For the past few years together with a colleague I‘ve been involved in market research for a few museums. Last Friday I attended a workshop at the annual museum conference and I heard that quite a few museums are rather unfamiliar with market research. Or rather: some do some research, others don’t, and others are getting acquainted with it. And quite a few seem to wrestle with the question how to get people/groups in the ir picture that do not visit their museum. This morning we held a presentation on market research for a group of librarians involved with bringing a library IT product, it concerns public libraries to the market. For both museums and public libraries the what, and how of market research and especially WHY they should engage in this activity seems unexpectedly hard to explain. As with the museums Friday the libraries this morning wrestled with the question how to get target groups in focus that are not in the least bit interested in them. The binding question between museums and the public libraries thus being: how do we engage in a good, meaningful conversation about the needs, wants, feelings etc. of people whom we are not in touch with to explore where we can meet?
Museums, libraries, market research….. an until recently uncommon equation. With the call from government and the general public for more accountability over tax money spent and for increasing amounts of self generated income in public libraries and museums market research becomes a necessity I feel, a practicality that fits in the wider framework of the call and need for cultural entrepreneurship. Or rather, let’s call that: entrepreneurship for public libraries and museums. Because cultural entrepreneurship seems a container term already, covering anything from artists going commercial to companies doing something cultural.
What fascinates me is that there seems to be little or nearly no attention for the practical side of this entrepreneurship for museums and public libraries. I can find – and have done so! – rather generic training modules for entrepreneurship in libraries and museums, but I do not feel that these modules meet specific needs nor do I believe that this pars pro toto approach befits the needs of the sector. I strongly beli eve that a very individual approach is needed, as per organisation so many different people, skills, talents, ambitions etc. are involved. For example, some public librarians I met and assisted in developing their skills are excellent salesmen and –women. Others are happier structuring the back office. So different people, different approaches, and different tasks. But entrepreneurships is not only about skills. It’s also about processes within the libraries and museums. I feel that one cannot develop entrepreneurship without addressing those issues as well. All the more surprising that there seems to be so very little attention for this practical side of entrepreneurship, for the fears, joys, transformations, surprises and what have you that people encounter when taking the first steps on this rocky path. I think that especially this attention is so much needed to marry museums, libraries and entrepreneurship. Because I am passionate about it and based on my current experiences and practice I am convinced that it can be done, that there are ways. Practical skills can be awakened, shaped and taught and there genuinly are (many) professionals in the museums and library sector who (potentially, in the Platonic way) have what it takes. And moreover: I strongly feel that museums and libraries should profit from these professionals to make themselves and their products more visible. Any experiences out there with hands on cultural entrepreneurship in various countries? I would be delighted to hear and if anyone is interested I would be happy to explain how we organised several trajectories.