Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Skills Every Museo Should Have (or Learn)

Let’s face it. Although you learn so much over the course of a museum studies master’s degree, there is still so much to learn. I am trying to compile a list of things that I learned outside of school that I think are necessary skills in today’s museum industry.

1-Social Media:
If you are reading this blog, chances are that you found us though social media networks such as twitter, or perhaps another blog that you frequent. That is awesome! Maybe you tweet for yourself/a museum/a museum consulting company/a historical society. Maybe you run your own blog. Whether you blog & tweet or just read them & follow them, you should be able to navigate social networks. Period. There is no excuse today not to have some knowledge of social networks. Museums need to keep up with technology, and therefore Museos do, too. (Here’s a guide to Twitter Basics in case you need it.)

2-Grant Writing:
Kirsten and I studied in England, which meant that our program taught us bids to city council, instead of the US equivalent of grant writing. Although there are many similarities, they are actually very specific processes. Therefore, to get my ducks in a row, I found a grant writing class at a local university and audited it. This option was very cost effective (as I didn’t need the credits) and I was able to learn everything I needed to know. Kirsten, on the other hand, learned grant writing on the job. She successfully researched and wrote several successful grants for her museum. Since you may end up being one of only a few employees at a small museum, you have to be able to do practically everything, and that involves fundraising. So...

3-Varied Computer Software:
I know there is a long list of computer software that Museos should know (please please please add any I forget into the comments!) but I would start with

  • Adobe software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. That way, you can make and print media that looks professional at your museum.
  • I also suggest basic web design (some HTML and CSS) so that you can stay involved in how your museum is portrayed online. I personally learned Dreamweaver using the free online tutorial on Adobe's website. There are so many free resources on the web to learn basic web design, and a quick look at google will help you find them. Remember: your museum may have a web team, and it may not. Better to be prepared.
  • Office suite, obviously.
  • A basic movie editing program (Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, iDVD) to make videos or slide shows of exhibits to show members or donors
  • I would add museum cataloging programs (PastPerfect) and fundraising software (Raiser’s Edge) but I am sure that these are going to be specific to the institution. If anyone has any experience with learning these before you got a job, and if that helped, we’d appreciate the feedback!

4-People Management Skills:
It may be hard to gain this experience while not on the job. You will probably have to create a project in order to find people to manage. Not like we need to do any more unpaid work, Museos, but if you create a fun project, you can find yourself managing a group on your off hours. Personally, I organize and coordinate a social group that does happy hours, and I know friends who have started other social groups that exist to help raise money for nonprofits. Many museums have young members’ groups, and you could join these and take leadership positions in planning fun events. Whichever route you take, having management skills will always help you on a resume (and on the job).

As we all know, since the word “museum” can mean anything from a small historic house to a huge international tourist destination with millions of visitors a year, a Museo’s job can be incredibly varied. Although museums are really about the interaction between visitors and objects, we cannot ignore the way technology is creeping into everything that we do. Being able to interact with people in person and online is always helpful, and knowing how to get funding to keep your museum ticking will be priceless.

So Museos, what extra skills have you developed that helped you land a job or to improve your current work? Have there been any skills you wished you had learned prior to gaining a position? How did you develop these skills?

As always, we welcome any and all comments below.


  1. There's a problem with gaining Raiser's Edge experience, which is really a Catch-22. In order to get a lot of development positions, you need to have the experience. But you can't just go out and get training on it in a regular class or university. It's proprietary software and you need to be employed by an org that buys licenses for it in order to attend training sessions.

  2. We at RESolutionsTECH have offered training to individuals that are not currently employed. It has assisted them in getting a job that requires Raiser's Edge experience.


  3. Ehh, cataloguing software is generally all the same (some are prettier, some are laid out better for data entry, some are more primitive, but they all do more or less the same thing). I think if you generally understand one of them, then you can easily figure out another one in a reasonable amount of time at a new job. Personally, I think that actual cataloguing and descriptive skills are the more important factor. I don't care if somebody has that much experience with cataloguing software (databases) or not, if they can't use Parks Canada Classification System for Historical Collections (or whatever classification system is relevant to a particular institution) then I don't want them doing my cataloguing. We've had curatorial volunteers who were great at data entry but rubbish at Parks Canada Classification. I wish I had done the work instead of them.

  4. Like you said, management skills! But not that of paid employees, instead that of volunteers. This group of people often have a large hand in a museum's working with strong emotions of entitlement, but I don't remember a course/paper/article/book/brief mentioning about how to manage volunteers and volunteer programs and how crucial they are to most, if not all, museums.

  5. Object handling and storage, including how to handle archival materials like older collections registers, letters, etc.

    Even if you don't work directly with the collection every day, I think it would be unusual for someone to work in a museum and *never* handle objects. Having a basic understanding of how to pick things up and store them could help preserve objects for future use.

    As someone who is working on digitizing collections records, I can't stress enough the importance of handing archival materials properly! My colleagues and I were given no training and I shudder whenever I see people drinking coffee or eating lunch over a book that is literally the only copy in existence - hand written collections registers that, until our project is done, are the only records the museum has of it's specimens.

    It's not enough to enter data - you need to know how to treat the source material as well.

  6. Yes, what Jenn said! There's so much talk of museos knowing social media computer this people skills that, nobody is talking about actual museum-specific skills these days. That's great that museos tweet or whatever, but they (as a group, not any museo specifically) have to care for a collection first and foremost. A collection is ultimately what makes a museum a museum.

  7. About Computer Programs skills:

    I've tried to learn how to use the most-used data-entry program here in Barcelona (called museumplus) before getting a job, but there are no specific courses about it.

    I even contacted the local distributors of the program, who told me they only make courses once museums have bought the program.

    I think this is not a good strategy for the programs developpers and it's a problem for me, because loads of job demands ask for this.

  8. Does anyone have any suggestions for @Kippelboy?
    I can see 3 ways around it:
    #1- volunteer at a museum that has this software & hope that they will train you in it (obviously, not ideal!)
    #2- find a museum employee in Barcelona who knows the software and would be willing to teach you.
    #3- Maybe you could contact a local university and suggest that they put a class together. If you can find any other local people who want to take the class, maybe they would be able to host iy.

    I agree that the software developers should offer classes! You could try contacting museums who use it and ask if they have any training sessions coming up. Then ask if you could pay to take the course.

    Isn't it so backwards that you need skills you can only learn on-the-job before you get the job?

  9. Kat, thanks a lot for your suggestion. I'll start with #3 at universirty, trying to arrange an open course to more students. Tell you something if I reach.

  10. Not only social media skills, I've found, but the skills to translate what that means to the museum. Museums that don't "get" social media (whatever way we can take that) most likely just don't understand what benefits can come from it. Be able to explain those, and clearly, and have a strategy. Plan for what happens when something goes wrong (it will) - if you have a contingency plan in place, it won't scare aforementioned museum folks away from social media.

    Great post, seriously!