Archive for May, 2017

#MCN50 Voices: Peter Samis & Loic Tallon

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

Peter Samis, Associate Curator of Interpretation at SFMOMA, has been working in digital within the cultural sector since 1985; Loic Tallon, Chief Digital Officer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (& 2016 President of MCN) was born in 1981.  In this #MCN50 Voices interview, Peter and Loic dive into this generational gap to share perspectives on what they’ve learnt about delivering digital projects, their recommendations to emerging professionals on how to survive and thrive in this field, and whether it’s important that we learn how to code.


#MCN50 Voices: Laura Hoffman & Jeffrey Inscho

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

 This conversation between Laura Hoffman, Manager of K-12 Digital and Educator Initiatives at the Phillips Collection, and Jeffrey Inscho, Director of the Studio at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh) explores how each of them found their way into museum work; their hopes and fears for the digital world; memorable MCN moments; and serious deliberations about what makes for great MCN karaoke song selections.


#MCN50 Voices: Interview with Howard Besser

Post by Marla Misunas

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Howard Besser head shotHoward Besser, who has been working in musetech since the late 1970s and is known internationally for his work on many topics, including digital stewardship, copyright, and archiving, to name a few. I first encountered Howard at MCN in the 1990s where he presented about his digital image database of T-shirts, a project taken on by his students as proof of concept, when digital image databases were still a novelty.

Howard is currently Professor of Cinema Studies and Associate Director of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program (MIAP), as well as Senior Scientist for Digital Library Initiatives for NYU’s Library. I’ve been reading and thinking about MCN history quite a lot lately, so an opportunity to hear about it first hand was irresistible.


Below is an excerpt from our interview.

MM: What are your earliest memories of MCN?

HB: My earliest memories are really 1977–1979, when I worked at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) at the University of California, Berkeley. We were developing a cataloging system, and John Gartenberg was at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) working on their GRIPHOS implementation.

Note: GRIPHOS (General Retrieval and Information Processor for Humanities Oriented Studies) was a system of computer programs that aided museum workers in cataloging, indexing, and disseminating data about works in museum collections.

We evaluated GRIPHOS and decided not to go with it, since we were part of a university that had access to mini-computers with remote access, dial-in. GRIPHOS still used punch cards, and clearly what Berkeley could do for us with their Berkeley UNIX system was more advanced.

Nancy Goldman at UC Berkeley helped me on some projects. We had these bibliographies that we did on the computer. We would dial in and do the workfrom our homes. We created indexes of film journals and books in California libraries—a union list of film holdings, books, and serials. We did another index on moving image-related equipment on the Berkeley campus. There were 13 different media centers, and none of them really talked to each other.

We made an index of everything they had, so if you needed a 16mm splicer, you’d know where to get it… all computerized.

I became active in MCN in 1986, when I went to my first conference.

The way I ended up there is kind of interesting. In 1986, at AAM (American Association of Museums) and at ALA (American Library Association) conferences, both in San Francisco, I had premiered our Berkeley image database system. We would scan works of art, catalog them, and put it all up on a large, sexy-looking, Sun Microsystems screen, and allow people to do retrieval remotely.

We got Sun Microsystems to rent us a booth. It was a madhouse! No one had ever seen an artwork on a screen before.

MM: How was the system accessed remotely?

HB: We were connecting through the phones to the database in Berkeley.

MM: Modem-style?

HB: Yeah, it was a modem, but the whole system was built on X-Windows, which you can kind of see as a precursor to a Web browser.

If you’re designing a database, all of your navigation and display can be handled at your user’s workstation, so it’s not taking up a lot of bandwidth. You’re moving your works back and forth, but you’re not moving your whole X-Windows system.

Note: The X Windows system was a platform-independent graphics protocol, developed by Stanford, MIT, and IBM, in the early 1980s.

MM: Because you’re using local resources.

HB: Right. We chose X-Windows because it was a client-server based system, and this was 5, 6, or 7 years before the first Web browser. That was the way to do it and make it OK for different types of computing systems.

MM: Weren’t there still lots of issues preventing interfacing between systems? In the 80s, things were very platform-specific. You had a system that was married to your hardware.

HB: Right. We wanted to be multi-platform, we wanted it to be easy to use—but people still had to download X-Windows. We really believed that things were going to go in a very different direction, that’s why we designed it to be independent.

Showing the Berkeley system got a lot of attention in the library world and the museum world, and it got back to one of the collection management system vendors, Willoughby Associates, and Lenore Sarasan.

Lenore called me up, came to Berkeley to meet with me, and even offered to pay for me to go to MCN. I think she was on the MCN Board then and she wanted to push them in new directions, and into looking at new things.

This was my first MCN meeting, and I really thought it—the New Orleans conference in 1986—was a transformational break with MCN’s past, because there were possibilities other than the GRIPHOS system.

The conference was so forward-looking. We were considering new types of computing environments, new things we could do with computers in museums.

There were so many vendors—4 or 5 different vendors selling collection management systems, commercial products. People were using microcomputers. And people were talking about other things, not just managing your collection. They were talking about exhibits, exhibition design, using computers to track the movement of objects that go in and out—not just the strict registrarial use. But much broader. So I felt that was really transformational.

I thought it was wonderful, you know, I thought it was one of the best conferences I had been to.

I got to meet people whose stuff I’d read about, but whom I’d never met; like some of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus people, people who dealt with ontology questions—it was really stimulating for me.

Some of the biggest successes of MCN were much less on the hardware and software side, but with vocabulary, consistent naming, and authority lists.

Those were absolutely huge successes that could not have been done any other way. At that time, the hardware and software were controlled by the vendors, and it was a matter of trying to convince the vendors to incorporate what you needed.

Later, when you started getting into handheld devices, it was the members of MCN that really took the lead.

MM: Speaking of vocabularies, I noticed that you were involved in Dublin Core.

Note: Dublin Core is a set of standardized metadata fields to describe objects. It’s used widely today in libraries, museums, and even by Google’s search engine.

HB: I was at the first Dublin Core meeting in 1995. And I was chair, or convener, for the third Dublin Core meeting.

MM: Wow! What was that first meeting like?

HB: [Laughs.] The meeting was really strange, because I think most of the people at the meeting had no idea—there were about 40 people at the meeting, and I’d say 30 of us thought it was a one-off thing. We weren’t very optimistic about much coming out of it, unless we dug in and did things individually.

A few people, like Stuart Weibel from OCLC, had bigger visions for it. But all of that became clearer when there was a second meeting the next year, and a third meeting…

It was a weird bunch of people—back then we said it was the librarians and their sensible shoes, it was the pocket protector crowd; it was sets of people that didn’t frequently come together. The people in the room usually only interacted with their own kind of folks.

Most of us were there to try to solve problems that hadn’t come up yet. Our goal then was to anticipate what happens if you get a million hits, when you put a word into a Web search engine.

The first web browser was released in May of 1993, so the first Dublin Core meeting in 1995 was less than two years after the first Web browser was released. It was before there really were Web search engines.

A million hits seemed pretty optimistic! On the other hand, for a lot of us—particularly people who had knowledge about the library community—there was a lot of content there, it was just a matter of making Web protocols talk to Gopher and FTP protocols, which happened fairly quickly.

Eventually you would have the problem of having too much content, or too many results. How can we narrow down search results? Can you narrow down the search between different entities that each have a different vocabulary?

We started talking about this shared core vocabulary. Communities could establish their own local vocabularies, but they could map a core set of fields into Dublin Core, too. And that shared “Core” could show up in a search within any specialized field, or in a very general search as well.

We looked closely at each core field. We wanted to make our schema much more generic, so we dumped “Author,” in favor of “Creator.” We spent hours finding the word “creator.” It ended up being a good word that can be relevant for artworks, it can be relevant for architectural works, it can be relevant for photographs that are not artistic. It works in a lot of different realms.

We also ended up exploding the idea of date.

For a normal document, there is just a single date. It’s the copyright date, usually. When you start getting to these other types of material, film, for example, you have the first release date in its native language, the release date in the U.S., you have the date it was actually shot, and finished, or edited; there’s all these other dates. So we did a lot of work with date.

/ / / / /

My conversation with Howard continued. Since it was too much for just one blog post, I will post more in a follow up post. Stay tuned for the origins of Artstor, the New Art Trust, and why MCNers are a special kind of people.

It was so fascinating to learn about the origins of the schemas we use across the field today, and talk to one of the people who was there.

Were you also there at a musetech birth? Tell us about it!



#MCN50 Voices: Jessica Warchall

Post by Rachel Allen. Rachel Allen was the MCN President from 1992-3 and served on the board from 1991-96. She is the Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

In this interview, Rachel Allen, Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and former MCN Board President, profiles digital strategy consultant Jessica Warchall.

IJessica Warchall headshot had the pleasure of chatting with Jessica Warchall, who is a digital strategy consultant.  We formed an instant bond when Jessica told me she is temporarily living in North Carolina. It turns out that she is now in Durham, home of my alma mater Duke University, where her husband is pursuing a career in sports medicine. And, since it was almost March Madness when we first connected, we chatted about Duke basketball. Although her husband was working courtside, sadly, Jessica couldn’t get coveted tickets for me to watch the Blue Devils play and she only snagged them once for herself!

Jessica bills herself as a storyteller.  She loves to tell stories and she has a perfect background to match that goal. She got her BS and MS degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and after working in publishing as an editor, she went back for an art history degree. She’s worked at both the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  Museums, she thinks, are a perfect place for a digital strategist, broadly described, with skills that apply to web and app development, social media, publishing, and communications.

I couldn’t resist getting some insider tips on what makes a good story. First and foremost, Jessica advises that you need to know your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Is it kids or college students? Define your audience early on, target a particular group, and don’t try to be all things to all people. The media you use also impacts the kind of story you can tell. If it’s social media, you have to engage your audience immediately. With websites, blogs, and other long form media, you have more time to develop your story.

Jessica connected with MCN in 2014, her first year at the Warhol Museum, when she joined a panel on social media in museums. That panel, which looked at social media trends that were prevalent at the time, spawned several break-out groups where Jessica had time with museum colleagues from around the US. We agreed that one of the best things about MCN is the opportunity to network and meet new friends.

I asked Jessica what advice she would offer to those wanting to enter the museum field. She says she tells them about her own background and advises “to be open to opportunity.” When she started her career in journalism, Jessica wasn’t necessarily thinking of working in a museum or in digital communications, yet she’s found that museums offer rich opportunities and freedom to experiment across different platforms. “So, keep an open mind and don’t pigeonhole yourself into a narrow career field,” she cautions.

I returned one last time to the storytelling angle to ask if Jessica harbored any secret ambitions to write a novel. She laughingly said if she told then it wouldn’t be a secret. (I think that means yes!) So, I told her about two of my favorite Southern novelists from Duke University – Reynolds Price (A Long and Happy Life) and his student Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist). Here’s to good stories and to good storytellers!


#MCN2016 Sessions: Partnering with Content Distributors to Reach New Audiences

Google Arts Culture screenshot

Partnering with Content Distributors to Reach New Audiences

Friday, November 4, 2016
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Speaker : Courtney O’Callaghan, Chief Digital Officer, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Speaker : Lucy Schwartz, Program Manager, Google UK Limited

Do outside content distributors help museums and cultural institutions reach audiences outside of their usual fields? What are the pros and cons of working with a global platform? Join us for an interactive discussion about partnering with content distributors. The conversation will explore the value GCI brings to both a large institution like the Smithsonian and a more traditional art museum like the Freer|Sackler. Discussion will include the use case of  “Honor Nepal,” where the Freer|Sackler teamed up with GCI and 9 other museums to Honor Nepal on the anniversary of the devastating earthquakes that struck the country.




Double #MCN50 BASH!

On May 18th, you can celebrate #MCN50 in Denver AND Minneapolis!


#MCN50 Denver – Thursday, May 18 at 6 PM – 8 PM MDT

Clyfford Still Museum
1250 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado 80204
Get in touch with Sarah Wambold for details


#MCN50 Minneapolis-St. Paul, Thursday May 18th from 5pm 

Head over to Minneapolis Institute of Art at 5pm as the museum kicks off it’s Third Thursday evening. Experience the awesome Guillermo del Toro Exhibition and look out for the winners of the 3M Art and Technology Award, who will be testing their innovative Divining Rods project on the third floor. Work up a thirst and appetite, then stroll over to Icehouse at 630pm to mingle with great colleagues and enjoy food and refreshments.

Questions? Get in touch with Douglas Hegley and spread the word!


#MCN50 Voices: Rachel Allen

Post by Jessica Warchall, a digital communications consultant

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

In this interview, Jessica Warchall profiles Rachel Allen, Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and former MCN Board President.
Rachel Allen is an MCN veteran: past president from 1992–93 and board member from 1991–96. She attended her first conference in the 1980s, learning about information management and nomenclature. She says those concepts inform the conversations we have at MCN today, like approaches to metadata. Rachel has spent her four decade career within the Smithsonian Institution, and she is now deputy director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She shared her thoughts about the evolution of museum work and her advice for its future.
People wrote letters.
Rachel has seen the trajectory of digital technology in museums. When she first started working in museums, they didn’t have computers and they didn’t call the field digital. Data entry was done on OCR typewriters, and the Smithsonian received its first Wang compRachel Allen headshotuter system—three terminals staff signed up to share—in 1982.
I asked her what has been the best change that came from introducing technology into museums. Her response was that the best is also the worst: the ways in which we can now communicate so easily. When she started, people wrote letters to the museum, and you had at least two weeks to respond. Then came fax machines, and you had less time to respond, and now people expect an immediate answer. While this improves communication, it’s a lot of pressure. As someone working in digital communications, managing aspects of social media, web content, media relations, and e-communications, I too see the expected immediacy of a response as both a hindrance and benefit.
Cultural shifts in museums regarding new technologies—today including accepting the value of new social media platforms to linked open data—have always existed, and Rachel experienced the cultural shifts that happened with the internet’s introduction into day-to-day functions. The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s online presence began in 1996 with an AOL site featuring select images and “Ask Joan of Art.” People could ask questions online about art and a staff member—whose name was Joan!—answered.
Everyone can find a job in museums.
After graduating from Duke University with a degree in art history, Rachel says she stumbled into her first job. She worked on the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s bicentennial inventory of American paintings, one of the nation’s first humanities-based computer projects. This introduced her to database management, and she continued to take on new opportunities within the Smithsonian, including rights and reproductions, heading the research and scholar center, working on an outdoor sculpture inventory project, and roles in the director’s office.
Her diverse experiences within the museum have led to her belief that everyone can find a job in museums: “There are many, many careers in museums for all types of people, from administrative to computers, to creative, to programs, to social events, and so on.” As museum workers, we have a job to do. We must continue to attract a diverse workforce. Rachel notices that in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s intern program, many museum studies students are applying, but we need to find ways to attract the computer science students and educators, students interested in museums beyond curatorial work.
There’s one thing that can’t be dismissed—networking.
When talking about MCN, Rachel took the opportunity to highlight one of her most valued aspects of the community; she says networking is one thing that can’t be dismissed. She is still in contact with colleagues and friends she met at her first conferences, and she says, “In a way, we’ve grown up together.”
If you value MCN and the community it has created, you can thank Rachel, in part. As the last board-appointed president, she came into her presidency when the organization was in a financially tight spot. She and the board worked tirelessly to turn things around, taking on membership activities, including sending out renewal notices by hand. She says, “I find it incredibly pleasing to see MCN be such a vibrant organization today.”


#MCN50 Voices: Dan Dennehy & Charles Zange

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

Charles Zange, Digital Imaging Technician at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and Dan Dennehy, Head of Visual Resources at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, interviewed each other for this post and bonded over their shared enthusiasm for MCN Karaoke. Below are their answers.

Dan Dennehy (left), and Charles Zange.


Did you always want to work in museums?

Dan: I’ve always loved museums, ever since eating lunch next to Tyrannosaurus Rex on a 4th-grade field trip to the AMNH in New York. The idea of working at one didn’t occur to me until I saw a job posting for a photographer at the Walker Art Center. That changed my life completely and I never turned back.

Charles: After college, I actually started in teaching, first as a TA and then as a substitute. I liked teaching, but the classroom style didn’t feel like the right fit. So I turned to the museum field.


If you weren’t in museums what else would you be doing?

Dan: If I wasn’t working in a museum, I would probably be trying to get my work to hang in a museum. I’ve always had creative aspirations, so I appreciate the chance to play a role in supporting the arts. I worked briefly in advertising after college, but the commercial world never offered me the sense of purpose or motivation that I craved in a career.  

Charles: I’d like to continue working in the non-profit sector if possible. Most likely I would try to work with information systems and data management.


What did you study at university?

Dan: I studied Fine Arts at the University of Connecticut. I started as an English major but soon realized that I could tell stories better with pictures. UCONN had a daily student-run newspaper where I worked as a photographer and editor. Between classes and the 3 AM press deadline, I was busy with a camera and darkroom for most of my waking hours.

Charles: History and French at college, Museum Studies in graduate school. I also worked as a stagehand and lighting tech at a theater.


What are three pieces of advice you’d give someone starting out in the field?


1) Develop a diverse set of skills

2) Watch, Learn and Share.

3) Only do it if you really love it


1) Broad skillset to stay flexible

2) Broad network to find opportunities

3) Technology skill, especially in database work and image software like Photoshop


What are the type of skills that have served you well?

Dan: The museum industry is more about collaboration than competition. It is important to develop skills that allow you to work well with other people. It helps to understand and assimilate the shared sense of mission that drives our organizations.

Charles: A course in digitization and digital asset management from graduate school has served me particularly well. Everything having to do with technology and photography have had a lot of impact on my work.


What skills did you learn on the job, or wish you had before starting?

Dan: Most of the real work is actually learned on the job. The skill you need before starting is to be open-minded and ready to see things from multiple perspectives.

Charles: Workplace communication has been the biggest learning curve for me: emails, memos, phone calls, meetings, etc. I wish I had more opportunities to build this skill in internships.


What do you see as the top 3 challenges in the field right now?


  1. Keeping pace with technology
  2. Being open to new ways of doing business
  3. Building a more diverse staff and audience

Charles: Not necessarily in this order: technology training, embracing a diverse audience, and maintaining funding for critical programs


When was the first time you attended MCN and what was your experience like?

Dan: The first time I attended MCN was as a volunteer when the conference came to Minneapolis in 2004. It was at a time when many museum photographers were transitioning from film to digital. MCN became the place for us to come together to share information as it was developing. It became an invaluable resource.

Charles: MCN 2014 in Dallas. It was great, it was my first time heading to a major conference. I liked the feel of the conference too – even at its size, MCN had a familiar feeling. It was easy to meet new people.


Can you share a favorite memory from a past MCN conference?

Dan: One of my favorite memories was doing a fully choreographed rendition of the Temptation’s “My Girl” in a dive bar in Montreal with Marla Misunas and Diana Zorich. We may have to reprise it this year in Pittsburgh.  

Charles: Going to MCN karaoke the first time. I had never been to karaoke before. I (more or less) attempted Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana… I figured that would be less ‘singing’ and more ‘shouting,’ and at least I knew most of the words.


May 22 – Small Museum SIG Twitter Chat


Storify of the Chat is HERE

May 22, 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. EST


Tools for Small Museums

In partnership with Techsoup, join your Small Museum SIG Co-Chairs in a Twitter chat as we share ideas on tools for Small Museums.  Want to hear about what others are doing in terms of solutions for business needs at their institutions?  Have some success (or failure) stories in implementing a solution to a common need to share with others?  Interested in what others are doing with open source software?  You’ll find that a Twitter chat is a great way to spend an hour.

Follow @museumcn on Twitter and join the chat using #MCNsig starting at 8:30 p.m. EST on May 22.

In partnership with

#MCN50 Voices: Rachel Ropeik & Charlotte Sexton





A spin of the wheel, a roll of the dice, a timely conversation. When you spend time deconstructing your working life and reflecting on those pivotal moments that have pushed you forward (or knocked you back), it doesn’t take long to realize that in the game of career ‘Chutes and Ladders,’ we are as likely to be impacted by the serendipitous as we are by a well-crafted ‘5-year plan’, and that people, culture, and values will trump technology any day of the week.

So agreed Rachel S. Ropeik, Manager of Public Engagement, Guggenheim Museum and Charlotte Sexton, an independent Digital Consultant and former Head of Digital Media, National Gallery London when they came together as two relative strangers to contribute to ‘MCN50 Voices’. Their goal: to have a candid conversation that would allow them to delicately unpack and compare their diverse career experiences, and pinpoint and distill those universal elements worthy of sharing.

Welcome to Rachel and Charlotte’s bespoke game of career ‘Chutes and Ladders’. Their personal celebration and shared take on modern working life—all in a handy board game format. A roll of the dice could see you moving up those ladders, taking advantage of hard won insights and experience, or conversely sliding down those chutes of frustration as you butt up against internal culture, stroppy co-workers and energy-sucking challenges.

Good luck folks, as you try your hand at the game. Rachel and Charlotte wish you well!

Career Chutes and Ladders