Museum Makers: Adam Koszary, Museum of English Rural Life
- 31 October 2018
Programme manager and digital lead for Museums Partnership Reading, Adam Koszary describes his career and why he believes social media is a powerful tool for museums.
Most recently, Adam was behind a viral social media campaign on the Museum of English Rural Life Twitter account, which began when he tweeted a picture of an 'absolute unit' of a sheep from the museum's archives.
When I started in museums I had no idea I would end up making headlines for fat sheep or chickens in trousers going viral on Twitter. You also wouldn’t expect it based on my job title, which is programme manager and digital lead for Museums Partnership Reading, an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio consortium made up of the Museum of English Rural Life (the MERL) and Reading Museum. My remit covers digital and content strategy – it just so happens that I also do a lot of the actual social media content too.
It’s difficult to pin down why I am where I am. Museum careers are dictated by the funding available, the opportunities given to you and your tolerance for moving around the country. I started my career on the redevelopment of the MERL, but found the most fun part of my job was communicating the collections on social media. The more I worked on social media, such as in a previous role at Bodleian Libraries, the more it exposed me to the digital side of museums. Pursuing that brought me back to Reading full-time, where I’ve been working on culture change, content strategy and fat sheep ever since.
My current role is a perfect example of how important it is to have a foot in the door. It’s a continuation of my previous job managing another ACE project called #digiRDG: Town and Country. I wouldn’t have got the job, however, without having a track record of delivering on projects, the trust of my colleagues and having new ideas.
In my job, keeping a schedule is like pushing water uphill with a rake. Working in a partnership means working across two sites, with two bosses, two groups of individually minded people (with many competing demands) and two fantastic collections. On any given day I could be working on strategy and policy, sorting out invoicing, convincing ACE we’re doing a good job and organising workshops for staff to figure out our objectives. Alongside that I try to find time in the day to copy-edit or create some social media content.
Oh, and also a ton of emails.
The ability to say no is a very important skill, and being able to prove the success of your work is essential. If you try to do everything you will get a reputation for being able to do everything, so people will ask you to do everything, and you cannot do everything. It is very draining. And if there is something you strongly believe your museum should be doing then your opinion alone isn’t enough – you need to run experiments, collect the data and present your conclusions to effect change. Sometimes that means taking risks, but they need to be calculated risks.
My tablet is my most important piece of equipment, and Twitter my favourite tool. I can’t imagine doing my job without being able to update my Trello boards, send emails, work on documents and show presentations on the go. I also probably wouldn’t have a career without Twitter, both because it’s amazing for networking and because I believe it’s the best social media tool for museums. It’s the only popular platform where you can have a proper dialogue with people, in my opinion.
Social media is a weird thing to get into. After years of angst and upskilling of staff, we’re now seeing new generations of museum workers who don’t blink at social media being part of their job. Being a personal social media user, however, is very different to being a social media manager. As well as knowing the platforms, you need strategic thinking and skills covering graphic design, data analysis, training others, writing policy and being able to mediate the institutional voice with your own. It’s a very weird mix of quite hard, technical skills and soft, creative skills, and you can’t have one set without the other.
If you want to become a project manager then well done, because everyone is their own project manager. The skills of time management, accounting, information management and forward planning are in every role. Keep a portfolio of projects where you can identify objectives, measures of success and the results of how you planned and managed your projects. You also, however, need to keep aside something for yourself. Don’t forget why you got into this sector and indulge yourself – whether that’s getting into the stores every now and then, helping with public workshops or contributing to social media.
I have no idea what’s coming next, but that’s standard with a career in the museum world. I still believe that social media is our most powerful tool in humanising and popularising our museums at a mass scale, so I hope to continue in roles that let me experiment with that. I want to see how far I can push institutions in presenting a human and relatable face online, and create conversations on the internet which achieve what every museum wants: a meaningful and memorable dialogue. If the route to creating that dialogue means being a bit stupid and playing to the culture of the internet, so be it.
Adam can be found on Twitter at @AdamKoszary
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