Museums, historical societies, libraries, zoos, botanical gardens, and state and federal agencies hire attendants. These institutions are located throughout the world, in both small and large cities, and are responsible for providing public access to their collections. Museums and similar institutions employ attendants to fulfill their educational goals while providing safe, pleasant environments for their visitors.
Most museum workers at all levels enter museum work because they have specific skills and knowledge needed by the museum. A teaching background or experience in leading activity groups are among the skills immediately transferable to a museum environment.
In general, the museum attendant position is not a professional position, and a high school degree may be sufficient for employment. Some institutions may give hiring preference to applicants with a bachelor's degree. Applicants with advanced degrees and relevant work experience, such as teaching, fieldwork, or public relations, are usually better positioned to take advantage of employment opportunities in the museum field.
Many museums have a substantial volunteer staff, and this method of entering museum work should not be overlooked. Volunteering allows flexible hours and close observation of the different activities conducted in administrative, research, and exhibit areas.
Museum work is characterized by unusual freedom within a job area and short, sometimes nonexistent, promotional ladders. For example, only one or two management levels may separate museum attendants from the director of the museum, yet the positions at the intervening levels may carry specific requirements, such as a bachelor's degree and several years of experience in managing budgets and staff. It is unlikely that an attendant lacking these qualifications would be able to acquire them solely through continuing work at the museum. There are no hard-and-fast rules, however; to offset the relative lack of vertical movement, there is opportunity for lateral movement, that is, for assuming a new position elsewhere in the museum at the same employment rank, and for exploring a position in depth. Attendants' duties may change with the seasons, as new exhibits are opened, and as attendants gain experience and discover creative possibilities in their jobs. Because of the stimulating and changing environment, museum workers tend to have high job satisfaction and may remain in their jobs for long periods of time; when they do move, they often remain within the museum field. Attendants who are successful at smaller museums may move to larger institutions with correspondingly broader responsibilities.
Attendants may continue their own education and acquire job skills relevant to an area of work they have identified as a career interest. These areas might include work as an education specialist; in museum operations, such as maintenance or exhibit preparation; in administration; or in public programs.
Tips for Entry
Read Museum magazine and Aviso (both available at https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-aam/publications) to learn more about the field.
Join the American Alliance of Museums and other organizations to take advantage of networking opportunities, continuing education classes, and other resources.
Contact museums directly to learn about salaried and volunteer positions, or look for job listings on these Web sites: