The Importance of Being Earnest: Entering the Museum Field, Part Two

Outside the British Museum

In my last post on entering the museum field, I discussed the trends of library, archives, and museum studies education/training as diverging paths rather than integrating ones, based upon an article by J. Trant. Also, I included my own personal experiences in the greater Milwaukee area and my own struggles with choosing graduate programs to apply for.

In the second of three posts, I will be summarizing what Florida State University professor Paul F. Marty concluded are important characteristics to have as a museum information professional. His paper, entitled “So You Want to Work in A Museum…Guiding the Careers of Future Museum Information Professionals”, brings together research pulled from interviews with 21 museum professionals to “influence the ability of Library and Information Science (LIS) students who wish to pursue museum careers”. [1]

The five factors Dr. Marty identifies as important are as follows:

Factor 1: The museum information professional will benefit by having expertise or credentials in a background domain or discipline relevant to the museum where he or she works.

Factor 2: The museum information professional will benefit by having expertise or credentials in Library and Information Science relevant to the museum where he or she works.

Factor 3: The museum information professional will benefit by having expertise or credentials in Museum Studies relevant to the museum where he or she works.

Factor 4: The museum information professional will benefit by having prior experience working in a museum.

Factor 5: The museum information professional will benefit by having the ability to learn new skills and face new challenges on the job.

Dr. Marty not only points out that these factors are rather obvious but also that:

“The second limitation, perhaps, is more serious. It is literally ridiculous to expect that any one student will actually go to the effort to fulfill all five of these factors just to work in a museum. Doing this correctly could very well entail that student pursuing multiple bachelor’s degrees, multiple master’s degrees, possibly even a Ph.D., not to mention as many IT certification
programs as the student can afford, plus years of museum experience (which most likely will be unpaid or poorly paid positions), all so that the student can land a job that will pay, if the student is lucky, around $35,000 a year. This, obviously, is not going to happen.” [2]

While I agree with the five factors Marty identifies, I have to disagree with his above assessment of the limitations of his study. It may be ridiculous to expect a student to achieve all of these factors in a reasonable amount of time. At the same time, however, it is not entirely infeasible. If students are interested in pursuing a museum career and recognize such an interest early on in their academic careers, then steps can be taken to ensure they best prepare themselves for the journey. Take the initiative and inquire into working/interning at a local library early on. Volunteer at a local museum. Know one has to remain flexible in order to get a job. Get a liberal arts degree. Take computer classes. Plan for a double masters degree early on or look at a historical administration degree. And most importantly, do your research. Trends are always changing, and knowledge of the museum field in terms of education and job prospects is key. The museum field is a very difficult one to get into, but if one is committed, then there is nothing saying he or she cannot be successful. One just has to be realistic…and just a little bit crazy as well.

Keeping these factors in mind, my last post in the series will discuss different ways in which to get involved in the museum field. There is a lot beyond giving tours at a local museum. The behind-the-scenes-work is just as exciting and leads to some wonderful opportunities. Please make sure to look over the Marty article if you have any interest in entering the museum field. It has a lot of valid information, and Dr. Marty has conducted additional research in the museum field.

[1 ] P.F. Marty, “So You Want to Work in a Museum? Guiding the Careers of Future Information Professionals in Museums,” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 46, no.2 (2005): 115-133, 115.

[2] Ibid., 129.

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