It has been some time since I’ve posted on this blog. This is not a reflection of a waning interest on my part, but more that the pace and volume of work in the museum can make it hard to carve out the time. Days and weeks go past extraordinarily quickly and there always seems to be something that needs my attention more urgently. Finding the mental space to reflect and write is challenging, despite my deep commitment to both these activities. No doubt this dilemma sounds familiar to you if you work in a museum.
But all is not lost. In the time since I last wrote a post, my book – Rethinking Research in the Art Museum – has been published. This book brings together the research I undertook whilst I was away from Tate for ten months on an AHRC Leadership Fellowship. It expands on many of the themes and ideas I have detailed in this blog and examines in depth what is needed to create a nurturing culture for practitioner-led research in the art museum. I am delighted and relieved that it is now out in the world.
The publication of the book has prompted me to think about how research that happens in the museum is shared with the people who would most benefit from reading it. In the case of my research I am very keen that it is read by as many museum professionals as possible, as well as academics. I would be happy if policy makers read it too. This got me wondering if a book is the best vehicle for sharing the findings. On the plus side a book is a familiar format that people associate with serious, scholarly work. Books have longevity, are generally portable and can be lent to others. On the other hand, books are expensive and reading them to completion requires a time commitment that busy practitioners may not have. It was also sobering to hear from a knowledgeable colleague that the average readership for a single authored academic book in the arts and humanities is 34 people.
Perhaps then it would be better to share the research via a series of articles in peer reviewed journals? That way I would benefit from expert colleagues assessing the quality and rigour of the work, which in turn would give the research credibility within the academic community. Open access journals published by museums such as Tate Papers (freely available on the Tate website) or Stedelijk Studies published by the Stedelijk Museum are very viable options. By definition they are easily accessible to practitioners and academics alike and both publish a rich variety of cross-disciplinary museum-focused research. Likewise Museum and Society which is published by the University of Leicester School of Museum Studies.
However, a great many academic journals that publish exactly the type of material that museum professionals want to read are subscription only (and tend to be very expensive). Curator, for example, publishes a huge amount of fascinating research on museums. But unless you are registered with a university or organisation that subscribes it can be difficult for non-academics to access the articles. Plus journal articles take a good deal of time to write, which I know from experience is off-putting for many museum-based practitioner-researchers.
Which brings me to this blog. Throughout the fellowship and beyond I have found writing these posts to be an invaluable way of sharing provisional ideas and findings and documenting significant events. The relative informality of the language, combined with their immediacy and accessibility make blogs and online forums such productive spaces to open up research. Courtney Johnson’s blog, for example, is a mine of useful information, with generous links through to other people’s writings. And although they may not have the academic credibility of a journal article, arguably blogs can make a greater impact, reaching a wider group of readers within and beyond academia.
So even though I will often need to write this blog in the brief spaces between the ‘to do’ list, I will continue to put the ideas out there.