Performance Counts: March 2015

Posted on March 13th, 2015 by

Have you been keeping up with the Museum’s blog? If not, hopefully this month’s Performance Counts will convince you it’s a must read. I’ve asked Rachel Kassman, the Museum’s marketing manager and self-appointed “social media maven”  to share with you what makes our blog special and to give you some behind the scenes data.

~Marvin

A (Very) Little History
The JMM blog was born in the summer of 2008 as a way to follow along with the restoration of the Lloyd Street Synagogue. However it didn’t take us long to realize the blog could be so much more – a way to share all kinds of stories about the Museum, its projects, and its people. It’s also been a great way to make information easily accessible for a wide audience- for instance, did you know that each issue of Museum Matters, Performance Counts and JMM Insights is posted on the blog?

Since its birth in 2008 we’ve posted 1,300 blog posts, which averages to a post every other day.  Our longest running regular feature is the weekly “Once Upon a Time” series, which illustrates our partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Times in an effort to identify people in photographs that are part of our collection (there are 282 posts in this series – and we’re about 8 months behind the in-print version). Another regular feature is the monthly “Volunteer Spotlight” series, written by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen and usually posted on the first Monday of each month – we’re up to 15 so far and hope to eventually highlight all of our wonderful volunteers in this manner. A newer feature is the post-programs wrap up – while the posting dates for this feature are irregular we try to get them up within a few days of a public program, to give readers a feel for what they missed if they couldn’t make the program. We’ve even started recording select programs for later listening! (You can check out our very first program recording here.) These posts are also shared on the Museum’s social media platforms and selected posts are highlighted on the homepage of the JMM website to increase the potential audience.

Who’s Writing This Stuff?
Our prime blog contributors are museum staff – every month I send out a call, asking folks to sign up for an open date. Opening up blog authorship to the entire staff keeps the blog’s “voice” diverse and helps make sure we highlight and share stories and information from all areas of the Museum. I’m incredibly proud of the interesting, well-thought out content my colleagues provide every month. We also ask our interns and volunteers to join us in our blogging efforts, providing another set of perspectives on what goes on here at the JMM. Summer is an especially active time for our blog because we host anywhere from five to a dozen interns for ten full weeks, which provides plenty of opportunities for blog fodder (including intern field trips, workshops, and project updates).

Navigating The Blog
Let’s talk about tags – those are the lists of words at the bottom of every blog post:

Tags are a way to organize the content on a blog. In our case we use the tags to help identify the author and some of the main subjects included in the post. For instance, let’s say you were reading a really great post, like “Mazel Cufflinks” by Collections Manager Joanna Church. If you get to the end of the post and think, hey, this Joanna character is a really fun writer, I wonder what else she’s done…all you have to do is click on her name in the tags and you’ll find all the posts she’s written for the blog! Or maybe you caught Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon’s latest post “A Little Kindness…” which documents a surprise visit by 84 high school students and you wanted to know more about all the exciting things the education staff gets up to. Just click on “education” in the tags and you’ll get a plethora of related posts. If you’ve got a hankering for intriguing history, you should definitely explore Marvin’s tag – start with his recent President’s Day post and work your way back!

Highlights and Favorites
To round out this month’s Performance Counts I informally polled the staff for their favorite posts from the blog – and got some interesting results!

Both Assistant Director Deborah Cardin and Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon cited the Volunteer Spotlight series as their favorite feature. Deborah loves “learning interesting tidbits about our volunteers. They are an impressive bunch!” and Ilene thinks its great to see another side of them.

Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik picked “Buried Alive: Eighteenth Century Terror and a “Superstar” Jewish Doctor”, a particularly ghoulish post from Curator Karen Falk, inspired by her research for our upcoming Jews and Medicine exhibit. Programs Associate Carolyn Bevans’ pick also took a slightly macabre turn with “An Engagement Ring of a Different Color,” Collections Manager Joanna Church’s Halloween-inspired collection blog.

Joanna herself went a very different direction with her favorite. She says “Before my interview I read Deborah’s awesome post about Flat Mendes on her family vacation, and I thought, Yes, I can work there.”

Curator Karen Falk, funnily enough, found her favorite blog post through a different website entirely: Wikipedia! That’s right, in the course of doing research on Read’s Pharmacy she found a reference to Dr. Deb Weiner’s post “Read’s Drug Store: The Jewish Connection” on the Read’s Wikipedia page and followed it right back to our blog.

When I asked Marvin for his “best picks” he went above and beyond with a full Oscar-style slate! Here are his award-winning posts (from the last 6 months!):

Best comedy:  Yet More Responses from the Mendes Questions Box by Abby Krolik
Best history story: Buried Alive: Eighteenth Century Terror and a “Superstar” Jewish Doctor by Karen Falk
Best event report: Sephardic lecture by Carolyn Bevans
Best photo documentary: The Making of an Exhibit: Mendes Arrives by Deborah Cardin
Best reason to visit our website: Appreciate a Dragon Day by Rachel Kassman
Best travelogue: A European Adventure by Abby Krolik
Best biography: Volunteer Spotlight on Marty Buckman by Ilene Cohen
Best blog by an intern:  Maimonides by Barbara Israelson
Best Blog of FY ’15 (so far): It’s a tie between National Umbrella Day and National Handwriting Day, both by Joanna Church

My favorites? How can I pick – as the blog maven I feel like all the posts are special to me in their own way and I wouldn’t want to play favorites among my lovely contributors. But I will tell you my favorite post that I’ve ever written – “Appreciate a Dragon Day!” I had so much fun putting that post together that I still smile every time I look at it. I hope you’ll click on some of the links I’ve shared here and spend a little time exploring the wild and wonderful world of the JMM blog!

~Rachel Kassman, Development and Marketing Manager (aka Social Media Maven)

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Performance Counts: February 2015

Posted on February 13th, 2015 by

abby krolikThis month’s Performance Counts comes from Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik!

Today is Maryland’s “Tourism Day”—an event organized by the tourism industry to make the case to our state legislators that recreational and cultural attractions have an important impact on the economy and quality of life in Maryland.  In keeping with the spirit of the day, we decided to take a look at who comes to the JMM and where they come from.

This is a more complicated question than you might think; there are countless ways to categorize our guests.  We usually divide our on-site visitors into four main categories:  general visitors, school groups (including summer camps), public program participants, and adult groups (e.g. mah jongg clubs or sisterhood visits that book in advance).  School groups are traditionally the largest segment of our visitors, but in the last two years general visitors have been catching up and program visitors are not far behind.

John Ruarah Middle School students explore The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.

John Ruarah Middle School students explore The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.

School groups come to us in a handful of main categories—public/private/parochial/homeschool; Jewish/non-Jewish; and Day School/Hebrew School. Within these groups, our single largest draw is from Baltimore City public schools, but this year we’ve had increasing success in attracting the local Jewish schools (both Day Schools and Hebrew Schools). We’ve also expanded our educational outreach in Baltimore County, and we are making efforts to recruit more parochial schools.  We have even received a grant from the Delaplaine Foundation to extend programming, outreach and onsite visits to Frederick County schools.  Our programs are aligned with the Common Core standards, which helps to attract the interest of teachers and principals. While we work with students at all grade levels—from Pre-K to even college level—the average group that visits us is in middle school, particularly 7th grade (when all the city schools teach “The Diary of Anne Frank”).

City Springs Elementary School students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

City Springs Elementary School students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

General visitors can be subdivided in several ways as well.  The most obvious is, of course, geography.  We don’t have data on 100% of our visitors’ points of origins (not everyone chooses to leave us a zip code), but we have enough data to give us a pretty good sample.  It is true that a lot of our visitors come from Northwest Baltimore and the immediate suburbs, but there is also a significant segment from downtown Baltimore as well as Columbia, Md.  We can tell when we’ve received coverage in the Washington Post Weekend section because we can see the boost in visits from Montgomery County, DC and Northern Virginia.

Baltimore

Baltimore

Many of our visitors come from a much farther distance. I love telling people that we get visitors from pretty much everywhere in the world!  Just over the last year we’ve hosted guests from such far-flung and exotic states as Alaska and Oklahoma, as well as visitors from at least one country per continent (not counting Antarctica), including—but certainly not limited to—El Salvador, Argentina, Italy, Rwanda, Japan, and Kyrgyzstan!

The World

The World

For our public program attendance numbers, we are careful to not double count program participants as general visitors. For example, our raw number for general attendance last December was 517, but to get the right number for “on-site attendance,” we subtracted the number of participants in our programs that took place during our normal open hours, which left us with 222 as the general attendance.  Our #1 best attended program in 2014 was the Joanie Leeds Chanukah concert—we counted more than 175 guests (though a few of them were in strollers)! Program attendance is probably the category with the greatest variability. Not only is it affected by the attraction of the topic or speaker, but also by the weather and the Ravens’ game schedule.  There’s just no competing with football in Ravens’ Nation!

Some spirited dancing at our Joanie Leeds Chanukah Concert!

Some spirited dancing at our Joanie Leeds Chanukah Concert!

In addition to our on-site data, we also try to track off-site contacts : how many students we reach in the schools, or how many people who come to see Mendes Cohen at an event or who come up to our booth at a festival.  Still, our focus is on the JMM as a destination, and that is the data that we are monitoring most closely.  It helps us make sure we spend our limited resources wisely, and it tells us something about the success of our initiatives.

 

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Performance Counts: January 2015

Posted on January 16th, 2015 by

JoannaSince starting as Collections Manager in August of last year, JMM has already accessioned more than 70 items from the daily life of Maryland’s Jewish communities. We’ve been pleased to receive offers of a wide variety of items – from single items to multiple boxes, from large paintings to small snapshots, from the 19th century to the 21st.  Nearly every week has brought a new opportunity to check out something interesting, which might be of use to the museum.

As a collections professional, I’m inclined by both duty and temperament to appreciate almost anything that’s ever been made, used and saved by someone. In other words, I love stuff.  But we simply can’t take everything that is offered to us. Fortunately, like many museums the JMM has a committee of Board members, staff, and other museum professionals who help ensure that only appropriate items are accepted as donations to our permanent collection: artifacts, photos, and archival material that relate to Jewish life in Maryland, in good condition, for which we can adequately care and which we envision using in exhibits, research, and interpretation.

But enough about the inner workings of the committee process – you want to see the stuff!  Here are a few highlights from recent offers.

-Joanna Church, Collections Manager

 

Pharmacy show globe, Hagerstown/Hancock, Md. JMM#K2014.003.035 Donated by Dr. Adolph “Ed” Baer, P.D.

Pharmacy show globe, Hagerstown/Hancock, Md. JMM#K2014.003.035
Donated by Dr. Adolph “Ed” Baer, P.D.

Though we don’t always have the opportunity to exhibit artifacts right away, the vintage pharmaceutical items donated by Dr. Baer will be of almost immediate use as we prepare the upcoming exhibit “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” (opening fall 2015). Dr. Baer graduated from the University of Maryland pharmacy school, and went on to own and operate two pharmacies in western Maryland. In addition to the modern tools and equipment he used over the years, Dr. Baer also donated several antique pieces, including this large glass “show globe.” Show globes, filled with colored liquid (ours was emptied for the purpose of donation and transport), were placed in shop windows as a symbol of the apothecary’s or pharmacist’s trade; modern pharmacists such as Dr. Baer often collect and display them, in a nod to their profession’s history.

 

The Colonial Chronicle, Annapolis, Md. JMM#2014.041 Donated by Tylar Hecht for the Allen J. Reiter Lodge of B'nai B'rith

The Colonial Chronicle, Annapolis, Md. JMM#2014.041
Donated by Tylar Hecht for the Allen J. Reiter Lodge of B’nai B’rith

Though registrars like myself do enjoy cataloging and processing donations, we also love it when the donor does some of that good work for us.  Tylar Hecht brought in 40 years of The Colonial Chronicle, the newsletter of B’nai B’rith Annapolis Lodge No. 1239, associated with Kneseth Israel (Annapolis’s oldest congregation). In addition to the papers themselves, the donation included many of the original photographs used in the paper – which Mr. Hecht, with the help of older members of the congregation, sorted and identified for us before delivery. Their efforts mean that this collection will be accessible to researchers more quickly than if the JMM staff and volunteers needed to start fresh.

A selection of items from the Community Garden Club archives, Baltimore, Md. JMM#2015.002 Donated by Ruth Taubman for the Community Garden Club.

A selection of items from the Community Garden Club archives, Baltimore, Md. JMM#2015.002
Donated by Ruth Taubman for the Community Garden Club.

Likewise, the members of the Community Garden Club of the JCC (Baltimore) took the time to gather and organize materials from their 50+ year history, including programs, awards, photos, newsletters, and directories.  The Club was founded in 1962 by a group of women taking flower-arranging classes at the newly-built Park Heights JCC; over the years the members have worked on landscaping projects at a number of landmarks around the city, and they were the first Jewish garden club to join the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland. Though not very active today, several original members were determined to collect as much of the club’s records as possible, to ensure that their history is preserved at the JMM archives.

 

Shomrei Mishmeres signs, Baltimore, Md. JMM#2014.045.001-002 Gift of Rabbi David E. Miller, Rabbi Michael S. Miller, Deborah L. Kram and Judith S. Kalish

Shomrei Mishmeres signs, Baltimore, Md. JMM#2014.045.001-002
Gift of Rabbi David E. Miller, Rabbi Michael S. Miller, Deborah L. Kram and Judith S. Kalish.

In a wonderful coincidence, one of the first things offered to the JMM after I started was a pair of early 20th century hand-lettered signs used by the Shomrei Mishmeres congregation in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  Tobias Miller, then President of Shomrei Mishmeres, took these signs with him when the synagogue building was sold to the new Jewish Historical Society (now the JMM); his grandchildren recently decided that these two pieces should “come home” to Lloyd Street.   We’re always glad to find artifacts and records from the Lloyd Street Synagogue’s long history; such a meaningful and thoughtful donation was a fantastic way to start off my work here at the JMM!

Left:  “It is strictly forbidden to speak and to converse when the congregation prays or the Holy Bible is being read. He who will not obey the prohibition, in addition to his sinning this great sin, he is transgressing the accepted norm, and therefore will be fined towards the synagogue.”

Right: “By order of the members of this Shul: It is not permitted to remove the prayer shawls before reciting kaddish recited at ‘Anim Zemirot.’ He who will not obey, shall be severely punished.”

 

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