A Latte of Museum Fun in Seattle

Written by Justine Rothbart

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With our lattes and umbrellas in hand, museum professionals arrived last week in the city of Seattle. We came prepared to the 2014 American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo. This year’s AAM Annual Meeting took place on May 18 – 21 and covered the theme “The Innovation Edge.” The sessions spanned a wide range of subjects, from “Preserving Collections in a Digital World” to “S#!t I Wish They Taught in Grad School.” Attending this conference with a fellow CHIM Cohort member, Kelsey Conway, made us both reflect on the relationship between our current studies and the museum world. As we navigated this conference, we became profoundly aware how important the role of library and information professionals are to museums.

Justine Rothbart (Me) and Kelsey Conway at the 2014 American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA

Justine Rothbart (Me) and Kelsey Conway at the 2014 American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA

At this conference, there were curators, education specialists, graduate students, collection managers, exhibit design specialists, historians, and archivists. Some had multiple titles and wore many different hats, while others just had one. With our varying titles, we had one thing in common: museums. Our connection to museums may be different, but we all understand the importance and significance of these cultural institutions. Author of The Devil in the White City and Keynote Speaker Erik Larson said, “I’m not a historian. I’m an animator of history.” Whatever the title is, each of our roles play a significant part in shaping the future of museums.

In the session “Innovations in Using Museum Collections for Learning,” Amy Bolton, from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discussed their new interactive exhibit “Q?rius.” She discussed not only the aspects of creating a hands-on exhibit, but she also discussed the creation of their digital library. In the “Topics Library” users can click on a subject and find the relationship with the related objects, media, and resources all in one location. In the session “Preserving Collections in a Digital World,” Leah Niederstadt from the Beard and Weil Art Galleries at Wheaton College discussed a future project where Google Earth will be used to visually track the provenance of the objects in the collection. These are just a few examples from the conference that tie into our current Library and Information Science studies.

The convergence of libraries, archives, and museums (LAM) was prominent throughout this conference. During our first semester in the Spring of 2013 at Catholic University we discussed LAM convergence in our class History and Theory of Cultural Heritage Institutions with Prof. Stokes. In our class we were lucky enough to have Ford Bell, the President of the American Alliance of Museums, as a guest speaker. Seeing Ford Bell address the hundreds of conference attendees last week was very different to when he spoke to our CHIM cohort in our small classroom. But it just reemphasized the important connection with library and information science and museums.

As a graduate student, attending a conference, like this one, is a great way to see how our studies are implemented through real-life examples. It’s also a great way to meet new people and meet up with old friends. Whether it’s in a session or at the top of the Space Needle, this conference was all about the making new connections with people who share the same passion (and having fun at the same time!).

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Click here for more information about the American Alliance of Museums.

 

Archives: Bringing objects to life

Written by Justine Rothbart

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The lights are out. It is several hours before the museum opens. As I walk across the elevated walkway through the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, I see the silhouette of airplanes in the distance. I see the replica of the Wright Flyer. I see the Concorde. I see the Enola Gay. I look around and hear silence. I am not hearing the engines roar or the echo against the airplane hangar. I hear silence. Silence is not usually a word associated with aviation. The eerie sensation of knowing the historical importance paired with the earth shattering silence was very unsettling, yet profound. These objects seem as if they are lifeless, but their incredible stories are what bring them to life today. Those stories are found in the archives.

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum - Stephen F. Udvar Hazy Center

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum – Stephen F. Udvar Hazy Center

This summer I worked with the audiovisual collection in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Archives at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. The NASM Archives is located in the back of the museum and I walked across that elevated walkway every morning to work. Passing the empty airplanes just reinforced to me the necessity of the archives. Working with the audiovisual collection, I would hear oral histories and see motion pictures. I watched interviews with the Enola Gay’s pilot which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I listened to Amelia Earhart’s voice describing her difficulties during her transatlantic flight. Now when I walk across the walkway, I see them. I no longer see just the cockpit, the fuselage, and the wings. I see the people. I hear their voices.

Working with the audiovisual collection in the NASM Archives, I processed reel to reel tape, cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes, and 16mm film. Even though I was not able to listen or watch every item I processed, I knew their importance. Everyone has a story to tell. The archives is just one aspect of the museum’s operations, but in my opinion, it is the one aspect that brings the entire story together. Visitors see museum objects without realizing how important the archival collection is to creating the exhibits. Archival institutions need to advocate for their collections. Since archival material is usually locked away in storage vaults, it was difficult, in the past, to raise awareness about items in the archival collection. Now with the technological advances and the digitization boom, it is easier to promote the archives as a segment just as important as the museum objects themselves.

The next time you see a museum object, I hope you think, “What is the story behind the object? What are the archival items associated with the object?” Whose voice do you hear?

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