June 2015

An Editor Reminisces

I still recall my first official meeting with publisher Mitch Allen at a Vietnamese restaurant in Washington, DC in December 2005. As I dribbled spring roll sauce on the white paper tablecloth, we discussed the ins and outs of the new partnership between Left Coast Press and MER. One piece of advice from Mitch particularly stuck with me: if you have to choose between perfection and meeting the publication deadline, the latter is preferred! He said subscribers expect to receive their journals regularly, and if deliveries are erratic you tend to lose readers. It turned out to be an important lesson, one of many during my three-year tenure as the editor-in-chief of the JME.

Earlier in 2005 I had taken on this mantle, following in the footsteps of my illustrious colleagues Wendy Pollock, Gretchen Jennings (my former boss), and their predecessors. At the time the JME was self-published in an 8 ½ x 11” paper format with wonderful managing editors Ann Hofstra Grogg and Ellen Hirzy. Once we began co-publishing with Left Coast Press, the JME’s design was updated to a standard 6×9” journal format to fit better on bookshelves, with a glossy green cover. Detta Penna was the excellent production manager with whom I worked closely, and we made sure that we met the agreed upon publication schedule for every issue.

When the editor-in-chief position was first suggested to me, I didn’t see myself as an obvious candidate to edit this premier museum education journal. I thought of myself as an historian and curator, although I’d worked as an educator on a couple of Smithsonian exhibition teams as well as helped develop and lead educational programs and activities. Then I realized that, actually, my multi-faceted career gave me a useful perspective in overseeing the JME. After all, many people in the museum field wear multiple hats and come to the profession from a variety of backgrounds. So I was hardly unique yet well prepared to work with museum educators of all types.

With the MER Board’s support, particularly then-president Mychalene Giampaoli, I took on the editor role with my first issue “Encouraging Creativity” (volume 30, number 1). As JME readers know, each journal issue generally focuses on a theme. Usually a guest editor serves as the content specialist who invites or solicits authors for the issue and works with them directly. The editor-in-chief serves primarily as a facilitator among the guest editor, authors, JME editorial advisors, MER Board, and the JME production manager(s) to ensure everything runs smoothly and on time. Sometimes the editor-in-chief plays the issue editor role if she/he has a particular specialty. For me, the latter was true for my first issue because of my job at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Gretchen and I had worked together on the Center’s Invention at Play exhibition, and our primary and secondary research on creativity, invention, and play inspired me to want to delve into the topic with the JME.

Themes that we explored after that included field trips, museums and relevancy, curriculum theory, professional relevance of museum educators, digital technology in Japanese museums, critical thinking skills, place-based museum education, adult learning in museums, and the learning sciences. Along the way I worked with an amazing group of guest editors on those respective journal issues: Lynn McRainey; Gail Anderson; Julia Rose; Elsa Bailey; Makoto Manabe and Lois Lydens; Rebecca Herz; Mark Graham and Sharon Gray; Robin Grenier; and Heather Zimmerman and Sandra Martell. Of course JME’s success is primarily thanks to their hard work and vision, the excellent contributions of authors too numerous to mention, and JME editorial advisors and guest reviewers who provide the peer review necessary to ensure the continuing high quality of the content.

As readers may or may not know, back then the JME editor-in-chief position was a volunteer role. So while I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot, it was an unpaid second job that required a lot of time and attention. Even with a stipend attached, this is not a role to take on lightly; you have to be committed to spending nights and weekends working long hours ensuring its quality and timeliness. Although I loved working with the MER Board, JME advisors, Detta Penna, and Left Coast Press, after three years it became time to pass the editorial baton to Liz Maurer. After her, the JME has been extremely fortunate to flourish under the leadership of Tina Nolan and Cynthia Robinson. Ten years later and JME is at volume 40 and counting. Long may it continue to serve the museum education community!

Monica M. Smith is the exhibition program manager at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and served as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Education (2005-2008).