Tag Archives: collections

Since No One Knows Us, We Decided to Social-ize: the National Park Service Northeast Museum Services Center

NMSC-teaser

Some of you may not realize that the National Park Service (NPS) has “museums” or museum collections.  Many of you may not know what a Curator, an Archivist, an Archeologist or a Conservator actually does behind the scenes for any museum that you’ve been to. And most of you have probably never heard of the Northeast Museum Services Center – referred to by our initials (NMSC).  But, you undoubtedly know the power of social media to connect you and other readers with this type of information.

The NMSC is an NPS program that helps parks – primarily in the Northeast – with preserving, protecting and making accessible museum and archival collections. Our team of Curators, Archivists and Conservators are available for cataloging (both archeology and archives); museum research and planning; collections conservation and general technical assistance.  Think of us as museum consultants for the parks – we help parks to assess their collections management issues; to find funding to correct those problems and then to assist them with correcting those problems.

We were fairly late to the game, but we now realize the value of social media to any organization and have started additional public outreach through Twitter, Facebook and a blog of our own.

Is Tweeting Really for Us?

For at least a year or more, that was the question bouncing around our office about Twitter and other forms of social media.  Our office is a generational mix from 20 something volunteers, interns and technician that all want to be on the cutting edge of innovation to 40+ year old staff that are unsure of the value added by websites that our kids are using in their free time.  We are also like most entities nowadays, being asked to do more with less. Two of our full-time staff members left for other jobs in less than a year and we were unable to re-fill those positions.  In that time, the workload only increased.  With that in mind, should we be “wasting” valuable staff time on something “frivolous” like Facebook or Twitter?

I’ll admit that I’m one of the 40-somethings and I was on the fence about the value that we might get from putting any staff time towards social media.  But, I/we realized several things based on general observations, calls with our parks and an assessment of social media usage –

  1. Most people are unaware that NPS sites even have “museums” and/or museum collections. We hear the same thing that you may be thinking, “But, the NPS is Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. It does not have museums like Smithsonian.” You are correct that the NPS has very few traditional four-wall museums like the Smithsonian.  But, what we do have (and that we help to manage) are 26 million artifacts and archival documents in the Northeast alone in the real places that they were used or made.  That includes the landscape drawings of the Olmsteds at Frederick Law Olmsted NHS, the library of John Quincy Adams at Adams NHP, archeological collections from Jamestown at Colonial NHP, Civil War archival collections at Gettysburg NMP, and natural history specimens collected from Shenandoah NP.
  2. Since the NMSC is a behind-the-scenes group that even lacks a public domain name, most people (NPS staff included) are not aware of the services that we provide.  In many cases, the general public may have heard the title Curator, Archivist, Archeologist or Conservator, but may not really know what we do.  We all know the objects that we see on exhibit or the documents that we use for research, but collections care is also a critical component of the NPS mission that needs to be fostered.  Not to mention the fact that all cultural institutions need to help build and diversify the museum studies workforce.
  3. Social media has already become the information clearinghouse for the museum field. While we were blindly thinking that Twitter was just celebrity gossip or blogs are a dying form of communication, all forms of social media had become the accepted way of disseminating information for organizations such as Association of American Museums (AAM), Smithsonian Institution and most of our parks.  We had isolated ourselves and we were missing critical information.

So, in late 2010 with the relaxing of some NPS social media restrictions, we decided to join the rest of the world and test out a social media initiative for our office.

Now, Go Engage Your “Audience”

Giles Parker
Giles Parker, Museum Curator, Northeast Museum Services Center, National Park Service

Okay, so, we knew what we wanted to say about the museum collections in the National Park Service and about our work. Our goals were/are fairly simple: highlight the museum collections in the Northeast Region of the NPS; encourage the public (as well as NPS followers) to adopt an overall stewardship ethic; and connect (or re-connect) ourselves with non-NPS museum professionals in order to stay abreast of the latest curatorial trends.

BUT – Who is our audience? How do we attract them to us? What are the best forms of social media to do that? And, what format should the content take?  Many books have been written about the use of social media by museums; workshops are available and the web is full of great websites that provide guidance.  None of those are focused on a behind-the-scenes program like ours that works with collections from many disparate sites and focuses on region-wide collection management issues.  We decided to turn to one of our 20-something Museum Specialists (Megan Lentz) as our de facto Social Media Consultant to develop a short-term and long-term social media strategy.

Megan reviewed existing uses of social media by museums and brought her own usage to the discussion.  We then decided to start our slow roll-out with two Twitter feeds (@NPS_NMSC and @NMSC_Volunteers ), a Facebook Page and a blog focused on our Archeological Collections Management team.  Generally speaking, we’ve engaged our varied audience in a number of different ways:

  • Setting up searches on the federal government’s official jobs site for Curator, Archives, Archeology and Conservator job announcements that need wider distribution;
  • Creating Google searches focused on issues such as “museum storage,” museum security and fire prevention that affect all of our sites;
  • Developing a calendar of key dates for our parks – such as birthdates for historical figures – as times to highlight images and facts about NPS museum collections associated with those sites;
  • Connecting with our parks and other cultural institutions through Twitter and Facebook to find collection management information that we feel should be shared and discussed;
  • Generating threads that focus on key collection management issue including the use of museum collections in social media campaigns;
  • Initiating a feed focused on the work of our volunteers and interns program (@NMSC_Volunteers) to help build the workforce and reinforce the types of museum opportunities that are available;
  • Blogging about the work of our Archeological Collections Management team.  Most people know the Indiana Jones and the excavating side of archeology, but are unaware of the curation involved after the dig.  Postings have included research and photos on bottles that may have been used by George Washington, the history of matches, and a spotlight on pipe stems.
  • Utilizing a third-party social media dashboard (Hootsuite) to plan and space out postings to all of our accounts.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In less than 6 months, we feel like we’ve made significant progress towards our goals with NPS and non-NPS followers from across the nation.  In many ways, the numbers speak for themselves. We primarily provide service to 76 sites in the Northeast, but @NPS_NMSC (190+ followers), @NMSC_Volunteers (80+ followers), NMSC on Facebook (70+ followers), and our blog (300+ readers per posting) are reaching a much broader audience.  Hootsuite also provides analytics and many of our postings get 10 to 30 additional clicks for more information. Are those numbers that you’d be interested in?

Additionally, the current NPS Director Jon Jarvis was appointed in 2009 with a set of priorities that focused on Workforce, Relevancy, Education and Stewardship.  Our early successes with social media are also helping us and thus the NPS as whole to make progress in each of these areas as well.  We’ve been able to re-connect with the museum workforce outside of our region and outside of the NPS; help parks with relevancy by focusing on the latest trends in the use of museum collections; discover some of the latest technologies such as the use of Google Maps and also QR codes that might improve access to museum collections for educational purposes; and find information on fire prevention and security needs for museum collections.  And, we feel like we’ve only just started to scratch the surface.

Based on these early successes, we will continue to support and improve upon our current social media outlets.  We plan on getting more of our staff involved and thus highlighting more of our work as well as the collections in the Northeast.  We are also considering other social media options including a blog for our entire office.  Megan continues as our de facto Social Media Consultant and monitors the latest trends in social media usage.  We are also advocating for other NPS parks and regional programs to use social media in a similiar way (with an emphasis even less on “us” and more on the actual resources).  These statistics and early successes may also help us to advocate for a public domain name to reinforce the NPS stewardship role to the general public.

Conclusion

If you or your organization does not have a social media strategy at this point, consider the tremendous benefits and get started.  If you don’t have a 20-something on staff to work with as your Social Media Consultant, consider bringing someone on board or contracting with someone to develop and implement that strategy.  If you are interested in connecting with more museum or NPS information, consider following some of our parks and other cultural institutions through social media.  And, if you want to know more about NPS museum collections, what a Curator does, or what the NMSC does, consider following us on Twitter, Facebook or through our blog.

For a very small time commitment, you will find that social-izing is worthwhile.

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.

Top five sources for disaster response information

With the frequency of epic disasters in recent years, the preservation community is quickly adopting the Boy Scout motto “be prepared” in its approach to the recovery of heritage resources. Pages dedicated to the topic are popping up all over the web. Here are our picks for five of the best.

AIC Disaster Recovery Resources

The American Institute for Conservation links to recovery of various types of materials and also health-related considerations. Disaster-related articles from back Issues of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (JAIC). Also links to the findings of the Ground Zero/World Trade Center disaster.

Disaster planning for collections

The Society for Historical Archaeology administers this page on disaster response. It is practical in its approach, giving details on useful publications as well as ordering information. It also includes step-by-step instruction (with images, no less) on needed supplies, triage considerations and drying methods.

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

NCPTT disaster recovery page

The official disaster recovery site for the National Park Service, this site links to pages with of FEMA and the Heritage Emergency National Task Force. Content can be filtered by need, including damage assessment, earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricane recovery, wet recovery. Also contains downloadable PDFs and National Weather Service advisories.

Solinet Preservation Disaster Recovery Page

Easy-to-navigate page of links listed by both disaster and material type. Also includes a handy “advice” section on preparedness and choosing vendors as well as navigating the FEMA and disaster aid process.

National Trust Flood Recovery

An assortment of flood response web pages and pdfs assembled as a direct response to the summer floods in the Midwest. Includes a breakdown of the affected area by state along with links to affected cultural institutions.

We know there have to be additional resources out there. If you know of others, please share them.

Disaster recovery playlist from YouTube

Featured thumbnail photo by Alice Ann Krishnan

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