Meet a Museum Blogger

Meet a Museum Blogger: Lori Byrd Phillips

Lori Byrd Phillips is the Digital Marketing Content Coordinator and the former Wikipedian in Residence at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Lori is a leader within the GLAM-Wiki initiative, an international group of volunteer Wikipedians who help cultural institutions (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) broadly share resources through collaborative projects with Wikipedia. Her research centers on the concept of Open Authority, a term she developed to describe the integration of open, collaborative digital communities with museum dialogue and interpretation.

LoriDo you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.

I’m very lucky to work in the largest children’s museum in the world—The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Day to day, I coordinate content across the museum’s blog and numerous social media platforms. This means working with experts in and outside of the museum on content ranging from dinosaurs and ancient China to astronauts and pop culture superheroes. I also manage annual digital engagement projects, where I work with a cross-departmental team to implement creative online campaigns that connect with participatory on-site experiences.

What’s your educational background?

I earned my BA in History from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and I’m one semester short of a Masters in Education. Before I finished that program I relocated to Indianapolis, which gave me the opportunity to reassess my original plan to become a social studies teacher. I decided to pursue Museum Studies, instead. I now hold a Masters in Museum Studies from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and I find myself using my background in education all the time. Win-win!

What was your ‘sticky’ moment?

My museum sticky moment was pure serendipity.  When I was pursuing a career as a social studies teacher, I had the opportunity to work with a team of educators at the Heinz History Center on a multi-year NEH-funded curriculum develop project. During a conference cocktail party at the museum, curator Scott Stephenson invited my mentor and I to join him and author Fred Anderson on a trip to collections storage. (Totally right place, right time.) We soon found ourselves alone with the Fort Necessity surrender document, which was signed by George Washington on a rainy night, leading to the French and Indian War. I was in awe in that moment, as little bits of nuance were being pointed out to us by two of the leading experts in French and Indian War history, and I remember thinking, “If I were to ever not be a teacher, I would work with objects like this.” A few years later, I made the switch to museums—and never looked back!

What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?

I’ve been blogging about various topics since 2004, but began seriously blogging about museums in 2010. I began blogging for the New Media Consortium in 2011, first on the MIDEA Museum Technology blog, and now on as a contributing editor. I’ve also had opportunities to guest blog for the Wikimedia Foundation, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Center for the Future of Museums.

What do you blog about? Why?

On the New Media Consortium’s blog I write about my ongoing research in Open Authority, as well as Wikipedia’s role in museums, crowdsourcing, and digital engagement in museums. The New Media Consortium’s focus is on technology in education, with a focus on formal learning in the classroom and additional support for informal learning in museums. I feel strongly that we need to share insights with broad audiences in order to keep us all inspired and thinking big about the opportunities at hand, and NMC does just that. Plus, as a former educator who now focuses on museum tech, the New Media Consortium is the perfect home for me!

When I’m not writing for the New Media Consortium, I’m also the blog manager at The Children’s Museum, where I assist museum staff, guest bloggers, and community bloggers, with sharing their expertise on the museum’s blog. This is such rewarding work for me because I get to help educate families on incredible topics in a relatable tone, while making extraordinary museum experiences accessible for everyone on the web.

What’s your most read blog post? Tell us about it.

One of my most read blog posts is “Defining Open Authority” on the New Media Consortium blog. The blog was an important milestone in my research because it was the first time that I clearly laid out the definition of the term “Open Authority.” I wrote the blog in January 2012, when I was still months away from submitting my thesis for consideration in Curator: The Museum Journal.

I’d struggled with the fact that the conversations happening in the museum technology community were happening much more quickly than the formal publishing world could support. I wanted to contribute to the dialogue now, not later, and also wanted my ideas shared on various platforms that involved a variety of perspectives. That is, after all, what open authority is all about! The New Media Consortium has been invaluable in letting me share my ideas while they were fresh and new, continuing the conversation while it was most relevant. Blogs will always be the ideal stopgap that makes up for snail-paced academic publishing models. Blogs are timelier, by far, and they’re becoming just as respected as that hardcopy journal your CEO is reading.

Do you tweet? Why or why not?

You could call me a Twitter advocate! Find me @LoriLeeByrd. And if my personal account is looking temporarily neglected, it’s because I’m also tweeting @TCMIndy nearly 24 hours a day. You can say “Hi” there, too!

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without Twitter. Back in 2010, it was the reason that I met my dear friend, Liam Wyatt, who was just then building a fledgling community of Wikipedians looking to connect with museums (now globally known as GLAM-Wiki). My friendship with Liam led to my role as Wikipedian in Residence at the world’s biggest and best children’s museum, and every other opportunity that followed. (Not to mention meeting my fiancé and fellow Wikipedian in Residence, Dominic.)

Twitter has also connected me with a thriving community of museum technologists who support me, make me laugh, and challenge me to keep thinking big—and to think EVEN bigger. It’s also the reason I’ll have a chapter published in a forthcoming book, edited by a colleague who I greatly admire, Mia Ridge. If you’re not on Twitter yet, you should be. The opportunities are endless. (Plus, it’s always a thrill to end up tweeting with a celebrity…or is that just me?)

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for museums today?

Today, the biggest opportunity for museums is to work together, rather than be in competition. This is happening in fits and starts, but it needs to become the norm. I feel passionately about this with museum social media, so much so that I co-created the International Museum Social Media Managers Facebook group, along with Ryan Dodge from the Royal Ontario Museum. I’m inspired by the work of Mar Dixon of Culture Themes, and others who are making strides toward museums collaborating on digital initiatives together to make bigger impact. But we can also do better to share in our successes and our milestones, and communicate the wins of other museums to our own audiences. We need to help each other out! I write more about the genesis of the Facebook group here, and Ryan and I will be presenting on it at this year’s Museum Computer Network conference. Hope to see you there!

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field:

1. Get an internship.

2. Be a sponge.

3. Build your network.

4. Make yourself indispensable.

That’s my suggested four-step plan for any emerging museum professional. Make the most of your experiences during your first job or internship, and don’t underestimate the value of your mentors. Develop those relationships and increase your connections. Use social media to your advantage and blog about your experiences (there’s always room for more museum bloggers!) And finally, find your niche and hone it. Become an expert in that thing that most excites you, and define a unique value proposition that will set you apart from the crowd and make you a must-hire (or a must-keep) for your dream museum.

What’s the last thing you bought at a museum gift shop?

One of the last things I purchased at a museum gift shop is a scarf from the British Museum, which is now framed and hanging on my living room wall. My work with Wikipedia has led to a fair amount of international travel, which I’ve been incredibly grateful to have! I want to remember each of these trips, so I’m always on the hunt for a budget-friendly museum souvenir. My trick—vintage post cards and scarves. They’re light enough for the trip home, and can then be framed upon arrival. Voilà! New art!

Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Lori!

In case you missed it, Lori blogs at as a contributing editor, you can also find her work on the Wikimedia Foundation, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Center for the Future of Museums blogs.

Do you have additional questions for Lori regarding her profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below or reach out to her directly on Twitter at @LoriLeeByrdPlease use the #MuseumBlogger hashtag. TY!

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