#VolunteersWeek: Students, Graduates and Small Museums

Cater Museum

The “traditional museum volunteer” starts once they’ve retired and volunteers regularly for ten or twenty years. However, in 2015 many museums are finding it hard to find people who are able/want to volunteer in this way so are changing the way they think of the role.

Here Christine Brewster, Volunteer Curator of the Cater Museum and Katie Wilkie, a recent university graduate and Cater Museum volunteer, talk about the benefits to the museum and the individual of having volunteer opportunities for students and recent graduates:

Christine: “Here at the Cater Museum we have benefited greatly from the assistance of the High School, University and Post-Graduate students who have applied to us to do voluntary work experience.  Many positions in the current economic climate require applicants to have had satisfactory experience in one or more institutions.  So this relationship can be beneficial to both parties.

Having volunteers may place a strain on the already limited man-hours of most institutions because for the experience to be beneficial, guidance and supervision are required.  But at the Cater Museum we have been fortunate in that the students wishing to come for experience have been of a very high calibre, highly literate and numerate, hard working and dedicated to history and heritage.  We have had, at times, a waiting list of students wishing to join us.  Again, for the experience to be of value, the numbers must be limited to ensure proper supervision.

In each case, we have encouraged our students to create a project which can be proudly presented to prospective employers or graduate schools.  The museum, needless to say, has greatly benefited by the quality of those projects.

My one  reservation has always been that I may be unable to get a student the recognition they deserve in museum circles.  Having a forum or regular meetings for the students would be ideal, but many are under financial restraints and must also balance the commitment of studies and exams with their practical work.

Our young volunteers have carried out numerous projects, from cataloguing and creating a database for our coins to transcribing a First World War diary.  By their very youth, they can be far better at using the computer and search engines and linking us to the digital world.”

Katie: “I have been volunteering at The Cater Museum since 2012 and it was through my voluntary work that I was taken on as a paid member of staff. Through volunteering and the projects I am undertaking I have gained valuable experience and skills.  Not only this, I have seen how a small museum is run and have become aware of some of the issues that face the museum and heritage industry.

Many employees are looking for people who have worked or volunteered in the industry and many of these employees started out by volunteering themselves.  It is a great way to gain valuable experience for a C.V. and one project could provide a volunteer with a variety of skills; documentation, research, handling, preventative conservation, photography and using collection management software.

While it can be a hard industry to get into all of the people I have met have been quick to encourage me and hand out useful advice. Volunteering is a great way of connecting with people in the same industry and making your face known when it comes to finding a job; it may also help to narrow down a career path.

There are other benefits to volunteering; it opens up opportunities for professional development. Some organisations offer training or membership to volunteers as well as paid staff. This can mean professional development, free entry to museums and exhibitions, events and publications.

The benefits of volunteering are multi-faceted.”

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