Monday, February 11, 2013

SMA Conference: Evil Nemesis or Grand Alliance: Exploring the Effect of Volunteers on Emerging Museum Professionals

This is my third year attending the SMA conference, and my first as a speaker.  During this time, I have transitioned from student to museum professional.  This experience raised in my mind many questions about the value of history education in the job market and the devaluation of the work of professional historians.  Positions once considered ideal for a newly minted historian are now highly competitive and graduates find themselves competing against colleagues with years more education and experience for entry level positions.  Many of these new professionals opt to volunteer at local institutions in the meanwhile, gaining work experience and waiting out the recession.  For some, this strategy ultimately secures them a paid position within the institution.  But what about the rest?  By willing to work for no pay, are new professionals doing themselves a disservice?  Are they unintentionally devaluing the years of training and expense spent to earn the title of historian?  

Small museums thrive on the time and work of dedicated volunteers or docents.  Without the efforts of those individuals vital programming, events, education, and outreach would never be accomplished.  Clearly, volunteers are a valuable asset to the small museum.  And so a catch-22 emerges.  How can we, as museum professionals, make the best use of our volunteers without writing ourselves out of a job?  What role do volunteers play at your museum?  My session will explore these questions and more in an attempt to ferret out how to achieve the fine balance necessary for a successful museum professional/ volunteer relationship.

-- Colleen Walter

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