Becca Beck is the Assistant Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She started working at IHS almost ten years ago as a graduate student intern and then ran the Indiana Junior Historical Society for nine years. She is a graduate of the Seminar for Historical Administration, class of 2011. She and her husband are proud parents of two rescued mutts, Lucy Tadd and Scout Lee, who they love unconditionally (even though they continue to nose through the trash on occasion).
Do you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.
I work for the Indiana Historical Society, which has museum-esque parts. We have interactive exhibits, a library, collections, press and public programs. I am the Assistant Director of the Education and Community Engagement department. My focus right now is school outreach but we are in the process of redefining what I do. In the future, I will work more closely with local historical societies throughout the state to connect them with schools and create partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Think, “connecting kids to history in their own backyard.”
What’s your educational background?
I have a BS in history from Illinois State University and an MA in Public History from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
What was your ‘sticky’ moment?
I grew up in the small town of Durand, Illinois, right on the border of Wisconsin. It’s about two and a half hours from Chicago and two hours from Milwaukee, making it difficult to visit museums. As a fourth grader, I went on a field trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum and was blown away. I still remember exploring the rain forest section of their permanent exhibits and not wanting to go home.
What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?
Many Indiana Historical Society staff contribute to the IHS blog so there are a wide array of topics. We recently re-launched our blogging efforts this year so I’ve only been submitting content regularly since January.
What do you blog about? Why?
I blog about outreach and working with students — the things closest to my heart. Outreach can sometimes be a position that lacks visibility due to not being in the office all the time. Having a forum to discuss what we do on the road helps advocate for our vital role in fulfilling the mission of our institution.
What’s the last exhibit you saw?
Two weeks ago I did the audio walking tour of Alcatraz while on a brief vacation to San Francisco. It was so cool. It incorporated oral histories and allowed the people who were there take you on a journey through the building. My husband willingly walked into “the hole” (solitary confinement cell) while I timidly peeked in from the hall. I couldn’t help but stare at the floor of the entrance to the hole; it was worn away more so than other cells. My imagination was running wild, picturing what it would’ve taken to get a prisoner into a space that lacked light and sound. It made me anxious just standing in front of it and is something I’ll never forget.
Do you tweet? Why or why not?
Yes, I love Twitter. I follow other museum and education professionals for ideas, articles, advice, etc. I’ve been using Twitter lately to keep in touch with a project-based learning school we are partnering with. The teachers and administrators use twitter to send information to each other and their student teams. My Twitter handle is @beccabeck317.
If you were forced to spend the rest of your life in a library, a museum or a zoo, which would you choose and why?
Who has two thumbs in a book during her free time? This gal (imagine me pointing at myself. Does the fact I have to explain it mean it’s a bad joke for this format?). Yeah, I’d choose to spend my life in a library. Museums are great but I’m not sure I could fully relax in one since that’s my work environment. And zoos just make me nervous. I love animals but I fear captivity. I know this is irrational and that the animals are perfectly fine and probably better off than in the wild but if it were me, I’d rather be free.
What do you see as the biggest challenge (or opportunity) facing museums today?
Relevance. How do we compete for funding in a world where people’s basic needs are often not met? Changes in the education field, however, may allow history museums to gain some ground. Here in Indiana, we are discussing adopting the Common Core standards at the state level. These standards emphasize reading, writing and analysis across disciplines. We have a plethora of resources in our collection that if packaged right, could give teachers what they need to adapt to these new standards. It requires flexibility on our part, though — like being willing to choose the top five Civil War-related resources for classroom use and focus on those; or taking original letters and shortening them to aid struggling readers in examining primary sources. If we focus on how to better serve educators I think museums can become a necessary part of the process.
Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field.
If there are any college students out there reading this, get an internship in a museum so you can see first-hand what it’s like to work in this environment. We currently have an undergraduate intern working in the education department who came to us, offered to work on a project pro-bono and has impressed all of us with her work. She is planning on going to grad school and will have recommendations in hand from us.
The other thing I feel obligated to mention is the pay. None of us go into this field for the money. Don’t let that discourage you from considering a museum career. We don’t live in a world where people stay at the same company for 40 years anymore. A lot of people switch fields entirely, more than once, in their lifetime. Working in a museum can strengthen many transferable skills, like flexibility, dealing with the public, relationship building, etc. Do what you love until you don’t love it anymore. Then do something else.
Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Becca!
In case you missed it, Becca blogs for the Indiana Historical Society.
Becca brings up two interesting points in her profile; first, being flexible and meeting the needs of the changing education system, not only to continue and strengthen the relationship of one’s institution to the broader community, but also to ensure and make relevant the work of the organization. Serving students and meeting state educational standards? Sounds like a potential funding opportunity to me! What do you think? Does your institutional have a seat at the table of educational change in your state?
Second, Becca points out that museum skills are transferable to other career fields. Say what?! Mind blowing, right?! There is much conversation revolving around the new and improved skills needed to get a museum job – the back-door MBA, side-door Communications degree, etc. For those of us currently in the field it’s probably not a bad thing to remember that our skills are just as marketable to other careers. Definitely food for thought. Thanks for bringing this up, Becca. Museum professionals have a lot to offer. Museum professionals do, indeed, rock!
Do you have any additional questions for Becca regarding her profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below or reach out to her directly on Twitter. Her personal Twitter handle is @beccabeck317. I highly encourage you to use the #MuseumBlogger hashtag. TY!
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