When sessions go bad

May 25, 2010

So far I have had pretty good luck with picking useful sessions to attend at the conference. This can be tricky. It’s really easy to write a title that will get people interested in the session you are chairing. It’s really hard to find three other people who can talk to that issue and give actionable advice in a general enough way to be helpful to the audience. When it’s done well it’s a thing of beauty. When it isn’t done well, it really feels like you wasted your time on a session. This is especially bad when you chose one over another and are now kicking yourself for your decision. This is why a lot of people hang out in the back and get the vibe first so they can leave if it looks lame. I generally just wait it out hoping the next person is better.

This happened recently with a session about colloboration in storage spaces. A good topic, but most of the speakers talked about their own specific problem without tying it to a more general framework or standard. One person talked for twenty minutes and showed a video about their museum before actually getting to the topic at hand. Yes, your museum is nice, now about the storage…..

There was some useful information in the session though. Like statistics on how bad a job culutral institutions are doing when it come to housing their collections in proper storage conditions. Something like 70% of museums do not have the majority of their collections in proper storage conditions. This is bad, but not surprising. The costs associated with storing artifacts are intimidating. Particularly when you marry Victorian and Encyclopedic collectig practices with modern methods and standards of museology. There often needs to be a compromise.

One interesting tidbit was about tapestries in castles and how they tended to hold up better hanging on the wall for centuries before falling apart when they entered the museum. This had to do with the way the castle was constructed and something called “building mass”. That is, very little light gets into the castle and the walls absorb moisture. Modern construction doesn’t take this into account as much. Who needs that when you have enviromental controls and electricity? Well those things cost money to run and maintain and may end up failing or needing to be shut off. Then where do stand in terms of the conditions in the building? People are even starting to turn castles into storage facilities because of the cheaper maintenance costs and fail safe enviromental control.

So not every session is going to rock your world. But usually there is at least something you can take away from a session. Even if that means placing your finger on why it wasn’t particulalry effective.