guest post: professional museum blogs: a learning process

Today’s post for Emerging Museum Professionals Week is brought to you by Maggie Abbott. See other posts in the series here.

Maggie currently works as a gallery attendant at both the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. She also volunteers at the Missouri History Museum, working for the Exhibitions Registrar. She has earned her Bachelor of Arts in History at Truman State University, MO, as well as her Master of Letters in Museum and Gallery Studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She received a distinction on her Master’s Thesis from St. Andrews. When she is not working, applying for jobs, or blogging, Maggie enjoys engaging in endless movie trivia, knitting hats (since she just learned how), and spending time with her adorable nephews, Joshua, Jonah, and Owen. Her professional stories can be found at her blog adventuresofanemp.blogspot.com.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the possible opportunities and advantages of professional museum blogs by sharing my personal experiences of starting my own. I will also provide some tips and advice, should you wish to start your own. I feel that blogs are an invaluable tool to any emerging museum professional.

When I first started my job hunt, a little over a year ago, I thought they covered everything I could possibly need to know at my university’s career center. I was taught resume formats and the appropriate interview language, which I think has its roots in classical rhetoric. They explained different application methods, handwritten, email, online forms, and how to properly complete and submit each one. Career centers will tell you (they probably have already told you) that this is all you need. And for the most part this is true; everything that they teach you is indeed important and useful. What I feel career centers should emphasize more is the potential to expand and enliven one’s resume via the internet. There are SO many networking venues online now, and each one presents opportunities to present your resume and qualifications and tell others about your skills, thoughts, and opinions. I personally love Linkedin and the networking opportunities and communities it has enabled me to be a part of.

But after several months of building up an amazing resume (ah-hem, she said so humbly) and partaking in some enlightening and enjoyable online banter, I wanted more. Conversations with a friend from university made me interested in museum blogs, and not long after I became a blog follower I wanted to create my own. But how to do this? I had never blogged before and personally was a bit wary. I, ladies and gentlemen, have been incapable of keeping a consistent diary since the fifth grade! So how on earth was I supposed to start a blog, and even then, how could I keep up with it? And what would be in it for me?

A very good question with a very good answer. Professional blogs are an excellent way to expand your resume online. A blog, especially a well thought out and well written blog, allows you to create an accessible reading sample that future employers can access and assess. And that’s what you want; to be both accessible and assessable. They also present networking opportunities and preparing to submit a post for a professional blog keeps you current and conversant in your field.  I also see it as a weekly goal, which once completed makes me feel accomplished. During this time of mass unanswered applications this is crucial. And most importantly, it’s fun.

So once I decided to do this my next step was to figure out where. It’s not difficult to be honest. A small amount of research led me to realize there are a variety of sites which allow you to blog for free. The more matured bloggers actually have their own domain, but until then you can just use one of the many free available sites. These include Google Blogger (what I use), WordPress (what Adrianne uses), Tumblr, or Live Journal, just to name a few.

So once I knew where I had to figure out the how. How do I get an audience? There’s no point in blogging if no one is listening. I’m not dreaming of a Julie & Julia scenario here, but I want some followers. Well, going back to the job search aspect, my blog address is something I include on both my Linkedin resume and on the typed version I send out with job applications. So those I engage with online can see my work as well as those I am most eager to see my work, potential employers. This was my primary promotion plan, yet I knew it needed a bit more. So I reached out to other bloggers, including the godmother of all museum bloggers Nina Simon at Museum 2.0.  I sent her an email asking for her advice and opinions and to my squealing delight she answered.

Confession: I am a big museum geek and responses from museum celebrities are just as exciting as an encounter with Meryl Streep as far as I am concerned (seriously, you should have seen me when I met the former director of the British Museum). It was extremely cool that she took the time to write back with her advice and I am very grateful. I also posted on Linkedin forums asking others for their feedback and advice, which I was happy to find was given frequently with many encouragements (including the lovely Miss Adrianne’s). So a very important piece of advice is to never be afraid to ask others for their advice. This is a great community, the museum community, and so many people out there are willing to help it is incredibly moving. After receiving massive feedback, I decided to blog about my learning experiences and encounters at my different museum jobs.

Now that I knew what I was going to blog about I decided it was important to set some guidelines for myself. I sat down and I typed out a document: Blog Proposal. In this document I set out my aims, objectives, proposed strategic outcomes, and policies. This gave me a structure and something to present to my current employers. This is very, very important if you are going to blog about work. Technically no job can tell you, you are not allowed to blog about work. They cannot deny your freedom of speech or stop you. On the other hand, it is important not to alienate your bosses and coworkers. By presenting this proposal to all of my employers I was able to ease their minds and get their blessing. So with a professional sanction and a set structure, I was ready to start blogging.

Now what to blog about? Obviously something museum related, but what specifically? I take this one on a week-to-week basis. I pay close attention to my surroundings and events at work and I make a note of any ideas I come across. I suggest you keep a notebook handy or a shoebox of scraps of paper with your ideas. Take a look at your notes each week and then choose one of the topics and type away. Once you’ve completed a draft maybe ask a friend to act as editor for you or at least edit and scrutinize your own work very carefully. The fewer grammatically and spelling errors you have the more professional you look. And do make sure it’s a topic you are truly interested and knowledgeable in. If you aren’t I promise you your readers will be able to tell.

And so may your adventure be as interesting, insightful, and exciting as mine. Do not expect opportunities to just fall in your lap. The phone will not start ringing off the hook, but there is a great deal of personal satisfaction to be had from the blogging experience. It can’t hurt, it can only help.

FREE STUFF: Leave a comment on any of the posts during EMP Week (April 16 -20, 2012) to be eligible to win a copy of How to Become A Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career by Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris.The winner will be randomly selected and notified via email on April 23, 2012 (so please don’t forget to include an email in your comments).

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13 thoughts on “guest post: professional museum blogs: a learning process

  1. Maggie, I enjoyed your guest post (and now I’ve subscribed to your blog, which sounds great). I also appreciate that Adrianne put together this week of EMP reflections.
    I am a fellow museum blogger, starting ArtMuseumTeaching.com a couple months ago. I agree with so much of what you said about the motivation to begin blogging and then to get readers (perhaps we’re on the same wavelength because I’m also a Truman alum). And I also find it so useful to write something about my professional practice about once a week, and to make connections with like-minded colleagues who have found my site.
    I’d love for you to check out my blog, and let me know what you think. I’m also always accepting guest posts to keep the conversation as open as possible (let me know f you’d ever have something to add or cross-post).

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    • Mike! Thanks for your post and sorry for the delay in my reply. I am always happy to hear from another Truman alum too! I will be sure to follow your blog. Your site is really impressive and very professional-looking. I’ll be sure to comment and let you know if I have an idea for a post. Thanks again!

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  2. Thanks for writing this! I just started my own blog (http://mairmuseummuse.wordpress.com/) and found this very helpful. Creating a blog proposal for work is such a great idea to get your employer onside. I have found that going to conferences (esp. Museums and the Web) then tweeting and blogging about it can help generate an initial audience. Hopefully it is sustainable!

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  3. FYI: the link to your blog, at the end of the bio paragraph, doesn’t work.

    Thanks for posting this. Since this is a post on a museum blog, I imagine many of the people reading this are museum bloggers and thus interested in what you are writing about!

    I think that “There’s no point in blogging if no one is listening.” should be taken with a grain of salt. I may go weeks without getting any comment on my blog, and this is discouraging – of course, I *wish* more people were reading! But even when it feels like no one is listening, it’s still helpful for me to organize and write out my thoughts on topics relevant to my profession. And I think it’s important to keep up writing regularly. When people *do* visit my blog, I don’t want them to see gaps in which I didn’t write for months. I want them to see me have a sustained interest in the project (this is another reason to keep blogging even if no one is commenting).

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    • P.S. I tried to comment on your blog, Maggie, but it wouldn’t let me use my WordPress ID (usually this works on Blogspot though… silly computers). I wrote that silverfish have caused me psychological damage and given me nightmares. :-p

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      • disciullo, thanks for your comment and your feedback. I totally agree with you that “even when it feels like no one is listening, it’s still helpful for me to organize and write out my thoughts on topics relevant to my profession.” This is very true, and I did touch on that point when I talked about how writing a post keeps you current and conversant in your field. What I meant by my “no point” comment was in the context of using the blog as a networking tool and a reference for potential employers. If that is one of the goals of a blog, then yes it is very important to get readers. I hope this clarifies things a bit and thank you for reading my blog. I am not sure about your inability to post using your WordPress ID, but I do know that if your regular ID fails you can create one just for posting. Thanks again!

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      • Maggie, thanks for your response and if my comment came off as a challenge, I didn’t mean for it to. 🙂 I do think of my blog as something with the potential for networking purposes (and I try to be aware of this, and not write sloppily), but when I’m not getting as many readers as I’d like, I try to keep in mind that the endeavor has other purposes as well.

        Thanks for the tip about posting comments on Blogspot!
        -Laura DiSciullo

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