Catherine “Cat” Shteynberg is the Assistant Director, Curator of Arts & Culture Collections, and Head of Web & Media at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture in Knoxville, Tennessee. During our conversation on October 19, 2017, many of the topics we discussed returned to two themes: audience research and prioritizing resources.
Ms. Shteynberg got her start in museums as an intern at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where she discovered her passion for curatorial work. At the beginning of her museum career, she worked at the Smithsonian Institution Archives on many digital projects, including the Bigger Picture blog. One goal for this blog that Ms. Sheynberg discussed was diving into the stories behind the photos and objects featured on the blog and getting the archivists to tell those stories. In doing so, the team spent a lot of time determining who the blog’s audiences were and defining editorial categories to reach those audiences with useful and engaging information. Ms. Shteynberg stressed that it takes a great deal of research and effort to get a proper museum blog up and running.
The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is much smaller than the Smithsonian (as most museums are) and Ms. Shteynberg has multiple roles at the McClung Museum, meaning, in her words, “something has to give.” According to Ms. Shteynberg, a small team with limited funds, like the McClung Museum, needs to understand its audiences and their needs/expectations, and weigh the goals and benefits of every project against the necessary staff time, and prioritize based on that analysis. The topic related to this point on which Ms. Shteynberg and I spent the most time was social media. While she freely admitted that she prefers long-form content over short social media posts, she also doesn’t think it’s necessary for museums to be “on” 24 hour a day — meaning social media followers can wait until the next business day to receive a response — and the resources museums are dedicating to being constantly “on” may be better served elsewhere, depending on the museum, its audience, and its goals.
Overall, Ms. Shteynberg believes the goals of most museum web projects should be focused on how to extend the museum visit, create lifelong supporters of the museum, and provide resources for those who may not be able to visit in-person. All of that requires detailed audience research and a clear plan for the use of staff time and resources.
Ms. Shteynberg provided a wealth of insight on museums and the web but is also eager to hear from us — she is particularly interested in hearing the thoughts of current museum studies graduate students and emerging museum professionals on these topics and what we see as the future of museums online, especially thoughts on the role of social media is museums.