Each holiday season, I get a first-hand look at the awesome online museum community as organizer of the annual Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange. It’s the coolest thing I do as creator and moderator of Reddit’s MuseumPros community.
The Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange is a “secret santa” in which each participant sends a gift from their own museum’s shop to another museum staffer at a different museum. Participating museologists get to share something unique about where they work, receive a little surprise trinket in the physical mail, and become personally connected to a museum staffer somewhere else in the world. The exchange can bring just as much attention to a tiny museum as a large museum – and we all love gift shop souvenir shopping, right? This year was undoubtedly the biggest (and best) exchange yet, with the most holiday spirit!
I post a Surveymonkey link in mid-November with a signup deadline of early-December. Participants provide their name, shipping address, email, and one sentence bio, and choose between the “send and receive within the US” and “send and receive anywhere in the world” exchanges. They also agree to the following guidelines:
- You may send your gifts anonymously but to receive a gift, you must provide your full name below (because it is kinder to the postal service).
- The value of the gift is to be $5-10 or an equivalent value.
- All participants are to be museum staff (vendors and design firms included), museum students, or museum volunteers. This exchange is not intended for museum visitors (we love you too, but…)
Then, I match everyone, first dividing the list into US or international and then I try my best to randomize the matches. Next, I check to see if any of the matches are at the same museum or in the same state, and if so, shuffle them around. Ideally, the matched participants will not be within a day’s drive of each other so that the exchanged items are unique to the sender’s location. By the second week of December, I email or Reddit private message every single participant their match, a reminder of the rules, and the schedule. All participants are required to send their gift by December 17th.
So, how did it go?
Here are the 2017 results by the numbers:
- 82 participants exchanged gifts this year
- 2x the number of gift exchanges this year in comparison to the 2016 exchange
- 45% of matches in which a participant was willing to send to another country
- 55% of matches in which a US participants preferred to send within the country
- 6 countries participated: US, Canada, Portugal, UK, Philippines, New Zealand
- 1 participant I went to school with, who I didn’t personally solicit for participation
And some observations not by the numbers:
- By early November, two people had already contacted me asking when the 2017 exchange would be posted – having people not only remember the exchange but also looking out for it was amazing.
- I get to see multi-year participant’s careers progress via the one sentence bios that are submitted alongside the participant contact information – this year’s standout was the person who is now proudly responsible for managing a large budget.
- The MuseumPros community means a lot to people. Here are two examples of really nice messages I received: “I love /r/MuseumPros and I think it’s a really valuable resource…. I browse it almost daily.” and “It’s great to be able to connect with fellow museum workers around the world in such a fun and casual platform…The subreddit has helped me deal with so many problems in the office… I appreciate all the learnings!” And more than once, I’ve been invited to people’s institutions – if and when I visit their part of the world.
This year, I also asked participants to send me a photo of what they were sending their match so that I can better advertise and grow the exchange next year (images included throughout this post). I love the unique fan I received from the Lopez Museum in Manila printed with an archival photo of a Filipino street. The trendiest gift was the dinosaur bag with the same design that Dustin wore on season 2 of Stranger Things – which is a sold out item with overwhelming demand! And I also loved seeing the enthusiasm for receiving the gifts. My office mate enthusiastically opened her package and then excitedly went into our boss’s office to show her what she had received. And that participant I mentioned above that I had gone to school with? He shared his items very excitedly on Twitter (see below).
Each year, there are a few learnings that make the next year better. Twice, people whose museum didn’t have a gift shop wanted to participate – one sent nails that the blacksmith at their living history museum had forged and the other sent a 3d printed bust from their makerlab. From that, I learned to add “or an equivalent value” when specifying the price range. This year, a staff member at a nature center had a similar inquiry, which will be reflected in next year’s institutional qualifications. I want to get more non-US participants as well – let me know of any suggestions in the comments, please.
While you’ll have to wait another 10 months for the 2018 Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange sign ups, I encourage you to check out this vibrant community of over 3,000 people throughout the year. In this past month alone, the MuseumPros community has provided interpersonal advice for a colleague managing a collection, shared a newly announced NBC prime-time comedy about a natural history museum, discussed the role of entertainment and embellishment in historical events, and posted ICOM’s misprinted marketing materials. Previously, I, along with my co-moderator, have also hosted AMA sessions, written a job hunting resource, created a list of emergency resources, and wrote a graduate school Q and A. If you have any ideas or want to participate in something new, let me know.
Happy holidays and see you next year for the annual Museum Holiday Gift Shop Exchange!