NCPTT advances the use of science and technology in historic preservation with programs in archaeology, architecture,landscapes and materials science.

 

STRATEGIC PLANNING COMPONENTS

Goals

Goals are simple, general statements that are rooted in mission. They are based on changing your organization’s position in reputation, relationships or the work of accomplishing mission-based directives. They are vision statements about an organization’s perfect world. They are also often the most difficult for organizations to articulate because they are impossible to ever quantifiably achieve. Because of their layered meaning, they remain evergreen and rarely need to be refashioned. Stating goals in present tense also serves as a motivational function.

Objectives

While goals function as an organizational compass, objectives define a time and place for recognizing a successful interim stop on the journey. Objectives are a critical success factor in strategic planning for digital planning for heritage organizations, but are rarely articulated because of the discomfort their specificity implies. They focus on inspiring measurable action, acceptance or awareness that make organizational goals a practical pursuit (Smith, 82-84). Eleven criteria define the ideal objective:

The strategic planning process for heritage organizations generally evolves into three levels of focus: goals, objectives and tactics. This approach can be effectively executed regardless of the size, scope or resources of an organization.

  • They support mission-based organizational goals for the organization.
  • They are focused on a specific audience.
  • They emphasize impact, not products.
  • They are rooted in research.
  • Their wording is semantically clear.
  • They are measurable.
  • They are time-defined.
  • They focus on one result from one audience.
  • They challenge the organization.
  • They are attainable.
  • They are accepted throughout the organization.

Objectives accomplish one of three outcomes. The first is awareness, or what audiences understand about an organization through simple transmittal of information. Objectives can also influence acceptance, or the emotional response felt by publics, which can foster advocacy, particularly in controversial situations. Finally, objectives can be used to inspire action for changing an existing behavior or adopting a new one.

It’s easy to report web page hits and time spent visiting a site. Establishing if that is a value and then putting a number to it is critical to establish momentum. These numbers can be determined through evaluation of an organization’s existing audience interactions or results achieved by similar organizations online. As the plan is updated and iterated over the course of time, a truer understanding of audience will develop and more targeted numbers can be assigned.

Tactics

Tactics are the tools, platforms and approaches identified in a plan that most efficiently interface with targeted audiences to accomplish organizational objectives. In social media, these may include Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

CASE STUDIES

Michigan State University Campus Archaeology

The MSU Campus Archaeology Social Media Action Plan combined vision-oriented goals with an aggressive schedule of posting procedures for reaching targeted audiences. Among its goals were to be seen as “the go-to authority for MSU’s history” and “innovators and the authority on Campus Archaeology.” Its targeted audiences included alumni, students, faculty, staff, and Lansing/East Lansing community. The plan emphasized integration of social media and including everyone who worked on any aspect of the program so that a consistent and frequent message was delivered to core audiences, while seeking to expand them as well, especially among staff and alumni. As a result, the program was recognized for its field school work with an AT&T Award for innovative teaching for combining digital and traditional media. The University subsequently reclassified the program as critical and recently made its budget a permanent line item. (Goldstein, 2012)

Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA)

The Social Media Subcommittee of the Society for Historical Archaeology created an outreach plan in 2011. The subcommittee sought to provide a resource for membership to interact regularly with the organization, and offer non-members insight into both SHA and the world of historical archaeology. The subcommittee’s central tactic was development of collaborative blog that was supported by an aggressive community-building campaign on Facebook and Twitter. During 2012, 50 people contributed 125 posts. Followers on Twitter more than doubled to more than 2,800. Additionally, most of its 1,365 followers on Facebook liked the SHA page during that same period. (Brock, 2012)

The foundations for SHA’s strategic plan were established by spring, just in time for the premiers of “National Geographic’s Diggers” and Spike TV’s “American Diggers.” The blog and social media channels became the launchpad for SHA’s response. President Paul Mullins proactively issued a public response to the shows, stating:

“These shows are disappointing, but we can continue to approach them as teaching moments and acknowledge that even thoughtful viewers may not immediately grasp the ethical shortcomings of such methods or understand what they risk losing in the hands of a haphazard metal detector survey. We do not need to surrender our preservation ethics or scholarly rigor, and while we may not transform everybody we can reach many thoughtful people who respect precise fieldwork, community scholarship, and responsible preservation.” (Mullins, 2012)

SHA shared follow-up posts from its Ethics committee regarding the organization’s conversations with National Geographic. It furthered the opportunity for “teaching moments” by featuring a Current Topics post from Matt Reeves, director of archaeology at Montpelier Foundation, who runs a workshop with metal detectorists. The post discussed his program and provided materials for working with this community in more proactive ways. By prioritizing the development of its digital platforms, SHA was positioned to take advantage of a media controversy to raise awareness, foster advocacy and inspire action among its identified publics. It provided members with instant, two-way communication about how the organization was responding to an important issue while it supplied resources they could apply to their own work as it relates to a hot topic. At the same time, it presented the organizational position on these issues and promoted its available resources to the public and potential members. Four of SHA’s top five blog posts them covered this issue, accounting for 15 percent of the blog’s traffic for the year.

National Center for Preservation Technology & Training (NCPTT)

NCPTT’s plan was developed in 2007, just as social media began to enter the popular mindset. Among agencies for the U.S. National Park Service, NCPTT is very small and remotely located in the small town of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Moreover, it’s congressional mandate extended well beyond the National Park Service to include historic preservationists in general, giving the research it fostered in the technologies of preservation a global audience. The organization applied the Hoshin Kanri model of strategic planning to its digital efforts. It categorized its goals under the 11 focus areas of the Hoshin method: Content, Tools and Vehicles, Structure, Processes, Leadership, Partnership, Metrics, Internal Communication, Reputation/Impact, Role and Global.

Because so few of its peers were on the social web at that point, NCPTT’s priority was to develop its internal savvy and build a library of digital media content that would engage early adopters in its audience and establish its authority in this area when the rest of its audiences followed. This goal was articulated under the Structure focus area as “A streamlined process empowers NCPTT staff to rapidly deliver media content directly to the web.” The objectives under this goal included regular training by digital media experts, more autonomy for staff members posting content, and implementation of digital tools and platforms to make the posting process as simple as possible.

Throughout 2008, NCPTT shifted its digital infrastructure accordingly. The organization tracked digital media conferences taking place in nearby metropolitan areas to draw blogging and experts to its facility for staff training on the principles of blogging, online media editing and search engine optimization strategies. It repositioned its intranet from a static system of document links to a social media learning and sharing experience. It did this by creating an NCPTT FriendFeed group, which was embedded on the intranet’s homepage. Bookmarklets were installed on staff member’s browsers to allow immediate sharing and conversation about news items without the need to broadcast links through email. This provided a safe place for them to acquire online posting and conversational skills. To reinforce the promise of the Web 2.0 revolution among the organization’s laggards, communications staff continually posted news articles about social media’s burgeoning impact to the FriendFeed room. This tactic cost no money, required little time for implementation and readied staff members for engagement on then-emerging platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

A more celebrated objective under this goal in NCPTT’s strategic plan was its migration from a proprietary CMS for its website to the open source version of WordPress. It was among the first U.S. government agencies to make such a leap. With the proprietary CMS, content had to be submitted to the webmaster to post. WordPress’ intuitive interface and built-in search optimization functions allowed staff to post high-impact multimedia content directly to the site. By the end of 2009, NCPTT was featured as Government Video Magazine’s “Website of the Week,” citing the National Center’s use of “photos, videos, podcasts and every other modern method to demonstrate [its research].” Additionally, tech blog Honeytech named the website number four on its international listing of “Top 10 Government Sites Powered by WordPress.” The WordPress organization also chose NCPTT as one of eight U.S. government sites featured in its Showcase for outstanding implementation of the CMS (NCPTT, 2009). The success of this migration led to other agencies within the National Park Service’s Cultural Resource Program to consult with NCPTT regarding their digital strategies.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS)

RCAHMS began its digital media planning by embracing the promise of technological and social openness even while it undertook a frank examination of its limitations toward achieving that promise. The planning process started by a “challenge group” comprised of representatives from each department throughout the organization. The group first crafted a description of social media that would communicate its potential to others in the organization. It then set out to link that potential to Strategic Priorities previously identified by the organization. The group called for relaxed editorial guidelines in keeping with more authentic engagement on social media platforms and drafted a one-page common sense policy for using social media. It also emphasized principles of public interaction with its collection through crowdsourced content opportunities, user-generated tagging and integrated data systems. Notably, it also emphasized a spirit of fun and experimentation in approach not characteristic in the heritage field:

“We should be prepared to experiment before we get it right; this is a new way of working, and it will be new for some of our audiences too, we should be prepared to try a few things to get it right. As this is such a new and fast changing media we should be very responsive to change and constantly redevelop our strategies.” (RCAHMS, 4)

One of its first initiatives was a user-centered photo sharing initiative in which it began accepting user-contributed content. RCAHMS began to allow direct public contributions to its MyCanmore online image collections database via the application programming interface (API) of the social media service Flickr. Within six months, more than 2000 images and 350 text contributions were added by users.

In a project funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, RCAHMS partnered with the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland to hold a social media training series for the Scottish cultural heritage sector titled “Digital futures of cultural heritage education.” The collaborators worked to establish a research agenda for museum and gallery education for the digital age with the further goal to inform and align policy and practice in the use of social media. RCAHMS also sponsors the research program “Beyond Text” at the University of Edinburgh to explore the role of users in contributing to the public online presence of cultural institutions, the ways in which users might contribute to the ‘making’ and ‘unmaking’ of public archives, and the ways in which a global public learns and constructs meaning from institutions’ digital collections. Among the program’s current research projects is a study of how new online media environments are changing the way users engage with, and learn from, the collections of cultural institutions.

By articulating an audience-based vision at the outset of its digital and social media planning, RCAHMS established an internal mindset of open engagement, which attracted influential partnerships and led to internal technological evolution.

Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF)

The Chemical Heritage Foundation is unique among heritage organizations in the diversity of its heritage preservation and outreach programs. It crafted its emerging media plan to help it re-imagine itself as a platform for telling the story of chemistry using its extraordinarily broad collection of heritage content (i.e. art and object collections, oral histories, archives, rare books) that span the entire historical narrative it supports. These assets provide rich material for digital storytelling. The challenge the organization has begun to address in the past year is to find ways to make its high-quality event programming and collections data more accessible to online audiences.

CHF’s strategic planning approach advocates a high level of collaboration that is focused on “the organization” telling stories, rather than individual programs. It focuses on the creation of digital assets that meet measurable, audience-based needs in the near term; retain ongoing relevance through vigilant curation in the longer term; and provide it in consistently updated formats that will allow the next storytellers of chemical heritage to readily continue the narrative. To this end, CHF adopted the following seven goals for its digital media strategy in the summer of 2012:

  1. CHF publishes its digital products in formats optimized for search (SEO), sharing and exploration.
  2. CHF tells the story of chemistry in human context—stories by people, for people.
  3. CHF provides timely, relevant engagement opportunities for its audiences.
  4. CHF’s content is available whenever and wherever our audiences need it.
  5. Digital strategy is a core consideration in CHF’s public-facing processes and initiatives.
  6. CHF facilitates active and enlightening dialog with its audiences.
  7. CHF’s staff members are savvy, empowered digital advocates for chemical heritage.

These vision statements were each supported by approximately three objectives and an appropriate number of tactics. For example, under Goal 3, the following objectives and tactics were among those articulated:

Objective: Increase audiences for CHF events by 35% in FY 2013 through a program of interactive online livestreaming.

Tactics:

  • TriCaster device for portable in-house production of livestreamed events.
  • Social discovery with simulcast tie-in using Google Hangouts
  • Create a Vimeo channel as platform for a high-quality online archive of event footage
  • Measure views through YouTube Insights, Vimeo analytics and streaming logs

Objective: Establish mobile interactive tour in FY2013 to increase average visitor engagement in CHF’s permanent collections space by 10 minutes.

Tactics:

  • Toursphere Mobile Application Service for museums
  • Virtual docent tour video for six cases
  • iPad Checkout Station for Visitors with pre-loaded tour
  • Museum promotional signage and postcards incorporating coded links/QR code
  • Launched in phases of six cases per iteration.
  • Testing by CHF staff members and random visitors.
  • Measure with Toursphere analytics and built-in survey feature

By the end of the 2012 calendar year, CHF had achieved its objectives for livestreaming through the broadcast of four events. Online audiences for these events more than doubled total attendance with views from around the world. Content for CHF’s mobile app was developed during the fall of 2012 and will launch by February of 2013. It has spurred a broader interpretive multimedia program that has enhanced its social media channels as well. Through these objectives, the organization has enhanced existing audience engagement experiences and opened them up to much a much wider array of audiences with relatively few additional resource requirements.

COMMONALITIES IN PLANNING APPROACH

Collectively, these organizations mentioned above represent a wide range of perspectives related to the preservation of heritage. Their digital strategies reflect that diversity, yet these also share common themes in approach. Here are similarities that can inform other digital planning processes related to the preservation of heritage.

Write an Honest Situation Analysis

Defining goals, objectives and tactics for digital strategy is a process that requires a realistic evaluation of organizational position and responsibilities, whether perceived or actual. This typically examines events and circumstances in the organization, professional fields or among affected publics (including internal ones) that can be leveraged for acting on these results. This should also include threats, including heritage resources the organization is currently charged to protect, or situations it commonly finds itself in when online engagement could make a difference. It should also include a frank look the organization’s existing technology in comparison to emerging platforms.

Root Digital Planning in Existing Organizational Priorities

The critical leap to success depends on tactics being rooted in a larger strategic vision for the organization. In many cases, this has been articulated to some degree with a mission statement and a five-year outlook. While having these directives makes the social media strategic planning process much easier, many heritage organizations either don’t have such a document, or it’s severely out of date, or more likely lacks measurable specificity. Additionally, pre-existing commitments, politics, and infrastructure may not allow a direct route to an articulated plan based purely in mission. In these cases, a strategic plan for digital media can spur a grass-roots recognition of the value of defining audiences and measurable expectations of work.

Thoroughly Define and Prioritize Audiences

The principles of social media in particular will often engage naturally when you are using the social tools while intentionally remembering who your audience is and what drives them. The “World” is not an audience. Neither is “The Public.” This will make participation from the staff and publics much easier as well. Measurable success in digital strategy depends on articulating every potential audience for the organization, and prioritizing those by importance. This will help focus appropriate digital platforms as well.

Monitoring and Management

There must be someone responsible for social media execution, and they must be supported by an interdepartmental team. They must also have appropriate tools to accomplish this job. Milestone check-ins are critical to the success of each project. Commit wholeheartedly and integrate these functions into job descriptions of a full-time individual, but be realistic about what they can accomplish in a given period of time. Google Analytics is used by virtually every organization evaluation. The free service provides a deep level of data on how visitors access and interact with websites. Google has recently begun to focus on increasing its capabilities for measuring social media’s impact on website traffic. For social media monitoring and posting, Hootsuite is also widely used by each organization that engages on multiple platforms. Hootsuite allows subscribers to collaboratively schedule posts, monitor social engagement and respond to audiences through one web-based interface. Once an account is setup, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Linkedin streams can be organized into tabs. Information from those tabs can be further organized into columns, providing a comprehensive social media dashboard.

Costs and Content Development

Costs for digital media initiatives vary as widely as the content standards of the organization, and the greater the time put into crafting this plan, the more efficient it will be in the long-term. Online audiences value consistent, authentic connection with individuals at an organization over higher production values with a corporate voice. Agreed-upon posting schedules and suggested best practices for documenting field work will keep the short-term costs for the public engagement side of digital strategy low. Based on outcomes of the situation analysis, investment will go toward adopting or sustaining storage systems for heritage data that can interface with web-based platforms.

Heritage organizations routinely partner to protect the resources they care about. That spirit of partnership is effective online as well. NCPTT collaborated with the local university journalism program, other National Parks and National Heritage Areas to accomplish some of the tasks in the development of its plan. It also shared its expertise in helping partner organizations like the Association for Preservation Technology launch their digital initiatives.

Be Your Own Platform

Digital media services and platforms will come and go. They are all ultimately tools. It is critical that heritage organizations own their data and take responsibility for continually growing its accessibility. While this is especially important for metadata related to memory collections, it also applies to the organization’s collective voice, a critical part of which should be its blog. Unlike social platforms whose fates are controlled by their parent companies, most blogging platforms allow back up and migration of data through open formats. With their multimedia capabilities, blogs are the most effective means for dynamic digital storytelling. As was demonstrated with SHA’s response to the “Diggers” television shows, it can also be a place to centralize thought leadership and mobilize audiences. Additionally, its built-in syndication capabilities make automating direct feeds to social media and mobile applications possible.

Internal Participation

Seek organizational buy-in the long-term, but start initial planning with an interdepartmental group of influencers that are most enthusiastic about heritage outreach. Identify the digital interests of staff members, and then encourage that through training by people with those areas of expertise. Provide the opportunity to apply those skills with internal engagement opportunities that are internal or to a limited audience. For written posting procedures, one page is ideal for a social media policy. Legalistic guidelines discourage internal participation and lessen the effectiveness of online conversation.

While day-to-day engagement is a critical component in gaining trust, a much more effective strategy is to use time-limited digital outreach campaigns. Use the organization’s long-term activity calendar to align planned projects with potential campaigns, involving as much of the organization as possible over the course of each year. A project lead and team are assigned to keep these time-limited campaigns on track. But other willing staff must be empowered with awareness and proper equipment so they know how to look at a situation and capture engaging content as it presents itself.

Defining goals, objectives and tactics digital planning facilitates a proactive approach for organziations. It ensures that strategic directives can be sustainably accomplished in a world that demands digital accessibility. This goes beyond the traditional archival responsibilities of such organizations to address the current expectation among audiences for ever-present engagement. For any historical narrative, people are both the catalyst and the audience. Much like the digital landscape, these audiences are also diverse and complex. The strategic planning process simplifies focus for both these areas so that professionals in fields such as archaeology, archives, preservation, conservation, landscapes and oral history can be more effective in advocating for heritage resources.

References

Bonacchi, C. (ed), 2012. Archaeology and Digital Communication. Towards Strategies of Public Engagement. London: Archetype PublicationsGiaccardi, E. (ed), 2012. Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.

Goldstein, L. and Brock, T.P. (2010). MSU Campus Archaeology Social Media Action Plan.

Brock, T.P. (2012): Email communication, Dec. 26, 2012.

Adair, B., Filene, B., and Koloski, L. (ed), 2011. Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. Philadelphia: The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

Dobreva, M., O’Dwyer, A., and Feliciati, P. (ed.) 2012. User Studies for Digital Library Development. London: Facet Publishing

Graham, P. (2011): Skype communication with Philip Graham regarding digital strategy for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

RCAHMS (2011): Social Media Challenge Group Strategic Recommendations. Smith, R.D. (2009). Strategic Planning for Public Relations. New York: Routledge.

You don’t have to be a King to find your voice

This is a post I’ve literally waited over a year to write. It concerns something only a handful of people have known about me to this point.

king george vi
king george vi

In late 2009, I found myself in a Wikipedia-induced causality loop. You’ve been there. One search leads to another one and then a morning has suddenly passed. I don’t know where this particular one began but it ended with the story of King George VI and the commencement of production on “The King’s Speech.” I immediately put the film on a Google Alert.

Reading the ever-increasing number of stories and blog posts about the stellar film was excruciating since I apparently live in the last place on earth the movie would ultimately run. I’m proud to see the film is as beautiful and brilliant as I’d hoped.

Why the weird obsession? Because it’s my story too — and the story of many others who conditions that affect their hearing and speech. While most of us will never influence the course of history, the struggle is much the same.

The Beat of a Different Drum

From the time I was a child, I knew I heard things differently than other people. I could discern sounds no one else seemed aware of in some situations, but there were others in which I couldn’t make out the words of someone standing talking directly into my ear (particularly when there was background noise). Severe ear infections throughout my pre-teen years led surgery to put tubes in my ears and have my adenoids removed. The pain went away, but the problems with sound and articulation continued. My family moved a lot in those years, and with each new school, I’d eventually end up in a speech counselor’s office.

Several years ago, I got fed up. I’d been to audiologists, speech pathologists, and had my hearing checked countless times. My hearing was perfect–hypersensitive even–so how could I have so much trouble understanding and articulating speech? None of the local doctors could tell me.

Finally, I turned to the ultimate “expert,” Google. I listed every hearing and speech-related symptom that was driving me crazy.

Here were the top two search results I saw:

I was dumbfounded (no pun intended) reading those entries. Literally numb. Having a name for my “defect” didn’t change its reality, but it changed everything about how I viewed it. In that moment, I remembered the nine-year-old boy hiding in the corner at public events because the noise was driving him mad and didn’t feel contempt for his weakness. Instead, I felt respect for someone who never gave up hope that some day he would find a way to make a contribution.

Life with an auditory processing disorder is a Skype conversation with a long time lag, or hearing someone speak a language you don’t know and waiting for the translator. Sound comes in, but has to settle before the can brain process it and forms a response. The kicker is that the response, no matter how perfectly formed in the mind, doesn’t automatically articulate itself the same way vocally. Additionally, the ability to filter sounds is limited, so I can hear conversations going on throughout a wide area.

Me at one week
They say I took the heavyweight crown in the week-old division.

APD is thought to be caused my two things–recurrent ear infections as I mentioned earlier and oxygen deprivation during birth, which also fit my story. In 1970’s small-town Louisiana, your general practitioner was your only doctor and you didn’t question his word even if it killed you. My 4’11” mother had a difficult, prolonged labor with me before her doctor realized her pelvis was too small and performed an emergency c-section. Besides a temporary conehead and scratched-up face (from my fingernails), those hours in the birth canal resulted in flattened cartilage and an unknown period of time without oxygen.

Again, I contacted doctors, audiologists and pathologists throughout Louisiana, certain they could do something with this new information. I got one acknowledgment, which was “this condition can only be treated in children. There’s no point in a diagnosis, because the wiring in your brain is set.” Probably true, but I wasn’t willing to stop there.

My odyssey led to Judy Paton (the second link in my Google Search) in San Mateo, Calif., who specializes in working with adults. She performed the testing, confirmed the diagnosis and provided advice to keep challenging the speech and hearing center of my brain. One of the things she suggested was to work with a vocal coach. The musical element would improve diction, timing, rhythm and tone.

Just Breathe

Another Google search led me two buildings from where I work in rural Louisiana to Terrie Sanders, one of the few McClosky-certified vocal trainers in the country.

As in the film, we did some of the funny exercises (lying on the floor, skipping, swinging arms, stretching the tongue). The emphatic cursing trick depicted in the movie I discovered purely on my own, and it is frighteningly effective. But the biggest revelation was awareness of my breath.

I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie.  ~Lionel Logue, The King's Speech
"I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie." ~Lionel Logue, The King's Speech

“Inhale from the diaphragm and let the words flow out with the breath,” my teacher would say. “Just breathe.” It seems like the most natural thing, doesn’t it? Biologists say it’s an involuntary function of the body. For sustaining existence, that’s true. But I would discover that deep, life-giving breaths are a matter of intention. If two words can sum up a personal philosophy, “Just Breathe” became fuel for my thoughts, a moment to decide, a prayer — and perhaps most surprisingly, the foundation of a decent tenor singing voice.

So why am I in the communications field? Seems like the ultimate masochism, doesn’t it? Sometimes, absolutely! But we all have “something” to overcome in the quest for a legacy. And meaningful connections can be forged in so many ways that have nothing to do with skills of articulation.

Still, public speaking is no longer just the realm of world leaders and Dale Carnegie types. We all have to do it to be effective in our work. That was one of the reasons I threw my hat in to present at O’Reilly Media’s Gov 2.0 Expo last spring. The presentation was selected to be included in the last round of “lightening” keynotes, which meant the presenters had about five minutes each. My presentation wasn’t going to be one of the philosophical types that frame the future of governments and the world and wow the audience with its profundity. The audience wasn’t going to be blown away by its delivery either, as I’d have to read it to maintain my timing. But it was MY story: a simple and direct explanation of who I am and what I do. This presentation would be my declaration that cultural heritage defines our humanity as much as climate change, national defense or the value of currencies. It was also a powerful testament to the power of the online community, as friends like Lorelle VanFossen and Lisa Louise Cooke, both natural speakers, spent their valuable time helping me to refine it. And other online friends who I’ve never interacted with, like Todd Henry, Chris Guillebeau, and Liz Strauss, whose blogs and podcasts have, over time, empowered me with transformative habits to make a difference by focusing on the “now.”

Ultimately, the experience was a continuing reminder of the power of family. Watching the experiences of the historical Queen Elizabeth portrayed in The King’s Speech, I chuckled to think of how familiar they might seem to my own wife, ElizaBeth, in bolstering a recalcitrant husband to discover his message and believe himself worthy to deliver it.

When my name was announced on May 27, 2010, deep gratitude for so many supportive people had replaced any lingering fear. Emerging into glaring spotlights and a podium in front of several hundred people (including a livestreamed worldwide audience), I didn’t think about the first words I would say or how I would look on the 30-ft HD screens on either side of the stage. I thought only two words again and again:

“Just. Breathe.”

The Preservation Technology Podcast: The longest continually produced show on historic preservation

English: Logo of the National Center for Prese...

 

This is where I cut my podcasting teeth, as part of my work at the National Center for Preservation Technology & Training. It’s interesting (and sometimes horrifying) to listen back on those early episodes. We steadily made progress in recording equipment and editing skills. It’s turned out to be one of our  flagship social media efforts!

 

Here’s a brief description of selected episodes, with links to the transcript and audio files. Click here to view a full list of episodes and other posts from my time at NCPTT.

 

Episode 33: In this edition of the podcast, we join NCPTT’s Jeff Guin as he speaks with Andy DeGruchy of LimeWorks U.S.  Andy will talk about the role of lime mortar and built heritage and why this material is still important today.

 

Episode 25: In this edition of the podcast, we join NCPTT’s Kim Martin as she speaks with Barry Stiefel, Professor in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the College of Charleston and Clemson University. Today they will discuss sustainability in preservation.

 

Episode 24: In this edition of the podcast, we join NCPTT’s Jeff Guin as he speaks with Aaron Lubeck, author of the book, Green Restorations. Today, they will discuss his book and how it connects the sustainability movement with historic preservation.

 

Episode 23: In this edition of the podcast, we join NCPTT’s 2010 summer interns as they discuss their summer research.

 

Episode 22: In this edition of the podcast, we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Tony Rajer. He is an Art Conservator with the Nek Chand Foundation and a conservation professor at the University of Wisconsin. Today they will discuss Rajer’s interest in folk art and his work with the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India.

 

Episode 21: NCPTT’s Debbie Smith speaks with Robert Melnick, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Oregon and author of “Climate Change and Landscape Preservation: A Twenty-first-century Conundrum,” which appeared in a 2010 volume of the APT Bulletin. Today they will discuss topics addressed in the article.

 

Episode 20: In this episode of the Preservation Technology Podcast, Kit Arrington, digital library specialist at the Library of Congress, discusses how the Library of Congress digitizes and shares documents online for longterm public access.

 

Episode 19: In this edition of the podcast, we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Moss Rudley, an exhibit specialist with the masonry division at the Historic Preservation Training Center. They will discuss the role of HTPC in the National Park Service including work they are doing with the historic building work bousillage.

 

Episode 18: In this episode of the Preservation Technology Podcast, Dennis Pogue, associate director at historic Mount Vernon, talks about the challenges of preserving a historic site with more than one million visitors each year. He also talks the archeology of the site and about the balancing act of maintaining historic artifacts in a structure that was built as a residence.

 

Episode 17: In this episode of the Preservation Technology Podcast, we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Vern Mesler, adjunct professor at Lansing Community College. They will discuss the “Preservation of Iron and Steel and Bridges and Other Metal Structures Workshop,” which was funded by a grant from the National Center.

 

Episode 16: In this edition of the Preservation Technology Podcast, NCPTT’s Jeff Guin speaks with Bernard Frischer about 3D digital documentation of historic resources and the project, “Rome Reborn.”

 

Episode 15: NCPTT’s Jeff Guin speaks with Guy Sternberg, a certified arborist and retired landscape architect. Guy spearheaded an Internet-based campaign to save an historic tree in Kewanee, Illinois.

 

Episode 14: In this edition of the Preservation Technology Podcast, we meet Eric Schindelholz, a conservator in private practice who specializes in metals and marine archaeological materials. Eric was the principal investigator for a PTT Grant Project that examined methods to dry waterlogged archaeological wood.

 

Episode 13: In this edition of the Preservation Technology Podcast, we’ll meet Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. The non-profit organization recently used a PTT Grant to hold a workshop on 3D digital rock art documentation and preservation.

 

Episode 12: In this edition of the Preservation Technology Podcast we join NCPTT’s Jessica Cleaver as she speaks with Tracy Nelson, director of the Historic Building Recovery Grant Program, about sustainability and historic preservation.

 

Episode 11: Today we join the historic landscape preservation maintenance curriculum roundtable discussion hosted by NCPTT and the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. Attendees gathered to discuss and identify common needs and interests around historic landscape maintenance and to provide recommendations for creating a training curriculum.

 

Episode 10: Today The Preservation Technology Podcast joins NCPTT’s Andy Ferrell, as he speaks with Tom Jones, an urban conservator for the West Ward Urban Ecology Project in eastern Pennsylvania. They will discuss the West Ward Ecology Project and something called the Green Design Laboratory.

 

Episode 9: Graeme Earl on born digital and 3-D documentation methods

 

Episode 8: In this episode, Jason Church speaks with Curtis Deselles, an intern with the Materials Research program at NCPTT, discusses the use of eddy currents and eddy current technology in conservation science. Mr. Deselles has built several eddy current analyzers, custom software, and presented on this topic at a non-destructive conference in St. Louis.

 

Episode 7: Today we are joining NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Claire Dean of Dean Associates of Conservation Services about using lasers to remove graffiti from rock art. Rock art or rock imagery is the common term for paintings and carvings on rock and in North America that is mostly associated with native communities.

 

Episode 6: Today Andy Ferrell speaks with Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. NCPTT recently published online a guide titled “Introducing Preservation Trades to High School Students” which grew out of via work with Detroit’s Randolph’s Career and Technical Center.

 

Episode 5: Today in The Preservation Technology Podcast, NCPTT visits with Ruth Tringham, one of the founders of the University of California Berkley the People in Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology at Berkley (MACTiA). As a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkley Ruth uses an online virtual environment called Second Life in her teaching.

 

Episode 4: David W. Morgan, Chief of Archeology and Collections at NCPTT, introduces the 19th annual National Park Service Geophysics course taught by Steve De Vore. This video includes a description of the course and commentary by participants. Steve has assembled about 10 different instructors and about 18-20 participants that are providing classroom opportunities at NCPTT and are using Los Adaes as a field-training site.

 

Episode 3: Rapid Documentation of Historic Resources with Barrett Kennedy.

 

Episode 2: Charlie Pepper, director of the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation’s Historic Landscape Preservation Maintenance and Education Program.

 

Episode 1: Conservator Jason Church talks about NCPTT’s cemetery monument conservation initiative and about his experiences growing up that led him to the field of cemetery conservation.

 

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My hipster GTD folder form for keeping projects on track

Cover of "Getting Things Done: The Art of...
Cover via Amazon

There are two major eras in my career: B.D.A. and A.D.A. No, I’m not talking about federal regulatory rules. I’m talking about David Allen, the guy who has empowered hordes or creatives like me to focus for two minutes at a time.

I first discovered David’s book Getting Things Done about three years ago. While a lot in my life still gets done slowly, it will get done. At the very least I know when to recognize that something is not worth doing or just not possible in the current circumstances.

The freedom this system provided ignited the spark to create something simple that has in turn given me even a bit more freedom. It’s been working for me (and even a few co-workers) for a while now, so I thought I’d share it. Just tape it on front of your project folder and enjoy mind like water!

Click the image below to download this PDF from my Google Drive account.

Hipster GTD form

Related Links:

http://www.davidco.com

http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/03/introducing-the-hipster-pda

http://web.archive.org/web/20150315111115/http://diyplanner.com/docs/diyplanner/advice/hpdasetup

 

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Gov 2.0 Presentation: Advancing Heritage Online

Located in a small north Louisiana town, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a research division of the National Park Service, has struggled to maintain its profile among the audience of historic preservation professionals it serves as well as its own parent organization.

In 2006, NCPTT became one of the first heritage preservation organizations to adopt a coordinated social media strategy. The National Center began integrating podcasts, online video, photo sharing and social networks around its organizational blog and sharing its content through Creative Commons.

While the organization was able to distribute its content broadly and cheaply, its audiences were not yet engaged in, and often distrustful of, online technologies. NCPTT partnered in the development of targeted organic online networks to help its audiences take the first steps toward online engagement. One tactic included a Ning network for the robust heritage community where the National Center is located, supported by a weekly column in the local newspaper. It also partnered with the journalism department at the local university to develop a site dedicated to connecting heritage professionals in new media called “Voices of the Past.”

Combined with consistent, quality content related to its own mission of “advancing the use of science and technology in historic preservation,” NCPTT has effectively raised its profile and influence as a federal organization and a historic preservation leader. In December 2009, it was named “website of the week” by Government Video Magazine and the technology blog HoneyTech named it number four on its list of the world’s top ten government websites powered by WordPress.

[advance to first slide]
Slide 1

Hi, my name is Jeff Guin. For the last three years, I’ve been helping people advocate for their cultural heritage by building trusted relationships on the web.

One way to do this is by fostering online communities that help people discover the benefits of engagement on their own terms. For my organization, this has meant a larger audience that advocates for us, and the cause of heritage.

Slide 2

For all the talk about transparency with our data, building relationships with *people* is still key. These relationships are critical in the case of heritage preservation, where costs are high, and resources are limited.

Slide 3

An object does not contain value by virtue of its age. The Rosetta Stone *is* ultimately just a stone. Its *shared story* is what added a whole new dimension to our humanity.

The web is *perfect* for sharing these stories, but our audience in heritage preservation is more comfortable communicating face-to-face…

Slide 4
…and the everyday people who are engaging on the web often feel shut out of the conversation. Yet heritage values are why we’re *all* here, striving so hard to make our voices heard in the world.

So my dilemma has been how to connect online with an audience that isn’t quite there. But given my organization’s small size and national role, how could we afford not to try?

Slide 5

…and how could we engage important audiences that are on opposite ends of the spectrum?

Help them meet in the middle, step by step.

Slide 6

Even when you feel like there’s no one out there who can speak this new language, engage anyway.

We started internally, with a continuing training series featuring new media experts. These people keep our staff grounded in the principles of social networking.

Slide 7

These experts also have strong connections to some aspect of their heritage. So we’re gaining powerful advocates on the web, even as they teach us to engage in the spirit of openness.

Slide 8

Now, my role in the heritage field is to help people find their own voices online by connecting them with others who share similar goals … and to help them understand that trust is built through sharing on a *peer* level.
Slide 9

This means *respecting* the fact that people have different comfort levels in beginning with new media and meeting them where they are.

This was especially true early on with our local audience in the town of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Slide 10

… which also happens to be my hometown. It’s a place rich in history with almost 30 active heritage preservation organizations that partner effectively.

It gave me my sense of heritage values and I wanted to give back something that would provide a safe and simple way for these people to start communicating online.

Slide 11

So we collaborated to create a community-driven site focused on local projects, like the crisis recovery of museum contents after the Kate Chopin House was destroyed by fire in 2008.

This inspired small towns in other states to build similar sites. That got me thinking …

Slide 12

Connecting a community that shares a geographic identity is one thing. But now we have the ability to create global communities around ideas.

Slide 13

I created Voices of the Past as the common ground where heritage professionals could take their first steps toward adopting social media, and enthusiasts could begin really engaging around heritage topics in a relatable way. This collaborative multimedia site also promotes those who *have* found their voices to communicate heritage online.

Slide 14

And these people contribute content to the site as well. Like Scottish Archaeologist David Connolly who videoblogged a month-long excavation in Jordan, discovering ancient tombs and Roman milestones along the way

Even as these networks began to grow organically, I knew their audiences needed a “bridge” between new media and old.

Slide 15

For the hometown network, I write a weekly column for the local newspaper on heritage issues, including updates from the website.

For Voices of the Past, we’ve partnered with the local university journalism program to give our media production values similar to what people expect from their local news stations.

Slide 16

It’s been a lot of work, but we are all inspiring *each other* to add value to our local communities.
Side 17

The relationships and lessons emerging from these networks have made a big impact on my own organization as it engages online.

Many more people are visiting our site and interacting with our content. For the first time, we can go to preservation conferences and people know who we are.

Slide 18

And the connection extends beyond that audience. Recently a law enforcement officer in Wisconsin contacted us about a preservation technology he heard about in one of our podcasts. We were able to provide a key piece of evidence to help him solve a cold case. And the FBI is now interested in the technology.

Slide 19

You don’t have to totally change the game to make a tangible difference in the world. You can get recognition just by being out there and never giving up…

Slide 20

Whatever you’re doing today is making history. So many of our ancestors have faded into the past, never having had an opportunity to make their voices heard.

Yet they still made it possible for all of us to enjoy the capabilities of finding our own voices today.

That’s a legacy worth passing on.

Thank you!

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.

Museoblogger

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?

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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?

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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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Hometown Heritage Media Network: Empowering Community Heritage Preservation

The philosophy behind “Hometown Heritage” is to help people preserve the heritage of their communities–the “real,” physical communities, like rural towns and city neighborhoods with strong identities. That seems to have been lost as American life has moved ever faster, and onward. This involves helping folks understand in simple terms how they can keep their communities alive by through collaborative oral history projects, DIY historic preservation, community museums and the like.

Many times, folks just need help getting started with good resources and connections for making these memories sustainable and archival for future generations. One positive thing about our current economy is that we’re all remembering how important community is to our livelihoods and the preservation of our cultural heritage. It’s not just the purview of folks with money, ornate houses or preservation credentials.

My fellow collaborators have been such an inspiration to me since the Hometown Heritage column and social network in spring 2008. I feel so grateful and honored every time someone  tells me that they appreciate my “Hometown Heritage” column. You have given me the courage to try new things. I hope that together we will continue to inspire even more communities to value and protect their own heritage.

Master’s Thesis: “Timbertown Folk Traditions”

In 2002, my Master’s Thesis from the Northwestern State University Folklife and Southern Culture program was published in the Louisiana Folklife Journal and presented at the Louisiana Folklore Society Conference.

Published in Louisiana Folklife Journal:

Vol. XX., 1996
55 pages, 0 Photographs, $10.00
Abney, Lisa. “Artist Profile of Hurst Hall”
Guin, Jeffery K. “Timbertown: Folk Traditions of Louisiana’s Fading Timber- Centered Communities”
Salter, Heather. “Evaluating Belief in La Llorona Narratives”
Collins-Friedrichs, Jennifer. “Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Mardi Gras and Masking in New Orleans’ Creole Community of Color”