I’ve just completed my first week as an intern at Fort Stanwix National Monument. Week one was packed with information, and I’m just starting to get a sense for what my role will be during my time at the park. Within the cultural resources department, which is the section that manages the museum collections and oversees my internship, it looks like I will have the opportunity to wear many hats. I’m excited about the diverse range of experiences I’ll be gaining over the course of the summer.
Showcasing Objects Online
One of the bigger projects I’ll be working on this summer is tackling social media for Fort Stanwix. The park already has a presence on Facebook and Instagram. However, cultural resources staff don’t always have as much time as they would like to craft social media posts. One of my jobs will be to develop ideas for two series that Fort Stanwix staff would like to share more consistently: Museum Mondays and Featured Artifacts.
The department I’m working with is responsible for the park’s museum and archaeological collections. It might seem strange that they are also concerned with social media. It’s true that there are other, more public-facing roles in the park that oversee digital accounts. However, the cultural resources department has an interest in content that shows off the park’s amazing collections. As museum professionals, they are always looking for ways to help the collection serve the public. This generally means increasing public access and visibility. Social media is a great opportunity for open access: there’s no limit to how many people can view a post, and the audience can be anywhere in the world.
Social Media: Harder Than it Looks
While I definitely appreciate the importance of a social media presence, I’m also beginning to understand why it is so hard to keep up with this kind of content. I know this project will be a real growth opportunity for me. For each post, I’ll need to dream up a compelling idea or theme. I’ll then need to comb through the park’s catalog to find objects that might be worth showcasing.
The park’s catalog records don’t normally contain photographs. It will likely be hard to say for sure which objects will be suitable for posts until I can actually see and handle them. I will need to think of a range of options and narrow them down during my search. I’ll also be the one photographing the objects in most cases. Photography isn’t a strong suit of mine, so I’ll need to learn the ins and outs of the park’s DSLR and makeshift studio space.
Beyond the logistics of crafting each post, I will also need to learn how to appeal to the park’s online audience. Is there such as thing as too much history? How do you balance the differing contexts of Facebook versus Instagram? How does the park tell stories about our collection that resonate with the public? I know that conversations I’ve had in the iSchool will help me navigate these questions about our audience.
Building a Skillset for the Future
One of the great things about learning to navigate social media for a museum collection is that the skills I will develop will transfer to many other contexts. In fact, I know that I will be able to apply my experience right away. As the incoming Communications Chair for the Library and Information Science Student Assembly (LISSA), I will be planning social media strategy for our group for the 2017-2018 school year.
A single post on social media might seem like a small thing. After all, it’s just a photo and a few sentences! The reality is that for museum-based collections, each seemingly spontaneous entry is the result of hours of careful planning, research, and work. The results are unquestionably worth it. I am looking forward to tackling this challenge!