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Now What?: Project Ideas for Museum Staff Working Remotely

Category: Labor
Graffiti reading "What Now" with a drawing of an uncertain face.
Weeks or months in to working remotely, you might be finding it hard to think of new tasks you can do without access to your physical site. Here are some ideas. Photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

By now, most of us are well into our stints of working from home. But weeks or months in, you might be finding it hard to think of new tasks you can do without access to your physical site. Some tasks are better suited to working on from home than others, and some of your coworkers may have more to do than others.

It might be a good time to look at the projects you’ve been putting off. As a former registrar, I know I put off a ton of projects in order to manage higher priorities, like keeping exhibition paperwork up to date or getting objects in and rotated. Those put-off projects were ones I could very easily have done from home, had we the same technology back then that we do today.

Here, my colleagues at the Alliance and I have compiled a list of tasks museum workers from across the field can do while teleworking. Note: these are organized by type of task, not necessarily by who should do them—some may be opportunities for staff to support work outside of their usual departments.

Collections-related tasks:

  • Transcribe scanned documents and create a process for crowdsourcing so others on staff can help.
  • Add data and metadata to records in the collections database.
  • Update collections online or work to put them online.
  • Ensure consistency in the collections database.
  • Conduct provenance research online.

Exhibitions-related tasks:

  • Work collaboratively with other staff to develop online exhibitions.
  • Collaborate with colleagues (or work alone) to create a virtual tour of the museum.
  • Design new exhibition furniture or mounts in your spare time for that upcoming exhibition.
  • Update loan paperwork and touch base with lenders.
  • Research new exhibition ideas.

Marketing-related tasks:

  • Draft content for social media.
  • Catch up with the institutional archives.
  • Design new marketing collateral.
  • Plan for communicating about reopening.

Development-related tasks:

  • Communicate with granters and discuss how money already distributed can be spent.
  • Make fundraising calls to foster relationships with people.
  • Update the donor files or database for consistency.

Education-related tasks:

  • Develop online curriculum and classes.
  • Create worksheets or other collateral for classes or programs. (Maybe some can be posted online!)

Membership-related tasks:

  • Create virtual happy hours for members or other online events via Zoom or another online platform
  • Draft renewal emails with new language, or develop new ways to renew.
  • Make membership calls to maintain relationships with people (even if just to check in, not to mention maintaining levels of funding etc.—wait for them to bring it up!)

General tasks:

  • Update policies and procedures, especially emergency or disaster plans. Think about what would have helped in the current situation had it been in there. Also, now’s the time to build emergency financial management into your disaster planning (both situational planning and basic needs, such as accounts processing). And think through how things might change going forward.
  • Tackle your strategic planning efforts and think about how they will need to pivot or change in the short and long term.
  • Catch up on professional development opportunities. Watch online webinars, read that great museum book you have been meaning to, read articles (maybe in that stack of Museum magazines you’ve been holding on to for a rainy day), watch online tutorials, or work on digital skills training!
  • Tackle that writing project you’ve been putting off. You know, that exhibition proposal, or those text labels for that upcoming exhibition next fall. What about all that collections cataloging, or those grant proposals you’ve been meaning to write?
  • Take this time to virtually tour other museums and get some ideas or thoughts for your own museum.
  • Lean into those deep philosophical/ethical conversations you want to have at work but couldn’t because you didn’t have time. Now is the time to reimagine what work looks like in the future!
  • Clean up the shared drive. Or attack overall database and file management.
  • Work on crafting or refining boilerplate language.
  • Check out Wikipedia pages related to your museum or collection and update them if they are inaccurate.
  • Review the museum’s website and update pages as needed.
  • Write a post for the Alliance blog 😉

Do you have any other tasks you could add to this list? (I’m sure you do!) Enter them in the comments below!

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