geek speak with Lori Phillips

Hey! It’s time for the next round of geek speak – this time with Lori Phillips. Since geek speak is about journeys into museum tech, I am going to be featuring people at various stages of their careers – and I thought it might be nice to hear from someone who, like me, is just finding her feet in this field.

Lori got in touch with me via museumgeek a couple of months ago, and she and I have been in regular contact since then. She is doing some cool things with the GLAM-Wiki movement (something that I know has a lot of museum people interested), and has just joined the team at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Her story paints what is becoming a familiar picture to me when I talk to people in the sector – of joining seemingly disparate interests (ie museums and wikipedia) and producing something new.


Lori and Liam Wyatt in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ collection storage during a Wikipedia Backstage Pass event.

geek speak with Lori Phillips

As a graduate student I’ve had many opportunities to hear museum professionals share about their (often wayward) paths to the museum field, and I too always find them fascinating.  I still very much consider myself an “emerging museum professional,” so I hadn’t thought much about my own path to museums until Suse suggested I be her next Geek Speak guest. I’m honored!

I came into the museum world via social studies education.  I received my BA in History from George Mason University, which is also the home of the Center for History and New Media (the conveners of THATcamp, among a slew of other amazing projects.) Back then, I had my sights set on changing the world through the middle school history classroom, but I was always interested in digital history and social media and how these paradigm shifts in information-sharing would affect future historians.

While obtaining my Masters in Education, I realized that I was the only future-teacher in my class that cared more for the objects and primary sources than I did for creating ideal citizens. At the time I didn’t see this as a problem, but now I’m even more confident that museums are more suited to my interests than the classroom. Around this time I also had an opportunity to work with curators and museum educators at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, where I found myself in awe of the behind-the-scenes world of museums. It wasn’t until my husband and I relocated from Washington DC to Indianapolis that I had an opportunity to reassess my career path and consider museums rather than the classroom.

Enter the IUPUI Museum Studies program and the incredibly vibrant Indianapolis museum community. When I started out in the program, my husband was pretty wary of this hazy path I was starting down. “But what will you do in museums?” I didn’t actually know. I started out being open minded about both Museum Education and Collections. I later discovered that collections was the place for me, especially because of my obsessively organized nature. I took this newfound knowledge and applied it to two internships:  as collections manager for an exhibit at a small historic house, and a year later, through environmental monitoring at Oldfields, the historic home on the campus of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. So,  history and collections? Check.

But during that time Wikipedia had also entered my life. I think that surprised me just as much as anybody. Wikipedia? Sure. People use it every day. But is it a viable collections management system? This was the central question in my Collections Care & Management course, which went on to establish WikiProject:Public Art. Through my continued involvement with WikiProject:Public Art, I met Liam Wyatt. Liam happened to be a historian who wrote his thesis on digital history and how Wikipedia (and article revision histories) will serve as a virtual palimpsest for future historians.  So Wikipedia was the answer to a question that had nagged me for years? I was more than intrigued.

In the past two years Liam has built up a community around GLAM-Wiki, an initiative that provides resources for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums to collaborate with Wikipedia in order to share resources. I’ve been lucky to be involved in this cutting edge project, all while Wikipedia continues to inspire my research interests in collections accessibility and digital literacy. I’ve now had the chance to work extensively with The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Wikipedia collaborations, both of which have opened a number of doors that would never have been possible without my involvement in GLAM.  My projects as Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum have allowed me to implement fresh ideas within a medium (Wikipedia) that’s becoming increasingly important for museums all over the world.

My job as Web Content Specialist has brought me full circle. I’m now able to apply Wikipedia as one component within overarching projects that share collections, garner audience participation, inspire digital literacy through museum programs, and disperse information through other social media platforms. In the end, all of my past interests in education, social media, collections, and now museum technology, have come together.

I’m now researching three overlapping topics:  interactive and open source digital collections, E-Volunteering, and further developing museum programs that use Wikipedia as a 21st century research tool. If you’re also interested in any of these topics, please get in touch!  I can be a very good idea sounding board – just ask Suse.

Lori is a museum studies graduate student at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI) and is heavily involved in the GLAM-Wiki initiative, an international group of Wikipedians who provide resources for museums wishing to collaborate with the encyclopedia.  Lori has interned at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world, since August 2010, serving as the world’s second Wikipedian in Residence, following Liam Wyatt’s residency at the British Museum.

In June, Lori became the Children’s Museum’s Web Content Specialist. In this role Lori continues her work integrating Wikipedia into all facets of the museum, while also working with the technology, marketing, and collections departments to plan for interactive, web-based experiences for online and on-site visitors. She’s passionate about increasing access to collections through virtual platforms, and researches the role of Wikipedia as a tool for sharing museum resources while increasing digital literacy through museum programs.