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What does a Museum Technician do?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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Museum technicians, along with archivists and curators, are responsible for the placement, care, and display of artifacts or documents held by a museum. She may perform a wide range of tasks, including manual labor, detail-oriented analysis, educational outreach, and fundraising. Usually differentiated from curators or archivists by her more technical expertise, museum technicians tend to primarily work outside of the public sphere, focusing on working with the museum's artifacts.

Depending on the level of museum technician, the tasks she performs may be of a more simple, menial variety, or they may be quite detailed and complex. Generally, she acts as the support staff for the museum, assisting curators in their duties and helping to ensure that the museum functions smoothly. A museum technician is an important part of a museum's operation, and given the highly-specialized nature of the role, as well as the specialized protocols in place for most museums, it can be rather taxing work.

At the basic level, a museum technician helps with the most simple tasks that need doing around a museum. For example, a museum technician may be involved in janitorial and custodial tasks around fragile artifacts or displays. Since most exhibits are delicate, they usually can't simply be cleaned the way a carpet or office building could be. Instead, that type of cleaning requires great care and attention as well as a good understanding of the artifacts themselves.

More advanced technicians may act as direct support staff for either senior technicians, or curators. In this context, she may be asked to retrieve or store specimens, to help catalog records and artifacts, to clean specimens or store them carefully, or to prepare them for use by a more advanced technician or a curator. She may also work in a secretarial or educational role, preparing documents for public distribution, writing correspondence, and acting as a guide through the museum's displays.

An intermediate museum technician may also choose to specialize in a very focused area of research in which to work. In this case, she will likely remain within that specialty throughout her career, as the skills acquired tend to be incredibly particular. She may, for example, learn how to restore a specific type of artifact, such as ceramic bowls, and her work from then on might focus on all ceramic bowls in the museum's collection. Choosing a focus like this is generally a path to becoming an advanced museum technician, once enough skill has been acquired.

Advanced technicians work to help innovate within their specific field of specialization. A ceramic bowl specialist, for example, may no longer simply restore bowls of known types using pre-existing techniques; she may now work on developing new techniques to better restore bowls, or to apply older techniques to a new type of bowl. This level of museum technician is responsible for a great deal of the growth that happens in the field of restoration and storage, and can be a lucrative profession for those with the drive to make it this far.

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