What I learned from writing Museums 101

Working on a new book Museum CX: Understanding and Connecting with Museum Customers, after two years of research I plan to sit down for July and August to write every day. Before I started on the new book wanted to review what I learned from the first book, Museums 101.

1. Your Audience: Find people who are your potential audience and write for them. Send early chapters to your targeted readers and make sure they understand your writing. Assume your audience is not from the museum field or new to the museum field.

2. Advisors: Find people that you respect and get their feedback on the manuscript.

3. Make it Personal: I wrote Museums 101 in the first person, I learned early on the people were interested in me. They wanted to know the reason why certain things happened. Readers reacted well to stories and writing with a narrative. I loved “Making the Mummies Dance” by Thomas Hoving and had his writing style in mind while I was writing. I tried to write from experience, this worked (or didn’t) because of …”.

4. Cookbook: People wanted to know the “steps”. The book was written in a “cookbook” style. Even if people don’t follow the steps, they can at least react to the process outlined. I wrote many entire chapters that became a few sentences. If you can say it in a few sentences say it clearly and repeat it throughout the book, better to say it clearly often than say it in a long winded way.

5. Social Media: When I first contacted the publisher Rowman & Littlefield, I was surprised that they were the most interested in my social media following. Social media is a good indicator for publishers to know how well a book will sell.

6. Not a Money Maker: The book cost me more to write than I will make on royalties (cost of the books that I bought as research and hiring editors). It has had an effect on my consulting business, people have read the book have hired me because of the book.

7. Clarifying: Writing the book has been one of the best adventures I have taken on. It clarified my thinking and helped to “broadcast” my thinking to people. I often send copies of the book to new clients, it helps them to understand me and how I think. Learned that if I don’t believe in something don’t write it. It forces you to have clarity on each topic. At times I go back and reread the book to remember how I think about a topic.

8. Great Editor: I will always be thankful to John Strand for his editing. A great development editor helps to organize the manuscript and structuring the content. I am not a writer and need editors to help structure and review my writing.

9. Cover, Back, Table of Contents and Flip: Most people read a book by first looking at the cover, reading the back of the book and if interesting they will read the table of contents and flip through the book reading a couple of sentences. If after the cover, back, table of contents and flip they are still interested they might invest the time to read the book. A book needs to be organized well enough to hold up to a possible readers cover, back, table of contents and flip process.

10. Long Time: It takes a long time to write a manuscript. The actually sitting down to write goes fairly quickly (took me about three months of writing almost every day), but it took two years to research, organize and think about the content before I sat down to write. It is tough to be in the “right” mindset to sit eight hours a day writing, you need a time in the life that supports the process.

11. Make it Readable: I bought lots of books (more than thirty) researching Museums 101. Many of the books I bought were unreadable, content rich with a lack of structure or narrative.

12. Share Everything: I tried to share all of my sources online, on the book’s website link. I find myself going back to the website to find articles or templates.

13. Be Curious: You have to always ask “why”, often more important than “what” or “how” is “why” you are suggesting a reader follows a process. Researching the topic I purchased forty-six books. I learned that you need to understand a topic holistically before you sit down to write.

Benchmark Museums by “Type”

I am often asked, “what is your favorite museum”? First I need to know “what type” of museum. Below is a list of my benchmark museums by museum type. Every time I visit a museum I take photos and post to Pinterest, the links below are to my photos of each museum. Will try to keep the list updated.

Art Museums
New Museum

Museum of Modern Art


History Museums
Minnesota History Center

El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya

Nevada Historical Society

Nevada State Railroad Museum

Science Centers
Science Museum of Minnesota

Hong Kong Science Museum

Liberty Science Center


Children’s Museum
Minnesota Children’s Museum

The Discovery

Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada

Natural History Museum

President Trump and Museums

Have created a seven (7) question survey about President Trump and Museums. Please take a moment to answer the survey. Results and survey comments will be posted on Museum Planner December 1st

Participation is anonymous personal information will not be collected.

Thank you !
– Mark


Books about Museums

Civilizing the Museum: The Collected Writings of Elaine Heumann Gurian by Elaine Heumann Gurian, 2006

Civilizing the Museum: The Collected Writings of Elaine Heumann Gurian

As part of writing Museums 101 bought and read many books about museums.   There are a few books that every person interested in museums should own.

Must own Books about Museums:

  1. Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning by Gerald W. George & Carol Maryan-George, 3rd Edition, 2012 – Very easy to read and a great overview of museums, although a little dated.
  2. Museum Basics by Timothy Ambrose & Crispin Paine, 3rd Edition, 2012 – More in-depth than Starting Right and more focused on exhibitions than strategy and museum culture.
  3. Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H. Falk, 2009 – John Falk is “the” researcher of the museum visitor experience and Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience is required reading to understand the creation of museum-centric experiences.
  4. Civilizing the Museum: The Collected Writings of Elaine Heumann Gurian Kindle Edition, 2006 – I love this book !  Elaine Heumann Gurian has a wonderful ability to elevate the museum experience and in-turn elevate those that share a passion for museums, a must read.  The book is out of print, but available for kindle download.

At my desk I keep the above books nearby.  Often the books are there as much for emotional support as for content.  It is nice to be reminded by others why we do this, the four books above often serve as support.

There are two more books that I keep nearby, each very different than the other.

  1. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition Reissued Edition by H. W. Janson (8th Edition), 2016 – Dr. Janson was “the” professor of art history and his History of Art is still considered the standard of art history text books.  The book has been in print since 1962 now in it’s 8th Edition.  An amazing book an overview of all of art history.
  2. McMaster-Carr Catalog – As Janson’s History of Art is “the” book of art history, Mcmaster-Carr is “the” industrial supplier.  I have always been able to find what I was looking for in the catalog.  Today, wanted to know “what is a M4 bolt ?”.  Looked it up an M4 bolt is a metric size bolt.  Maybe keep the Janson’s History of Art on the book shelf behind your desk and the McMaster-Carr in your desk.

Would love to know your must own “Books about Museums”, please leave your list in the comments section below.