What’s in a Name?

by ryan

Some of you may have noticed the change of title of our little blog. I feel that the story behind the name change (albeit told from a single perspective) can shed some light on some issues that arise when attempting to create a blog of personal voice in an institution. Although the Exploratorium provides us with great support and continued opportunities to share the best parts of our day as the floor staff of the museum, it probably was inevitable that conflicts might arise. For a little more info about the perspectives that outside observers bring to our blogging experiment and the way blogs are treated in general, check out Nina Simon’s article about us on Museum 2.0.

A few weeks ago, a representative from the High School Explainer program voiced concerns that our blog might create confusion for those web searching for the different department. You see, at the Exploratorium there are two separate explainer programs, the (Field Trip or Morning) Explainers who work with kids on field trips among other audiences and have a more educational role in the museum (that’s us!) and the afternoon Explainers who are high school students and have a different set of priorities and goals in the museum. Although we volunteered to create a text box that cleared up the confusion, this was not good enough, as there was still the possibility of some web-surfer skimming through the opening page and failing to understand the difference. These ideas have a lot to do with the assumed level of sophistication of a web audience and the anxiety regarding Google searches turning up the wrong page (but that’s a different discussion). After a meeting with a few of the blog authors and representatives from the other department, we decided that the options were to either change the title of the blog or remove the link from the Exploratorium website.

A little background information before proceeding…

We started the blog in February of last year as a group project undertaken beyond our work day to share our experiences and passion for the museum with each other and possibly outside visitors. We titled the blog Exploratorium Explainers because we felt that underscored our role in the museum not only as those who work with kids on field trips, but also as educators to the wider public, roamers about the museum, and providers of a fresh perspective on the issues that are important to us as individuals and as a group. The blog was never meant to be a part of the official Exploratorium but as an separate entity where we could be free to be irreverent and provocative. After a few months, the Exploratorium noticed that a few different individuals and groups were writing blogs and decided to create a web page that listed all the blogs somewhat affiliated with the institution. While this was not part of our original plan, we welcomed the support of the museum and the recognition that it brought to our community. After a while it became easy to see the blog as the official site of our department and thus as a possible detriment to the other department that shares our title.

So as the blog remains a group endeavor with all the explainers serving as administrators, we took a vote at the Friday meeting to see if we would change the name or remove the blog from the official blog page. It was a very close vote on both issues (the group voted about 7-5 to change the name of the blog and leave it on the site). Everyone had their own individual reasons for voting the way that they did (we can share these in the comments if we want to). Regardless of the outcome, it was hard for me to come to terms with the way that something that we meant to provide a unique and free expression could become tangled in institutional politics in such a way that others could make demands concerning the direction of the blog. Yet, I suppose that is the tricky balance beam that those groups or individuals in companies and businesses walk when attempting to create a personal voice. Luckily we have never been approached from a content perspective and at the same time we must be careful that the way we represent the museum (though sometimes silly, sarcastic, or non-traditional) does not cross the line (where ever we determine the line to be). I know that for many of us, working at the Exploratorium as explainers is more than just a job, it is a identity, a community, and an opportunity to both teach and learn every day. As a part of that spirit, I hope our blog will continue to be a vital part of the explainer experience.