As I write this, we’re weeks into social distancing with at least 80% of the US population under a “Stay at Home” order due to the coronavirus. Museums and their staff were caught unprepared when local governments ordered them to close their doors for an undetermined period of time.
(Note: Initially some orders had a deadline of 2-4 weeks, but most closures have been extended or left open). I’ve written previously about the coronavirus’ effect on museums and the subsequent US stimulus bill. This post will focus on tools museum professionals need in place to support remote work.
Remote Access to the Collections
Remote access to the collection includes access to both its digital assets and collection content available in the Collection Management System (CMS). Both DAMS and CMS products can be hosted locally on a museum server and accessible only via a computer, or be cloud-based and accessible with an internet connection and browser. Yes, there are some cases where the museum server may be accessed through a piece of software that works over the internet, but that is more unusual as there are security and IT barriers for staff. If your CMS—the backend where you do all the work—is not accessible via the web, I highly recommend you prioritize changing that. Maybe not right now, but in the near future. Almost all CMS platforms now offer web access with many offering it as the default, so there’s no shortage of options.
Remote Access to Documentation
There are several products that offer online access to shared documents. The following are free or subscription-based platforms commonly used for team work, both for remote or on-site.
- Microsoft 365: The premium plan is $150 annually, though museums may be eligible for education pricing. Microsoft 365 syncs to all devices, stores work in the cloud, and support remote team work.
- G Suite: The business plan is $144 annually and offers collaborative editing, document versioning, and document storage.
- Dropbox Business: Paid plans are $180-$300 dependent upon users. Unlike G Suite and Microsoft 365, Dropbox is not a creative suite. Instead it ingests and make available file types that originate from other programs. Editing within Dropbox is available and team collaboration is supported.
Remote Access to Museum Software
In addition to the DAMS and CMS there is likely other software needed by museum staff. For example, those working with digital assets may need access to Adobe. Adobe Document Cloud is web accessible, Adobe Creative Cloud is not. Identify what software is needed and work with the vendors to figure out if web access is possible. While it’s not ideal, using a remote desktop product will allow museum staff to remote into their museum computer to use the software hosted locally on that computer.
Remote Access to Each Other
Collection access is important, but so is people access. Connection to one another is critical for fostering a sense of community—especially when we consider that many museum staff are used to working in one another’s presence, even while working individually,. During a time of extreme physical isolation, it’s important to facilitate human connection any way we can. Yes, at work too.
- Google Hangouts: A free google account supports meetings up to 10 people (or 25 for G Suite accounts).
- Microsoft Teams: There are free chat and collaboration capabilities. Or, Teams is included with a Business Microsoft 365 account.
- Skype: Is a free video conferencing platform.
- Slack: Is a type messaging platform that can support 1:1 video and audio calls.
- WebEx: Is a free personal account that allows unlimited meetings of any size.
- Zoom: Is a meeting and webinar hosting platform that offers a free personal account for unlimited 1-on-1 meetings with a 40-minute cap on group meetings.
Thankfully, many of our tools are cloud-based, but there is still a need for physical tools. We cannot assume that staff have access to a computer or internet. If you are a manager, it’s your job to make sure your team is provided with the tools they need. Allow staff to take computers home, and troubleshoot how the museum may be able to provide them with internet or help supplement the cost.
When this is all over we’re going to be pros at remote work. Until then, make sure you have all the tools you need to do your job well. And don’t forget the (virtual) human connection piece. Be well.
Rachael Cristine Woody
Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, grant writing and the future of museums for a wide variety of clients. Read Ms. Woody’s other blog posts and check out Lucidea’s unrivaled CMS, Argus, that empowers museum workers and virtual visitors to say connected, no matter what.
Tips from a museum expert and consultant to help museum workers—and the broader museum community—survive the uncertainty of the next pandemic year.
Museums that prioritize accessibility, are ethical in job creation, and have the resources to pursue exciting digital projects will thrive in 2022
A review of how museum closures, collections deaccessioning, and digital collections actually evolved compared to Rachael Woody’s 2021 Museum Forecast
Museum professionals can take a number of actions to prepare for funding opportunities; here is a game plan from a museum expert and consultant