Technical Support Specialist, Collection Information & Access, The J. Paul Getty Museum
Adapting swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the Getty Museum staff went digital when its two locations—the Getty Center in Los Angeles and Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades—temporarily closed their doors. This sudden transition to remote work wasn’t without its challenges, yet the Museum successfully rose above them with strategic planning, effective communication, and a healthy dose of creative innovation.
To learn how the Getty Museum team is managing its collections from home, Gallery Systems reached out to Alexandra Bancroft, Technical Support Specialist of Collection Information & Access. Alexandra explained how she’s helping the Museum’s TMS users adapt to using the CMS database remotely, along with the interesting, and often unexpected, ways digital initiatives are evolving in the current climate.
What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?
It depends on the day! I’m always kept on my toes and that has been especially true since March. With both our physical sites closed due to COVID-19, there has been a surge in data projects and increasing traffic to the collections through our website and other platforms.
I’m also finding new ways to engage with our TMS users. The abrupt closure of our offices meant rapidly shifting to a remote desktop setup for all TMS users and having Zoom support calls to ensure everyone was able to do their usual TMS work from home.
The way everyone has banded together to creatively solve problems and move forward on new and unexpected initiatives has been a bright spot.
How do you see the use of technology evolving at your institution?
The Getty Museum has been emphasizing the advantages of digital initiatives and integrating technology into all projects. This year has highlighted the importance of these initiatives. There is definitely a recognition across departments that technology plays an important role in our collective work. Technical staff are now an integral part of project planning and technology needs are carefully documented in initial project scopes.
I see the Museum continuing to find ways to incorporate technology into all aspects of museum work. Most importantly, the staff seem eager to explore technology’s value together, which I think will encourage increasingly innovative ideas.
What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?
With the change to working from home, I’ve found new ways to interact with TMS users. Questions that were quickly answered by going over to someone’s desk and walking them through a TMS task are now done through Zoom and screen-sharing. In March, I quickly wrote new documentation to walk users through using TMS remotely. This process was new to everyone, myself included, but now a few months in, I have a better grasp on what works and what doesn’t in terms of remote TMS support. I’ve made training videos for the first time and I’m excited to create more, so that users can learn in a way that’s best for them—whether it be verbal, written, or instructional videos.
While these changes were somewhat forced upon us due to the pandemic, they will ultimately prove beneficial for the long-term. Enabling staff to work with TMS remotely will be useful for business travel, working in galleries, and telecommuting.
How do you think the role of museums will change in the future?
I hope museums will see the clear need for integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives into their missions. We are already seeing a shift to engage more diverse audiences. The pandemic has accelerated discussions of reaching people who can’t physically visit a particular museum. I hope this will promote strategic thinking about ways to truly open up museums to everyone, both in-person and virtually. I think there will be a renewed emphasis on ensuring museums are spaces for learning about diverse cultures and experiences.
Do you have a favorite book, event, or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?
Claude Monet, The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light, 1894, Oil on canvas, J. Paul Getty Museum. Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program.
Every year, the Getty Museum hosts an internal event called Digital Share. It’s an opportunity for staff from all four programs (Museum, Research Institute, Conservation Institute, and Trust) to share their digital projects with colleagues. I’m in awe of the innovative projects my colleagues are working on. It’s also fascinating to see how technology seeps into everyone’s work. After this event, I feel inspired and energized with new ideas for my own work.
What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on and why?
This past year, we’ve started publishing curators’ scholarly essays to our website’s collection pages. This project derived from discussions on how to publish this content expeditiously without a complete redesign of our online collection pages. Thanks to the can-do attitudes of my Getty colleagues, we implemented a new workflow for publishing these essays.
Using Quire, an open source publishing framework, I convert curators’ Word documents into markdown format, make edits and configurations in Atom (a text editor), and push changes to a Git repository. Comparative images are reviewed by registrars for inclusion as applicable. Once I’ve finished the back-end coding and configuration I especially enjoy “flipping the switch”, refreshing my browser, and seeing the completed essay online for all to read (view an example here).
If you had to choose a favorite item from your collection, what would it be and why?
I like to daydream about which works I would install in my home. Monet’s Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light is one I’d hang in my living room. I find the pale blues and pastels soothing. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit this cathedral in person. Viewing this painting in our galleries takes me back to getting lost in the cobblestone streets of Rouen, France.