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Self-care for museum professionals

May 15, 2019

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I’ve been schlepping my books and journals around the country for my museum career, and on reflection, it’s fascinating to see which books have become indispensable, and which have quietly slipped into the background. I began my career as a museum educator and interpretive manager, then became an exhibitions manager, back to education, and finally, here I am in administration. When I took a moment to think on which books I lean on now, I realized rather shockingly that “museum” titles don’t make the top 5. I’ve got a lot of books on the shelf, plus many many folders of articles and reports. But these are the ones I find myself revisiting over and over.

 

 

My first two go-to books are ones that support and refresh my creative side and help me lead a team of creative storytellers. Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull, is a memoir of the founding of Pixar. It’s a perfect book for me, revealing processes that drive the creative engine, as well as practices that support a healthy creative work culture. I appreciate Catmull’s humor and self reflection, as well as his willingness to show the not-so-happy side of the business. I go back to this book often, as a fuel before big creative pushes. Also on the list - Out On the Wire, by Jessica Abel. I get crazy looks when I suggest a graphic novel to my team as a great learning resource, but hear me out. This book dives into the unique and diverse storytelling that we’ve come to love from NPR. Abel spent time with the teams from This American Life (TAL), RadioLab, and Snap Judgement, and pulls back the curtain on how remarkable storytelling comes together. I often use radio and podcasts as a source of inspiration, not just in content, but for writing! Great radio gets you emotionally invested in just a few minutes. I like workshopping programs, label copy, and theater scripts by pretending we are a writers room curating an episode of TAL.

 

 

 

The other books I lean on are leadership books. While I’m often loathe to admit it, I find I learn a lot from Patrick Lencioni’s leadership books. I’ve used The Ideal Team Player with my own teams as we look to codify our common values and build trust. I just finished Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive and am already looking to put it into practice. Now, your mileage may vary. The books are pretty heavy-handed at times, and use parables to illustrate points. But, they also provide simple methods that are easy to apply and adapt in real life. And, as my work and home life provide precious little extra time, they are quick reads.

 


I still have several museum blogs that I visit regularly. Seema Rao’s Brilliant Idea Studio is fantastic, and her book Self Care for Museum Workers is a must for anyone in the industry. Andrea Jones and her Peak Experience Lab blog is also great for a fresh look at assumptions and practices. Her Twitter feed is also pretty awesome. And like so many others, I regularly enjoy both the Data Museum from Susie Wilkening and Know Your Own Bone, from Colleen Dilenschneider. These blogs help introduce me to new ways of thinking, new people to follow, and speak to my current path of bridging museum practice and executive administration.