Museum technicians and conservators work for museums, zoos, colleges and universities, governments, corporations and other institutions that need experts to preserve vital records and artifacts. They preserve works of art, coins and stamps, historic objects, photographs and transcripts of meetings. Museum technicians and conservators also catalogue objects and prepare them for permanent storage or display.
Museum conservators may also manage, preserve, treat, care for and document works of art, specimens and artifacts. Their work requires archaeological, scientific and historical research using x-rays, microscopes, chemical testing, special lights and other laboratory equipment and techniques to determine the best way to preserve these pieces. Museum conservators treat items to minimize their deterioration or to restore them to their original condition.
Museum technicians assist curators by performing various maintenance and preparatory work on museum items. They sometimes answer public questions about collections or displays and assist curators and outside scholars in organizing collections. Technicians and conservators help maintain, organize and provide access to historical documentary materials.
- Museum technicians and conservators work mostly in museums, historical sites, in educational institutions or for federal, state or local government.
- A bachelor’s degree is usually required for museum technicians, and most employers require a graduate degree for conservators.
- Applicants will face strong competition for jobs since candidates generally outnumber job openings.
Work Environment for Museum Technicians and Conservators
Museum technicians and conservators are employed in a variety of environments, depending on where they work. In museums, they often spend much of their time providing reference assistance and educational services to the public. Those who set up exhibits often work with bulky, heavy record containers that require climbing, stretching and lifting heavy objects. When museum technicians and conservators are employed by botanical gardens, zoos or other outdoor museums and historic site, they often walk great distances. Conservators work in conservation laboratories, and depending on the objects in the collection they are working with, they may or may not be involved in moving objects.
Education, Training and Licensing
Most employers require a graduate degree for a museum conservator as well as related work experience. Competition for entry into one of the few graduate programs in museum conservation techniques is very tough. Applicants must have backgrounds in archaeology or studio art, chemistry and art history, as well as work experience. Candidates with a technical background or experience as an apprentice or intern can give an undergraduate student an edge in gaining admittance to a graduate program. A very small number of conservators enter this field through apprenticeships with museums or other organizations, but this route into the profession is very scarce. Those who have graduated from a conservator program who are willing to relocate and who know a foreign language will find better job opportunities.
Museum technicians must have a bachelor’s degree in library science or history along with work experience. Very few colleges or universities have bachelor’s degrees in museum studies, so most museum technician candidates earn bachelor’s degrees in a related field, such as history, archaeology, or art history. Master’s degrees in museum studies are available to museum technicians who want to continue their education. Many employers want their technicians to thoroughly know the museum’s specialty, and they regard museum work and experience as being more important than additional education.
Continuing education is offered to museum conservators and technicians through workshops, conferences and meetings that are sponsored by archival, historical and museum associations.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
Museum technicians and conservators held about 10,170 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Labor Statistics (BLS). Most museum technicians and conservators worked for museums, historical sites and similar institutions, while others worked for the federal government, colleges, universities and professional schools and local and state government.
The BLS expects employment for museum technicians and conservators to grow 20% from 2008 to 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. An interest in art, history, technology and science will spur the need for more museum technicians and conservators.
BLS reports indicate that the median annual salary for museum technicians and conservators was $37,120 as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $28,480 and $49,280, while the bottom 10% earned $23,530 or less. The top 10% earned $67,090 or more annually.