Museums offer many exciting job opportunities for young people, as well as for those wishing to change careers. The work is challenging, not of a routine nature, and the working environment is stimulating.
Museums study, analyse and probe the past in relation to other creatures and plants, examining the forces that have shaped the earth and the living environments. Because the scope of our heritage is broad, museums vary considerably. There are museums of art, banking, history, medicine, photography, transport, science, natural history and many others. Irrespective of the differences in the objects they collect, all museums have common functions. These are to :
The various departments and the work done by the people in museums include:
Research department : every museum carries out research in its own field, whether it is earth sciences, biology, early man, history or modern man. Museums employ staff solely for this purpose, from art historians to zoologists.
Research staff [also known as professional officers], ensure that relevant objects are collected and understood. The collections they establish form the basis for their research projects and are added to the overall holdings of the museums. The minimum qualification needed by research staff is a degree and preferably honours. Subjects and majors should be selected with the career speciality in mind.
In larger research departments, there are openings for research assistants who work with senior researchers, helping with tasks such as sorting specimens, measurements, recording, sampling and sometimes field-work. Matriculants are often appointed to these positions, but a B degree is an advantage.
The care of collections is done by collection managers, who are in charge of cataloguing, storing and retrieving objects. They work closely with the researchers. No specific training exists, but most museums expect a relevant B. degree and a love for the subject.
Conservation department: museum objects are often very old and many of them have suffered from the effects of mechanical stress, temperature fluctuation, ultraviolet light irradiation and insect attack, or simply from wear-and-tear, to the point where they show deterioration and damage.
The conservator’s task is to halt any deterioration occurring in objects and, occasionally, to repair damage. A conservator requires mechanical expertise (art, carpentry, metal-work, sewing skills, etc) as well as chemical knowledge. In fact chemistry forms a major component of a conservator’s activities and much time is devoted to analysing, cleaning, consolidating and painting fragile objects. No formal qualifying courses currently exist in South Africa, except for a diploma course for conservators of pictorial art, instigated by the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
Display department: modern museums are showcases of interest and beauty filled with exciting objects, collections and exhibitions in elegantly designed surroundings with harmonious colours and dramatic lighting.
Exhibition officers are in charge of establishing new exhibitions and running the display department. They are required to plan the overall aesthetic layout of the hall, as well as to interpret educational messages in an understandable manner. They usually have a background in art, such as a diploma in Graphic Design.
Display artists create individual displays and prepare artwork to enhance and show off the objects attractively. They paint background scenery, draw graphics and prepare labelling. Illustrators who are able to paint accurately and in colour usually fill these posts. Formal training is preferred and a diploma or degree in Fine Arts or Graphics is recommended.
The taxidermist works in a natural history museum, where he prepares animal specimens for display purposes. His challenge is to create a replica of the animal that is biologically correct and aesthetically pleasing.
Because you would be working with dead creatures, you should not be overly emotional, but rather the kind of person who finds satisfaction in the beautiful shape and form of animals.
There are no training courses specifically for taxidermists in South Africa. Graduates in Fine Arts [Sculpture] with a love for animals, have been successful in this position.
Display carpenters are members of the display team and build display cases and any timber structures needed in the halls. Technical college training in Carpentry is recommended for the position.
Photographers are often attached to the display department. Their work is of a recording rather than a creative nature and requires accuracy and a good knowledge of lighting. A university of technology qualification is desirable.
An educational officer is in charge of the educational department and it is his duty to create, plan and manage educational programs.
A relevant degree, together with a one-year post-graduate teaching diploma, is the ideal qualification. Fluency in local African languages is recommended.
The guide lecturer assists with the educational functions in the museum and provides a personal touch by acting as host or hostess to visitors. In this capacity, guide lecturers handle visitor enquiries, lecture groups, publish museum newsletters and liaise with the media to create a good public relation image. While matriculants have been appointed to this position in the past, those with a degree or teaching diploma are preferred.
The librarian in charge is responsible for purchasing, cataloguing and shelving books, as well as for retrieving information. Because museums’ libraries are generally small and of a specialised nature, the librarian’s duties cover all aspects of librarianship and only qualified librarians are appointed.
Museums also employ administrative, clerical, security and maintenance staff who provide support for the more visible functions of a museum. The administration department is responsible for the smooth functioning of all departments, financial duties and other administrative tasks. A University of Technology diploma in Public Administration, or a BCom, is a necessary qualification for appointment to this position.
Schooling & School Subjects
Degree: many careers in a museum require a university degree, university of technology diploma, or TVET college training. Computer literacy is becoming increasingly important today and training in this subject will be valuable in many jobs.
The specific training involved in the different careers, is mentioned in the above discussion. Most posts require qualification such as a Bdegree or diploma in a certain specialised field, such as Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Archaeology and History.
Diploma: Employees in service of museums can follow the N.Dip: Archival Studies, a correspondence course offered by the UNISA.
Ditsong Museums of SA
70 WF Nkomo (Church) Street West,
Tel: (012) 492-5744