I have my deep love for education to thank for my position here at the iSchool. It started when, at seven years-old, I set up a pop-up booth to teach reading to anyone passing by. Strangely, I never had a single customer, but my passion for sharing knowledge remained intact. It took me from science camp counselor and museum docent in college to high school Latin teacher and “Master Teacher” (talk about museum job titles!) at a science museum. From there, it was onto graduate school to try to understand that magic link between learning and museums.
Which brings us to today. I currently contract with organizations to develop exhibits, educational programs, and visitor studies evaluations. I have also been with Kent since 2016 as one of the instructors for Foundations for Museum Studies.
It may come as no surprise, then, that books have been and are a tremendous part of my life. But here’s my problem with books: there are far too many. Too many that I want to read, too many that I have purchased with the intention to read, and too many that I have read once but need to read again. And the fact that books cover every topic in which I have any remote interest... I can’t keep up.
I see you all nodding your heads. You see my truth.
While I float in the pool of millions of book possibilities, there are some that I have read, which stay tethered to me always. They buoy me in times of drought (feeling uninspired by my choices) and drowning (how could I possibly choose one?). I have many, many tethers. Here’s a sample of my current “Museum Reading Tether”
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire (1970)
This one also tags along on my “Education Tether”. It doesn’t directly relate to museums, but at a time when museums are talking about authority and social change, Freire’s work about dialogue and power remains relevant. I could write an essay about this piece (I have) but, instead, I’ll leave you with: “[Museum] efforts must be imbued with a profound trust in people and their creative power.”
Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell (1996)
Theory and abstract ideas are great. I can talk about “what-ifs” over coffee, sure, but I won’t be content with the conversation if we never move into the concrete. I like checklists and procedures. I like practical. This book is my practical guide to writing exhibit labels. It’s organized, yet flexible, and it works with the underlying assumption that labels are about the reader’s experience, not the writer’s.
Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum (2010) and The Art of Relevance (2016)
I admire Simon’s willingness to experiment and fail publicly. She respects the visitors who come to her museum by openly practicing empathy and reflection. By encouraging creativity and connection, she has had tremendous success in turning her museum into an active player in its community. These books detail her trials and share concrete advice and ideas for the rest of us.
Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John Falk (2009)
I love Falk’s theory of visitor motivation identities because it acknowledges that not all visitors come to museums to learn. He looks critically at the varied reasons people visit museums and does so without judgment or prioritization.
Creativity in Museum Practice by Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale (2009)
I have lately taken an interest in creativity. I want to understand where creativity comes from and how to shake it awake in myself and others. While this is more of a guidebook for those who work on teams within museums and not meant for solo contractors like me, I do pick through it periodically for my own inspiration and when working with more adventurous clients.
That’s a glimpse of what the “museum profession” is for me: creativity, human behavior, empathy, community, knowledge, and social justice issues. And we all know that’s not even the whole of it. So read on, folks.