The first time I met my colleagues was online, their faces contained in small rectangles. Same at the next meeting. And so on. One day I woke up and wondered if they actually existed or if they were cyber characters in some game. The next day I woke up and wondered if there really was a museum called Time and Tide. Reality has always been something to smell, touch and breathe. And now it consists only of seeing and hearing, plus it is contained within a 2D screen.
I can confirm Time and Tide does exist (I was admitted to some parts of it once, briefly). I’ve also met colleagues (a few of them, once, briefly) in person. But apart from that, all our interactions are on screen. A new job involves a lot of assimilation and new understanding, it’s a jigsaw and normally I’d have completed it inside a week. Now I’m nine months in and half the pieces are still missing. I’ve learned that 2D saves hours of commuting time but 3D saves months of assimilation.
Hmm, the museum’s closed. That’s a bit of a problem for someone whose job is to engage with people. It took me a long time to realise something important. There are two museums! Yes, really, two Time and Tides. One is a building in Great Yarmouth. The other exists online.
That other museum has a postcode: its social media accounts. But it also can be found on websites full of archives and collections, YouTube, WordPress… The museums overlap but operate separately. The online museum is not just a replica of the original, it has an approach and style all of its own and can be made just as special.
Here’s something I’ve learned about young people. Yes, they’re online all the time. But that doesn’t mean they’re open to being engaged online. Some can’t cope with it. A few groups are greatly depleted until members can meet again: they want to see each other in a room not on a screen. It’s even tougher when we form totally new groups online with young people who mostly don’t know each other.
Spoken communication is hard enough when you’re young. But communication on screen with a dodgy internet connection? I’ve learned that this sort of engagement doesn’t necessarily work for young people, even though it’s easy to assume it must because they’re the very cohort which has grown up with screens.
I’ve learned you don’t have to be Steven Spielberg to make a film. I have created or creatively edited a number of short videos (okay, but even Spielberg had to start somewhere) and loved it. Of course, there have been many limitations – like not being able to film at the museum and having little access to the collections.
I’ve had to find alternatives from whatever I see around me – the kitchen clock (I didn’t know it could run backwards), a historic local barn (all that wood, it’s just like a ship!), a nearby woodland (made magical with fairy lights). And there’s been a lot of painting and a bit of puppet making as well.
These videos have been for Time and Tide’s learning team and I think making them will probably have added a lot to my delivery when I do meet school groups. It has taught me about storytelling, structuring and presenting information. And I’ve learned there’s no substitute for planning your film. Otherwise, you spend weeks correcting it in editing.
I love my job. In this time of uncertainty, I can’t believe I do creative things and am trained as well. Experts give us fascinating lectures. Colleagues generously pass on their knowledge and experience to me. People are kind about my mistakes. This job has not been a picnic: I’ve worked hard every day and I’ve also worked long hours and I sometimes panic because it feels there’s too much to do. And then I remember something important I’ve learned. I am so very lucky to be here.
So thank you, Time and Tide. Thank you, Norfolk Museums Service colleagues. And here’s to actually meeting you in 2021!
Lara Lourie is a youth engagement and learning trainee at Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life in Norfolk. This was first published as a blog on The Teaching Museum website