Friday, January 17, 2014

Museum Professionals Who Aren't

One of the concerns across the museum field is the hiring of a person with specialist knowledge for a specialist position - for example, the job I had awhile back as the Curator at the Cody Firearms Museum.

This is a position that requires some specialty knowledge. Yes, the person in that job needs museum experience and understanding of the responsibilities of museum staff. It also needs knowledge of firearms.

Granted, you will find people who can take care of the collection without knowing the subject, but they cannot deal knowledgeably with patrons. They will not know where the collection gaps are. They cannot be a success going out and talking to Rotary about what they do. Positions above and below can do this, but they don't make a living as the subject expert.

The concern comes in when an organization is hiring. The organization needs the specialist. Who typically fits the mold? The enthusiast, the collector, the hoarder? It can be all of the above.

When the right person comes in, great success is had. Friends are made, gifts of money and objects come to the museum, and visitors come away better for the experience. When the wrong person comes in, things look great for awhile, but eventually the bill comes due...

I was reminded of this today when I saw an article out of France... This was a bad hire. Things likely looked tip-top. I'll bet everyone loved him. Granted, I don't know the ins and outs, but we have seen it done here in the US - moon rocks on ebay, guns walking out doors, and other outright thefts are the usual. The big stuff, though, is the use of museum funds to purchase materials for private use (embezzlement).

The case here is pretty bad. Most World War II armored vehicles sell in the range of $40-50,000. Most full-on tanks sell for a $150,000 or more... (And, yes, I know the M18 is not technically a tank...) Add in "arms and jackets" and we are talking something in the realm of $200-300,000 or more...

And people ask why audits are necessary.

As an aside, this also touches on a related subject - and one that can be almost as bad. Sometimes, a collector/museum employee is offered something for the museum that they want for themselves. They refuse the gift, but make an offer to purchase it privately. Don't know about you, but I consider this to be a conflict of interest, at least, and highly unethical... For more on this, take a gander at the American Alliance of Museums' Curatorial Code of Ethics as developed by the Curator's Committee (CurCom). (disclaimer - I was a member of the CurCom board at the time of the Code's creation and I am still on that board at the time of this writing)

Have a great weekend! (and don't embezzle anything from your museum!)

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