Museums: Behind the Scenes

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Welcome to a new series on Ameldi all about the behind the scenes work at museums, I thought about creating this series before Christmas but figured the new year would be a great time to start it! Museum work is incredibly varied but many people don't know much about it, unless you've volunteered or taken relevant studies or are just really interested in museums. So I thought it might be interesting to have a little Q&A with a few museum folk to give a little insight on what it's like to work in a museum.

First up is my friend James Scott, who currently works at the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent (although not for much longer as he's just got a fancy new job in London!) His current job is what some people might call 'proper curator work' (and some people have actually said that, but that's a funny story for a different time) but i'll let him give you the details, so let's get to it!

What's your job title and what do you actually do?

My job title is Deputy Curator (Exhibitions & Galleries). I manage the permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Museum. I do a lot of other stuff as well, like lecture tours, helping researchers, design work contributing to the website and several other things!

How did you get to where you are?

I got to my current job through an academic interest in military museums (this formed the basis of my MA dissertation). Whilst studying for my MA I volunteered and eventually became employed by North Down Museum (Northern Ireland). I got the assistant Curator job at my current museum in 2013 and then a year later I was promoted to my current post.

What does your everyday look like?

Everyday can be different, but like everyone I spend a lot of time at my desk. This can be researching, corresponding or designing content. I also spend a bit of time in the museum’s galleries when I can!

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What are the perks of the job?

Perks? The collection is very interesting, ranging from armoured fighting vehicles to Chinese silks, so working with it is a big perk. Working in an army museum is interesting as occasionally you get invited on battlefield tours!

Are there any negative sides to working in museums?

The negative side I guess would be that I perhaps don’t get paid as much as people my age with as much experience/qualifications do.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing museum work?

For those interested in museum work, I would say that the masters is the shorter route in, especially if you volunteer heavily whilst studying. Be prepared to move to the other end of the country, I moved from Northern Ireland to Kent.

Can you tell us of any fun projects that you've worked on?

The project that I most enjoyed this year was the Waterloo Map Project. This nationally significant object has many stories to tell. It was drawn up by a team of Royal Engineers and was used by the Duke of Wellington before the battle to indicate where he wished his troops to be positioned. The map may have influenced his decision of where to meet the French and fight the battle. I redisplayed this map in time for the 200th anniversary of the battle. This included the addition of a new table sized touchscreen interactive to help explore the map but also a new case to house the map which will be fronted by smart glass. This changing glass will protect the map from light damage but will also draw attention to this fascinating object.

Waterloo Map Before and AfterWhere do you hope your career will take you?

I hope that eventually my career will progress so that I am managing a mixed team of creative people at a museum of my choosing!

Your aspirational museum where you'd like to work?

Somewhere with a varied collection, I don’t mind what type as long as it’s interesting. As I have only worked in smaller museums, I wouldn’t mind a bit of experience working at one of the larger national museums (for example the Imperial War Museum or the Science Museum).

What's the work/life balance like?

The work life balance isn’t too bad, aside from occasional duty weekend! I generally keep 8am – 4.30pm hours and it’s rare that I take my work home with me!

Thanks for the interview James and good luck with the new job! I hope you all enjoy this new series and if you've got any specific museum questions you'd like me to ask next time let me know in the comments.
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