If you haven't seen it yet, the Museums Association's MUSEUMS IN THE UK 2017 REPORT is an interesting and useful read.
The results of a UK wide survey, the survey’s respondents equate to roughly 22% of the UK's museums. It sheds light on many anecdotal and conversational "facts", reporting the real numbers and experiences to say that there are national highs and lows, and where there are differences between different museum types or locations.
Clearly laid out, with explanations to help interpret the statistics, and some pull quotes from respondents, this is a well considered survey, well interpreted, and undoubtedly of use for further advocacy work.
Even if you just read the Key Tends page, grab a brew, have a look, and consider where your establishment fits into this picture.
So, you’re currently looking at a museum related blog (*waves*).
The publishing peeps at Museums Etc recognised that there are an awful lot of museum related blogs out there where “museum professionals share the experiences and perceptions they believe are the most valuable, the most urgent." . They decided to shed some light on these many blogs, and The Museum Blog Book has been born, publishing articles from over 75 blogs in one impressive 676 page book.
Which brings us to me shouting “AAAAGGGH I’VE BEEN PUBLISHED!!” in tones between delight and panic.
Over the past few days I have had adventures in archive documentation... It's worth knowing that most of our archive documentation/database is kept in a series of excel sheets, rather than any sort of database or archiving software.
Excel can be a very effective tool, but in the same way that using a loaded gun as a paperweight is an effective tool - fine until someone does something uneducated, hurried, or plain daft with it.
Archive Adventures 1.
N/A is never something one should be allowed put into the “Date” entry for an archived item.
The date is always applicable, even if only an estimate.
Archive Adventures 2.
Archive Adventures continue… In this Excel document, some boxes are formatted as text, some are formatted as numbers.
So when you try to sort data into date order, it effectively creates two lists, one above the other, one with the text dates in alphabetical order, one with the numerical dates in numerical order.
If you will insist that Excel is fit for purpose, at least be consistent with it?
Archive Adventures 3.
Six identical items, split into two separate listings.
One listing has a manufacturing date.
The other listing says manufacturing date is TBC.
The items were all manufactured at the same time.
Methinks someone “updated” the archive by adding three new items, without first checking if there was an existing listing to just expand.
Archive Adventures 4.
The date is always applicable, even if only an estimate.
"Old" is slightly better than N/A, but very only slightly just better.
Archives are kept for a reason, accompanying documentation is created for a reason. The database documents what you have, how many you have, if there are restrictions on use, where to find things... It can also help you understand what you don't have, and any gaps in the collection it would be appropriate to fill.
A sloppy archive and database documentation are almost more of an impediment than the "room full of stuff, and one person knows how it works" school of archiving. I'm nigh on wishing we were back in those days, where a well timed ask for a favour got results faster than an argument with Excel.
Interesting times over in Poland.
You know it's interesting times when in January, the director panic opened the not entirely completed Museum of the Second World War early, because he was worried that his government was going to close it down before it officially opened up.
"The minister of culture has made public statements criticizing the way history is being presented at Machcewicz's museum — that it doesn’t conform to official “historical policy.”"
"“They criticized that this museum does not represent the glorious side of the war, they criticized that this is a pacifist museum, that we show the war as a great tragedy,” says Machcewicz.
The war according to the Law and Justice party can “shape characters and make people brave and industrious.” "
Full story I read is here.
We then move on to this later article, explaining the Provincial Administrative Court ruling which blocked the Supreme Administrative Court's OK for the government to merge the museum with an as yet none-existent museum - thus bringing the Museum of the Second World War under their direct control. At the time of writing this blog, the Minister of Culture had taken things back to the Supreme Administrative Court, and a result is still pending.
"The situation is a worrying one for the museum and other cultural institutions in the country as the nationalist government has already assumed control of the state broadcaster, civil service and the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Tribunal.
“We are an example of an institution that is independent of politics and an organisation that is and should be objective. What is happening is that the government is trying to put politics into our institution and that is not supposed to be the way. They are trying to rearrange our interpretation of the main exhibition and to replace it with a more Polish point of view.”"
This is something which should not only be discussed in museum circles, but much wider. As we take an interest in the nationalism, slanting of facts, and outright lies of "alternative facts" happening in America, it's worth remembering that America is not alone in worrying governmental manipulations - in fact, they seem to be running behind some countries.
Watching as a government in the middle of Europe grips routes of information, and then turns its eyes towards a museum it wants to re-purpose for national propaganda, is genuinely beyond worrying. Especially when it is happening in Poland, a country all too familiar with what happens when nationalism is misused.
Lakeside’s high-school librarians put up a display in the entrance to their building that offers several tips for spotting fake news. One says: “What’s the evidence?” Underneath a flap there’s more detail: “As you read an article, make sure to see if they have any evidence to back up their claims. Furthermore, research the evidence to see if it is real, made up, or used in a way not intended by its creators.
There are several things discussed in the Seattle Times article linked above (have a reccy), but it was seeing a picture of the fake news spotting board, shared on tumblr, that got my attention.
There is a discussion oft had about museums and galleries etc responding to and reflecting current events. This could be a very simple way to do it. Museums and galleries are an especially interesting place to explore and explain the slant facts can be given, or how wholly fake facts can be presented, as many of them contain objects originally created with an agenda to push a certain narrative. Look at Lucy Worsley's recent BBC series "British History's Biggest Fibs" for some prime examples.
Sometimes we get randomly contacted by event organisers with insane ideas for using our museum.
Or people offering their services as entertainers or contractors for events held at the venue.
Usually they are very out of keeping with what we want to offer anyone visiting us.
It's not often we get an email which is unsolicited, poor English, but so tempting to propose to the managers (while keeping a straight face)
I think our products can help your business to be better.Dinoosaur costume is always our star product.Its carve length is 4.2m and very vivid and realistic.You can image when a real dinsoaur appear our real life... it must be popular among people.
I think the staff would look great in 4.2 m long dinosaur costumes.
This story sumbitted, and a bit hard to render as a cartoon due to conversational content. Thanks for sending it in Pete!
A phone call to the museum's polite reception desk, in December:
Customer: "Hi, we're planning our family holiday for July. Can you tell me what activities you'll have on what days? We want to book a week while the hotel is still cheap, and our son really enjoyed the event he came to in the summer."
Staff: "We have some things pencilled in for July, but they won't be announced until March, when we have all the details like performers and artists confirmed. We don't like to announce things until we know it's all booked in, or it can dissapoint people."
Customer: "If you can just tell me what's pencilled in, that'll be fine."
Staff: "I can, as long as you realise that these events may change. If you book your hotel now based on a certain date, an event probabaly will happen that day, but perhaps not the one I tell you now. Also, sometimes our smaller events sell out or book up within a day of being announced, so there's no guarantee of your son getting a ticket or place, unless you're fast!"
Customer: "So you can tell me a date, for an unknown event, for which my son may not get a ticket? What's the use of that?!"
Staff: "You are planning much further ahead than most of our visitors, so I can only be honest about the information I have available to me at the moment."
According to Pete "The customer we still unhappy, despite receptionist being willing to give details well in advance of public announcement, and [the customer] said that the more money they had to spend on booking a hotel later, the less they would spend at the musuem, and it would be her son and us that would suffer"
On the one hand, kudos to a customer planning ahead rather than the usual "What do you mean my child can't attend this sold out event tomorrow? I prromised them already!". On the other hand, one should probabaly not get angry with someone trying to help you, to the best of their ability, while ensuriung you are aware of potential issues with the information they are giving you.
Trying to source some sets of items in the archive, and this quote (including what's in the brackets) has happened in an email chain about searching the database:
"... they may also (amusingly) not be logged as sets, but be in there under a catchall name omitting to say they are sets, and whatever date.
*High five to all you archivists out there, I expect you are currently having your own wry smile in agreement at this! *
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