Museums are more than dusty repositories of artifacts that are worth preserving. They are also educational institutions that enlighten society with multimedia exhibits, educational programs and publications. The new and unusual often shares display space with the classic and tested. Museums achieve their objectives through several types of professionals with distinct responsibilities and qualifications.
At the top of the museum hierarchy are curators, who determine and manage collections for an institution. In fact, the museum director is often considered the highest-level curator. Most curators specialize in such fields as zoology, art or history. They acquire and store artifacts, plan and set up exhibits, and promote museum objectives in meetings with the community, media and educational institutions. They may seek funding for special projects by initiating grants or presiding over fundraisers. Most employers require at minimum a master’s degree in museum studies or in the museum’s focus, such as American history or archaeology. Small museums, however, sometimes accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree.
Museum Technicians and Conservators
Conservators and museum technicians store, take care of and preserve an institution's artifacts. Their tasks require extensive research on the item’s material composition, origins and functions, as well as knowledge of scientific methods of preservation. They may specialize in particular materials, such as fabric or wood, or types of objects, such as paintings or books. They often use X-ray machines, microscopes and other high-tech tools to analyze pieces. For conservators, the minimum requirement is a master’s degree in conservation or related field, and experience. For museum technicians who help conservators, a bachelor’s degree in museum studies, or in the museum’s field, is necessary.
Exhibit designers excite the museum visitor’s imagination by presenting artifacts in new and exciting ways. They consult with curators and conservators to identify the audience and what they hope to gain from an item, plan exhibits using computer hardware and software, and create budgets and schedules for their planned efforts. They may work on a small pedestal to herald an item to its best advantage, or create entire halls devoted to specific subjects. Employers typically demand a bachelor’s degree in scenic design, theater or set design. Courses related to a museum’s specialty are helpful and so is experience with computer-aided design, drawing and model-building.
Archivists maintain records of computer collections in databases that can be accessed by museum staff, educators and members of the public. They also work with paper records and historical documents to find the best ways of storage, preservation, security and retrieval. They create policies for document access, advise museum staff on educational programs and exhibit design, and conduct lectures and workshops on their activities. Archivists usually need a bachelor’s degree in library science or history. Courses related to the museum’s discipline may also be necessary. Many professionals learn their trade by starting out as museum volunteers or interns.