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Everything I need to know, I learned in the MuseLab

June 1, 2016

     Ok, well not everything. The above title is definitely an exaggeration but I did learn quite a bit in the semester I spent at the Kent State University MuseLab.  As a student working towards an MLIS with a specialization in Museum Studies, I jumped at the unique chance to do a Culminating Experience project at the MuseLab when Dr. Latham discussed the option with me.  While my future is in museums, my present and past has been spent in the restaurant world and so I have been volunteering in museums while pursuing my masters. While I am grateful for those experiences, I wanted to get even more!

 

     Completing my CE in the MuseLab gave me that chance. I was able to get hands-on experience from start to finish with the conception, development, fabrication and installation of an exhibit. In fact, it is possible that I gained more hands-on experience at the MuseLab than I would have if I would have completed a more traditional internship at a museum. At a traditional internship, you might only work in one department and therefore get experience in one particular area.  In the MuseLab, you perform the duties of all the various museum departments that might exist: registrar, collections, marketing, etc.  With Dr. Latham’s guidance, students complete all tasks required to complete the exhibit. Working in the MuseLab is really a fantastic chance for a student to see the gestalt of museum work. Since many of us will likely begin with an entry-level position at the gates of graduation, working in the MuseLab was a unique opportunity that helps you to gain the kind of experiences that might not come up until later in one’s career. In the lab, you learn things that no amount of textbook reading or discussion board posts can replace, things that you do not really learn until you are “on the job”. For my guest spot on the MuseLab blog, I thought I would share with you, my SLIS peers, some of the most important lessons that I’ve learned during my time in the lab:

 

  • Be flexible!

     When it comes to exhibit-making, as much as you think you’ve planned, something unexpected will always pop up! Seriously, you can go over something ten times, think that you have examined it from every possible angle, and then you will find some detail that you overlooked or find that something must change. Lesson: Expect the unexpected!

  • Always give yourself a time buffer.

     This goes along with the point above. You will always need extra time. Remember, you are still learning (and that is ok). You are not an expert at cutting vinyl or foam core—yet.  For many of you, this may be your first time putting together an exhibit (it was for me). That means no matter how simple the task may seem, it will definitely take longer than you expected; you will have revisions and revisions (and more revisions)--especially with text. Something that looks simple is often quite deceptive! Lesson: Build in a buffer.

  • Manage your time well.

     Although things might not go as intended, you should still come up with a good plan to manage your time. There may be many hands working in the MuseLab at once, and someone may be printing vinyl when you wanted to. Instead of standing around, find another task in the meantime, something may need to be painted, cut, mounted, etc. Try to plan your tasks so that you don’t find yourself painted in a corner, so to speak. For example, while you are waiting for paint to dry, you can design and print a sign. Try to implement a schedule of who is going to do what, and when so that multiple people aren’t trying to work with one tool at the same time. Lesson: Planning begets efficiency.

  • Slow down!

     This is not a race or a competition. You are here to learn and apply. Take your time with whatever you are doing and be in the moment of that task (hence the advice to build in a buffer).  Lesson: Don’t be in such a hurry!

  • Real-time brainstorming with others is hard.

     This is something of which many of us may be out of practice. In our program, communicating with groups is all online. Whether it be through email or chat, these formats allow you the luxury to sift through your thoughts before bringing them before the group. Real-time brainstorming doesn’t allow you that luxury! Don't be afraid to say whatever idea may pop into your head. You may think it won’t work or may be silly but it may be your idea that generates the thought process to the final solution. Lesson: Adapt to your environment and trust your instincts.

  • I have more museum relatable skills than I realized.

     Not all of us come into this program with prior museum experience and at times, it can be a little daunting. My time in the MuseLab really highlighted (for me) the skills that I already have can be applied to museum work, skills that I took for granted. For example, in my spare time, I tend to indulge in arts and crafts and always have a project going. The skills that I developed through my hobby, such as painting and sewing, are skills that are museum-translatable. Lesson: Museum skills are not just museum skills!

  • Occam’s razor : Do not make things more difficult than they need to be.

     Always try the simple solution first. It may work and then you save yourself a lot of time and aggravation. Lesson: KISS!

  • Working with vinyl is awesome!

     Really, I do not kid. When your brain hurts and you can just put some music on in the background and peel some vinyl, it’s incredibly relaxing. Lesson: Who knew vinyl could be fun?

  • Soak it all up!

    Try not to worry when things do not go as planned. It’s ok if you make a mistake (that’s kind of a lab mantra) or if you need to do something over (of course, try not to make too expensive of a mistake, as you will be working on a tight budget!). You are in a learning environment and it is expected that you will not know all that you need to/should know about exhibit work. This is the environment where you can make a mistake without that fear of being fired.  Make mistakes; learn from them. And learn from other people’s mistakes as well. Absorb everything you see, do everything you can. If you are working in the MuseLab for your CE, the next stop is graduation and you will not have an opportunity like this again. Lesson: Take advantage of your time in the MuseLab.


     I had a lot of fun in my MuseLab experience. Not only did I gain experience in creating an exhibit but I also learned lessons that will stay with me throughout my career. I hope you will find them as helpful as I did. Was it worth it? I won’t lie, I live over an hour away and at times the long drive was a bit of challenge. That’s a big commitment of time and money, two commodities that are very precious to grad students but it was well worth it. I learned a lot and had a wonderful time doing so. My only regret with my decision to complete my CE in the MuseLab is that it made me wish that I had spent the entirety of my time in the program working in the MuseLab.  Lesson: Get involved with the MuseLab right from the start!

 

    A bit about our Guest Blogger:  Melissa Lundell started the MLIS program in the fall of 2013 after graduating from Cleveland State University with a BA, with a major in Liberal Studies and a minor in English that previous May.  She recently graduated this spring from Kent State University’s SLIS with her MLIS, specializing in Museum Studies. Melissa chose to complete her Culminating Experience (CE) project at the Kent State University MuseLab during Spring semester 2016, working closely with Dr. Kiersten F. Latham and fellow students on the exhibit, “Mona Lisa X4” (opening Fall 2016!). She has found that she loves most things about museum work, especially exhibit development, exhibit installation, evaluation, and wayfinding. Melissa has many dreams for her career, including working at museums with a pirate-focus, preferably in the Caribbean and she wouldn’t turn down a chance to work at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, in Chicago, Illinois (should it ever be completed).