When you take your first steps into the world of museums, the variety of job titles you come across can be dazzling. There are curators, collections and documentation officers, registrars, exhibition designers, technicians, conservators, educators, accessibility facilitators, social media managers and public engagement officers – to name but a few. Confusingly, none of these job titles have fixed definitions – and they can and do mean different things in different museums.

Critters
Like an ecosystem, museums are full of diverse creatures struggling to survive. Diorama in the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Fortunately, you don’t have to decide on your dream job title just yet. All of these jobs can be grouped into a smaller number of broad categories. Registrars, collections officers and documentation officers all perform broadly similar roles and have in common a close connection to museum objects and object information on a day-to-day working basis. Educators, on the other hand, perform their own specialised and specific function. The Museums Association has provided a useful set of typical role profiles here.

Having a general sense of the direction you want to go in is really useful. As soon as you establish it, you can start to be more focused when it comes to looking for jobs and voluntary roles.

While I never knew from the off that I wanted to be a ‘Collections Management Assistant’, I did know after I had been volunteering for a few months that I really wanted to work in collections or documentation.

If you’re still not sure where you see your own particular path going, then try to get as much of a broad overview of the different sorts of jobs in which you might be interested. Apply for voluntary roles in new and uncharted territory, or ask existing supervisors if they can provide you with more varied experience. Talk to people in other areas of museum work about their daily working lives. Ask around for advice. You’ll find people willing to help.

Museum professionals are a friendly bunch, on the whole. We’ve all worked really hard to get where we are, and we remember how difficult it was when we were starting out. All of us received help along the way, and a lot of us feel a strong duty to pass that mantle of received wisdom down onto the next generation. Just remember to say thank you whenever anyone helps you. That’s really important.

As soon as you feel settled on one particular area, then focus your job hunting efforts onto it. In the next section, we will talk about how to look at job adverts, and how to use them to identify any skills gaps which you may have.

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