Volunteering at a museum will enrich your skills, boost your confidence and give you an appreciation of what a job entails
For students with no previous experience of museums beyond being a visitor, volunteering before and, ideally, during the course can start to fill the gap. Volunteers are often vital to the work that local museums do, whether it’s being front of house, helping with school visits or helping to catalogue objects in the stores.
Sam Powell, who is doing a master’s in ancient Egyptian culture at Swansea University, has been helping to sort objects in the stores at the university’s Egypt Centre museum. Her work has included piecing back together wooden funerary figures, which were buried with their tomb owners. The work will also feed into Powell’s dissertation.
If you can face a grilling from a group of primary school children, you can face anything.
She began volunteering in museums as an undergraduate, acting as a gallery assistant, and leading school groups.
“It helped build my confidence and presentation skills,” says Powell. “If you can face a grilling from a group of primary school children, you can face anything.
“As a postgraduate, I’ve particularly enjoyed helping with moving our objects to new storage facilities and doing condition checks to ensure all the objects are safe and stable. It’s a real privilege to interact with objects that are thousands of years old.”
Powell adds that volunteering has given her a broader understanding of the material she studied. “It’s a very different experience handling and interacting with an object ‘in person’, rather than seeing an image on a slide,” she says.
The value of such work lies in giving students an insight into museum life and in enriching their studies, according to the centre’s volunteer manager, Syd Howells.
“It is good for the CV, but it also gives them a taste of what the jobs are really like and whether they are suited to working in a museum or gallery,” Howells says.
Network of contacts
Good courses will provide a network of contacts for students to approach about volunteering. Nottingham Trent University’s museum and heritage development MA, for example, has links with Nottingham City Museums and neighbouring Derby Museums Trust, as well as town museums. But it also directs students to Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and to work with the company archive at Boots, which has its headquarters in Nottingham.