Speak the Truth and Point to Hope – Caroline Kinsley

Written by Caroline Kinsley, Library Specialist, Arizona State Museum, and WMA 2023 Wanda Chin Scholarship Recipient

As a librarian and archivist, I never expected to work in a museum. But in 2022, I accepted a position in the Arizona State Museum in Tucson and started an exciting new chapter in my career. I was eager to learn more about the way that my work as a librarian and archivist could complement the museum profession, so I joined the Western Museum Association for professional support. Thanks to the generous Wanda Chin Scholarship, I was able to attend the 2023 Annual Meeting in Pasadena.


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The theme “Connect” promised a conference full of networking opportunities, challenging sessions, and exciting museum visits. From the moment I arrived at the hotel, I was greeted with smiling faces and warm welcomes from my fellow attendees. At the Opening Reception, I quickly met a wide variety of people, from first-time attendees to members at their 20th conference. Everyone I met provided a unique and meaningful connection, and I walked out of the Opening Reception with a newly formed “conference network” that carried through the rest of the annual meeting. The conference also offered more informal ways to connect, like Friday night’s happy hours. I particularly enjoyed the Collections Happy Hour, where we played a game of networking bingo to find colleagues who had unique and unusual items in their holdings.  

The Annual Meeting began in earnest on Friday morning with the General Session and Keynote. The Keynote speech by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the Director and CEO of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, was an inspiring and energizing talk. While she covered a lot of topics, she frequently came back to the imperative, “Speak the truth and point to hope”. This idea became an informal theme of the conference for me, and I reflected on it as I followed the “Indigenous” session track through the conference. I attended challenging and vital sessions on Reclaiming Land, Dismantling Colonial Practices, and Moving Conversations from Decolonization to Indigenization. I often came back to our responsibilities as museums to speak the truth, even about our past failures, while pointing to hope in the form of concrete plans to improve.


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Finally, the conference also offered opportunities to explore some of the beautiful museums in Pasadena. I attended a pre-conference tour of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. The tour included visits to the conservation lab, where conservators assess and treat the museum books, photographs, and paintings. We also visited the Herbarium, a repository of thousands of plant specimens. I also had a chance to attend a cocktail hour at the Autry Museum of the American West. Their current exhibit, “Imagined Wests”, was a delightful romp through the many ways that “The West” appears in pop culture. The exhibit contrasted with another exhibit on the Sherman Indian School, an often-overlooked chapter in the history of the American West. The museum visit was a perfect complement to the day’s discussions.


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The WMA Annual Meeting was an energizing and edifying weekend, and I am so thankful that the Wanda Chin Scholarship allowed me to attend. I left the conference feeling more knowledgeable, more passionate, and more excited about my new career path in museums. Most of all, I am already looking forward to next year’s annual meeting in Tucson!


Caroline Kinsley is a Library Specialist at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The ASM Library and Archives is a publicly accessible research collection specializing in the anthropology of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, including archaeology, ethnology, ethnohistory, and material culture. The Library holds over 100,000 volumes, many of which are rare titles, and over 2,000 linear feet of archival documents. Caroline earned a master’s degree in library science and a certificate in archival studies from the University of Arizona in 2021, and she joined the ASM staff in 2022.