Linda Norris works with museums and thinks, talks, debates, dreams and wonders about their place in the world. She has been lucky enough to work throughout the United States and internationally – from big cities in Ukraine to small towns in upstate New York, and everywhere in between. Every one of those experiences has broadened and shaped her view of what museums and heritage organizations can be. Linda focuses on the connection between communities and museums; and the ways that museums can strengthen that connection through compelling narratives, active conversations, and the development of our own professional practice. She believes that all of us can make a difference in the world we live in.
Feeling inspired by that intro? Let’s dive into her Museum Blogger profile and meet the woman herself!
I work as an independent museum professional focusing on strengthening community connections, creating compelling narratives and improving our own professional practice. Which is a long-winded way of saying I’m a museum generalist who cares about visitors. And although sometimes it’s hard for clients and colleagues to imagine, I do that from a tiny hamlet of 250 people in the western Catskills of upstate New York. Until just a year ago I went to the general store to get our mail every day. You can see more about my work on my website.
What’s your educational background?
I’ve got an MA in Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program and a BA in History from Cornell University, but I consider myself eternally a learner, except for languages, which unfortunately seem to escape me.
What was your ‘sticky’ moment?
I still remember my 5th grade teacher as someone who encouraged all kinds of learning. She let me make dioramas (a Pilgrim kitchen) and every morning she spent ten minutes reading out loud—Tom Sawyer is what I remember. At the end of the time she would snap the book shut and say, “until tomorrow!” That sense of place and that sense of drama are part of what I hope to achieve in museums.
What do you blog about? Why?
I began The Uncataloged Museum in 2007 when I began consulting full time, after spending more than a decade running a museum service organization on a part-time basis. In that job, I really enjoyed the opportunity to think about big issues for the field and I wanted to continue those broad conversations. But at first, I definitely wondered if anyone was reading it. I think I found both my voice and my readers when I went to Ukraine as a Fulbright Scholar in 2009. I was seeing new things, learning about very different museums within a very different system. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years and almost 400 posts since I began—and posts from at least ten different countries! I also blog as one half of The Pickle Project, about food, sustainability, and culture in Ukraine and elsewhere.
I blog about anything that strikes me: projects I’m working on, lessons I’m learning, museums I’ve visited and big issues that concern me. A nice part about being a freelancer is that you have more freedom to say what you want. Despite that, I’ve never regretted a blog post.
What’s your most read blog post? Tell us about it.
My most read blog post is “Are County Historical Societies Dinosaurs?” about whether local history museums have lost their way. I took a pretty hard line that these places need to be different. The post generated a mix of responses—some people commented, “Thanks for finally saying it” and others said, “how can you say that!” And reflecting my generalist nature, other top posts are: “A Layer Cake? A Crown? Thinking about Museum Standards”; “Five Things Any Museum Can Learn from One of the Big Guys” (based on a visit to the Getty Museum); and one on the Museum of the Hunt in Paris from my visit there in November. But one of my most searched terms is “Chernobyl Today,” from a visit there in 2009.
What’s the last exhibit you saw?
Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Not a usual kind of museum for me, but we were there, and the exhibit was really fascinating—mostly because it had a great sense of humor and a 60s’ vibe, including a quote from Jimi Hendrix.
Do you tweet? Why or why not?
Yes—for me a way to source great information and perspectives, share my ideas, ask for assistance, and meet, virtually, amazing colleagues—some of whom I then get to meet in person along the way.
Name the last professional development book you read. Would you recommend it?
At the moment I have a great project just outside the museum field, working with Context Travel on professional development workshops and resources for their scholars who lead walking tours in cities all over the world—and part of that is learning a bit more about the challenges of guiding in great art museums. Three people in a row mentioned Rika Burnham as an amazing gallery teacher and so I’m currently reading her and Elliott Kai-Kee’s book, Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation and Experience. And yes, I’d recommend it—the book is thought provoking and fascinating.
What do you see as the biggest challenge (or opportunity) facing museums today?
Rainey Tisdale and I are in the final stages of writing a book on museums and creative practice and I believe deeply that improving our creative work will help us meet all those big challenges.
Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field:
Be adventurous and go outside your comfort zone!
Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Linda!
I’m looking forward to Linda and Rainey’s book on creative practice and I think it [creative practice] ties nicely with Linda’s piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field, “be adventurous and go outside your comfort zone!” I’m a firm believer that creativity happens when we challenge ourselves. That said, how would you rate your institution’s level of creativity on a scale of 1-10? How would you rate yourself?
Additionally, I couldn’t agree more with what Linda said regarding the biggest challenge facing museums today: “improving our creative work will help us meet all those big challenges.” <— THIS makes me excited. And it makes me think of Albert Einstein’s quote, “creativity is contagious, pass it on.”
In case you missed it, Linda blogs at The Uncataloged Museum. Do you have any additional questions for Linda regarding her profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below or reach out to her directly on Twitter. Her Twitter handle is @lindabnorris. I highly encourage you to use the #MuseumBlogger hashtag. TY!
Are you interested in being profiled or know someone who would be? Send an email to MuseumMinute@gmail.com.