Adventures with VRA: Riverside

VRA SC group photo

VRA-Southern California Chapter at UC Riverside: Greg Reser, Jennifer Faist-Hill, Krystal Boehlert, Sonja Sekely-Rowland, Maureen Burns, Brenda Lozano

Yesterday was the winter meeting with the Southern California chapter of the Visual Resources Association. We first met for breakfast and coffee hosted by Sonja Sekely-Rowland, Visual Resources Curator at UC Riverside. Sonja shared with us some of the challenges of entering a new position as big changes in the structure of the department and the institution happen. She needed to repurpose many of the traditional services of a Visual Resources Curator and upgrade legacy software systems. Resource allocation affects everyone in different ways.

After catching up with everyone, handling VRA business, and hearing a little bit about Sonja’s work at UCR, we headed over to The Barn to eat lunch on campus. Walking to lunch I noticed various fruit trees that were ripe for the picking scattered around campus. Sonja shared with us that UCR is home to the California Citrus Experiment Station, built in 1907 for citrus agricultural research. Today the Citrus Variety Collection hosts two trees of over 1000 citrus types.

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Relaxation Chamber at the Entomology Museum, UCR

After lunch we went to talk to Doug Yanega in the Entomology Museum. Doug showed us how the cases of insects are organized and we discussed familiar issues in physical organization of materials as well as database management and integrity. Doug has several species of insects named after him. He is a part of the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature, which means he gets to name any new species he discovers! A large portion of the museum’s collection comes from Philip Hunter Timberlake who was hired by the Citrus Experiment Station in the 20s for his knowledge on parasitic beetles (ladybugs) for biological pest control. We saw parts of his bee collection while we were there. My favorite part of the tour was the Relaxation Chamber which sounds oh so nice! It’s actually a container of water and carbolic acid to reconstitute dehydrated insects for articulation and dissection.

Next, we got a preview of the exhibitions that are opening to the public today at the California Museum of Photography by curator Katherine Pointdexter. CMP is also connected to UCR and is part of the UCR ARTSblock in downtown Riverside. We saw abstract work by Marie Bovo, Myth and Majesty Photographs Picturing the American Southwest, and a contemporary work made in the past year by David Weldzius.  Our tour also included highlights from the permanent collection that gives a light overview of the history of photography. On the top floor there is a camera obscura and the first floor has a zoetrope on display.

Leigh Gleason, the Curator of Collections showed us the Keystone Mast Collection of stereograph prints, and negatives by the Keystone View Company. This was especially exciting given my recent obsession with stereographs and explorations in new forms of stereographic viewing. She also manages a research library and curated the exhibition Recollection: Contemporary Artists Working With The Keystone Mast Collection. Low on juice, I plugged my phone in to charge in the study room. Sadly I did not get any photos of the archives. A special consideration for earthquake country, the glass plates are stored in seismically isolated bases that glide when shaken (or pushed) that will protect the glass negatives in the event of the eventual Big One. Before we left we got a peek into the Culver Center of the Arts, with an exhibition of contemporary art.

We topped off the evening with drinks at the Mission Inn before having dinner at Tio’s Tacos. The Mission Inn has been around since 1876 with further construction in 1903 and 1931. Madelyn Millen, retired UCR VR Curator, joined us for a bit and shared some wonderful updates from her post UCR life. We then walked over to Riverside hot spot Tio’s Tacos for eclectic and decidedly not seismically reinforced assemblage installations. The VRA crew took a few quiet moments in the chapel evaluating architectural significance and influences before chowing down on tacos and aguas frescas.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again at the annual VRA conference in Seattle this March, being held jointly with ARLIS/NA.

Tio's Tacos. Photo by Maureen Burns.

Tio’s Tacos. Photo by Maureen Burns.

Slack, Sweets, and Social Capital

Every morning at work I walk to the coffee cart with a few people that sit near me in the office. I hardly ever purchase coffee, preferring to bring my half-finished mug of tea to keep my hands warm along the way. The ritual, for me at least, is less about the coffee and more about connecting with coworkers. On the walk there and back we chat about our weekends, our families, and work frustrations. We give recommendations for books and podcasts we love, or entertain each other with stories of home and hobby projects we are in the midst of. One of those podcasts, from a TED talk by business leader Margaret Heffernan, about teamwork and leadership made its rounds. After we all had a chance to view the video on our own time, the group reflected that what we were doing was in fact, building social capital such as mentioned by Heffernan. I treasure my time with the #socialcoffee crew (a summary is sometimes tweeted as such) because it starts the day with collegial human interaction and helps gives purpose to the data wrangling that I spend most of my day doing.

Last Thursday S brought lemon pie, made with lemons from B’s backyard lemon tree. There has also been homemade macaroons, chocolate chip cookies, soda bread, and top notch donuts and pastries from local bakeries. Doesn’t seem to matter what the flavor of the week of, the real benefit is seeing my team in person for a few minutes away from our computers. Inspired in part by the Heffernan talk, we’ve instigated a daily Fika. This open to all BYO coffee break is made extra special on Thursdays with some sort of sweet treat. Much of my work is done on the computer and with a surplus of digital tools, much of our team communication is done online. I work in a large organization, with offices spread across floors and various buildings on campus and its nice to meet people I don’t ever get to see in person. I get to hear about what other teams are working on outside of my little bubble. It’s easy to ping your boss a quick IM to ask a question, but its nicer to hear her thoughts in person with a side of fresh air and pastries.

861baaca-bfeb-402c-b69e-ed221360bf18That’s not to say that technology is always an impediment to collaboration and social capital. Last year our communications team opened a company wide Slack account. Its organically gained a following of digital folks from social media, web, publications, IT, library, collections, and other departments. I think everyone has something of value to add and it will be interesting to see how the conversation evolves as more self-described non-tech people join. It’s had an exciting ebb and flow of cross department banter, silly gifs, and genuinely helpful conversations. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with people in other departments to share current web articles, emerging tech, industry blogs, and brainstorm on projects. I get lost in my own projects and day to day tasks and forget that I am surrounded by smart and interesting people. All it takes apparently, is a few puppy gifs and the #nomnom channel to remind me that my colleagues are indeed likable, helpful humans beyond our regular email exchange. I am grateful to have a platform to meet and collaborate with more, as Ron Swanson says, “Workplace Proximity Associates.”  I am excited about the projects I see other people working on and have seen my own ideas gain traction and support. Making time to get to know my coworkers has made work more fun and I hope that it continues to build rapport and make our team stronger.

What rituals or tools help with your team building?