Lessons From The State House Tours Desk
Next week I will start an exciting new job as an Audio Visual Technician at Encore Global. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to advance my multimedia skills while helping my new team produce amazing events for our clients. However, every new beginning requires an ending, as I am leaving my position as a State House Tour Guide that I held for the past nine years. I will miss my fellow tour guides, but I will take with me lessons in customer service and public speaking to my new position and beyond.
The most important of these lessons is to be flexible in changing situations. Since the Massachusetts State House is a public building, you can never predict who will come in for a tour on any given day. Scheduled tours could be much larger or smaller than predicted, legislators could schedule day-of tours for their constituents, and rooms like the House and Senate chambers could be closed for events to name a few examples. I’d also sometimes have to make quick adjustments during my tours, such as stopping early so my group could meet with their legislators, avoiding rooms that were occupied for events, and using the elevator and wheelchair lift to accommodate visitors with strollers or mobility issues. I quickly learned that our daily schedule was not set in stone, as tours could be canceled, adjusted, or added at any time. The COVID-19 pandemic made this even more clear, as I needed to work from home for the initial months of the State House’s closure and switch to creating digital educational content for the State House website.
Another lesson I learned was to calmly handle rude and difficult patrons. We would sometimes get visitors who had come to complain to their legislators about an issue, visitors with mental health issues, and irate callers who were trying to reach other State House officials. Although I hated getting yelled at, I handled difficult visitors and callers as calmly and professionally as I could. If I had difficulties with them, or felt unsafe, I would discuss the issue with my Manager, and we would determine if the case needed to be escalated to the Rangers office. I also was patient and empathetic with visitors and callers who needed to access essential services like unemployment benefits and were frustrated that I couldn’t help them. For those cases I made sure I gave the visitor or caller accurate contact information to the department they needed to reach, and made clear that my job was to help them find accurate information to resolve their issue.
Finally, I learned about the importance of careful listening in the workplace. Although I soon picked up on common questions, such as “where’s the bathroom?” and “why is Massachusetts called a Commonwealth?” I sometimes got vague questions from visitors who had heard an offhand story about state history or the State House building, or based their inquiry off of inaccurate assumptions about how state government works. I needed to carefully listen to these questions and ask the visitor more questions if I was confused in order to interpret what they were asking about and give a good answer. I also found that solid communication was essential for giving visitors clear instructions about tour policies, logistics, and directions around the building and to nearby tourist sites in Boston.
I know that these skills will serve me well at my new position with Encore Global, as effective communication, handling frustrated clients, and adjusting to changing plans are needed to organize and pull off successful events. I look forward to seeing where this new opportunity will take me in my future career.
While perusing job listings on museumsavy.com, I was introduced to a website called FutureLearn, which offered degrees, microcredentials, and individual courses in fields ranging from computer science to literature. Intrigued, I signed up for a yearly subscription, hoping I could learn extra skills that would help market me better in my job search.
I am currently taking courses in Object Based Python Programming, Interview Skills, and Creating Digital Video for Online Courses. Each course takes the form of various asynchronous videos, articles, and activities that take between two and three weeks to complete, with links to outside resources that can provide additional information. The courses are easy to navigate, with sequential links leading to the next segment of a course, and information provided in easy to understand videos and paragraphs. The videos were also closed captioned, which is good for accessibility and helped me complete lessons during slow times at work without disturbing others. The biggest weakness of the courses was a lack of feedback from teachers and interactions with students. There are chat boxes at the bottom of each lesson page, but they only provide limited interactivity with other students, and there is no clear way to ask for help from the instructors if you run into a problem. I would recommend that FutureLearn add an option to contact the instructors to ask questions or raise concerns with the class, as well as a video chat feature where students can meet each other and the instructor or TA to debrief on the week’s classes and how everyone’s experiences have been so far. Overall, I think FutureLearn is a solid platform for building career skills, but it can be improved to enhance learning by building community and becoming more user friendly.
Takeaways from AAM 2022
I attended the conference for the first time this year as it was in my hometown of Boston, and I was eager (desperate?) to gain contacts in the museum industry. At the time I was coming to the end of a temporary position at the Museum of Science, Boston as an Online Programs Tech Assistant. I enjoyed the job, as it incorporated my three passions of digital media, video production, and museum education into one, but only for a 6 month period. As openings for similar positions that were not exclusively in digital marketing were rare, I figured some networking at a professional conference couldn’t hurt.
I had to work on Thursday, but I joined a group from the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries for an art gallery walk at the SoWa Design District and dinner that evening. It was my first time at the District, and I enjoyed viewing the unique art and socializing over drinks with the group. Plus, I got to vent about annoying visitors at work with professionals who knew what I was going through, and were happy to share their own stories.
I arrived early to the BCEC on Friday for my first day of the conference, and after getting my badge, I went straight to the First Time Attendees Breakfast. We were served eggs, bacon, and coffee while a local organizer dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland gave advice on how to make the most out of our experiences. He also tried to connect attending the Annual Meeting to Alice falling into Wonderland in a strained metaphor, which did not seem to land well in the packed full conference room. For my first impression of the con, it came across as odd and didn’t inspire much confidence.
The rest of the day was taken up by workshops, keynotes, and exploring the well-stocked dealers hall. I got to meet a lot of staff from companies working with digital media, while practicing my elevator pitch and enjoying free coffee from the Electrosonic booth. I also ran out of business cards within two hours. (Mental Note: bring extra cards tomorrow.) After a brief dinner at the evening social hour (featuring large platters of comfort food) I left early to get enough sleep for the next day.
Saturday started with me meeting Genevieve Cleary and her colleague from The Hum for coffee at the Omni Hotel. Ms. Cleary had sent me an email asking to meet and discuss her immersive sound exhibit that had just debuted at SXSW the previous week. Although I was initially skeptical, I was drawn in by her plans for the exhibit, and we discussed how it could be used in an exhibit about the science of sound in the future. I had to clarify that I was not in a position to make exhibition and programming decisions for the Museum of Science, and I was unsure if I was the right person to pass the information along. I had to repeat this point many times over the course of the conference, as most vendors would launch their sales spiel as soon as I approached their booths, when all I wanted was to express my interest in possibly working for their company. I still have emails in my inbox from company reps asking me to set up sales meetings for the Museum, which is flattering and embarrassing at the same time. That evening we were bussed to the Museum of Science for an evening party, featuring a DJ, drinks, and a limited selection of cafeteria food. After talking to some attendees, I found that the AAM Meeting parties used to be fancier, but the pandemic and related budget issues at the Museum had limited the offerings available.
Sunday was the last day of the conference, and I attended an interesting presentation about promoting diversity and including the voices of POC in museums and cultural centers. However, a post on the Instagram page “Change The Museum” that I saw after the conference informed me that almost all of the diversity focused panels were presented on the last day, with some directly conflicting with each other. While the conference was organized around the keynotes so that the same themes were presented in specific time blocks, it does not look good for AAM to save the inclusion and diversity slots for last. I believe that confronting racism and bigotry in museums while promoting inclusion is one of the biggest issues museums are confronting today, and so they should be front and center instead of an afterthought. The dealer’s hall closed earlier than I expected that day, and I had to rush back to buy a candle I wanted from 54 Degrees Celsius in the Museum Gift Store side of the hall. The Museum Store Association was holding their conference in the BCEC at the same time as the AAM Meeting, and I got to see a large variety of merchandise on display, from candy to decorative ponchos. By midday the conference was over, and I left with many flyers, business cards, and pieces of candy offered by the vendors.
Overall, the 2022 AAM Annual Meeting was fun and informative, but did not offer all the opportunities I was looking for. There was little in the way of information on furthering my career in museum technology, and the busy schedule and large social events made it hard for me to talk to people one on one for more than a few minutes. On the plus side, I got to meet a lot of people in the field, and hopefully, one or more of those contacts will help me out in my future career.
“The AAM Annual Meeting was my first time attending a professional museum conference, and it was a positive experience for me that allowed me to make connections I wouldn’t have otherwise.”