Molly Brookfield, exhibitions

 26 March 2013

Molly engages visitors with exhibitions on the Second World War, working with the world's oldest holocaust collection. She explains the ways that working with the archive is keeping her busy.

Molly Brookfield uses the archive collection to create visually stimulating and historically significant exhibitions. Copyright: The Wiener
Molly Brookfield uses the archive collection to create visually stimulating and historically significant exhibitions. Copyright: The Wiener

What is your hometown?

St Paul, Minnesota USA

What is your job title?

Visitor and Exhibition Officer at The Wiener Library.

What qualifications did you do?

During high school, I was interested in history and I volunteered in museums.

In the United States, we had SATs and college general exams. I did advanced placements in History, English and Maths. For my degree, I majored in History and minored in American Studies.

"The extra skills that you learn will give you a better chance of success and more diversity of experience."

I moved to the UK in 2010 to do my Masters in Cultural Heritage Studies. I thought an MA would help me get past entry level roles.

I didn’t want to get a PHP in History as I didn't want an academic career. I wanted to work with people so I looked for a role that delivered stories and engaged people heritage.

How did you get started in heritage?

In the United States, I did a string of roles. I had visitor-facing role in an exhibition area before working on a historical site wearing full costume. I had to cook with old tools from a different time period which was a lot of fun. These were all helpful to develop exhibition experience, and gave me a taste of working with visitors. It meant I could test out grand ideas and discover which ways of talking worked and didn’t work.

"Voluntary positions are great – there are very few ways of getting a paid job in the field without experience."

I did two placements at University and two during my MA. The MA in Cultural Heritage Studies helped on a theoretical level, while my work in exhibition development gave me practical experience.

The way I got a few of my placements was by cold-calling local historical societies, explaining my areas of interest and asking them if they had anything once a week that I could help them with. This approach is more do-able with smaller organisations, as they may have a lot of work and fewer staff members.

For five months, I did a course at the Geffrye Museum, which had an internship built-in. I learnt about museum interpretation and created an exhibition with my group, which involved object research and handling objects training.

What do you do as an exhibition officer?

I work in planning exhibitions, and this involves working with the marketing and communications. My tasks include:

  • Being the first point of contact for visitors and staff for exhibitions.
  • Developing exhibitions, creating marketing material and writing press releases.
  • Responding to all emails that come into our organisation.
  • Evaluating comments from visitors on the exhibitions, so that we can continuously improve the programme.
  • Overseeing the objects in cases and help direct the set-up and change-round of events.
  • Designing leaflets for the volunteer programme, events and all exhibitions.

Marketing the events and exhibitions is a large part of my role. This includes designing all the material that gets sent out to other organisations and the information that is used internally.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The variety is definitely the best part – I get up to a lot when there's an exhibition planned. I help the learning manager with the learning material text. The marketing manager might need an opinion on the visual creative projects. I am always happy to talk to visitors, researchers and librarians. It's nice to transfer some of my knowledge and help them understand exactly what is being shown.

It’s also a pleasure handling older historical objects. A lot of our collection is unique, so I have to be really careful with how I treat things.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

It is stressful when events and exhibitions happen at the same time. There is a crunch time of abour a week before the exhibition is due, which is when everything needs to be finalised.

At this time, I'm busy helping finalise the exhibition copy, marketing materials, signs for the exhibition. I also have to publicise the event so it means getting comfortable with digital tools to do this.

How do I get into heritage?

I would suggest the following:

1. Get some experience to help you grow

There are a number of internships that offer important insight into this industry. Voluntary positions are great to do as there are very few ways of getting a paid job in the field without experience.

I would suggest to go for an opportunity that interests you. Maybe do it while you’re at university, as you're more likely to have some free time, without the concerns of financial support.

2. Be organised

When you're working with the public and you have to deliver something to them, the deadlines become very tight and you have to deliver. Being organised is a great way of making your work easier, as tasks will get done quicker.

3. Be community-focussed

Learn to work well with people like visitors, other organisations loaning material teams and researchers with their own specialisms.

4. Branch out into different areas

Like any industry, you can get pigeon-holed if you hold too narrow an experience pool. You can help broaden your experience by getting involved in overlapping departments, like marketing, visitor services and event management.

When an organisation is small, it is important to have a great variety of skills so that you can get all the work done with limited resources.

Why is heritage important?

Heritage is where people get a sense of their place in the world and a sense of the history of an area. You can learn something from going to historical sites and, often, historical sites will have teams that bring the stories to life. Reading history from a text book, and seeing it it displayed in front of you, gives you two different routes into the past.

Yes, the Wiener Library is a library with a collection of books so it might not be perceived as heritage. It is heritage and it is important – we are giving information on a specific time period that we wouldn't know about if not for the texts.

For example, we have records from the Nuremburg Trial, which is really important for researchers. This is information that needs to be interpreted. Without all of this first-hand material, we wouldn't know very much about our history.


Molly is part of our heritage experts panel. Ask Molly a question about working in heritage.

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