Emily Hammill recently interviewed Alex London, a 2018 graduate of the Museum Science and Management (MSM) Masters Program, to learn about the fun and exciting things he has been doing. With a B.A. in History, along with Masters degrees in both History and Museum Science and Management, London is ready to make his mark in the museum field! He recently began working at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum as their Collections Manager and Exhibition Designer taking on tasks including digital organizing, archiving, and much more!
What is your favorite part about working at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum?
London: I’ll give you two answers, my first favorite part of working here is having this blank slate of what I can do in terms of how I manage the collections, archives, and Past Perfect. At most museums, that would be handled by a team of people and we aren’t able to do that here, yet. While it’s a lot of work, the great thing is that this is my baby, and I can define it my way and I can create it. For me, that’s how I learn and get confidence in knowing what I’m talking about. For example, we just got a model rocket collection and we’ve been going through the process of asking how we’re going to archive it, how we’re going to store it, how we’re going to present it, will it be used for educational purposes, and more. From top to bottom, I am the one calling the shots. With this project, it’s all on me. I need to know exactly how I am going to do it and then implement it. I enjoy that part because it sets me up for my future, I’ve done everything from scratch so I am confident in how I can do it.
The other thing I enjoy about this position is that a lot is the responsibility of working with patrons and volunteers in the museum. I think that has helped me enter this post-college lifestyle. Coming out of the MSM program, I had only known school. When I had this ability to get on the phone with Jim Bridenstine or work with Buzz Aldren, it makes you feel like you’re taking the next step in life. I think beforehand in my previous Masters program, I had this negative view of the “millennial professional,” and I learned how once you were actually in it, you can better yourself in this way by working these professional spheres and meeting people. You want to keep going and keep raising yourself up. I think that’s a sense of pride and accomplishment that I hope all people experience. To sum it all up, it’s really working in a professional museum environment with self-confidence and an education behind my back. I’m still learning, but it’s been really great.
What are you currently working on?
London: What I am working on has been really dictated by what has happened in the last 10-15 years at the museum. When I took the job, there were a couple of things that I wanted to tackle first. The one thing I work on a lot is archival management and general collections management. A lot of objects need to be cataloged. So, I first wanted to create an organized space and to update our collections policy on not only what we take in, but what he could take out. I’m trying to create storage policies and update accession policies to open up space. I’m also working on a lot of exhibition design and have been having fun doing so. In my work, I have definitely been using practices I was taught in the MSM program from Millie Otey and have taken what Dr. Pickering says in being a ‘jack of all trades’ and have applied that to my job in being able to help in different areas.
What are you most excited about at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum?
London: I’m excited about a lot, but I’m probably most excited about our new exhibition space upstairs because I think that will define our reputation as a museum, rather than just an airplane hanger with labels. We want Tulsa Air and Space Museum to have a defined identity, and I think that starts with exhibitions on the floor, especially fluid ones. People will continue to have reasons to come back to the Museum and see what we have to offer. I believe I’m most excited about redefining our identity as an institution and growing that. We have a great collection with line drawings, model rockets and more, and I’m excited to be able to show that. I’m also excited as to what I will be doing at the Museum!
How do you think the MSM program has helped you in the workforce?
London: This program put me out there. It got me face to face with people in Tulsa and even other parts of the country. This program has helped me get out there, which was exactly what I needed. I needed professional field experience. I loved our classroom discussions, and still use the books that I first got in my classes to help me. I’m actually using a basic record at the moment that we were taught in one of our classes. Getting that experience and being hands-on helped me get a job, because that’s what museums are looking for. When I graduated from the MSM program, I knew I could get something. If I could have done something differently, I probably would have nurtured some of the professional relationships I had at local Tulsa institutions from a professional standpoint. At the time, I thought of every relationship as a student/ professor relationship, and I wish that I would’ve shown more that I was there to get work done, rather than just waiting for someone to tell me what to do. It comes with working with self-confidence too in showing that you do know what you’re talking about. It can be a bit scary at times, but that’s just what you need to grow.
Do you have any advice for MSM students who are about to jump out into the workforce?
London: My big take away is to be good at your email. People may roll their eyes at that but that’s a measuring stick established professionals use to look at future employees or younger individuals coming into the workforce. In everything you do, be professional about it. It’s really all of the simple things, but it really is about having a good attitude. I also think one of the things that I have had to learn is that communication really is key. You have to know how to talk to someone in a professional environment, anything from budget to timelines. Just continue to work on bettering yourself, professionally. It takes time and it is challenging, but it’s definitely something we can always work on. My last piece of advice is to make sure you care about it and really want to put forth that effort, make sure your heart is in it. Don’t be afraid to figure out exactly what you want to do. Our program does a great job in exposing you to different professional spheres in the museum industry and I enjoyed being about to explore and opened the door for other opportunities.