March 15, 2007
Therese Littleton, director of curatorial affairs, Science Fiction Museum
SCIENCE FICTION MUSEUM
In late 2003, Therese Littleton turned a lifelong love for science fiction into one of the most coveted jobs in the universe. She's the director of curatorial affairs at Seattle's Science Fiction Museum. Every day, Littleton works with the museum's advisory board – consisting of famous science fiction authors and filmmakers, among others – and makes exhibits-related and administrative decisions for the one-of-a-kind Seattle Center attraction.
Q: How did you end up at the Science Fiction Museum?
A: Getting science-fiction professional experience is somewhat tough if you're not in the publishing world. I would say that I lucked into this career path. I was the science-fiction and fantasy editor at Amazon.com, which is one way of getting professional science-fiction experience on your resume. So I basically got it because of my job at Amazon.com, and I think that's a lucky thing. I came on here as a contract content coordinator in the curatorial department and I worked my way up.
"This is probably the second coolest job at the museum. I'd say senior curator is the coolest."
Q: You didn't have any museum experience, though?
A: I had some collections experience. I did a stint as an assistant at the University of Washington Fish Collection, which is a collection that's run like a museum. There's a collection manager and a database and they use all the same museum software experience. I learned on that job.
Q: What is your typical day at the SFM like?
A: Well, I have a lot of meetings, like anyone who is in management at a nonprofit. But some of the things I'm doing today are calling some very famous science-fiction people (whose names I can't share right now) to arrange our Science Fiction Hall of Fame induction ceremony in June. So I'm trying to see if I can get some people from Hollywood to come up to Seattle and go to this ceremony. And that's really fun, talking to their assistants and trying to get them excited. I'm also contacting some costume designers from various science-fiction movies to arrange a lecture for the education department, related to our costume exhibit that is also opening this summer. And I'm writing a second draft of text related to "Star Wars," for that same exhibit.
Q: Of all the amazing items in the museum's collection, do you have a personal favorite?
A: My favorite thing on display is something that most people would probably pass right by. It's this, I think 1919, manuscript for "The Skylark of Space," by E.E. "Doc" Smith. It's a really cool old typewritten, hand-bound manuscript with marbled end papers, and it's just a beautiful object. Plus it's one of the very, very early American science fiction novels that set the tone for the genre for a long, long time. A kind of space opera.
Q: What advice would you have for someone who was really into science fiction and wanted to get a job at the Science Fiction Museum?
A: For general people who want to get in to the Science Fiction Museum but don't want to necessarily get a museum degree, we have a docent program starting up for the first time, which will be really cool. The education department will be handling that. We'll need content experts to help our visitors understand our exhibits on a deeper level. It's a volunteer program, but that's often a good way to get your foot into the door anywhere
Q: What about for those seeking a job at a more traditional museum?
A: The way I came in is rather non-traditional and flukey. People tend to get either masters degrees or doctorates in museology to get into curatorial-type or collections-type jobs. The University of Washington has a really good – not only a degree program – but a certificate program as well. And then people who want to get into management – any nonprofit management program or degree program would help you get the exact skills that you need to run a museum. When you get to this level, the job is a lot of fund raising and talking to people, rather than hands-on, putting-things-in-cases.
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