The BCMA visited Pittsburgh, PA last week for Museum Computer Network‘s 2017 conference. BCMA Programs & Member Services Coordinator, Ben Fast, attended as an MCN Scholar* and presented a lightning talk about the BCMA Webinar program. Here are some takeaways from the Conference:


The MCN Conference was a great opportunity to meet with and learn from staff from some of the leading museums, heritage organizations, and cultural institutions from across the US, Canada, and the world. I was excited to see Telus Science World at MCN 2017 – it was great to have a fellow delegate from BC!

Here are my top five takeaways from MCN 2017:


1. Small Museums Can Do Digital Too

It can seem overwhelming listening to panelists whose institutions’ collective staff would equal the population of a medium BC community. But small museums were not absent from the MCN crowd, and nor were they silent!

One of my fellow MCN Scholars, Emily Johnson from Utah Division of Arts and Museums, presented on her work with that state’s “micro-museums” (<$25,000 annual operating budgets) to create digital collections and data storage initiatives. These museums – often with basement collections and no staff – and the state’s Arts and Museums division have embraced digital while developing innovative funding and collaboration models to preserve near-lost history.

Another valuable session was about DIY Digital Interpretation low/no-budget digital projects in small institutions.  Panellist Adrienne Lalli Hills from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art compiled this handy resource sheet from the ensuing discussion.  Thanks, Adrienne, for sharing it with the BCMA!


2. Reconciliation And Inclusion: Important across the sector

Inclusion and cultural reconciliation, a major focus of MCN 2017, was highlighted in the keynote address, a conversation between Aleia Brown, Adrianne Russell, and Jamil Smith about the intersection of museums, race, equality, and change in cultural organizations.  You can view the full keynote here.

While the discussion centred on the American context, there were applicable lessons to the relationships between BC museums and people of racial, societal, or economic minority groups. I was encouraged to hear comments that related to initiatives in BC museums and the BCMA’s own collaboration and reconciliation work with Indigenous communities.

The message of reconciliation and inclusion and the delegates’ response to it demonstrated the importance of reconciliation and inclusion within all aspects of museum work, including digital.


3. Digital Literacy Is For You (and you, and yes, you too)

An overarching theme throughout MCN 2017 sessions was the need for digital to expand beyond the digital department. Case studies demonstrated how digital impacts all roles within cultural institutions, and how digital literacy is a must-have for museums in our rapidly changing world.

Delegates at MCN 2017 were challenged to review if their institutions are digitally literate: are all staff able to understand digital past a CTRL+C, CTRL+V level and what impact not being digitally literate has on their museum.

How old is your website? How do you manage your collection? How secure is your data? How useful is your social media?

The BCMA offers ongoing regional workshops and webinars aimed at increasing museums’ operational capacity, including digital.


4. It’s Okay To Fail

Operational change on a digital level can be difficult and risky, but throughout the week, presenters discussed how failure is inherent in any major or minor undertaking within a museum, digital or not. Failing can be a learning experience, can lead to better products, and is a valuable tool to share across the sector.

Some tips for making the most of failure included:

  • Start with small projects – they have less overall risk
  • It is okay to walk away from something – don’t force something that isn’t working
  • You are not alone at failing – every institution that makes changes will have experienced failure, so share what you learned and how you turned failures into successes


5. Mentorship Matters

I attended a session about the MCN Mentorship program and was encouraged that much of the new BCMA Mentorship Program echoed the processes and experiences of MCN’s version. Mentorship (formal or informal) is important for the museum community and especially in the constantly-evolving world of museum technology.

The MCN mentorship program is accepting applications through November 19 and runs for nine months. The BCMA mentorship program will re-open applications in early summer 2018.


*Every year, MCN offers scholarships to 15 qualified applicants from the cultural sector to attend the annual conference. These individuals are chosen based on their ability to demonstrate a serious interest in MCN, explain how they will contribute to the MCN community, and their involvement in exciting or innovative #musetech projects.  Scholars are asked to add to the conference experience by capturing important ideas and themes that develop during sessions and events, as well as to present 5-minute talks about a recent digital project they were involved with.  The scholarship provides conference registration, accommodation, a travel bursary, and a one-year MCN membership.  Thank you MCN for the opportunity to be a scholar at the 2017 conference!