Museum assistants/technicians work in museums and galleries, combining customer service, which is the main focus of the job, with the care of museum artefacts and exhibits. A wide range of museums exist throughout the UK, from small, local and family collections to large, interactive visitor attractions. As well as individual visitors, museums are visited by groups from schools, clubs and societies and people with special interests, such as research for a project or book.
Jobs vary with museum size, but usually include:
Museum assistants/technicians with technical ability may also do carpentry, lighting and maintenance work. Other jobs can include cleaning of cabinets and exhibition areas, ensuring availability of sufficient leaflets or guides, and cataloguing new exhibits or those going into storage.
Museum assistants/technicians must continually update their knowledge of the museum and its displays and exhibits. Where there are hands-on and interactive exhibits, they must know how each one works so that they can provide assistance to visitors.
Some assistants/technicians give guided tours of the museum at set times or for pre-booked groups. Others sell publications and souvenirs from the museum shop.
Specialist skills are required to care for museum artefacts/exhibits, including handling and packing techniques, and the use of correct materials and temperatures to ensure that items remain in the best possible condition.
Museum assistants/technicians usually work a 35 to 37-hour week. Many museums are open at weekends and on bank holidays, so work may be on a rota basis to cover opening hours. There may be occasional evening work, for example for special exhibition previews. Part-time or seasonal work may be available.
Work is usually indoors, in areas designed specifically for exhibits and displays. Some assistants/technicians work outdoors in open-air museums. The job can involve considerable standing, lifting, bending and stretching. The working environment can be very busy and crowded at times. Some exhibits need cool or warm temperatures and different levels of lighting to preserve their colour and texture.
A driving licence can be useful, especially if working on a large site or for a group of museums.
Some employers provide a uniform and/or a name badge.
The usual starting salary for a museum assistant/technician is around £13,000 a year.
There are around 3,000 different types of museum in the UK, providing a range of jobs. Employers include local authorities, heritage and conservation organisations and individual visitor attraction owners.
Full-time jobs are available in many museums, especially large ones that are open all year. There are often part-time, seasonal and casual job opportunities too.
Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, The Guardian (Monday media section) and Museums Journal. The Guardian (www.jobs.guardian.co.uk), Museums Association and Institute of Conservation also have job searches on their websites.
There are no set academic requirements for entry to this job, but some employers prefer applicants with at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), while others specifically ask for a degree.
It is also important to have some experience of working with the general public. Voluntary work or work experience in a museum can also be helpful when applying for vacancies.
Specific degree courses are available in:
- Arts and cultural management
- Heritage management
- History of art
- History, museums and heritage
- Museum and gallery studies
Other useful degree course subjects include English and history. Entry requirements for degree courses are usually five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and a minimum of two A levels/H grades or acceptable equivalents. Postgraduate diplomas are also available in museum studies. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website (www.ucas.com) has information on universities and colleges offering degree and postgraduate courses.
If a museum assistant/technician's job involves working with children, a Criminal Records Bureau check will be required.
New museum assistants/technicians receive on-the-job training from the curator and/or other experienced staff. There are specific NVQ's/SVQ's available for museum workers:
- Heritage Care and Visitor Services Level 2
- Cultural Heritage Operations Level 3
- Cultural Heritage Level 4
Degree courses usually last three years and combine studies with practical work and, sometimes, work placements. Postgraduate degree courses usually last between one and two years, depending on the course and whether they involve full or part-time study.
The Museums Association offers Continuing Professional Development (CPD) schemes for people working in museums to allow them to develop their knowledge and skills throughout their careers. The Institute of Conservation has a membership scheme.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A museum assistant/technician should:
There may be promotion opportunities for museum assistants/technicians who have developed their skills to supervisor or assistant curator. Those working in small museums may be able to obtain jobs at larger museums or national collections once they have gained experience.
Some museum workers move into other areas, such as archives, conservation or tourism.
The Institute of Conservation,
3rd Floor, Downstream Building,
1 London Bridge, London SE1 9BG
Tel: 020 7785 3807
24 Calvin Street, London E1 6NW
Tel: 020 7426 6910
Northern Ireland Museums Council,
6 Crescent Gardens, Belfast BT7 1NS
Tel: 028 9055 0215
Scottish Museums Council,
The Stack, Papermill Wynd,
McDonald Road, Edinburgh EH7 4QL
Tel: 0131 550 4100
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.