Getting to Know the Museum Family

While my third week at the Phillips Collection was mostly focused on researching museum digital strategies, my smaller projects and conversations throughout the week helped me gain a better understanding of the various groups that make up a museum. Sitting in on a Board of Trustees committee meeting helped me see how the museum’s governing body interacts with its staff, giving me a better sense of the role that the board plays in the museum’s overall functions. Working on research in the museum’s library introduced me to the roles of museum librarians, and the differences between museum libraries and typical libraries. This week I also learned about the unique position of Museum Assistant (MA) at the Phillips Collection, and how it ties back to the museum’s founding ideals. Learning about various museum positions on both general and individual levels showed me not only how many different members of the museum family exist, but also how theses members work together to make up one seamless institution.

Last week, the Phillip’s Collection’s Board of Trustees gathered at the museum for their quarterly meeting. The board members had packed schedules, with many attending committee meetings throughout the day leading up to the full board meeting. I had the opportunity to sit in on the Education Committee’s meeting that morning, and was pleasantly surprised by the interactions I witnessed there. As the committee members were brought up to speed on the latest updates and events from the Education Department, they asked questions and offered suggestions on ways to improve the department and its functions. The discussions opened a critical dialogue between board members and staff members as staff explained why some ideas could not function in reality, while others that held promise would be taken into consideration for future projects. Seeing this exchange showed me how board and staff meetings are necessary for the development of practical museum goals, and they also showed me how successful exchanges of ideas can be when both sides are respectful and friendly with one another.

Later on in the week I got to see yet another side of the museum world, that of the museum library. Tasked with researching two new prints that had been gifted to the museum, I was told to use the library for both its textual and online resources. One of the museum’s librarians helped me search for the artist of the prints in various art dictionaries and encyclopedias before turning to the computer for digital resources. Since our search in the library’s print resources proved unsuccessful, the librarian showed me various art databases online that could help extend my search. After a few hours of fruitless online research the librarian and I decided to end our search, deciding that the most information about the prints would come from the donor herself. Despite my lack of findings on the two prints, I knew that I was not leaving the library empty handed that day. Conducting research in the museum’s library with a museum librarian showed me how professional art historical research is conducted, through a mix of print and online sources. The museum’s library serves a more niche research group than a university library like Swem, yet the library’s smaller size does not indicate a lesser amount of knowledge, only a deeper knowledge of a particular subject.

On a more casual trip out to lunch towards the end of the week I learned about another museum position from my supervisor, that of the Museum Assistant (MA). At the Phillips Collection, MAs take on the roles of traditional museum security guards, stationed around the museum to protect the artwork, yet this security force is made up of art and art history professionals who study the artworks which surround them on a daily basis. My supervisor explained to me that this unique position was part Duncan Phillips’ vision for his museum. He did not want to hire an outside security group, but instead fill the galleries with professionals who could offer answers and insights to visitors as they wandered the museum and pondered the artworks around them. I found this background information about the position compelling since it shows how deeply rooted the promotion of art education lies in the Phillips Collection’s mission.

While I learned a lot this week about other positions in the museum field, I still got to make great progress of my own as an intern. As I dove into my research into museum digital strategies this past week, I developed a rough formula to start profiling the digital strategies of various art museums throughout the U.S. Thoroughly searching through each museum’s website, I recorded social media presence, e-newsletter availability, blog and app presence, digital initiatives, and digital partnerships to form an overall review of each museum’s digital strategy. It was interesting to compare the digital strategies of larger and smaller museums, and see the amount of creativity flowing from new digital initiatives. Although the research felt tedious at times, I knew that analyzing a wide pool of strategies would ultimately serve to help the Phillips Collection form its own.

This past week exposed me to several new facets of the museum complex, which I continue to refer to as a family. Since all of the parts of the museum work together in some capacity, even through the work of its interns, the institution stays connected and functions like a well-oiled machine. But the people who make up the museum are anything but mechanical, they are interested in their colleagues’ work and eager to help each other solve problems and develop new ideas. The people who invest their time and talents into museums care for each other as much as they care for the institution itself, which – although it may sound cheesy – makes the museum a family.


  1. Hi! I really enjoyed reading this post. I would love to know- what are some of the similarities and differences in the various museums’ digital strategies? I am very interested in new media and in the ways that museums are changing in order to suit the demands of the 21st century.