The Benefits of Being a Museum Volunteer
Museums have been established for a wide range of reasons: as recreational facilities, scholarly venues or educational resources; to attract tourists; and even as tools to promote civic pride or nationalistic fervor.
Ideally, a museum volunteer coordinator will recruit in ways that are inclusive of all demographic groups. Written position descriptions give volunteers an idea of tasks and responsibilities, and training prepares them to fulfill those duties.
What is a museum?
Museums are non-profit institutions that acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibit the tangible evidence of our past as well as our living culture. They are places of education and leisure for the benefit of all.
Museums often contain many different types of objects that are grouped into categories, such as fine arts, applied arts and craft, archaeology and ethnology, history, cultural or natural history, military or social history, science and technology, children’s museums, or numismatics. Some museums also focus on a single subject, such as a notable person or place.
Alternatively, some museums are located on historic sites or buildings and focus solely on the history of that location or building. Museums can be as small as a single room in someone’s house, or as large as an entire city. In addition to collecting and displaying their collections, many museums are involved in conservation breeding, habitat preservation, public education and field research in order to preserve the natural world as well.
Benefits of volunteering at a museum
Volunteers contribute to the mission of museums by helping with a variety of tasks for free. Museums benefit from the services volunteers provide, and many have found that their volunteers are able to gain valuable experience and skills that may be hard to find in other settings. Volunteering can be a great way to meet people, explore the arts and learn about new topics. In addition, it can help one sharpen professional skills such as working with the public and fundraising. It can also help a person transition into a career in the museum field, such as a banker who becomes a museum curator.
Museums should strive to make volunteering accessible and inclusive. This may involve deconstructing barriers to participation, such as making positions available in evenings when the museum is open or subsidizing transportation costs. Volunteers should also be provided with meaningful feedback and opportunities to advance in their role at the museum. This may be done through satisfaction surveys, suggestion boxes or an advisory council of volunteers.
Types of museums
There are many different types of museums, each with its own unique focus. Art museums showcase artwork, history museums tell the stories of a specific time period or place, natural history museums exhibit preserved specimens, and science museums examine the historical progression of science.
Museums may also be categorized by their size and structure. Small museums are less likely to be weighed down by bureaucratic processes and more willing to take risks with participatory projects, while larger museums have the resources to develop long-term community engagement initiatives.
There are also mobile museums, which exhibit from a vehicle and travel from one location to another, and pop-up museums, which use temporary exhibitions. Some museums are dedicated to a particular topic, such as aviation or space flight, and others are more generalized, focusing on a certain region or industry. Some museums also serve as repositories for scientific equipment and data relating to historical research and study. These museums may be found in universities, government agencies and corporations.
How to find a museum to volunteer at
The museum volunteer experience offers a unique opportunity to become immersed in culture, learn new skills and make meaningful connections with other volunteers and the community. It is also an excellent way to gain valuable career experience and prepare for a future in the museum industry.
Museums are meeting the challenges of a changing world with creativity, enthusiasm and determination. Roundtable participants and survey respondents highlighted the need for clear, mission-aligned success metrics, a greater balance between public and private funding, and increased interactivity and a more comprehensive range of activities.
If you have a passion for history, consider volunteering at the museum of your choice. Museums offer exhibits on everything from ancient art to contemporary music, and they serve as cultural anchors in communities across the country. To find a museum to volunteer at, browse the listings at the American Association of Museums website. You can also find out about specific opportunities at museums in your area by checking the museum’s website or social media accounts.