Once you have identified your major skills gaps, you can start to look for ways to fill them. There are three ways to go about this. Firstly, you could ask your current supervisor(s) if they can give you any additional roles or responsibilities. Secondly, you can look around for other voluntary roles that might give you additional experience. Thirdly, you can explore options for further education or formal training. For me, I found the first two the most profitable.
Let’s look back at the hypothetical personal specification in the previous post.
|Qualifications||Essential (E)/ Desirable (D)|
|An undergraduate degree in a relevant subject||E|
|A postgraduate qualification in Museum Studies or similar subject, or commensurate experience working or volunteering in a museum||D|
|A good working knowledge of a museum database or collections management system||E|
|Experience with museum documentation procedures and knowledge of the SPECTRUM standard||E|
|Practical experience of working with museum collections||E|
|Experience of loans administration||D|
|Experience using the Mimsy XG collections management system||D|
|Experience in digitisation and digital photography||D|
|Skills and competencies|
|Strong written and verbal communication skills||E|
|Strong IT skills||E|
|Good team player||E|
I hadn’t heard of SPECTRUM before, but it kept on cropping up on job adverts. I also had no idea what museum documentation procedures meant beyond my limited experience in cataloguing and catalogue data entry. Quite simply, I asked my first supervisor at Guildford what it was all about.
He gave me a sketch of the SPECTRUM standard and the Accreditation process. He also ran through other areas of museum documentation, and I got a quick introduction to things like entry and exit forms, movement slips and transfer of title paperwork. He explained some of the procedures around object activities, such as acquisition and disposal committees, loans and destructive analysis. He highlighted the need for all these processes and requirements to be integrated into a documentation procedural manual and collections development policy. It was a comprehensive and thorough overview, and my knowledge had increased significantly. But what about practical experience?
Well, I asked. There weren’t always opportunities. Volunteers are usually ‘hired’ to fulfil a specific role, and the institution won’t necessarily have the resources to give you a practical crash course (and live-fire experience) of everything you need to know to start a career in museums. That said, many supervisors will be more than happy enough to give you as much professional advice as they can. Additionally, if you can make yourself useful and prove your general competency, you may find yourself being given additional roles without even having to ask.
I spent a long time volunteering at Guildford, under a number of different supervisors, over two and a half years, before I got my first paid job in the sector. Cataloguing remained the core of what I did, but soon I found myself assisting with tasks as varied as collections audits, location and movement control, and event sat on a few collections development committees. My practical experience of museum documentation procedures was growing all the time.
However, I did feel that I had reached a definite plateau in terms of the practical experience that was on offer at Guildford. In the next post, we’ll look at branching out to new voluntary roles to iron-out those last few remaining skills gaps.