The Quest for Knowledge: Sipping from a Fire Hose

Perspectives ,

Posted By Dana Metheny
Updated: Thursday, July 27, 2017

Part of the sheer joy of being a professional is gathering a collection of knowledge and experiences and putting them to real use to take action towards what you passionately believe in. It is a long process full of ah-ha moments and sparks of opportunity that inspire exciting new ideas and insights. Curiosity, questions, research, conversations and debates, and starting or continuing down a solid path of action are the building blocks of dedication to our museum field. When I walk down the corridors and pathways of a museum or historic site, I'm engulfed in interest that colors my every thought. I value what museums do to my mind. Big or small, the sites I visit inspire and invigorate me on so many levels. To me, museums are enriching, stimulating, and compelling. During my visit, I experience a rush of thoughts and questions that light the world afire for me.

I often observe other people when I visit museums and I wonder why they are there and what they want to get out of their visit. My career in museums has involved me in visitor orientation, experience, and value issues for a long time. I've gained my knowledge and beliefs from some very dedicated museum people but I have so much more to learn. When I step back and observe visitors, I look for people with the same look on their faces as I often have. You know, that look of discovery, wonder, and extended relevancy. When I see people at the end of their visit, on their way out the door, I search for signs of mental hunger to learn more. Sometimes, it shows itself in an armful of books (that's me!), or in non-stop shared discussions about what they learned and what else they want to look up once they get home. I wish I could find out what, exactly, sparked their passion. Of course, I can't rush after them calling out my earnest questions. I can't join in their discussions uninvited. And it concerns me a lot when I see people leave with empty hands or nothing on their faces. Why did that happen? So, when I get home, I turn to the Internet for answers to my questions.

Tapping into the Internet is like trying to sip from a fire hose, of course, and I often get overwhelmed because I can't read everything that looks promising. Evaluating for credibility can slow me down and derail my course. Often, I find that there is a cost for information and I am stopped in my tracks because that cost is prohibitive for an individual, as it is for many museum professionals and even many institutions themselves. Trying to learn is like trying to grab the stream of water from the hose and using it to pull yourself closer to the nozzle! And then, the water turns off and you're left with empty hands and a still hungry, if not sodden, mind.

That's where partnerships with other museum professionals come into play. That's where mentors and influencers can make a difference in the life of other passionate professionals who are, hand over hand, making their way up the stream towards understanding, experience, and insight. Partnerships, groups, and associations, professional and social, are keys to the growth of all of us and for our institutions as well.

Of course, we know this, but we all have daily operations to attend to and a finite number of hours in a day. And yet, to ensure that our professionals grow strong and forward-thinking, we all need to be influencers on whatever level we can. Silence is not an option of any of us. Participating and engaging matters. The museum field is counting on us all.

Let's all remember to lend a hand up to each other and share what we know, what we're learning, and what we are dreaming of for the future of our institutions, both locally and globally. We can do that through conferences, workshops, meetups, discussions and debates, on social media channels, group forums, books and reports, and on our websites, too.

So, I'm curious. What are the best resources you use to tap into professional museum information? What do you do to share your passion and knowledge with your fellow museum lovers?