Collections manager

 12 March 2013

A collections manager deals with the physical condition of the collection, making it accessible to as many people as possible.

The collections manager oversees the physical condition of the collection. Image: Birmingham Museums and Trust.
The collections manager oversees the physical condition of the collection. Image: Birmingham Museums and Trust.

What is the job like?

A collections manager oversees a heritage collection. They manage the physical condition of the collection, as well as its storage and display.

Day-to-day, the work could include:

  • organising temporary exhibitions
  • managing loans from and to other collections
  • developing the collection
  • cataloguing and recording
  • increasing access to the collection by the widest possible range of visitors, both public and professional
  • managing other specialist activities such as conservation, documentation or archives
  • promotion and PR
  • bidding for funding
  • managing staff and volunteers
  • fundraising
  • managing budgets.

A large part of the work can involve making the collection accessible to as many people as possible. They might do this by projects aimed at attracting particular groups, such as programmes to attract young people or events for carers.

A large collection may have a collections management team. The collections manager may, therefore, play a more strategic role in developing a management plan for the collection, while other staff implement the plan. In a smaller collection, the collections manager may take sole responsibility for all aspects of collections management.

Collection holders

Important collections of all sizes may be held by, for example:

A large part of the work can involve making the collection accessible to as many people as possible.

  • museums
  • local authorities
  • churches and cathedrals
  • private collectors
  • universities
  • companies
  • professional bodies.

Most collections managers work for the organisation which holds or owns the collection. Some, however, are self-employed and work on a freelance basis, usually on individual projects.

Collections managers may work entirely indoors, or spend some time outdoors, depending on the collection they manage. They may spend time visiting other collections or attending meetings and conferences.

How do I become a collections manager?

You need a deep interest in the heritage sector. You need to be a good communicator, well-organised and able to work as part of a team. At the same time, you need to be able to use your own initiative and be self-motivated.

Increasingly, collections managers need to be very commercially aware, as most heritage collections nowadays need to maximise their income.

For senior posts, leadership skills are essential. You need to be able to inspire staff and have vision for your collection.

Qualifications and training

Collections managers are usually graduates. Many have a Masters or PhD as well.

You will need a qualification in museum studies, heritage management or a related subject. This may be the subject of your first degree. Or you may decide to study another subject which interests you and then take a Masters in a heritage management subject.

Degrees and Masters in heritage, museum studies, etc are widely available at universities across the UK. Details are available on the UCAS and UKPASS websites.

Many collections managers, particularly if they want to manage a large collection and a large staff team, have a further qualification. This could be an MBA or a project management qualification.

Experience

Collections managers also need considerable experience in the heritage sector. This could be in another branch of heritage work, as an archivist, curator or conservator, for example.

You may have opportunities to travel abroad to visit other collections or to conferences. There may be opportunities to manage collections overseas.

Career development 

To develop your career, you are likely to need to change employers. This will help you build up experience, either with a wide range of collections or within a specialism.

To work as a freelance in collections management, you need to build up experience in the heritage sector. This could be by working on different projects and in a wide variety of collections. Or you could decide to become a specialist in some area of collections management.

Working on a self-employed basis means you will need business skills so you can market your services, deal with finances and develop your business. You may advertise your research service on a website. A lot of your work, however, is likely to come from developing a reputation in the heritage world.

What can I earn?

Salaries depend on the size and prestige of the collection. A collections manager in a museum could earn from £22,000 to around £27,000. A head of collections could earn £50,000 or more.


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