‘I took three buses to volunteer!’ is the true story of how during one volunteer placement I had to take three buses to arrive at my work place in time.This blog post concentrates on the need for perseverance, persistence and sheer old-fashioned hard work if you want to weather the storm of the precarious nature of museum work. Short contracts, low pay, little or no job security and the coveted ‘permanent job’ that might not be yours for many years to come if you don’t work hard and push yourself in the busy world that is a career in history and heritage.
I took three buses in 2012 to participate as a volunteer on a multi-million conservation project at Mount Stewart House (pictured above), a National Trust property, as a conservation volunteer. This job and the skills I learnt at Mount Stewart led to my first full-time museum job. Which in turn led to my undertaking of an MA in Museum Studies at the University of Leeds in 2014-2015 and so on and so forth until my most recent job working for the National Trust for Scotland (see creepy picture below from Rabbie Burns Birthplace Museum!). You are lucky as a young museum professional to even get a non-retail or front of house job in a museum as your first job. You will need to volunteer to get experience in conservation, curation, collections, educational development etc. before you can realistically apply for temporary or permanent job. Every museum wants a candidate with experience and if unfortunately, you may have to work in a non-museum and volunteer in your spare time before applying for a job.
This is not to put people off or be negative about museums in anyway I am just trying to be realistic in the expectations of so many people who want to work in museums. You need to be realistic and realize that you might have to, like I did, go out of your way to get voluntary experience. Alternatively, if you can afford it to move for a museum job that is longer than six months for valuable experience I would highly reccomend it. Who knows you might even get more work out of the museum once your contract ends or even the holy grail of museum jobs a permanent position! You need to work hard and contact your local museum to get that volunteering experience even if it means you’re starting of answering phones, photocopying and making tea like I did. You begin to gradually gain skills to be trusted with the 1940s clothing collection to photograph and pack whilst coveting every single item for your own wardrobe (true story).
My career from 2011 until 2012 was a mixture of museum retail and museum curatorial and bar a few retail and admin jobs I’ve been working and volunteering in a museum or heritage site ever since. If you work hard and if you persevere you will get there eventually in the end but not just as fast as you may have wanted. We are too used to instant gratification in 2019 and a lot of people don’t see the point in hard work but how else will you become an expert in your field, or the person people go to for freelance museum work in your area? Sheer hard-work, preservation and persistence will pay off and you will get there just like I did. I’m now starting to be recognized as someone who ‘knows stuff’ about Irish dress history, Irish women’s history and curation and collections in museums. It’s taken ten years and might take another ten before I’m an expert in my area but it will be worth it because I know I’ve worked hard and hope you will as well to get to where you want to in your museum career!
Author’s Own Image.