For Molly Taft ’11, social media is a way to snap open the shades and let the light shine on objects that lie mostly unseen in the darkness of museum archives.
Taft, a history major and German minor, is wrapping up a one-year curatorial internship at Bowdoin’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Soon after starting her position, she took a look around the museum collections and was dismayed by the many artifacts she observed tidily stored away, out of sight.
“I saw thousands of objects in the collections room,” she said, as the museum can only display a tiny portion of what it owns. “My problem was, how do I take all these cool things and present them to the Bowdoin community and wider public?”
To do this, Taft turned to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. She’s been taking photos of the museum’s exhibitions, its objects and the work of staff and other interns, and posting her updates online. Her posts attracted the attention of Tumblr, which highlighted the museum’s blog on its Museum Spotlights page, alongside museum blogs from places such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History and the Getty. “Social media is such an equalizer,” Taft said.One post about dental floss even managed to get noticed by the dental community. “All these dentists found the photo and were commenting on it,” Taft said.
Other media outlets have also caught on: both the Tumblrs of the U.S. National Archives and Radiolab have reblogged many of Taft’s entries. “It’s really exciting and a lot of fun for me,” she said. “I take pictures, poke around in collections and write little stories about objects. This blog is letting me tell the story of the museum, Inuit sculpture, science – everything’s melting in the Arctic – and Peary’s expeditions.”
Besides documenting and disseminating the museum’s trove of treasures and information, Taft this past year helped the Arctic Museum set up interactive exhibitions with iPads. She both designed and coded them, teaching herself HTML and relearning Photoshop. Visitors to the museum can now play with one of four iPads to get a hands-on experience with the animals on display. They can listen to Inuktitut vocabulary related to the animals, see footage of the animals in the wild and watch interviews with Inuit elders who describe hunting practices, childhood memories related to wildlife, and their observations on changes in Arctic animals as the climate warms.
“Kids have been really responsive to the hands-on thing,” Taft said. “I heard a little girl walking out saying, “˜I can say narwhal in Inuit, and she repeated the word.”
Taft’s internship wraps up at the end of August. She plans to move to Boston in the fall and look for more museum or media work. “I would love to keep working in museums, and working with social media and education,” she said. “I love learning about what’s going on in the science world and telling other people about it.”