Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Touch of Professional Development

On Monday, October 18, 2010, I was able to attend the Southwestern Ontario Past Perfect User Group Fall Conference 2010. The meeting was held at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives, which is a very beautiful and well-funded institution out in the middle of the Ontario countryside, just between the small towns of Shelburne and Alliston.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of representatives at the meeting. There were staff members from Huron county, Bruce county, Guelph, the Canadian Air and Space Museum, etc, and it was really great to be able to get out and meet working museum professionals from other parts of Ontario.

Many of these people had been using the Past Perfect database for close to seven years (!) and really knew how to use the software effectively and to its fullest potential. This was especially mind-blowing for me, since both institutions I've been working in have mainly consisted of me and a few other colleagues trying to fumble our way through establishing a basic cataloging system. The prospects of using this software to keep track of donations or to put our exhibits online were so far from my mind that I'd more or less forgotten those options even existed!

With that said, many of the topics that were discussed did not really "apply to me" necessarily. For example, many institutions that had been working with Version 4 were just getting acquainted with Version 5 - though I think it was really good to see all of the upgrades and new features of the most recent version and how these changes were introduced to make the software more efficient I got to see how making "lists" can be used for a variety of different functions. Another neat feature is the option to put a slideshow of your own collections images on the main menu of the program!

Other topics that were discussed included security settings, assigning function keys, backing up data and putting your collections online. On that last topic, I really wished that the collections I'm working with were at the stage where we could put them on the internet for everyone to see. Our cataloguing system is just not quite there yet. But I learned about the different options for putting collections online: hosting your own website, using Past Perfect online for a fee, or exporting data to Artefacts Canada. I had never been exposed to this website before, but lots of institutions have put their collections up there for cyberspace to browse!

Another important topic that we discussed was Past Perfect Training. Bruce County was wondering what the best way would be to train their entire staff. The best methods were the online options. The online training is done live, giving users a chance to interact directly with the instructor. In addition, being connected with this Southwestern Ontario Past Perfect Users Group is an excellent resource in itself. Chances are, any glitch that we come up against, someone else has seen it and fixed it in the past. Who says history professionals aren't team players?!

So, how can I use what I've learned at this conference to help out smaller museums that are just warming up to the software? Well, with Banting House in particular, first and foremost, there needs to be someone else besides ME who is a) helping to catalog the collection and b) is trained on Past Perfect. I think that there really should be one big group training seminar so that all of our volunteers on board can work toward bringing the catalog up to date. It's not the most exciting work and most of the time, our volunteers are busy with public tours, the gift shop, and special events - those things quite rightly take priority. Unfortunately, in places that are understaffed yet always have a lot going on, cataloging is the first thing to be put on the back burner - but in that case, you only fall farther and farther behind with regards to maintaining accurate records.

Hm. This is frustrating. This is a frustrating cycle.

I really do feel that I've gained quite a bit from participating in this User Group and attending the Fall 2010 Conference. Thanks, all - if you're reading. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It Would Appear I've Dropped the Ball...

...but who says I can't pick it up again?

Many many things have happened since I last updated at the beginning of August. Part of me wishes I could erase the time between. Those were simpler times.

Anyway, my internship officially ended on August 20, 2010. I handed in a 20pg report of things I had learned and spouted on and on about how fantastic my program and co-workers were. I sat through a debriefing meeting with my boss and my supervisor. My strengths and weaknesses were really closely examined, which I really appreciate.

I've discovered a few things about myself and where I fit in to the professional world through the whole process. For one thing, I have a severe attention deficit (!!!!). I really need to work for someone who is firm and gives deadlines and specific instructions. But at the same time, this means that I'm really good with project management, seeing the larger picture, and getting ideas off the ground.

Anyway, since then, I've definitely not been out of the public history scene altogether. I'm still volunteering a few days a week at Banting House and I'm still gathering hours at the JP Metras Sports Museum. I figured that there's no reason I shouldn't be trying to take full advantage of the learning experience and resume building that these institutions have to offer me while I'm still here.

Speaking of which, I'm not in Canada for too much longer at all (one month today!). I've been keeping busy with work, but trying to balance that with soaking up as much of Ontario as I possibly can before moving back to the far-away land of New York.

As I mentioned in my last post, Banting House has been buzzing, as we've been preparing for the 90th Anniversary of Banting's idea for insulin. We are celebrating with a sculpture unveiling and a "soft opening" of our latest exhibit "Stamping out Diabetes," which is really a history of diabetes that explores what it would have been like being diagnosed before, during, and after the discovery of insulin and even includes the lastest in diabetes research! Our curator is invisioning something wonderful, and no doubt, it will look fantastic in the end. I'm really glad to be witnessing the process of writing and designing a nationally significant exhibit. I also gave a group tour for the first time since June. Collections management has certainly been my most extensive area of experience, so I tend to get stuck in the basement quite frequently. Anyway, I had a rather large group of "gifted" grade 8 students.

Those types of experience don't make my choice between teaching and museums any easier....

I guess now is as good a time as any to admit that I don't really have any plans for when I go back to the states. That's the most frequently asked question as graduation approaches - "what are you going to do now?"

I don't know! I know that they say you really shouldn't expect a job to fall into your lap, that finding a job is a full time job, etc....My only game plan at this point is to make sure that every company that would even consider hiring me has my resume and then to just continue on with what I'm doing - volunteering and gaining work experience. Something will come up. Substitute teaching, contract work - those types of jobs have potential to become full-time, secure positions.

Am I worried that it will never happen for me?

No. My general answer to that question is always no.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Weeks 7-10: The Overcast of a Fundraising Event

After another delightful two week vacation, I'm back to finish the final stretch of my internship at Banting House. I'm experiencing several emotions at the moment, but at the front of my mind is how I am going to reflect upon this entire summer and make myself sound accomplished for my 15-20 page final paper. There are several projects that I set out to accomplish that I have not finished, some that were never even started - but at the same time, there are some projects that grew very organically as I grew into the position. So that's all okay, I suppose.

Even this blog was not kept up the way I had intended. Let me explain the reason why I have not updated in over a month:

Banting and Friends II.

This fundraising event turned our office absolutely upside down - in a brilliant and exciting sort of way that really turned out to be worth it in the end. It was an experience unlike any other that I've had before in a professional setting. Two months ago, I had no would one even go about planning a special event of this magnitude? How many details are there to consider? How much money can we spend? How will it all physically come together? How in the world do we get people to come?

To someone who's a rookie in this sort of work, the past month was chaotic and overwhelming - but I learned SO much! It was especially helpful to experience how the office really worked as a team to pull everything together. I got to see the role of the advisory committee - the process of problem-solving and coming to a consensus and how important it is for members of the community to be involved. Once more, I got to see the curator of a small museum wear many many hats, as he was responsible for everything from tent assembly to opening remarks.

The two day event was such a success. It felt really good to know that we had created something from nothing and to watch people enjoy something that we had worked so hard for. The artists who were showcasing their work were wonderfully talented people. The chefs from Braise Food and Wine put out a delicious spread and were so much fun. All of our generous sponsors - the event just flowed so naturally and we couldn't have done it without these people.

Of course, our Saturday public event was cut a bit short due to the blackest clouds I've ever seen and lightning and some of that wet stuff from the sky. That day, I had a lesson in improvising and coordinating a plan in a matter of seconds. It's not that we hadn't considered bad weather - we just planned on good weather! Everything that we had constructed over the course of two days was taken down in about...ten minutes. We moved the artwork into the museum galleries and finished out the day! Magic.

It was really awesome to see that event take shape and to see people from the community come out and support their local artists and local heritage. It's reassuring to know that the work I'm doing is really appreciated by the public. These next two weeks, I'll definitely put the focus back on my projects that I had outlined in my workplan - but if there's one thing I've learned, that's not how the real world works. Things come up and interrupt your plan - that must be embraced.

Not to mention - September is Doors Open season, October is the 90th anniversary of insulin, and November is Diabetes Awareness month! Never a dull moment...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Week 6 - Midway Thoughts

Ok - while it's true that I've been at Banting House a lot longer than six weeks, I really can't believe my internship is officially halfway through! We're actually having our Public History program reunion tomorrow afternoon. Has it really been over two months since I've seen some of these people?! The transition from student to professional does remarkable things to a person. A PROESSIONAL?! Is that really what I am now? Soon I'll have the business cards to prove it... :o)

In other related news, I have started putting hours in at the J.P. Metras Museum again. Summer projects include mostly a continuation of what our class was working on last semester - cataloging using the Past Perfect software. Hopefully, this skill will make me marketable in the future - because it's an awful lot of data entry - but this is how one gets her foot in the door in this field, no? Hopefully between Jordan and myself, we'll be able to get through the photograph collection and the artifacts that are on display already in Alumni Hall. This may be a completely unrealistic goal, but it's what we're working on. It will be interesting to see how much we can actually accomplish - and also pretty neat, since I have been working with this collection since September and I've been able to actually see what the application of our craft can do in terms of organization and accessiblity.

We had some pretty high pressure tours through Banting House this week. The regional directors of the CDA came for a visit and naturally, the curator was out for the day at a meeting, leaving me as the hostess. There have been quite a few occassions where CDA officers and staff come to Banting House for an official meeting place - it only makes sense that they return to where it all began, eh? They all tend to generally be in awe of the museum (and a little bit jealous that they don't get to have their offices in the actual birthplace of insulin) and leave with a feeling of inspiration and purpose. I think the tour went well.

One of the goals I have for my time here is to integrate more of a diabetes education into the museum tour. The first step is, of course, better training our tour guides and museum volunteers on the topic. When visitors ask questions in museums, they are usually about topics in which they have some sort of prior knowledge. At this particular museum, which is owned by a health charity, people are going to come in with their own opinions and sense of curiosity about diabetes - things they've grown up hearing, trying to relate to that one person they know who has diabetes. Now, while the museum staff is not there to provide health counseling, I personally don't feel right about not being able to answer questions about the disease that is central to the story of this house - I mean, that's why Banting House is here, isn't it? Other than the obvious historical value of the man and the story and the discovery, there is a flame burning outside our museum that really truly means something to a lot of people.

Anyway, I'm taking steps to further educate myself, at the very least.

Another noteworthy opportunity I had this week was to edit The Isletin, our quarterly newsletter. In addition to seeing my own article included as the first story, I got to observe what kinds of topics and stories go into a newsletter and I got to break down the strategy used by museums through the use of something like a newsletter. I got the sense that our target audience was made up of reliable donors - the people that sit on committees and are involved in events and promote the institution in the community - our members. There was a whole lot of "Get Involved" vibes that were radiating from this newsletter. I feel better prepared to put together or manage a newsletter in the future...

That's just another part of my buffet-style learning experience here!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Weeks 3 and 4 at Banting House - with a tiny Irish Interruption

It is occurring to me at the moment just how lucky I am to know exactly what inspires me and to have the opportunities in several areas of my life to engage with those things. I'm not just having an emotional moment - it's entirely true. Let me explain.

I spent Week 3 of my internship plugging away on my current projects - not a lot of tours through the museum- which is okay because everyone at the office was getting excited for Victoria Day weekend plans.

Me - I was trying to mentally prepare for the adventure of a lifetime. I crossed over the lines of tourism and took up the role of "tourist" on a week long journey through Ireland with the incredibly talented band, Enter the Haggis and several of their closest friends, family, and fans. Now, if you've read up about me, you'll know that this was certainly not my first time traveling(it's one of my deepest passions), but this trip was so very unique for several reasons - and it was certainly the first time I ever REALLY felt like a "tourist" - in a good way!

First of all, I've never had the opportunity to take official tours or pay for tour guides, etc. All of my previous travels have consisted of sketchy hostels, a diet of bread and jam, and marveling at the sites from the outside. This time, I was traveling with a tour group on a trip that was planned out thoroughly by a travel agency. Everyday, we got on the tour bus and were whisked away to some scenic area of the Emerald Isle, oohing and ahhing and snapping thousands of photographs.

Perhaps my favorite part of traveling with Hammond Tours was our fantastic tour guide, John. Not only was he so adorable and charming that I wanted to take him home with me in my pocket - but the man knew EVERYTHING about his country. Being a tour guide myself, I was deeply impressed (and appreciated every word he had to say). I can honestly say I picked up some good tips from him - simple things, like the use of humor, and realizing that people are more comfortable around someone who's going to make a tour personal and fun. I really think I learned more than the average tourist on this trip - so thanks, John, if you're reading :o)

Another reason this trip was a little different is that it was really my first major travel experience as a Public History student. Throughout the week, I was having revelations of just how much my education has changed the way I see everything in the tourism industry. Thanks, Western! But seriously, I found myself extremely intellectually engaged - which only inspired me to further delve into a career in the Tourism and Heritage field. It may just be perfect for me, combining elements of history, culture, travel, and education. Now, if I could just find a position that combines all of those things, with a heavy emphasis on the travel part - as in, I would get to travel...a part of my job. Magic.

A girl can dream, right? If there's one thing I've learned in life so far, it's that you'll be shocked to discover the kinds of opportunities that can find you if you just keep yourself open to them.

So yes, after what was probably the most memorable experience of my life, I returned to Canada with several new friends, numerous photo albums, and a fresh new attitude.

Week 4 at Banting House has certainly proven to be dynamic and interesting. I came back to immediately discover that my article about Banting's beaker had been published in Western News. Awesome. Mission Write for the Public: Complete.

I've actually started accessioning the 2009 artifacts into the collection using the new Past Perfect software and getting my hands on the objects, labeling and such (wearing white gloves, of course). I've been finding a lot of neat stuff in the collection, for example, the old magazines - one from Vichy France mentioning Banting's plane crash and another from 1930 that includes a short story by Erich Maria Remarque, the author of "All Quiet on the Western Front" (that one had some seriously HILARIOUS old-timey adverts in it)

In addition, I have managed to actually complete a project (hooray) - I made an accessioning procedural checklist. I figured I shouldn't be the ONLY person who knows how to use Past Perfect - I won't be around forever, you know...

The most noteworthy accomplishment for this week was, again, tour-related. We had a group of elderly people with diabetes come through the museum (not unusual) - they were a multi-lingual group (unusual) who spoke Spanish and Polish and brought along two different translators. This was slightly intimidating for me. My Spanish is more than rusty, but the group seemed to really appreciate my efforts and that I could understand their questions and comments directly. I reflected upon what I had observed during my time in Ireland and remembered that most of the time, visitors just want to have an enjoyable experience, and perhaps learn something along the way.

In no time, I had forgotten the language barrier and was focused on conveying the messages of Banting House in a conversational manner. We had a ball!

It's amazing how little people (even those affected by the disease) know about diabetes...myself included. I love that I'm learning about health and nutrition and helping others educate themselves as well. For more information, check out the CDA website.

***Note: NEW BLOG DESIGN!! Enjoy the image of the famous and beautiful Cliffs of Moher in Ireland - reasons for the change, I hope, are obvious at this point... :o)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Work Week #2 - Banting House National Historic Site

Week #2 started a day early for me. I ended up working on my first Monday off (let's be honest, I have zero other commitments for the time being). I'm really glad I did though! There was a bus tour coming in all the way from Kingston. One of the guests sits on our National Board, so it was kind of a big deal. Also in attendance on this tour was Frederick Banting's great niece! I took a lesson in museum/donor relations on that day. Who gets the ultimate authority? With whom do these artifacts belong? Museums really are sometimes at the mercy of the donors and thus must keep a decent relationship - especially with descendents who are still around. My boss couldn't get to me in time to warn me - so here I was taking her through the house and rambling off facts that she most definitely knew already.

Tuesday, I had the honor of experiencing a board meeting - and not only that, but I'm now apparently sitting on the Committee for two different fund raising/special events: Banting and Friends and the 90th Anniversary celebration. I've never worked in an office setting before. I've never sat on a board. I've never participated in a conference call. It was really interesting and exciting (not to mention, intimidating) to experience the business side of working in a museum.

We are launching a 5 million dollar campaign for renovations and it's the committee's job to seek out potential partners. Timing couldn't be better because we're working with three years of major anniversaries that we can capitalize on - but I suppose we need experts in the fields of marketing and business in order to make all of this happen. The most support I can offer is providing a networking presence online. This is where my task of setting up a blog comes into play. I've also been spending a lot of time researching the Twitter (follow me) community in order to find potential contacts and to see how other museums and historic sites are putting themselves out there.

I spent almost all day Wednesday dedicated to online marketing research. I found some pretty interesting and exciting stuff. First of all, there's, which is a directory of museum-related bloggers - and also connected to a ton of other valuable resources such as podcasts, online video and exhibit editors, and a company that creates multi-touch, computer-based interactives for educational organizations (Ideum).

Also, I've been thinking of making a proposal for a foursquare account(a location-based social networking site and software for mobile devices that is also a game). This will allow visitors to "check in" when they visit our museum and then keep track of frequency, rewards, visitor comments, tips, etc. via text messages, twitter, and facebook. I'm planning on looking into the details of becoming a registered site.

How fun would it be to start a Twitter account for Fred Banting?! If he were still around, I'm almost certain he'd be an avid micro-blogger - plus, I've got access to daily diaries and memoirs, etc. I think it would be a good online presence.

My day was interrupted by a suprise tour group. They were from a "Young Men with Special Needs" facility in London. I scrambled to remember all of my special education training from undergrad...and stressful though it was, with guys wandering off the tour and wanting to test the antique medical instruments, it turned out to be the most fun tour I've done so far! The guys were really interested in what I had to say, had questions about absolutely EVERYTHING in the house, and were so appreciative of my time and energy! It was an extremely rewarding experience that put a smile on my face for the rest of the week...

The other big project that I've started turning wheels on is the PastPerfect accessioning process. It's a slightly newer version than the one I've worked with before, but I'm starting to master it quite quickly (or maybe I just feel that way because I'm the only one here who's even vaguely famililar with it). It's a far more involved process than the one I went through at the Metras Museum, as we've got a lot more information, documentation, and legal issues with the CDA Banting collection, so it's moving along quite slowly.

But, I suppose that's what the rest of the summer is for! Though I can hardly believe two weeks have already gone by!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life after THE END - Week 1 AKA: The Baptism of Fire

I realize that the title of this post may be a bit dramatic - but honestly, school is the only life I've ever known. Sitting here at my 9-5 job and knowing that as of now, I will not be going back to school in the fall is a very new feeling for me. In a way, this is fresh and exciting - in a way, this is terrifying.

Now that this blog is no longer graded or part of my participation mark, I'm feeling inspired to use it for ME and my own reflection on my work (yes, I realize this was the point all along, but I can be strange about these things). So...I'm hoping to make this a weekly ritual. It'll be good for me - and the reading won't be half bad! As it turns out, working at Banting House is a LOT more dynamic and lively than I anticipated!

Week 1 Mission: complete. My first week was a bit of a whirlwind. Despite all of the hours I spent at Banting House before my internship even started proved to be useful. In fact, I don't know how I would have pulled it off if I didn't jump the gun! My boss has been referring to my first week as "The Baptism of Fire" (which is so very, very encouraging).

My first day on the job consisted of a school tour, grade 7 and 8. I was mostly in charge of crowd control, since behavior managment is actually one of those areas of teaching that I'm pretty good at. But I watched and observed the content that was being given in each room of the museum tour, hoping that one day, I'd be able to know the material well enough to lead tours myself.

The middle of the week was spent on getting the wheels turning on my first project here, which is revising the volunteer manual. I realized, in trying to learn the tour myself, that the manual was even more outdated and overwhelming than I thought. It was last revised in 2003 and since then, whole galleries have been rotated, split up, removed, added, etc. - not to mention that the way it's set up requires volunteers and tour guides to commit an entire narrative of info to memory. I know that there are more effective ways to break this information down to make it more manageable.

Friday was the second tier of my Baptism of Fire. We had 97 people come through the museum in just one day! I never realized that historic homes could get so much traffic. There was a tour of boyscouts in the morning - to whom I gave my very first group tour! The volunteer that I was stationed with misunderstood and thought that I'd been working here since August, and thus left me to give the tour on my own - but it worked out because he didn't realize that it was only my fourth day on the job until I told him afterwards (at which he was quite embarrassed and impressed). Nothing like diving in head first! Later in the day, we had a bus tour of elderly people. This was more a of a "doors open" tour, in which I kind of floated around answering questions and telling random stories to people who looked interested. Just before closing, a couple from Jamaica came in and I gave them my first private tour of the house. I felt a bit more exposed during this tour, but I figured that I should take on the challenge because I would have to be in charge of the museum on my own sooner or later.

That day turned out to be sooner rather than later! The next day was my first Saturday duty. Museum staff is off on Saturdays and the museum is only kept open when there are volunteers to run it (they often have to close down due to lack of volunteers). They no longer have to worry about this (for the summer at least). It was very quiet for hours (I felt the anxiety of being alone in a very old house during a wind storm), but then about ten people came through the doors within an hour of each other!

It was actually a really neat experience. I had two families come in at the same time by coincidence who both had children with diabetes working on projects about Dr. Banting for school. Telling them the story behind their daily insulin needles was actually quite touching and rewarding in the end. The families really appreciated it.

Also, I got to have my first contact with a cash register and debit machine - which can prove to be challenging when you have zero work experience in retail! It was a very complete and well-rounded museum experience - from the responsibility of setting security alarms to the pressure of getting your facts straight.

All in a days work, I suppose!