MCN50 Job History Project

In 2017, the Museum Computer Network—an international membership-based professional organization—celebrated 50 years of advancing digital transformation in cultural institutions. To mark this milestone, I led a team of 8 volunteer researchers in unearthing and analyzing five decades of job descriptions in order to gain insight into how the field of museum technology has developed.

Data visualization of technology terms mentioned in the American Museum of Natural History's annual reports, 1967-1987; "computer" is overwhelmingly present throughout, while words like "Xerox" and "microcomputer" fade in and out
Technology terms mentioned in the American Museum of Natural History’s annual reports, 1967-1987

From scraping digitized museum annual reports to mining the New York Times’ job listings archive, we mined job descriptions in various industry literatures to see what kinds of patterns and changes we see over time. Some of the research questions we considered included:

  • What makes a “technology” role? How does what we consider “museum technology” change over time?
  • When do museum tech jobs shift from IT/backend to more visitor-facing? (Relatedly, is this an actually shift, or merely an assumption?)
  • How might museum jobs reflect or break away from technology buzzwords and trends in the larger zeitgeist?
  • What kind of technical knowledge and skills have cultural institutions required of their employees, and how have these requirements shifted over time?

Data visualization of terms in museum technology jobs

We shared our findings and analysis with the museum technology community in a number of ways, including data visualizations, an 8-part blog series, and the creation of the #musetech Job Twitter bot, which generates a potential job title for you sometime within the last fifty years. We presented on our process and findings at the MCN 2017 conference in Pittsburgh.

Shout out to team member Sarah Outhwaite for her amazing data visualization skills.


Mining 50 years of #musetech: Learnings from the MCN50 job description history project slides
Follow the #musetech Job Twitter bot