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Museum Guide


Museums are full of artifacts. There are items which explain history, evolution, geology, and present day cultures and traditions from around the world. But these artifacts mean nothing to us unless they are explained in ways that we understand. Each artifact or exhibit has descriptions and explanations written on cards nearby, but often, these simple explanations are not enough. The little cards can't give full explanations of the political atmosphere in England at the time the artifact was made or the history of the basket work from the Zulu nation.

Museum guides however, can give us the full explanation. They know the history of the pieces on display, and it is their job to share this history with museum visitors. These guides accompany visitors throughout museums or exhibits, explaining the historical, scientific, or cultural significance of each piece. The guides are there to make each artifact and display relevant to the visitors' own lives.

Guides might give general tours, or they might run scheduled visits or programs. They may accompany visitors into research labs, archives, and other spaces the public cannot go on their own. They may run educational programs with school groups, playing games, cooking, and running art workshops, bringing the artifacts and their stories to the children in a more direct way. Programs may have to be set up and cleaned up after each activity or tour.

Some museums, especially ones set up as historical sites, are not accessible without a guide. The guides in these museums are often dressed in historical costume, and perform traditional tasks, such as churning butter and carpentry. These guides do not always accompany tours, but wait to greet visitors from various locations throughout the museum.

Museum guides are crucial members of the museum team. They help to make artifacts and history come alive with stories, facts, and explanations about the simple items on display.
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  Interests and Skills  
Museum guides need to be outgoing, enthusiastic people with goog memories. They should be polite, generous people who are open to other cultures and beliefs. They need to be excellent communicators, able to explain artifacts and historical concepts to anyone, from children to developmentally delayed adults. They should be quick thinkers, who can solve problems creatively. A knowledge of languages besides English is definitely an asset.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Greet visitors to museum or to exhibit space
  • Introduce them to artifacts, including telling relevant historical information, cultural explanations, and what the item tells us about our own lives today
  • Modify language and content of tour for each visitor
  • Sometimes dress in historical costume
  • Sometimes perform historical tasks
  • Run educational programs with school groups
  • A typical day will involve touring visitors through the exhibits, explaining the artifacts. There will be some time spent reviewing programs, meeting with administrative staff and curators regarding exhibit materials, program ideas and modification techniques. Some programs may require set up as well as clean up. Guides may have to do all their work in costumes, and sometimes take on a "character", meaning they guide the visitor while pretending they are from the era or cultural group upon which the exhibit is based. There will be the chance to meet many types of people, and the job may involve working outside, depending on the type of museum or historical site.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Museum guides work in all sorts of museums. In small community museums, the guides are often volunteers, but larger museums and historical sites always have guides on staff. Museums are primarily government institutions, however, you may find yourself at a non-profit museum. Museums can cover any number of topics, from dinosaurs to the Royal family.
  • Museum guides work in the galleries or historic buildings. They may also work in offices, storage spaces, and meeting rooms. Museum guides are usually government employees, unless they work for a private museum or historical site.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Museum guides can advance to administrative, supervisory, or managerial positions. They can become catalogers, conservators, and curators. Or they may choose to leave museums altogether, and become teachers, professors, or historians.

  Educational Paths  
There are no specific requirements for museum guides. Generally, though, museum hiring committees look for applicants who have some postsecondary education in history, art history, sociology, anthropology, or museum studies. Volunteering in a museum as an assistant to the guides or administrative staff is also a great way to gain experience, as well as meet the people who do the hiring.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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