Careers in museums

 4 February 2011

Four people at the Derry City Council Museum Service discuss their careers in management, education, archives and genealogy.

Museum manager

"Derry Museum Service is the biggest museum service in Northern Ireland for a local authority, and it's certainly one of the biggest in Ireland. In the museum there's a range of roles.

“There's a number of behind-the-scenes roles: you'd have the curator, an education officer, an archivist, a genealogist perhaps. You might have somebody who documents the collection. In the museum here we also have an exhibitions manager. There's also a range of front of house jobs: attendant guides, receptionists. So it's a pretty varied number of jobs.

"I thought I would like to do something with history, to popularise history, or to increase access to history. So I thought 'heritage management'. I went off and did some voluntary work for about six months in various heritage organisations, and then I got a pretty lowly museums job for about six or seven months. Then I did a postgraduate qualification in museum studies in Leicester, and gradually built my way up after that.

"We can't lose sight of the reason why we have heritage and what we do it for. We don't really do museums or heritage for tourists or for economic development. The reason we do it is because we believe there's a value in heritage, and we believe that people, whenever they access it, get something out of it."

Museum education officer

"My role involves putting programmes together for schools that are relevant to the curriculum, and also helping with the delivery of those programmes within the museum context.

“Working in cultural heritage and working in a museum context, you get to meet so many different people. Exhibitions change, and your programme changes year on year, there is variety and opportunity to do things differently."

“We are looking at community involvement, at family learning, at adult learning.

"We're looking at ways the museum, and particularly collections within the museums, can be used to enhance people's understanding of where they live, their local heritage, or just understanding where we've come from in our past.

"From the idea of being a user of museums, I wanted to be on the other side and try and make the museum accessible to others.

"I thought this is a great opportunity, because I can use my skills I acquired through teaching, but now I get to do it in a different, more informal context.

Museum archivist

"An archivist is very much a curatorial role. The archivist's main role is to look after paper collections, works of art on paper, and any ephemera which is paper-based. So in a role with a local authority, for instance, we would look after things like minute books, correspondence, works of art and private collections which includes photographs and drawings.

“We're trying to get rid of the idea of dusty old archives and dusty old books. We try to integrate them into education programmes and into exhibitions, so people can understand how we use these and how we pull information from an archive collection to interpret your history or your heritage.

"It is a very broad career. There's jobs available in the business sector. The likes of Guinness and a lot of the very large banking organisations employ archivists and record manager. There's also a lot of councils and local authorities and government departments who employ archivists. So record management and the digitisation of collections is really becoming a growth area in employment."

Museum genealogist

"It used to be genealogy was associated with tourists: with Americans, Australians, people from Britain. But with a few initiatives that have happened recently: the 'Who Do You Think You Are?' programme, the 1911 census for all of Ireland going live. It's generated a lot of interest locally within family history.

"I look back, my strong subjects were always geography and history. I mean, genealogy is a marriage of history and geography because you have to know about place to study family history."

“I think schools maybe make use of family history as an introduction to the history of the community. So it's a very broad subject.

"The one thing you have to bring to family history is a passion for doing it, to be honest. Family history's one of those things that either sends you to sleep or really does get you going. I was talking to an American yesterday, she's on her eighth trip to Ireland, just trying to pin down her ancestors, and she just loves the chase."

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