"In response to the article about federal workers, I thought it might be
interesting to note that the opposite is true in the UK - civil service jobs
often pay less than the private sector, and raises have not been in line with
inflation and cost of living increases. Here's a link from the civil service
union: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/media-myths-about-civil-and-public-services/ "
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
It's Not About Adaptation, It's About Revolution - MJ Writes tackles a lot of the same things Kat did in an earlier post, but MJ did it first. I'm sure most people following these conversations have already read MJ's post, but if not, here it is. She has some great ideas.
55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community - Coleen Dilenschneider's follow up to the post above. Even more great ideas! In an ideal world museums would function a lot more like libraries, providing community resources and serving as meeting places.
The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide - The IMLS provides a fairly thorough breakdown of the elements that are pertinent to the future of museums (and libraries!) in the United States and beyond. I'll let Kat explain the details when she gets a chance, but we're going to try and have these conversations. Kind of like a book club!
Why Do Federal Workers Make So Much Money? - Income in the private sector hasn't increased with the cost of living. Income for government workers has. Not the best analysis ever, but interesting.
And lastly, a link that made me laugh out loud: The Grand and Secret Order of Museum People -The Attic proposes a museos oath. I love it, partially because I went to an undergraduate institution where we took our traditions and secret ceremonies very seriously, and partially just because the idea of museums--which are continuously striving to be more egalitarian--having a secret handshake makes me giggle.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Museum Bubble - Via Kat, via Julianne Snider. Good article from Artnet about the art museum bubble and what happened when it popped. Much of what Ben Davis writes about art museums is applicable to other types of museums too, particularly his commentary on how the souring economy has affected large institutions vs. small ones.
On Those "Entitled" Twenty Somethings - A reaction to the dismissal of the employment concerns of twenty somethings as the whinging of the entitled perpetual adolescent.
I will leave you with this, in lieu of a plea for links: Kat and I were discussing the fragmentary nature of web dialogue, particularly pertaining to museums. It's difficult to come to any firm conclusions or make meaningful changes in the status quo if everyone's portion of the same conversation is scattered on their various websites and blogs. While web dialogue is great it definitely limits those who can participate in it because it does require a large, real-time investment of effort. It also excludes less web-savvy members of the old guard from the conversation. As Museos Unite we'd naturally like to get everyone together, but this presents its own logistical difficulties. We're kicking some ideas around, the most sensible of which looks to be a mixture of web and in-person dialogue. Do you have any other solutions to suggest?
Monday, August 17, 2009
A Job Suffused With Meaning? Bring It On! - A comparison of the values of Gen Y and the Baby Boomers.
Low Salaries Hold Charities Back, Author Argues - This article is hilarious for the way it pities the poor sod making a mere $86K because he chose to work for a nonprofit, but the rest of it is right on target.
AAM 2009 Emerging Museum Professionals Survey Results - A good demographic breakdown of the field as it will exist for a couple of decades, barring a brain-drain. Look at all these bright young things looking for entry-level employment! Please pay them a living wage.
This is your one-note broken record signing off. Let me know anything I've missed.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Museum workers are people, not just cogs in the museum machine. Passion is important. No one has claimed it isn’t, but passion doesn’t put food on the table or pay the rent. Arguing for more passion amongst museum workers is, from what I’ve seen, like saying we need more love of food amongst chefs, or that librarians should be a bit more enthusiastic about books. People are passionate. That isn’t what the problem is. Stop dismissing the problem on those terms.
One solution (or at least stop-gap) for the salary problem is that organizations that post job listings can take a stand and refuse to list jobs below a certain salary threshold. I believe the University of Leicester Jobs Desk did this several years ago when the national museums in the UK were offering very low starting wages. If jobs clearinghouses worked this into their stated policies perhaps there would be less of an inclination to stiff employees. Or perhaps more employers would try to get around it by not listing a salary. What do you think?
Talkin' Museum Studies Blues - Another opinion on the status of the museum studies debate. Some good points, many that I agree with and some (surprise!) that I don't. It is always nice to read museum studies success stories, though.
Where are Museum Studies Graduate Programs Going Wrong? - Colleen Dilen talks about the pervasiveness of low salaries in the nonprofit sector, museum studies programs' confusion over their status as an academic or a professional degree (and the ensuing confusion for their students), and Gen Y's general valuation of a life/work balance over money.
Notes on the Museum Studies Discussion - A great summary of arguments by New Curator. I especially like the way he explains the routes into museum work.
Museunions - New Curator post on some of the pros and cons of a museum workers union, making some productive points.
How J. Peterman Treated Me After 8 Years of Service - A reminder that employment issues like the ones we're dealing with are not unique to the nonprofit sector, and in fact are probably more common in the for-profit world.
I'm feeling a little burned out so I'm taking the rest of the day off blogging. I won't be poking around the internet looking for links for the weekend, so if there's anything you want to draw my attention to you'll really have to leave a comment.
Coming up: an entry from Kat about the root of THE problem.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
"Forty years ago, nearly one private-sector worker in three belonged to a
union. Today, that number has dwindled to around 10 percent and there's little
to suggest that a revival is nigh. Although unions remain fairly strong in the
blue-collar world, that world is shrinking. (Can you say "technology"?)
Consequently, labor unions don't wield the political clout they used to.
It's sad to see the anemic state of organized labor in this country today. Worse, it
kills me to admit that, to a large degree, the erosion of the labor movement is
the fault of the unions themselves. Their refusal or inability to change with
the times, to keep the movement relevant in the face of globalization and the
digital conversion -- the so-called new economy -- has been disastrous.
Disastrous, I might add, for union members and nonunion workers
alike. Just as the Democratic Party has largely ceded the battlefield to
Republican stridency in recent years, so, too, has organized labor wilted before
an economy where the unrestrained market rules all. The result is unsurprising:
The rich get richer, the shareholder is valued more than the employee, jobs are
eliminated in the name of bottom-line efficiency (remember when they called
firing people "right-sizing"?) and the gulf between the rich and the working
class grows wider every year.
You see this libertarian ethos everywhere, but nowhere more clearly
than in the technology sector, where the number of union jobs can be counted on
one hand. Tech is the Wild West as far as the job market goes and the robber
barons on top of the pile aim to keep it that way. They'll offshore your job to
save a few bucks or lay you off at the first sign of a slump, but they're the
first to scream, "You're stifling innovation!" at any attempt to control the
industry or provide job security for the people who do the actual work."
Questioning Assumptions: The Future of Education - A new post from the CFM. It's mostly about the integration of digital technologies into educational practice (not just museum education or museum studies education, but across the board), but there's a brief mention of unionization at the beginning, and whether or not the AAM would be the ideal organization to head these efforts. Kat and I discussed this briefly and can see some of the pros and cons (future post!), but for now will just say welcome to the discussion AAM.
More Thoughtful Learning: How Professional Development Through Social Media Can Strengthen Cultural Institutions - This is not really about graduate programs specifically, but more about useful, accessible (via social media) forms of professional development. Food for thought re: the future of museum professionalization. Recommended by James.
Can software developers form an 'open source' union? - This is from 2003 and it has nothing to do with museums, but 'open source' is one of the main models of unionization I think might have a chance at working for museos, and this is one of the only summaries of this type of union I could locate. I know the Freelancer's Union is also considered open source, but theirs is a union based primarily on group insurance rates rather than any sort of bargaining or standards setting. Once again, more union information and discussion will be forthcoming in future posts.
Amy commented over at New Curator that many of the salary and market saturation issues we're upset about seem to be more of a problem Stateside than they currently are in the UK, thanks to some regulations put in place by the Museums Association, so we're also looking into the state of things (typical degree costs, starting salaries, unionization options etc) in the US vs. the UK. Perhaps we will make an exciting graph! People love graphs, right?
As usual, if you know of anything else we should be reading please give us a shout.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
"Here is my description of the stereotypical graduate of a museum studies
program in the western part of the country: A smart young woman, armed with lots
of generalized knowledge about museums and how they should be, taught by
university professors, some of whom have never worked in a museum in the real
world. As a member of the emerging generation, she wants to be in charge right
away, figuring that her studies were enough dues to pay and that traditional
starting roles would be both boring and low paying. She is fortunate enough,
through connections, to find a job as director of the local historical society
in East Jesus, Texas. She has a 1,000 sf museum complete with a two-headed calf
and the baptismal clothing of the first white child born there. She has a
volunteer secretary and no other help, while the board of 25 people is made up
of 70+ year olds, all of them very conservative. Besides the challenges of
improving the museum, she finds that there are very few people of either sex her
age with whom to be friends or even acquaintances. She starts looking at the AAM
job site after her first month on the job, hoping to spin herself up to the next
higher circle of hell in a larger city. She might also consider going back for
another advanced degree in social sciences."
Where the Boys Aren't - The AAM Center for the Future of Museums ponders whether or not low museum salaries are tied to an overwhelmingly female workforce.
More on the Future of Museum Studies - A conversation on improving museum studies graduate programs, also from the CFM.
Design in Museum Studies - A blog featuring "Comments from June 22nd's discussion on the future of museums and what a Museum Studies Program at Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt can do to benefit future museum professionals."
We're also dabbling in a bit of research about open source unions and how other countries (namely the UK) have dealt with the problems posed by low wages.
Anything else that we should be reading? Leave a comment!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The biggest bogeyman facing museums is, as always, a lack of funding. There might be plenty of functions that a museum needs performed, but there is insufficient money to pay the ideal number of people to do it. This leaves museums with three options:
- Add additional functions to the job descriptions of current employees.
- Plus: Free
- Minus: Overworked employees.
- Plus: Free
- Minus: Often a lack of consistency due to high turnover
- Minus: Destructive effect on overall museum economy, from a worker's perspective.
- Minus: Is it sustainable? See below.
- Plus: Inexpensive.
- Plus: Qualified individual who can devote full 40 hours a week to the task.:
- Minus: Destructive effect on overall museum economy, from a worker's perspective.
- Minus: Hinders, rather than helps, diversity in the museum field. See below.
There are a finite amount of jobs and no, as far as I can see organizing won't fix that. It's not a magical elixir. In fact I don't really see how a museum union could coerce museums to offer decent wages, insurance, etc. As KLandon mentioned in her comment on the last post, forcing museums to pay a certain minimum wage could potentially make the number of employment opportunities shrink, particularly in small museums. I'm not sure we're looking at a typical bargaining organization here, especially with such a wide variety of museum types and sizes and differing regional needs.
What a union (and perhaps I am using the term loosely) can do is raise awareness of various issues that affect museum workers: an advocacy organization. If we value ourselves and our time insufficiently, we can't expect our employers to pay well for our services.
Which brings me to the title of this post: are museums sustainable? I don't mean can the conditions in your object store be maintained for hundreds of years, or whether or not anyone will care about your collection of rubber ducks twenty years from now. I mean the most important resource museums have, their people. Is the way museums handle staffing sustainable in the long-term? If it isn't, museums themselves can't be sustainable institutions.
Pete of New Curator calls the extreme reliance on volunteers in museums "not healthy" and "not sustainable," noting that "Any other model relying this heavily on unpaid labour is normally illegal or doomed to failure. Can you imagine a magazine not paying its writers? Or a television program not paying it’s production team? What kind of quality are we to expect?"
The same can be said for heaping extra responsibilities on extant employees. While I'm sure some bear up admirably under the pressure, burnout is inevitable, especially when extra responsibility isn't compensated.
As for lower salaries, most discussions I've heard seem to come back to the idea that there's no reason to hire people with advanced degrees if they're going to demand these fancy "living wage" salaries. (A reason for unionization if there ever was one.) We can train local people from community colleges instead! Involving people from the community is a good and noble idea. They should be involved in the day to day life of the museum. But what happens when you're offering a $20K/year salary? Who do you think is taking those jobs? Who do you think is doing several years of unpaid volunteer work just to possibly one day get those jobs? It's not the psych major from the local community college, it's a rich kid living on mommy and daddy's dime. This does not contribute to diversity in the museum field.
Sigh. Oh well. Unless the money situation at museums changes, it looks like museums are not sustainable. Damn and blast...
I don't believe this for one second. What's unsustainable are museum employment practices. The question remains: what should we do about it?
I'm sure I've jumped all over the place and left out about a dozen salient points, so please chime in and make those points yourselves!