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Museum Photo Essay

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FC: The Harvard Museum of Natural History | Cambridge, MA | Exploring Museum Professionals | By: Lisa Warren

1: The Harvard Museum of Natural History is a small, university museum nestled among the old brick buildings on the Harvard University Campus. "The public face of three research museums, the museum's mission is to "enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and humans place in it, [by] sparking curiosity and a spirit of discovery in people of all ages" (www.hmnh. harvard.edu). Founded in 1859 by the Swiss zoologist Louis Agassiz, the museum's exhibit halls are a unique blend of "cutting edge research," contemporary issues, and traditional exhibit strategy (www.hmnh.harvard.edu). | History and Mission | Approaching the museum's stately brick buildings and well-manicured lawns, one senses the work of the maintenance and facilities manager, while signs fabricated by the marketing division direct visitors inside. | Facility Manager | Marketing Team

2: At the top of an antique, metal stairwell and through a set of glass doors is the museum lobby. There, visitor services representatives welcome guests, provide information and man a small membership desk. A hub of museum access and information, the museum lobby demonstrates just how many divisions hinge on the needs of the visitor. To the left, a small plaque touts the benefits of membership while the signs below highlight current exhibits and the promise of new and exciting traveling shows. On the desk a number of informational pamphlets are in view. | Visitor Services Division | Membership programs exist for three important and highly interconnected reasons, "to raise funds for operations, to solicit community support and to ensure an interested audience for program activities" (Glaser an Zenetou, 1996, p. 108). | Membership Dept.

3: These are just a few of the informational materials offered in the museum lobby. Likely created by a collaboration between the marketing, public relations, education and membership divisions, these printed materials showcase the benefits of membership and promote a variety of educational opportunities and events happening across the exhibit halls. More than the work of a single staffer or even department, they denote the efforts of multiple museum professionals working together. | Marketing, Public Relations, & Membership | In the words of Elizabeth Schlatter, "the editor oversees everything that appears in print, from a 15-foot-long post banner...to the smallest postcard" sold in the museum shop (Schlatter, 2008, p. 79). "The public relations officer coordinates media relations and...is responsible for the content and development of public information brochures and publications" (Glaser and Zenetou, 1996, p.112). | Editor

4: In the words of Bridget Globensky of Reclaiming Museum Education, learning happens when "we give people the space and power... to use objects in ways that are meaningful to them" (Globensky, 2000, p.6). There is no blanket solution that works for all individuals. Programming "must be layered and accessible to a wide range of ages and interests" (Globensky, 2000, p15). | While the work of educators can be seen throughout the exhibit halls, this young woman represents the lone interpretor I met on my visit. She had a cart with a variety of hands-on materials visitors can explore. This is a important feature as many visitors learn best through tactile and experiential opportunities. Most of HMNH's exhibits are protected in glass cases. | Educators & Interpretors | As an unpaid docent, the interpreter represents both the efforts of volunteers and the coordination of the volunteer office. | Volunteer Office

5: "In the 21st Century technology may help more people find more authentic ways to participate in the public and social arena of museums" | "Museums' ability to participate and infuse technology wisely in all aspects of museum operation will determine their success" | (Glaser & Zenetou, 1996, pp. 240, 244). | While many of HMNH's exhibit halls follow the stark tradition of the nineteenth century, the modern exhibits are filled with audio visual equipment and web technology that engage a variety of senses, learning styles and abilities. Visitors of diverse ages and abilities can watch a video, listen to an audio recording or manipulate an automated kiosk. | Information Services | Webmaster

6: These posters, which display photographs and didactic text, are found throughout the exhibit halls. A collaboration of multiple division, they represent the work of photographers, graphic designers, curators, educators and editors working together to convey a cohesive message that is fun, engaging and educational. | According to ARTNews, the average museum patron spends approximately seven seconds reading exhibit text...and another three looking at the object itself (Gregg, 2010). That means that the words used must be, descriptive, approachable, and above all, succinct! | Photographer | Graphic Designer | Curator | Educator

7: This photo from the arthropod gallery highlights collaboration between a number of museum professionals. Contributions from collections, graphic design, education and publications were likely spearheaded by the arthropod curator whose job it is to oversee the "the acquisition, storage and exhibition of collections" within his (or her) particular area (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Like curators at many natural history museums, the curators at The Harvard Museum of Natural History "are highly specialized" and responsible for both "administrative tasks ...and...[scientific] research" (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). | Head Curator

8: The Harvard Museum of Natural History boasts over 21 million objects. Some dating as far back as the 1800's. Here you can see obvious damage to two of the museum's animal mounts. These types of flaws were obvious among a number of the museum's older specimens. Their presence highlight not only the expense, but the difficulty in fighting the ravages of time. Professional standards dictate that the methods utilized by conservators "not adversely effect cultural property" and must be easily reversed if need be (Schlatter, 2008, p.56). | The Conservator | The role of the museum conservator is to "protect, repair, restore, clean and preserve objects in the museum's collection" (Schlatter, 2008 p.55).

9: "The registrar ensures the long term stability of objects by using proper storage, handling and maintenance procedures (Schlatter, 2008 p.72). | The tags on this case of eerie, specimen-filled jars highlight the challenges faced by museum registrars to appropriately display and document each and every specimen within a collection. For a collection both as large and as old as HMNH, the job must be especially challenging. One can only assume that the environmental conditions required are particular and and histories, or provenances, long. Registrars work together with curators, conservators and exhibit preparators to ensure the needs of each individual object are met. | arthropod c. 1700 | Registrars | Curators | Exhibit Preparators

10: Retail Manager | The retail manager is responsible for maintaining "an important source of ...dependable income" for the museum through the sale of scholarly publications and unique gifts (Schlatter, 2008 p.90). | Here you can see the diversity of science themed gifts offered at the HMNH Gift Shop. Strategically placed between the front door and the main gallery, patrons have no choice but to pass by the store's colorful souvenirs. Patrons can remember their visit with everything from books and games to stuffed animals, jewelry, even artwork! | Visitor Services Associate

11: Security Chief | "The Security chief is responsible for securing and protecting the museum's building, collections and on-site funds" (Schlatter, 2008 p. 92). | This includes monitoring the museum's alarm system and implementing proper emergency protocols (Schlatter, 2008 ). | Above, you can see the complexity of the museum alarm system. Center, a map highlights emergency escape routes. Far right, a security guard poses for a quick picture. | Back at The Gift Shop, I spotted what appeared to be the only security personnel on duty. Their (seemingly) limited presence underscored the enormous diversity in personnel needs. A small, university museum, HMNH lacks the obvious security presence found in many large public institutions.

12: This 'Coming Soon' sign posted on the door of a closed gallery hints at the fluidity of museums Never free to rest on their laurels, museum professionals are always working to improve, expand and keep their institution current. Administrative decisions, like formulating a strategic plan and choosing upcoming exhibits are likely handled by the museum director who holds the "policy and decision-making authority" (Cocks, 2008). From there, fund raising will be handled by the development department, layout determined by the design team, and instillation handled by registrars, preparators and technicians of many specialties. In time, a new exhibit is born... | Museum Director | Development Dept. | Exhibit Design

13: Resources: | Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2008). Archivists, curators and museum technicians. In Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition. Retrieved from www.bls.gov/ocos065.html. Cocks, A. S. (2008). The reassuring rise of the museum curator. The Art Newspaper (195). Retrieved from www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=16266. Glaser, J.R., & Zenetou, A.A. (1996). Museums: A Place to Work, Planning Museum Careers. New York, NY:Routlege. Globensky, B. (2000). Reclaiming Museum Education. ICOM Keynote Presentation Response. Greg, G. (2000). Your labels make me feel stupid. ART News. Retrieved from www.artnews.com/issues/article.asp?art_id=3013. Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge (2011). On The Harvard Museum of Natural History Website, Retrieved from www.hmnh.harvard.edu/aboutus. Schlatter, N.E. (2008). Museum Careers: A Practical Guide for Students and Novices. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

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  • Title: Museum Photo Essay
  • Photo Essay of HMNH
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  • Published: over 8 years ago