Working in a Museum

The museum sector is a large and vibrant element of the cultural and tourism economy that provides hundreds of jobs throughout Ireland. The museum community are the people – full-time, part-time, temporary and voluntary – who work in museums and aid this social, economic, leisure and learning process. Museums and galleries today are lively places in which to work with interesting and engaging displays, busy schedules of events and front-of-house staff to meet and greet visitors. However, in any museum, some jobs require specialised training, while others need a basic education and common sense.

Who Works in a Museum?

Jobs in areas such as exhibitions, education and public events involve working in teams with internal and external staff, and departments including: curators, IT, finance and HR, educators, registrars, contractors, marketing and press people, conservators, librarians, archivists and publications. Other areas include visitor services, information desks, Friends’ organizations, and the museum shop and cafe. The small museum is a multi-task environment in which everyone plays a role.

A museum/gallery exhibitions officer, for example, is responsible for planning, organising, administering and producing, individual permanent or touring exhibitions. This is what’s known as a project management role.  In larger museums and galleries, exhibitions officers may be specialists working alongside a team of curatorial, educational and marketing professionals. In smaller venues, the role can involve taking part in lots of different jobs, including curatorial work. 

A curator’s job is to build up museum collections, often in specialist areas. Curators document collections and develop ways in which objects, archives and artworks can be interpreted, through exhibitions, publications, events and audio-visual presentations.  All these tasks require curators to work with other colleagues, in conservation, education, design and marketing departments, for example.

Museum educators are involved in finding ways to use the collections to inspire people. They explain, interpret and convey information on the collections by means of events such as tours, lectures, seminars, workshops, publications like activity sheets, and handling collections, that can offer intense, lasting experiences. As well as providing advice on site, they engage in education outreach to bring the collections to wider audiences countrywide.

The role of the conservators is to care for collections by applying scientific methods to preserve and restore artefacts. They use their knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of objects and storage materials to control the environment in which artefacts are stored, displayed and transported. They conserve artefacts that are deteriorating. Some conservators work with a wide range of objects. Others specialise in archaeology; ceramics and glass; furniture and wood; gilding and decorative surfaces; historic interiors; metals; paintings; paper and books; photographic materials; stained glass; stone and wall paintings; textiles. Conservators also manage laboratories and do research projects. Senior conservation work needs specialist qualifications with a major science element.

Museum attendants are responsible for the security of the collections as well as the safety of the public. Increasingly, attendants and mediators engage with the public in answering questions, providing directions, and in certain cases, undertaking roles such as wearing period costumes and giving demonstrations of craft skills.