Books: How To Get a Job in a Museum or Art Gallery - Museums Association

Books: How To Get a Job in a Museum or Art Gallery

Can this practical publication crack open a sector that is so difficult to enter? Full marks for trying, says Charlotte Holmes
Charlotte Holmes
By Alison Baverstock, £12.99, ISBN 978-1408109342

In the current climate of funding cuts, those aspiring to work in museums and galleries are facing unprecedented competition for entry-level posts. It is against this backdrop that A&C Black has published How to Get a Job in a Museum or Art Gallery.

Written by Alison Baverstock (who runs the MA in publishing at Kingston University), this paperback offers an overview of professional life in museums, and public and commercial galleries, as well as practical advice on finding employment.

Although primarily aimed at those coming to the end of undergraduate courses, much of the advice in the book would be useful to anyone considering a career in museums or galleries.

The most successful feature of this publication is the extensive use of case studies that offer great insight into a range of roles and career paths in museums and galleries.

It is a shame, however, that some key messages implicit in many of the case studies (such as the need for an awareness of ethics, or that postgraduate qualifications are not the only route into the sector) are not fully explored by the author.

Baverstock’s background in publishing provides a good external perspective, cutting through jargon and explaining artificial divides in areas of work.

I found the most insightful and balanced advice presented in three chapters written by professionals working in the sector. By comparison, several other chapters rely heavily on case studies and on occasion fail to draw out key information that would be of use to the reader.

Divided into four sections, the book takes the reader from making the decision to work in museums and galleries right through to accepting a job offer.

It opens with the World of Museums and Galleries, a section designed to encourage the reader to consider what working in a museum or gallery involves.

The introduction provides a good overview of some of the sector’s advantages and challenges. The main drawback is that it poses many questions that the reader is not yet equipped to answer.

For example, a paragraph on disposal asks the reader: “How could you tactfully broach the subject of selling items to relatives of those who donated them?”, without making any explicit reference to the ethical framework within which museums and galleries work and how decisions to dispose should be made.

The second section, Employment Options, provides in-depth information on the different types of work available in museums and galleries and includes chapters on curating, collections management, conservation, fundraising, trading and retail, working in a commercial gallery, and education.

Some chapters in this section are more successful than others, and specific information on working in exhibitions, interpretation, design, visitor services and management are notably absent.

The third section, Preparing to Find a Job, describes the advantages of taking a master’s degree and gives advice on how to gain work experience. It would have been useful to see more about alternatives to postgraduate routes into the sector.

The book closes with How to Get a Job, a useful mix of practical tips and case studies, helping the reader to create a CV, write a job application, prepare for interview, and continue their professional development once in that elusive first post.

As a collection of encouraging case studies, this is a very useful book. It provides insights into the profession and good practical tips on applying for jobs.

However, at a time when those wishing to work in the sector need to be exceptionally well prepared, failure to explore fundamental issues such as how to develop object-based skills, an awareness of museum ethics, or alternative strategies to developing job skills, limit the potential of this book to fully instruct the reader in how to get a job in a museum or gallery.

Charlotte Holmes is the museum development officer at the Museums Association

  • Alison Baverstock is speaking at the Museums Association conference.

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