Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why are small museums great places to work?

When we’re knee deep in projects and tasks, we sometimes forget why small museum work is incredibly fulfilling and exciting.  Small Museum Toolkit co-editor, Stacy Klingler, and I developed this quick list to remind you why the work matters and possibly clarify why you feel fulfilled even when you’re more tired than you’ve ever imagined. 

Small museums provide you with:
·         The opportunity to be a leader.
Not everyone can be at the top and if you’ve wanted to spread your leadership wings and see how they fit, tackling the leadership of a small museum is a great place to start.  You may be surrounded by volunteers and board members helping to lift the heavy loads so you can afford to try out your leadership style.  This is especially a great leadership opportunity for younger professionals and folks new to the field. 
·         A variety of work.
No day is alike in a small museum.  And, rarely is there a dull moment.  If you bore easily or are prone to multi-tasking (and maybe a little hyperactivity!), small museum work can keep you energized.  Plus, you can get your hands dirty in a variety of ways – collections care, fundraising, construction projects, volunteer management and more – making you a museum generalist.  You’ll be supremely qualified to move into your next job because you’ve “seen it all!”
·         The opportunity to develop new expertise.
Have you wanted to learn more about trade and hand tools?  Membership programs?  Textile storage? The immigration story of your hometown?  The possibilities are endless and if there’s a question you’ve always wanted answered, you can spend time becoming an expert and have space to exercise your curiosity.  You can always use what you’ve found to develop an exhibit, improve the collections storage environment, or raise funds for your organization. 
·         A flexible work environment.
While being available for public visitation hours may be critical to operations, you can make a case for structuring the hours so that you can get important work done and take a vacation when needed.  With enough volunteer power, there is the potential to have flexible workdays and with a limited budget, you can explore flexible benefits if a comprehensive benefit plan is not available.  But, you need to advocate for this which will make you a stronger manager and employee.
·         A visible and tangible impact in the community.
Where else can you lead a group of school kids through a program and then at a PTO meeting the next night, you meet the mom of one of the kids?  Likely her child has not stopped talking about what she learned and how much fun she had.  You have immediate proof that your work made a difference in a child’s life.  Your impact is especially felt when wherever you go - you meet people who know who you are and what your organization has accomplished.  Your fingerprints will be on practically every project and you will feel proud.  Just don’t go to the grocery store wearing your pajamas.

Are there other reasons?  Please share with us and we’ll add your thought to our Small Museum Leadership conference sessions that we’re presenting around the country. 

Working in museums for nearly 20 years, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has been a museum director since 2001. Cinnamon became CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2009. Before that, she was the director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service in 2008. She is co-editor of the recently released Small Museum Toolkit from AltaMira Press.

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