geek speak with Erika Taylor

This month’s culturegeek is museumgeek’s first curator and first Australian. Erika Taylor is the Curator of Science, Technology and Industry at the Powerhouse Museum, and she is one of a whole collection (boom tish) of passionate museum tech people who work at the institution. Before I met Erika, I kept seeing her name pop up on Twitter – and always in interesting conversations – so I thought I would try to find out just how a science curator ended up so interested in the digital world. As always in geek speak, I’ve asked Erika to write a post responding to the question “How on earth did you end up here?” Enjoy her story.

Erika Taylor - Curator of Science, Technology and Industry at the PHM - being awesome.

First and foremost I guess I am a science nerd. I grew up wanting to know how stuff works, I went to uni and found out how much I could drink stuff works, and I discovered a love of teaching other people about how stuff works (except magnets).

After I finished my science degree, I wandered the world for a while working in backpackers hostels, drinking, eating, and visiting museums, until I returned to home to look for a prestigious, well paid, and stable job in science. Shockingly that didn’t work out.

So what could I do with my love of science, learning, teaching, and museums? Masters in Museums Studies fit the bill, so off I went to learn about the history of museums, how to do paperwork, how to dodge bureaucracy and red tape, and that you must wear gloves when touching old things. The best part of the course was the opportunity to do two internships. My first internship was project managing a website build for a special interest group of Museums Australia. My supervisor was none other than the wonderful Ms Lynda Kelly at the Australian Museum. My second was at the Powerhouse Museum, which eventually led to them hiring me as a science curator.

I did what “curators do”. I researched, published, interpreted material culture, put on exhibitions, and gave talks and presentations. This was at a time when museums were just starting to discover social media, and experimenting with its uses, it was also a time when the Museum’s 300,000+ collection had been digitised. I started to become interested in curators and the digital world, and concerned at the growing gap between the two.

I found mentorship under two of the most influential people thus far in my professional life, Seb Chan, and Paula Bray, and began working in that gap between curatorial and digital practice. I wrote a paper about the current state of play between curators and social media and presented it at Museums and the Web 2010, in Denver. I was inspired by some of the most amazing digital and web people from all over the world, learnt that Dutch really is the language of the future, and became Chief Curator in Charge of the Spinny Bar Historical Society.

I was the only curator there. Why? Why were museums doing such cutting edge and amazing things on the web, yet curators were so disconnected from it all?

Since then I have been working at getting curators involved in everything from blogging, basic web editing, using social media for things other than posting photos of yourself drunk on the weekend, making iPhone and iPad apps, and everything in-between.

So that’s me. I work in the gap. I am passionate about finding creative ways to use digital mediums to tell stories and interpret collections. I am specifically interested in how the future will shape museum curators, and plan to be an active participant in its evolution.

Erika Taylor is the Curator of Science Technology and Industry at the Powerhouse Museum. When not developing exhibitions on climate change, historical plastics, or strange medical implements, you can find her teaching someone to write blog posts, making iPad games, or user testing mobile walking tours.