#Museumhour: Interview with founders Sophie Ballinger and Tehmina Goskar
Like chatting to museum-folk and spending time on Twitter? Then I'd recommend #MuseumHour. It's a weekly, themed twitter chat for museum professionals,every Monday from 8pm – 9pm. Set up by Sophie Ballinger and Tehmina Goskar, it’s a chance to talk about some of the issues we’re all facing.
The pair very kindly took time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions.
Can you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Soph: Hi, I’m Sophie Ballinger. I’m Web & Media Manager at Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in Yorkshire. I worked in universities for almost a decade and moved into the not-for-profit sector in 2008 before joining the Eureka! team in 2011. I’m a bit of a web geek, proud mum to a toddler, and really passionate about my job, and particularly how we can use social media to reach as broad an audience as possible.
Tehm: I'm Tehmina Goskar and I am the Exhibitions Registrar at National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth. Before this I ran my own heritage practice advising and running projects for various museums, libraries, archives and other collections institutions, and have worked across the heritage sector for over 15 years. I took a break a few years ago to do a PhD and still dabble in research and publication. My passion is material culture and how people make and use objects in their everyday lives. I am also the Museums Association Representative for the South West.
How did you come up with the idea for #MuseumHour?
Soph: Back in May 2014, I was looking into the various themed hours on Twitter to see if there were any that it would be useful for Eureka! to get involved in, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t come across an hour dedicated to museums. Searching for use of the hashtag #museumhour I couldn’t find a thing, so posted a solitary tweet asking “Is there a #museumhour? If not, why not? Everything else has it's own hour :/” which was duly ignored by the Twitterverse. Fast forward to October 2014 and my tweet received a response from Tehmina, we started talking and eventually we decided to start our own.
The first #museumhour took place on Monday 6 October 2014, and has taken place every Monday since ( barring a week off for Christmas). Tehmina and I have been busily mastering our multi-tasking skills, with me sometimes taking part and retweeting contributions using my phone, whilst nursing a poorly or bad-tempered toddler.
Initially we asked a few quick questions and kept topics very loose, but it soon became apparent that a weekly theme really aided discussion and sharing practice. To-date (23 weeks later), we’ve discussed everything from catering and museum buildings, through to inclusion, education and marketing, and we’ve still got lots more scheduled for discussion.
Tehm: What Soph said! When I became a Rep for the Museums Association there was a lot of emphasis on us communicating with the museum world through social media and online. I had already been a social media hack for some years and had seen museum-themed campaigns come and go. Back in October 2014 I wondered if there was a #museumhour similar to place and interest-group based hours. I had seen how useful #CornwallHour had been for independent traders and professionals so searched for #museumhour, found Soph's lonely tweet and we hooked up via Twitter soon after.
What has been your favourite discussion so far?
Soph: Given my background, you’d think I’d say our discussions about marketing or museums using digital media, but my honest answer would be #museumhour on 1 December, when we talked about museum volunteers. It was a lovely opportunity to really shout about some of the amazing people that we work with, and there were some genuinely lovely tweets from across the globe.
Tehm: I have enjoyed pretty much all the discussions. If I am being biased our recent #Maritime theme was really thrilling. Maritime museums have a reputation for being staid and a little old-fashioned--almost anoraky--but it was clear from that evening that maritime heritage was close to many people's hearts. Similarly the #NatHist #museumhour went down a storm and was huge fun--we had dancing Mexican fleas and everything.
I too thought the #volunteers discussion to be stimulating. Working for an independent museum with a small staff and large army volunteers I understand first-hand how critical they are to the success of a museum. But probably the most thought-provoking for me, and memorable, was the discussion on #disability. So many museums do so much to be accessible to all, not just physically, but intellectually too, and it was quite an inspiration to hear such amazing stories.
What do you think are some of the big trends in the museum sector at the moment?
Soph: I’m enjoying seeing how museums are responding to the opportunities opened up by the web and social media, and exploring how we can incorporate technology and digital resources.
Tehm: #MuseumCuts is still a subject that is ever-present and is having a massive impact on changing the shape of the museum world, not just in the UK but around the world. Eyes are on entrepreneurial museums, particularly in the independent sector, who have had to get creative to keep their doors open. Resilience is another trendy topic at the moment, and one talked about a lot by stakeholders and policymakers, especially funders. I'm not really sure people get what that means. I certainly struggle with it as an abstract concept.
Co-creation and co-curation on which we had an excellent #museumhour hosted by Amy Cotterill, Museum Development Officer for Essex and a fellow regional MA Rep, is a phenomenon that has always existed in museums but has perhaps only recently been understood as such.
Lastly, what’s next?
Soph: Well, with #museumhour discussions now regularly hitting more than 1m timelines per week, we’re welcoming more guest hosts and seeing new contributors from outside the UK. We’ve got regular contributors from Australia who get up especially early to take part so, for me, it would be great to make some more connections internationally. Maybe it’s time to start talking about a #museumhour tweet-up at some stage – I haven’t even met Tehmina in person yet! If anyone is willing and able to pay for Tehmina and I to go on a tour of #museumhour contributor museums, just get in touch ;-)
Tehm: I too have a lot of admiration and take a lot of pleasure in seeing museums from time zones across the world, from Vancouver to Hobart, take part in #museumhour. It would be great to meet some of them, and of course, meet Soph in person! It's been amazing to click so quickly with so many like-minded people--but also have disagreement and dissent in the midst. It's important for individuals working in museums to have their own voice especially as so many are limited in expressing their ideas by their organisations.
I'd like to see #museumhour be the place people can freely hook up, share ideas and speak their minds. It's about talking, not broadcasting. How long we can sustain it, over and above our day jobs and other commitments, remains to be seen so the hunt for more guest hosts is on!