by Matthew Amyx
On Tuesday March 29, I saw down with Steven Rosengard, Assistant Curator at the Museum of Science and Industry, to discuss jobs in museum collections. I chose him as my interviewee because – in addition to me already being there for my internship – he works with one of the coolest collections in the country at my very favorite museum. He chose to field my questions because he is a cool, friendly guy. (Incidentally, he’s also an accomplished fashion designer, and has competed on Operation Runway.)
I asked for his advice on creating metadata. He advises getting at least three people’s take on a project, and demonstrated what he meant by holding up a fish-shaped dish lying nearby. He asked me how I would describe it. I attempted a description based on dimension and, of course, its piscimorphic quality. He nodded, but then added that I could also call it a candy-dish, made of a particularly lustrous material (which I have since forgotten), and of a particular color. I wouldn’t have thought to include color in metadata. He then noted how many possible metadata synonyms there are for train (locomotive, rail-car, transportation) and that getting multiple people involved in brainstorming metadata preparation can tease out possible tags.
My next questions revolved around acquiring a job in the field. Having invested heavily in my education – with a few more years to go – I worry a lot about landing a lucrative job after getting my PhD that will allow me to pay off my Masters degree debts. Unfortunately, Steve’s tale – which he called “a very Chicago story” – didn’t really make me feel better. He does not have graduate school training specifically in public history, but gradually moved up the museum chain after being initially employed through the reference of a former coworker at an unrelated administrative position. (Of course, his fashion training is very relevant to his work in the collections as he knows intimately how to preserve and display the dizzying variety of materials in the collections.) He acknowledges there are not enough job openings in the field, and prospective workers have to be patient.
Despite these honestly quite depressing realities, he did bestow on me some very good advice. He advises people to really understand the business side of the field, learn how to work with and manage others, and – of course – network. He also really recommended being well-rounded in the skills of collections and archives management, which makes me glad I’m at Loyola which seems to do a great job at multi-faceted public history training. Training which will hopefully gain me a job somewhere in the field of history – jobs that appear – like fish-form candy bowls – shiny, useful, and sadly rare.