Running a museum

 8 February 2011

Since the age of 15, Maggie Pedley has wanted to work in a museum. She worked at a number of local authority museums before becoming manager of the Bradford Industrial Museum.

Bradford's Industrial Museum has permanent displays of steam power.
Bradford's Industrial Museum has permanent displays of steam power.

Starting a career in cultural heritage

Maggie Pedley’s job title is Museums and Galleries Manager, which includes the running and development of Bradford Industrial Museum. An average day will involve a whole range of activities, from liaising with building contractors for repairs, to dealing with public enquiries about the collections.

"Volunteer for your local museum and put your knowledge into practice."

“At 15 years old, I did state on a school careers form that I wanted to work in research and restoration in a museum. My first job was at a musical instrument repair workshop for the local authority, repairing instruments used in schools.

"From there I took a job as a museum technician. A series of opportunities and working for three good local authority museum services in West Yorkshire meant working my way up the ladder over the last 20 years from Museum Technician -  with lots of part time study along the way!"

A typical day as museum manager

The department’s primary tasks are:

  • Deliver exhibition and events to the public
  • Learning and Outreach services
  • Conservation and restoration, collecting, research and preservation of the districts industrial heritage.

“I work directly with a team of 25 staff who deliver to the museum. Also within the service with five other sites, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the City Council of Bradford. I also work in partnership with many other organisations.

“Although this is a large museum the staff team is relatively small so I tend to get involved with every aspect – which means lots of variety.

  • Arrive at 8.00 a.m. dressed in jolly pink T-shirt emblazed with a picture of the museum on the front
  • Today is a children’s activity day so it’s all hands to the pump to help the front of house and learning teams. I cover tea breaks and lunches, so not too much involvement for me today
  • Write a briefing report for a councillor who is concerned that our four large Clydesdale horses are not on site enough at the moment
  • Arrange site meeting with Parks and Landscape regarding our site maintenance contract and confirm site meeting agenda for next week and distribute. Get out on site and take pictures to record problems
  • Arrange to visit local yarn supplier with our weaver tomorrow morning to purchase yarns for the next weave and discuss ideas for making items from woven cloth to sell in shop. (Came away with a few yards to play with – so that’s my weekend planned!)
  • Arrange to purchase sets uniform for three female front-of-house staff, which involves agreeing trips to shops and reimbursement/payment etc
  • Speak with costume hire company regarding costumes for the carol singers planned for the Christmas Market. Speak to organiser of choir about booking and fees.
  • Distribute Volunteer Policy and associated paper work to staff team with reminder email.
  • Speak with Bradford Bulls Marketing Manger to arrange meeting to discuss marketing plan for up and coming exhibition.
  • Spend some time working on drafting marketing plan to form basis of discussion.
  • Budget balancing and emails to staff to curb spending on some budgets.

Aims of the museum

"A series of opportunities and working for three good local authority museum services in West Yorkshire meant working my way up the ladder…with lots of part time study along the way!"

“The results of over 100 years of collecting and research has given the council a rich inheritance representing the material culture of the district that it holds in trust as community assets.

"These need to be preserved and interpreted, requiring a professionally run museum and gallery service.

“I would like to be in a position to spend some time looking into the future role of industrial museums and how they should develop to keep them relevant and popular with today’s audiences.

"I am acutely aware that many of our younger visitors have no reference points for the industries displayed. Unlike, say someone who left school in the 1970s and early 1980s, their parents are unlikely to work in the mills or they themselves will not have got jobs in mills and we need to reflect that in our interpretation.

“I would like to ensure that the skills of the staff here at the museum are preserved and passed on. The museum would not be the same without our team of weavers, spinners, drivers, horse keepers and printers.”

Working in a museum

The skills and qualities need to work in a museum are: “a good balance of experience and knowledge, including a knowledge of multi-disciplinary collections, successful project delivery (including temporary exhibitions), and a flexible approach to work.

“The number of people wishing to join the profession and the number of post available means that that entry level jobs are attracting people with a much higher level of  experience and qualifications than required.

“Visit museums and talk to the front of house teams. Better still, volunteer for your local museum and put your knowledge into practice so you have real examples to demonstrate your abilities at interview.

“Make sure your volunteering is project-based so that you can demonstrate project management skills.”

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