Guest Blog: Social Media and the Museum Worker

(This most recent guest post is from my senior undergraduate student curatorial assistant and Museum Research Apprenticeship Program student, Kate Tallman. Kate compiled this information for a poster, which she recently presented at the 2018 Western Museums Association (WMA) annual meeting in Tacoma, Washington. Social media, like this blog, is quickly becoming one of the most important ways that museum professionals relate to museum lovers around the world. Her research shows how essential it is for us to personally share what we do, how we do it, and why we love it, in order to enhance our connections with that community of followers. Enjoy this post and provide your feedback about ways you’ve connected with museum people across the globe! –AJL)

Social media is founded on the principles of community, dialog, and maintaining connections. In the past decade, organizations have made great strides in manipulating this platform to their advantage. In this day and age, it would be shocking and ill-advised for a cultural landmark, tourist attraction, or business to be without a social media presence across multiple platforms. While organizational accounts serve a purpose and can provide important information and offer insights into the brand, or the team behind the brand, they often come across as one-dimensional and sterile. There are limitations as to what an organizational account can achieve. Depending on the museum and its mission, an organizational account posting niche content, humorous dialog, and memes can come across as inappropriate, insensitive, or alienating. Few museums have harnessed social media in such a way so as to increase approachability while staying true to their mission. Perhaps most successful was the 2017 “twitter war” between London’s Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, two of the UK’s most venerated institutions.

Current social and political climates worldwide have forced conversations about institutional history, colonization, representation, and the validity of the status quo. Moving forward, how do institutions foster a sense of inclusivity with groups who may not traditionally feel they are a part of the target audience? How do you continue to democratize the museum field without sacrificing academic purpose or reverence for the artifacts for which you are charged with caring? The answer may lie in the hands of the museum worker as an individual.

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has met its detractors, it seems that social media communication tends to prove its merit.  Unlike online workplace communication which is primarily driven by task completion, interpersonal communication is driven by participants’ desires and social psychological needs. The development of the internet has drastically changed the way people interact and communicate socially. Online communities have become one of the most important parts of people’s everyday lives.

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Kate Tallman, Belonging: Social Media, Psychology, and the Power of the Museum Worker, 2018


Bonding through online interaction has rules. Most importantly, the perceptions one has of online counterparts are determined by certain factors. Impressions are often based on screen name, perceived tone, and characteristics we associate with similar people in real life. This is crucial. If my associations with black women, or gay men, or Indigenous peoples are overall positive, and they are likely to be if I am a part of that demographic myself, then I will inherently form a positive perception of strangers who fit that demographic. Online trust can be developed purely through interface cues. Effusive positivity, shared interests, good punctuation, timeliness of replies, and an active presence all contribute to a more positive and familiar feeling.

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Kate Tallman, Belonging: Social Media, Psychology, and the Power of the Museum Worker, 2018


Viewing content and interacting with those we consider friends online increases social capital, whereas other interactions, specific to Facebook, do not. For instance, say I see two posts relating to the same exhibit in a museum. The first is posted by a friend posting about their work on the exhibit. They are excited and passionate, and they may even share behind-the-scenes information. Their post will inherently be more engaging. The second post is made by the organizational account of the Museum. They will share the historical, cultural, or scientific information regarding the exhibit. There will be information about the duration and hours you can see the artifacts featured. Depending on the content of the exhibit, they may be able to make a joke, or use a light hearted tone. In terms of social capital, the post from a friend will feel more fulfilling to read and engage with. Therefore, we are more likely to do so. Reading, scrolling, and “liking” organizational posts does not fulfill our need for engagement and belonging. This illustrates how the individual museum worker is most suited to affect change regarding a sense of inclusivity. An active social media presence, which highlights associations with historically underserved communities, and also frequently mentions their workplace in a positive light can both engender a sense of trust in the institution and foster a feeling of belonging to that institution.

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Kate Tallman, Belonging: Social Media, Psychology, and the Power of the Museum Worker, Western Museums Association, 2018, Seattle, WA.


How can we turn this information into a benefit to the community and the museum? Unfortunately, this is not a single action mechanism of change. More so, we must acknowledge the role that social media plays in our psychological fulfillment. Noting this, and the increasing roles online platforms play in society, the museum field must move toward more fully incorporating this information into our interactions and role in the community.

The overwhelming majority of people surveyed stated the reason they post things is to convey who they are and what they care about. The majority of social media usage is rooted in sense of self, and this is why personalized endorsements from individuals mean more to others than an endorsement from an organization. By celebrating the diversity among museum staff, and encouraging an active presence online, the organization can become an arbiter of communal change through the individual employee.



Cole, Jeffrey, Michael Suman, Phoebe Schramm, and Liuning Zhou. Surveying the Digital Future.Report no. 15. Center for the Digital Future, University of Souther California.

Guan, Zhiwei. “The Effect of Need to Belong on Online Social Behaviors and Cognitive Interactions.” PhD diss., University of Washington, 2016. Abstract.

Smith, Sandra Susan. “Race and Trust.” Annual Review of Sociology, April 20, 2010, 1-26. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102526.

Tallman, Kate. Belonging: Psychology, Social Media, and the Modern Museum Survey. August 18, 2018. Raw data.




Guest Blog: Indigenous Commerce Networks

(Once again I’m lucky to have a smart and creative Ph.D. student working in the lab as an Intern this summer, Ms. Yoko Kugo. Thanks to the National Park Service for partial support of her internship. Her final project was an exhibit that illustrates the diverse trade networks used by Alaska’s Indigenous peoples in earlier times. Visit the 4th floor of the UAF Elmer E. Rasmuson Library to see the exhibit in person. Contact me if you want more information!)

Indigenous Commerce Network across Bering Strait and Alaska

Indigenous peoples of Alaska traded goods with other regional groups beyond their territories and across the ocean since time immemorial. Besides some regions having hostile relationships with their neighbors, many people cooperated to establish peaceful trading partnerships. In the Bering Strait, traders waved strangers empty hands or showed them furs and other trade items. They often brought women in the visiting party. In the interior to southeast Alaska, Athabascan women married Tlingit men and helped their husbands to estimate and judge the price of trading items. This illustrates that women played an important role for each society to maintain resources and wealth in peace.

Burch 1988 235 Chukchi trade

“Tuski and Mahlemuts Trading for Oil” by Henry W. Elliot, from Dall’s Alaska and Its Resources (1870)

This drawing shows Tuski (Chukchi) brought a woman and child to maintain peace when trading goods with Iñupiat. Notice the seal skin filled with seal oil. (Burch 1988, 235)

Language is an important tool for communicating with other cultural groups and maintaining local peace and exchange. Not surprisingly, Indigenous “businessmen” were fluent in multiple languages. The Bering Strait Iñupiat were familiar with the Chukchi language, while the Tlingit people in southeast Alaska communicated with other tribes along the Pacific Northwest Coast using the Chinook Jargon.

As seen on the map of Indigenous Commerce Network (Burch 1988, 236-237), Indigenous people traded with their neighboring groups for land mammal pelts, maritime products (seal oil, skins, ivory, shells), copper, jade, and wood. Some of these same materials are still valuable for Indigenous cultures to make handcrafts and regalia today.

Burch 1988 236-237-cropped JPEG

A Map of Indigenous Commerce Network (Burch 1988, 236-237)

Some raw materials used in the trading system are …


In the Indigenous commerce systems, Tlingit people obtained dentalia from the west coast of Vancouver Island. Since the interior Athabascan people valued dentalia used for personal ornament more than the coastal people, the dentalia became valuable for the Tlingit. The Tlingit people often called dentalia “the shell money.” The dentalium chief’s neccklaces were important status in the Athabascan culture.



Ch’etth’ena’ Necklace
Dentalium Necklace
Denalium shells, glass beads, moosehide, buttons, waxed thread
Unknown maker
(Tanana Athabascan) Minto  
Guilbert Thompson Collection
0737-0001 (UAMN)



Mr. Newton Collection
UA99-006-0005AB (UAMN)

Animal Furs and Skins

In the upriver region, the Yupiit traded goods with neighbor groups of Athabascans, obtaining birch bark to make canoes and baskets. Athabascans traded wooden utensils and land mammal furs (beaver, otter, marten, wolf, wolverine, fox, etc.) with coastal Yupiit to obtain sea mammal fats, skin boats (both umiaks and kayaks), dressed sea mammal skins, Siberian reindeer hide thongs and sinew, tobacco, and European copper and iron products.


Piluguut (Boots)
Bearded seal, wolverine and otter fur beaver fur calf skin, red cotton and yarn, dental floss
Unknown maker
Central Yup’ik (Nunapitchuk)
Wendell Oswalt Collection
UA70-053-0137AB (UAMN)

Russian-American Influence

In 1741, after Vitus Bering’s arrival in Alaska, the Russian government claimed the territory for themselves. The Russians’ first permanent trading station was built at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island in 1784 and it established the monopoly of the Russian-American Company in 1799. Russian Orthodox missionaries traveled along with fur traders and introduced Alaska Natives to Christianity. After several epidemics decimated Alaska Native populations in the mid-19th century and Russian men intermarried with Native women, many Alaska Natives accepted Christianity.

Commonly known as “Russian” trade beads. Beads were widely and used among the Alaska Native peoples.

“Beads were valued at so much according to color: Yellow 30 cents; Red 40 cents; Blue 50 cents. Chilkat.”

(Emmons 1991,56)


Trade Beads
Mrs. Bateman Collection
UA75-062-0002 (UAMN)

Alaska Natives’ traditional trading systems shifted from items-for-items to items-for-cash after the arrival of American whalers in the Bering Strait in the 1850s and the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867. In order to obtain cash, many men and women used new items, such as commercial dye, cotton, and modern metals, applying their traditional skills to make objects for sale. Their traditional home-made tools were replaced by silverware, coffee cans, firearms, and other items. Those new handmade objects became authentic “Native Art.” Nevertheless, still today, many Alaska Natives recognize their traditional designs in their regions and perceive specific objects as a symbol of wealth. Their tool-making techniques, objects, and regalia show their identities, “who they are.”


Xaat Kákw
Spruce Root Basket, Cup and Saucer
Spruce root, maidenhair fern
Unknown maker
Henry Wolking Collection
0236-3993AB (UAMN)


Tobacco Pouch
Seal gut, cotton cloth, thread
Unknown maker
Unangax (Belkofski)
Dr. Harold McCracken Collection
UA74-067-0005 (UAMN)


Exhibit at the UAF Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, 4th floor


Yoko Kugo (L) and Angela Linn installing objects for the exhibition at the Rasmuson Library.

Selected Bibliography:

Black, Lydia T.

2004  Russians in Alaska 1732-1867. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.

Burch, Ernest S. Jr.

1988  War and Trade. In Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska. W. Fitzhugh and A.Crowell, eds. Pp. 227-240. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Duncan, Kate C.

1989  Northern Athapaskan Art: A Beadwork Tradition. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Emmons, George Thornton

1991  The Tlingit Indians. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Fienup-Riordan, Ann

2007  Yuungnaqpiallerput: The Way We Genuinely Live. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Gibbs, George

1970  Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, or Trade Language of Oregon. New York: AMS Press.

Laughlin, William S.

1980  Aleuts: Survivors of the Bering Land Bridge. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Oswalt, Wendell H.

1990  Bashful No Longer: An Alaskan Eskimo Ethnohistory, 1778-1988. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Zagoskin, Lavrentiy A.

1967  Lieutenant Zagoskin’s Travels in Russian America, 1842-1844: The First Ethnographic and Geographic Investigation in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Valleys of Alaska. Henry N. Michael, ed. Penelope Rainey, transl. Arctic Institute of North America, Anthropology of the North: Translations from Russian Sources, 7. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


The Taft Tusk and its Crazy History

The Seattle Sunday Times, Oct. 16, 1910

“FAIRBANKS MEN SEND TAFT MASTODON TUSK — A section of mastodon tusk twenty-five inches long, crusted with bas-reliefs wrought in unalloyed Alaska gold that form an epitome of gold mining in the Interior North, is an heroically proportioned desk ornament citizens of the Tanana Valley are sending to President W.H. Taft. This presentation is intended to mark the recent visit to Fairbanks of Secretary of Commerce and Labor Charles Nagel and Attorney-General George Wickersham, personally representing the chief executive. While the cabinet officials were at Fairbanks they were lavishly entertained, and became popular. At a big reception one evening, the suggestion was made by a wealthy mine owner that a symbolical souvenir be sent to President Taft as a token of appreciation.”

So begins the Seattle Times article about what would come to be known as “The Taft Tusk.” According to the article, J.L. Sale, a jeweler called “the Tiffany of the North” was to produce “the most elaborate memento ever sent out of Alaska.” When the Times interviewed Sales about the tusk, he said “It is simply a great piece of mastodon ivory, mounted with gold. The ivory was dug from a mine, where the tusk had lain for hundreds of years. It is a beautiful piece. It’s striking characteristics of color being brought out effectively by polishing.” Presumably President Taft received the tusk and the people of Fairbanks were satisfied that they had represented our community and our economy.


Ivory tusk of a walrus which was carved by an Eskimo and presented to President Taft. Alaska United States, ca. 1900. [Between and Ca. 1930] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed July 28, 2017.)

Fast-forward to 1943, when the President of the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce received a letter from Murray Galleries in Washington D.C., offering to sell a recently acquired desk set from the estate of the late Ex-President William H. Taft. “We are of the opinion that it would be of historic interest to the city of Fairbanks, and for that reason we are offering it to you prior to placing it in our general stock.” The asking price was $1000 plus 10% Federal excise tax. Several weeks later, the Chamber of Commerce wrote to the son of President Taft, Senator Robert A. Taft. “We did this out of respect for your father and the high office to which he had been elected, believing that he would get some pleasure from the souvenir and that his heirs would treasure such a gift and keep it as a family possession as long as the Taft family existed. We are disappointed to learn that this gift of the people of Fairbanks, Alaska has been sold to the Murray Galleries in Washington and that it is now being by them for sale on a strictly commercial basis.”

Through a cordial series of communications, the Taft children purchased the desk set back from the gallery and donated it to the University Museum in Fairbanks, in order to be exhibited with a short history of the presentation by the people of Fairbanks to President Taft. The desk set arrived in Fairbanks and promptly went on exhibit in a glass case, where it was “quite the center of attraction. Our mining men are greatly interested in this work of art,” according to President Charles Bunnell, who received the gift. A story appeared in the August 1, 1944 copy of the Farthest-North Collegian (p. 6). It’s here where the first inconsistency appears.


The Farthest-North Collegian,  August 1, 1944, page 6.

The caption and headline of the article describes the tusk as being made from a “walrus tusk” while the original 1910 article from the Seattle Times clearly identifies the tusk as mastodon. This early photograph shows the details on the piece. One particular image does made it appear to be walrus ivory, though it is often impossible to tell the difference without close examination.

0267_AccessionDocuments 28-crop

Detail of tusk (catalog number 0267-4176) and gold overlay. Notice the mottled appearance of the ivory to the left of the mountain. This may confirm the tusk as being made from walrus, not mastodon, ivory. UAMN Photo.

The tusk remained in its place of honor in the museum for many years, appreciated by visitors and student alike. The beginning of another controversy began to bubble to the surface sometime in the 1960s. In a 1968 article of Jessen’s Daily (Wednesday, Mar. 27, 1968, p. 9) Harry Avakoff describes his career as a jeweler in Fairbanks, counting as one of his major accomplishments as being “commissioned by Tanana Valley citizens to make a gold inkwell for President Taft.”

Then, on the morning of April 8, 1969, University of Alaska Museum Director Lu Rowinski opened the museum at 8:00 am and discovered the tusk had been stolen. A $100 reward was offered for information leading to the return of the tusk, “no questions asked,” according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article. People at the time were concerned that the thief would melt down the gold in order to sell it more quickly.

A search of online newspaper articles reveals that only months later, Andrew Hehlin was arrested after the Alaska State Troopers recovered five car loads of stolen property, which included the gold figurines from the desk set, but not the ivory tusk. According to Glen Simpson, who was then a faculty member in the UAF art department and commissioned to repair the desk set in 1973, the museum had acquired a large number of walrus tusks from Barrow, thinking one might have the right contours to match the gold overlay. However, no tusk could be found and so instead, Simpson carved a replacement tusk of walnut. The desk set was returned to the museum and was included in the July 27, 1973 opening of the C.J. Berry Gold Room.

One might think this was the end of the story. The tusk was back on exhibit for the public to enjoy. However, there remained, even until 1999, some disagreements regarding the true artist responsible for the design and fabrication of the tusk: J.L. Sale or Harry Avakoff. Avakoff was quoted in a number of newspaper articles on file at the museum, that one of his life’s greatest accomplishments was being commissioned to make the tusk. In 1983, Emily Avakoff, Harry’s widow, visited the director of the museum and expressed her concern that the tusk label did not credit her late husband as the artist. A number of letters and supporting documentation was exchanged, and a pair of hand-written notes with no dates indicate that “Jack Sale” made the tusk, owned the Fairbanks jewelry store where Avakoff, as well as Vic Brown, were employed. “He did some work on the tusk,” says one note, indicating that both men were associated with the fabrication of the work of art.

In the end, the museum records cite both men as the creators of the desk set, as well as Glen Simpson. The piece has been on continuous exhibit, with the exception of the brief hiatus between 1969-1973, since its 1944 donation and forms the centerpiece of our gold case in the Gallery of Alaska. You can see the catalog record and some of those records in our museum database here.

TP-16-4793-021 (WIN-4LAU14JTPGB's conflicted copy 2016-03-17)

As part of our Gallery of Alaska renovation project, the gold case was opened for photography and cleaning. Here I am removing the Taft Tusk from its mount. UAF Photo by Todd Paris.


Inspired in Iceland

I recently had the privilege to go on my first European vacation with my family. We took advantage of Icelandair’s excellent stopover service and took 3 days to explore Iceland on our way to Sweden, where my husband would be attending a conference in Uppsala. On our last day we visited the Árbær Open Air Museum, which is part of the Reykjavík City Museum group of museums. I’ve always loved living history and historic house museums – this place topped all that I have visited in the past.

Looking across many of the historic buildings at the museum

Looking across many of the historic buildings at the Árbær Open Air Museum.

According to their website, Árbær was an established farm well into the 20th century. A museum opened on the property in 1957, which is located on a grassy hillside on the outskirts of Reykjavík. Now there are more than 20 historic structures that form a town square, a village, and a farm. The buildings include the old original farm house, a church & rectory, a blacksmith house, many residential buildings that represent a variety of architectural styles, and a pair of large warehouses built around 1820. Many of the buildings are decorated in period furnishings, giving visitors a sense of how people lived in Reykjavík over the decades, many in opulence and others in real rustic conditions. Other buildings contain thematic exhibitions, including “Building Techniques in Reykjavik 1840-1940,” “Consumption – Reykjavík in the 20th Century,” and “Employment of women in the home from 1900-1970.” This innovative combination of special exhibits set in historic buildings was new and exciting for this museum-goer. It helped keep the 7-year-old in our group as interested and occupied as the 75-year-old.

Equally as fun and engaging as the exhibits was the farm element. Live ponies, sheep, and chickens broke up the wide expanses of territory and brought life to our adventure.

An awesome four horned Icelandic sheep that fascinated our whole group!

An awesome four horned Icelandic sheep that fascinated our whole group!

Our favorite structure, however, was the old original farmhouse. A stone barn connected to a structure with three peaked roofs allowed residents to tend to the small animals (probably goats or sheep) without having to go outside. Two of the roof peaks represented the sleeping quarters, one for the boys and travelers, and one for the girls. This farmhouse seemed so practical, well-designed, and comfortable, my son and I could barely pull ourselves away from the building. We left wanting to know more and wishing to buy a publication at the gift shop (in English) about the history of the museum and the family who occupied the farm (unfortunately, we left with only a key chain, a mug, and a miniature Icelandic sheep).

Part of the original farmhouse, the only building that was preserved in situ at the museum.

Part of the original farmhouse, the only building that was preserved in situ at the museum, and described by my son as “the coolest house ever!”


Our departure from the Árbær Open Air Museum left me feeling invigorated for my work with the Fairbanks North Star Borough Historic Preservation Commission. Fairbanks, like Reykjavík, has seen a variety of architectural periods pass by, from the gold miner log cabins, to early framed  homes, through the wartime and pipeline days. While we are lucky to have Pioneer Park and the Gold Rush Town structures, my desire to help people understand the actual history represented by those buildings leaves me wanting more out of that park. Over the coming years, I hope to learn more about the process followed by Árbær to create such a successful open air museum that both honors the architectural history of Reykjavík and Iceland, as well as the people who built and made a life in those homes.

Here are a selection of photos from our visit.


Beautiful and functional stove.


A fine place to spend some time.


Dinner anyone?


An example of exhibit cases installed in a historic structure to tell the story of consumption (not the disease) in Iceland.


Indoor plumbing!


One of the wider stairwells we encountered.

“Why do you have that?”

Sometimes the “value” of museum objects and specimens are not totally clear to everyone within a multi-disciplinary museum like the UA Museum of the North. Even other professionals who have similar academic backgrounds might be confounded when walking into the Ethnology & History lab to examine new acquisitions being processed by myself or our department staff.

Today’s query came from our Curator of Archaeology, who also happens to be my husband. “Why do you have that?” he asked as he entered the lab, motioning to a large object I had just finished cataloging and photographing. I turned to see what he was referring to, ready to provide the historical context of items ranging from a gold mining tool chest, a Yukon match tin, Alaska Native baskets, polar bear sculptures, and the item in question, a sample of the exterior wall construction of the renovated museum building from ca. 2005 (UA2015-007-0003).


Museum wall section demonstrating the construction of the exterior walls. UA2015-007-0003. UAMN Photo.


This model was used by the Museum’s Alaska architects of record, GDM, Inc. for public events to demonstrate the incredible lengths the engineers went to in order to build a stable and tight building envelope to house our irreplaceable collections. Last year the museum’s acquisitions committee approved the transfer from the Exhibition & Design department, where the wall section had been stored for the past ten years, into the History collection for long-term curation. This process transforms the wall section from an “object” to an “artifact.” Once this transition occurs, this item joins a growing collection that helps to document the 90-year history of the University of Alaska Museum.

Items in the history collection that document the museum’s changes over time include t-shirts, employee name badges, brochures, magnets, and blankets. These items show the museum logo and the way the museum represented itself to the public through souvenirs sold in our store. We also have items that relate to the building itself. Documenting the 2006 renovation, we have items like the wall sample, but we also have symbolic artifacts like one of the golden spades used during the 2002 groundbreaking ceremony by Museum Director Aldona Jonaitis (UA2002-017-0001); the first piece of the museum building that was knocked off for the renovation process (UA2006-002-0007); and two impressive architectural models of the building that represent two very different visions of the expanded and renovated museum (UA2015-007-0001 and UA2015-007-0002AD).


A ca. 1994 architectural model of a proposed expansion design of the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Made by Bezek-Durst-Seiser Architecture and Planning, Anchorage. UA2015-007-0001. UAMN Photo.


Architectural model of the actual design for the UA Museum of the North, designed by HGA Architects and Engineers and constructed by Feyereisen Studios, both of Minneapolis, MN. UA2015-007-0002AD. UAMN Photo.

Some of these items, on their own, might warrant a question from a curious passer-by, about the “museum quality” nature of the collections. Do paper shipping labels, shopping bags, and post cards tell us anything about the nature of the museum, about the institutional values, or the role of the institution in the community? Some more than others, but as the collection grows and is supplemented by historical photographs, museum-produced videos, and oral histories, these ephemeral items that were designed to be part of the every day operation and business of the museum, will help illustrate the our growth into a world-class research museum of natural, cultural, and art history focused on the circumpolar north.


University of Alaska Museum, ca. 1951. Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, UAF; John Sigler Photograph Collection. UAF-2004-111-1140.


Best in the West (or why I love WMA so much)

Each year, we compare and contrast the various options for professional conferences to attend. Meager funding means it better be of use to both my home institution as well as my own personal growth. In 2015, I opted for two – Museums Alaska (as outgoing President it’s pretty much required) and Western Museums Association (WMA).


Our official #WMA2015 Facebook profile photo.

WMA 2015 took place in sunny San Jose, a community I visited for the first time in January of 2015. This is my first full year as a member of the Board of Directors of WMA and a January meeting at the conference hotel of the upcoming meeting is a tradition. With that two-day visit I was able to connect with members of the board and strike up some professional relationships that have already borne fruit. But what that visit really did was prepare me for the October conference by orienting me to the immediate area around the hotel and give me a taste of the community.


By the time October arrived, I was still reeling from a busy 4 days in Cordova for Museums Alaska, only three weeks prior. But my colleague, Della Hall, and I were ready to have a repeat performance as roomies and I was signed up to be her official conference mentor. Another UAMN colleague, Jonah Wright, was attending WMA for his first time and we were excited to absorb as much as possible over three days.


Della, Jonah, and I enjoying music in the lobby of the Fairview.

Over a period of three days, Jonah, Della, and I each experienced our own unique conference – Jonah attended exhibit-focused sessions, Della and I went to collections sessions [two really generated a ton of discussion and thought: Understanding Image Copyright (is it possible?) and Long-Term Thinking about Collections Stewardship]. This year I yearned for more of the leadership track, and so I absorbed what I could from some of those I look to in our region as the movers and shakers, in sessions like Leading from the Position You Are In, Defining Leadership Across Generational Divides, and The Challenges of Leadership: Working with Governing Bodies. Each session gave me food-for-thought about how I want my career to blossom, identifying my own weaknesses and how to turn them around, as well as giving me a chance to acknowledge my own experiences and expertise as valuable. Rather than presenting at WMA 2015, I took on a role of inquirer. This year, I felt I was able to ask the questions many might be thinking, to dig deeper and get at the big questions of “why” and “how.” I was rewarded with answers that got many of us thinking and talking after the sessions.

A conference theme of “Listen – Learn – Lead” can take you in many directions if you let it. I love WMA conferences for this – whatever your entry point and level, you are able to step into a topic and get something valuable, bring it home, and put it to use. I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in many years, from my RC-WR officer days, and made new connections with emerging professionals and esteemed leaders alike.

I now feel energized to go into the 2016 conference in Phoenix, ready to take on the conference theme of “Change“. This is a hard thing for an industry steeped in tradition, “best practices,” and “professional standards.” How can we push ourselves to grow and get better, while keeping true to our past? This is something I’ll be thinking a lot about in the next year.

Thanks #WMA2015 – you were a blast!



Back in the Saddle Again

“Ph.D. Student”

This fall I took a monumental step in forwarding my education and career – in the spring of 2014 I was notified that I had been accepted into UAF’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program under the approved heading of Museum Studies, with a committee made up of some academic greats at UAF: Dr. Mary Ehrlander (my chair), Dr. Terrence Cole, Dr. Aldona Jonaitis, and Dr. Mike Koskey. Rounding out the committee with an old friend and great colleague, Dr. Holly Cusack McVeigh from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.

My first class – NORS 461/661 History of Alaska  – was taught by Dr. Terrence Cole. What a great way to jump back into the classroom and into a topic that I had never formally studied, despite the fact that I had cared for thousands of historical objects and curated two special exhibitions that were historical in nature. After completing the class and reading hundreds (thousands?) of pages in our textbooks, articles, and additional books for the graduate portion of the class, I came to the conclusion that I love Alaska history and the project that I have concocted for this Ph.D. is going to be compelling and valuable and interesting and full of incredible stories. I can’t wait!

However… I will be undertaking this adventure while continuing to work full-time at the Museum, sooooo, it’s a long-term project with a completion goal of 2020 (a nice round number). If all goes as planned, I’ll have that Ph.D. before I turn 50 – which is also a nice round number.

The most important thing that I’ve realized is that I love my job more than ever before. I have a supportive network of people who are willing to contribute their ideas, stories, and perspectives to the mystery I’m attempting to uncover. I hope I can do them justice, and that through this undertaking, I can add something to our understanding of Alaska’s museums and help us all know more about the direction we want to go in the future.