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Museum Technician
Significant Points

Museum technicians, commonly known as registrars, assist curators by performing various preparatory and maintenance tasks on museum items. Registrars may also answer public inquiries and assist curators and outside scholars in using collections. Archives technicians help archivists organize, maintain, and provide access to historical documentary materials.

Nature of the Work

The operation of a modern public museum, which provides entertainment and educational services for the general public and facilities and research material for scholars, involves a variety of specialized and technical support work. The techniques, methods and specialized duties vary from museum to museum depending on the size, purpose, and subject matter of the institution, but the basic purpose of all positions in this series is to provide the technical back-up, support, and assistance necessary to managerial, scientific, and curatorial activities in museums.

In the lower levels, the work in these positions typically includes simple helper and custodial duties which involve specialized procedures and methods due to the museum environment where the jobs occur and sometimes due to the valuable and/or fragile nature of museum material being handled. In some cases, individuals simply perform these simple tasks, learning the necessary routines and procedures. In other instances, these duties represent a training situation in which individuals are selected, as a result of potentialities demonstrated on the job, to be developed to assume greater responsibility, to acquire more exact skills and to prepare for more demanding assignments. Sometimes these simple routine assignments are supplemented by formalized training programs.

In the middle grade levels, the assignment patterns of these positions are of two kinds. The first type is the technical assistant assignment. Incumbents in such positions serve as assistants to professional scientists, curators and museum managers or to higher grade Museum Technicians or Specialists. They do a variety of duties under direct supervision and according to well established procedures, which include such tasks as the routine acquisitioning of objects or specimens and keeping index and cataloging records. They may clean, prepare, and store collection objects; locate objects in storage area; tabulate information from records; prepare specimens for closer examination by the supervisor; or perform other duties which assist the supervisor in the physical care of the collection. In other cases, incumbents of these positions perform simple guide duties, prepare routine and nontechnical correspondence, and organize and tabulate data for research papers and articles.

The other type of position found in these middle brackets is the "trainee specialist." Incumbents of these positions are receiving training in the methods and techniques of restoring and preserving museum objects, specimens, and artifacts. The techniques are often very exacting and the material being handled may be quite valuable. These positions tend to be fairly narrowly specialized, and there is little possibility of transfer of personnel from one specialization to another. Many of the duties in these trainee positions may be similar to those in the assistant type jobs. The difference is that incumbents are expected to gain greater and greater skill and proficiency in the difficult techniques of caring for specialized objects, and to make progress in the career ladder.

In the upper levels, there is an occasional experienced and highly trusted assistant-type assignment, but the majority of these jobs are occupied by highly trained and skilled specialists.

Employees in these positions undertake the study and innovation necessary to develop methods for restoring and preserving the specimens, artifacts, or objects of the collection. The possible variation in such work is immeasurably broad, and few guidelines are possible. The first limiting factor for any given job is the nature of the collection. Each type of collection involves a distinct body of technique necessary to its care, and these techniques or the knowledge necessary to perform the research and to develop them are not usually transferable from one type of collection to another.

For example, the methods for restoring and preserving paintings differ completely from the techniques of preserving paleontological fossils. The technical demands of a collection of animal tissue specimens are totally foreign to those required in caring for a collection of antique glass.

In the field of historical museum work, especially, there is a developing new concept with regard to the care of objects. Incorporated in the word "conservation," it combines the notions of restoration and preservation with the responsibility for insuring the historical validity of the object. Much of the technical research within each specialized type of collection is devoted to this concept. Illustrative of this approach are the three requirements inherent in the conservation of valuable museum antiques of all kinds: restoration work must be done with full knowledge and use of the tools, materials, and methods available to the original craftsman who made the object; preservation methods must provide protection against further deterioration; and, all contemporary work or material must be both identifiable and removable so that future scholars may examine the object in its original form.

The conservation of museum collections, then, involve continuing technical research -- research into the methods and tools of antiquity as well as investigation and imaginative use of modern technology and knowledge from chemistry and plastics to sonic engineering and electronics.

In natural science museums incumbents of these positions often accompany research teams into the field where specimens are collected. The special techniques used in the collection, reconstruction and preservation of specimens in collections related to geology, paleontology, anthropology or archeology, for example, may differ completely from those used in the care and conservation of historical objects. The technical demands, however, are no less exacting and the requirements for imagination and skill and the responsibility for valuable and rare material is equally great.

The functional patterns in museums include scholarly research, the development, maintenance and management of museum collections, the design, development and operation of museum exhibits, and a variety of activities related to public education. The supportive function of the positions covered by this standard frequently takes the form of assistance to professional or managerial activities which involves ability to follow procedures, acquire techniques and master the methodology, but no responsibility for programming, planning or directing the operation of the activity. In the higher levels, especially where the degree of specialization becomes very great, incumbents tend to develop a very high level of specialized technical "expertise" in one or another of the several areas of responsibility which are typical of professional museum occupations. While Museum Specialists have proficiency in research methodology typical of professional positions in the Museum Curator Series, GS-1015, or a professional subject-matter series, they are distinguished from these positions by (1) specialization within such narrow limits that broad professional training is not required, and (2) responsibility within a single museum function as opposed to the several functions typical of all professional positions.

Museum Technician, GS-1016-05

Assignment

Performs technical duties in connection with the management of a museum collection and/or the establishment and maintenance of a public exhibit area. Typical assignments include:

Acquisitioning and cataloging duties: Matches field labels, notes and other information with newly received specimens; labels specimens using data from field diaries; inventories collections, documents and stores specimens; maintains cataloging; indexing and cross reference system.

Identification duties: Identifies and sorts specimens (skeletal parts, insects, geological specimens, artifacts, memorabilia, coins, -- the possibilities are exceedingly broad, but each job will be specialized within a fairly narrow range to one type of specimen or object). Depending on the type of object, working tools necessary to identification may include scales, torsion balance, electrolytic baths, optical instruments, ultraviolet and infrared techniques, precision measuring devices such as scale, caliper and micrometer, or other instruments of similar operating difficulty. Identifications are usually tentative and subject to confirmation by supervisor. May be required to locate and identify uncataloged specimens.

Docent duties: Performs routine guide duties, answering visitors' questions, giving general information and directions. Such assignments are usually confined to one section of the museum devoted to a limited subject-matter area.

Research assistant duties: Assists professional supervisor in the compilation and tabulation of data necessary to research being conducted in collection; under direct supervision may prepare bibliographic material involving familiarity with library techniques. May accompany curator on field trips to acquire specimens and receive training in field techniques and procedures.

Restoration duties: Performs careful and delicate procedures necessary to the restoration, preservation and conservation of the objects or specimens of the collections. Such duties characteristically require skill and knowledge of procedures and techniques specifically applicable to the collection. Typical of this level of difficulty are the following: Careful assembly of fragments of a broken specimen requiring careful fitting, gluing; routine repairs in wood or metal objects requiring careful matching of parts; removal of paint or wood finishes requiring care not to damage object; roughing out of simple skeletons.

Responsibility

Except in conditions of special training, works under general supervision. Routine work is assigned on very general basis with no instruction as to procedures or sequencing, and is judged on a "results" basis. Special assignments are accompanied with necessary specific instructions and are reviewed upon completion. Training situations may involve close supervision and guidance until the new technique is mastered. Employees in these positions often work on valuable and/or rare objects and specimens involving a high degree of responsibility for their protection.

Requirements

In addition to the requirements indicated at GS-4, incumbents of these positions must possess or acquire a skill and beginning "expertise" in the specialized subject of the collection where assigned; also required is knowledge of museum procedures, necessary techniques, required tools and materials.

Museum Technician, GS-1016-07

Assignment

Performs technical duties in connection with the management of a museum collection and/or the establishment and maintenance of a public exhibit area. Typical assignments include:

Collection assignments: Does any or all of the routine and special duties in connection with the physical maintenance of the collection. Special duties may include such projects as planning and rearranging storage space, designing storage cabinets or cases; developing or improving record system; revising operating procedures; devising improved preservation methods. However, the routine, day-to-day acquisitioning, cataloging, handling of incoming and out-going material, cleaning, repairing, marking and storing of specimens, locating stored material and maintenance of relevant records is as characteristic of this level as it is of the GS-5 level.

Identification assignments: Routine tasks are similar to those detailed at GS-5. However, sorting and classification decisions are carried to a greater degree of refinement, and routine decisions are not usually subject to supervisory confirmation. On special problems such as the identification of a rare or unusual specimen requiring extensive knowledge or subtle distinctions, the Museum Technician at this level may make preliminary determinations subject to supervisory review.

Docent and information duties: Performs regular guide duties throughout exhibit area if it is a small or subject-restricted museum, or throughout a major gallery of a larger and more varied museum. Provides readily accessible, technical or general information to students or the public in the museum or by telephone or correspondence. May furnish technical information to teachers or scholars on specialized subjects closely related to museum specialty.

Research assistant duties: Compiles bibliographic data, searching publication sources covering entire field of specialization; revises bibliographies, maintains special records or indices, or searches sources for special information; may conduct simple experiments with various presentation materials, prepare specimens for further study. May accompany research teams on field trips, keep detailed field records, learn skills related to collecting and identifying specimens.

Restoration duties: Performs all established procedures necessary to the conservation of the collection. Some of these techniques require very precise skill and involve complicated procedures and infinite patience. May assist with experimental work in the development of new methods. May begin concentrated study and practice in a specialized field of restoration or preservation. The following tasks are typical of this level of difficulty: copying antique furniture following the methods of the original craftsman; positioning and imbedding unusual or awkward tissue specimens in plastic in a manner that preserves distinguishing coloration; simple cleaning of paintings; positioning skeletal remains and blocking in missing parts; mounting delicate and fragile old textiles; the simple restoration of antique guns to working condition (or cameras, or musical instruments, or aircraft, or an endless variety of objects).

Responsibility

Works under general supervision. Routine assignments are of a continuing nature and once incumbent is trained to operating proficiency few additional instructions are made. Special assignments are accompanied with general instructions on objectives and general methods. Most work is evaluated on a basis of accomplishment. Training situations at this level may require very fine finesse of technique or involve priceless or unique objects or specimens, and under such circumstances the training supervisor maintains close watch as work progresses.

Requirements

In addition to the requirements indicated at GS-5, incumbents of these positions must possess a developing skill and knowledge in a specialized area of museum work, i.e., the research methods related to the collection; the conservation techniques necessary to collection objects; the general scientific or historic knowledge represented in the museum; the procedures and methods used in the management of the collection or the operation of the museum.

Museum Specialist, GS-1016-09

Assignment patterns

Museum Specialist positions are characterized by a strict specialization pattern. This specialization occurs in two ways: first, these positions are specialized within the subject area of the museum or collection where they are located (American history, Numismatics, Geology, Archeology, Medicine, etc.) and second, they specialize further in one of the basic functional areas found in museums (management of the collection, conservation of objects, educational responsibilities, etc.).

At the GS-9 level, there are some positions which share the "assistant" characteristics which are typical of Museum Technician assignments. Such positions will be filled with trusted and experienced employees who carry out special research assistance duties for professional employees or who assist higher-level specialists or professional museum employees in the management of very large collections, in the operation of large museums, or in especially difficult research and experimentation in the development of new and improved methods and techniques of conservation.

Most Museum Specialist positions, however, include independent assignments. At this level, for example, some incumbents undertake the entire management of a small and well-established collection, being responsible for acquisitioning, storage, records, loans, packing, preservation and security; others are in charge of the public education facilities of a moderate-sized museum, managing film and slide service, library, docent activities and related services; and still others are responsible for conservation programs involving fairly complex procedures, delicate techniques or extremely valuable objects, but requiring little innovation, experimentation or development of improved methods.

Because the variation in subject specialization is as broad as the subject of museums it is impossible to detail the possible variations in such assignments. Characteristic of this grade level, however, are these conditions:

  • Responsibility for a single museum function
  • Administration of an established and operating program
  • Difficult technique and complex methods
  • Little requirement for technical research
  • Although criteria for supervisory positions are not covered by these standards some Museum Specialist positions involve supervisory responsibilities. When such duties constitute a significant consideration the position should be evaluated with reference to the appropriate guide for evaluating supervisory positions.

    Responsibility

    Works under general supervision. Assignments are of a continuing nature and effectiveness is measured by results. May carry fairly heavy responsibility for valuable and for rare collection material, but accountability is somewhat restricted by established procedures and regulations. Supervisor is readily available for advice and guidance.

    Requirements

    In addition to the requirements indicated at the GS-7 level, incumbents must possess extensive knowledge related to the specialization involved. Such knowledge (depending on the specialization) may include techniques of chemistry or physics, biology, cultural history, archeology or ethnology, geology, art, or any other field of learning. Also required may be writing, speaking or design abilities and a thorough mastery of related museum operating procedures.

    Museum Specialist, GS-1016-11

    Assignment patterns

    Museum Specialist positions at GS-11 level follow the general assignment pattern discussed at the GS-9 level. However, at this level, the position is clearly one of an independent worker highly skilled and expert in the subject of his specialization. Some incumbents of these positions undertake full management responsibilities for very large and complex collections; others may develop and operate a very large educational program involving traveling exhibits, formal courses, lecturing services, etc., in a major museum; still others may be in charge of conservation programs where methods and techniques are frequently unknown and require research and development, or do other work of similar scope and difficulty.

    Characteristics of this grade level are the following conditions:

  • Responsibility for a single museum function
  • Development or expansion of a museum operating program
  • Extremely difficult technique and few established methods
  • Regular requirement for technical research
  • Responsibility

    Responsibility is similar to that indicated at GS-9. The difference in responsibility between the two grade levels lies in the greater scope of the work typical at the GS-11 level.

    Requirements

    In addition to the requirements indicated at the GS-9 level, incumbents must possess more intensive knowledge of the specialization involved, experience and ability with research methods, or demonstrated ability in writing, speaking or design work.

    Museum Specialist, GS-1016-12

    Nonsupervisory museum specialists at this level are highly skilled experts in their special field. Often such specialists have important reputations and are sought out by others in the same or related fields for advice and consultation on difficult technical problems. Frequently they carry on difficult and extensive research in the development of improved methods and techniques, and sometimes they publish technical papers and articles resulting from these studies (though such publication is not a requirement for evaluation of the position at this grade level).

    The GS-12 level usually marks a decided broadening in the interests and responsibilities of specialist positions. This breadth does not infer a departure from the somewhat narrow specialty of museum work in which the specialist has become expert, but rather a broadening application of his specialization. The specialist assigned a greater variety of objects involving more difficult and delicate problems is called on for expert advice more frequently and on more difficult problems. May undertake more difficult research with findings of broader implications, etc., than at the GS-11 level.

    Specialist positions at this level tend to be highly individualistic and frequently occur as the result of the growth, development and maturity of the incumbents who fill them. The possible subject area of such positions spreads over the entire span of museum work and therefore the inclusion of specific assignments or functions in this standard is impractical. However, the following factors are usually characteristic of such positions:

  • Specialization within a single museum function
  • Recognition within the field of unusual skill and expertise of the incumbent
  • A tendency of increasing variety in the problem encountered
  • A pattern of continuous research and experimentation
  • Museum specialists may direct the activity of a small staff of helpers, but such incidental supervisory responsibility is not prerequisite nor does it require that the position be designated "supervisory." When supervisory duties constitute a grade influencing consideration and are of such a nature as to require specific qualifications, the position should be evaluated with reference to the appropriate guide for evaluating supervisory positions.

    Individual Occupational Requirements

    Museum technicians usually need a bachelor's degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum's specialty, training in museum studies, or previous experience working in museums, particularly in the design of exhibits. Similarly, archives technicians usually need a bachelor's degree in library science or history, or relevant work experience. Relatively few schools grant a bachelor's degree in museum studies. More common are undergraduate minors or tracks of study that are part of an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as art history, history, or archaeology. Students interested in further study may obtain a master's degree in museum studies, offered in colleges and universities throughout the country. However, many employers feel that, while museum studies are helpful, a thorough knowledge of the museum's specialty and museum work experience are more important.

    Technician positions often serve as a steppingstone for individuals interested in archival and curatorial work. Except in small museums, a master's degree is needed for advancement.

    Job Outlook

    Much faster than average employment growth is projected. Keen competition is expected for most jobs as archivists, curators, and museum technicians because qualified applicants generally outnumber job openings.

    Employment change. Employment of archivists, curators, and museum technicians is expected to increase 20 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Jobs for archivists are expected to increase as public and private organizations require organization of and access to increasing volumes of records and information. Public interest in science, art, history, and technology will continue, creating opportunities for curators, conservators, and museum technicians. Museum attendance is expected to continue to be good. Many museums remain financially healthy and will schedule building and renovation projects as money is available.

    Demand for archivists who specialize in electronic records and records management will grow more rapidly than the demand for archivists who specialize in older media formats.

    Job prospects. Keen competition is expected for most jobs as archivists, curators, and museum technicians because qualified applicants generally outnumber job openings. Graduates with highly specialized training, such as master's degrees in both library science and history, with a concentration in archives or records management and extensive computer skills, should have the best opportunities for jobs as archivists. Opportunities for those who manage electronic records are expected to be better than for those who specialize in older media formats.

    Curator jobs, in particular, are attractive to many people, and many applicants have the necessary training and knowledge of the subject. But because there are relatively few openings, candidates may have to work part time, as an intern, or even as a volunteer assistant curator or research associate after completing their formal education. Substantial work experience in collection management, research, exhibit design, or restoration, as well as database management skills, will be necessary for permanent status.

    Conservators also can expect competition for jobs. Competition is stiff for the limited number of openings in conservation graduate programs, and applicants need a technical background. Conservator program graduates with knowledge of a foreign language and a willingness to relocate will have better job opportunities.

    Museums and other cultural institutions can be subject to cuts in funding during recessions or periods of budget tightening, reducing demand for these workers. Although the number of archivists and curators who move to other occupations is relatively low, the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation will create some job openings. However, workers in these occupations tend to work beyond the typical retirement age of workers in other occupations.

    Earnings

    Median annual wages of museum technicians and conservators in May 2008 were $36,660. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,030 and $49,170. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,320, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,060. . In March 2009, the average annual salary for museum specialists and technicians, $62,520; and for archives technicians, $43,662.

    Additional Sources

    For information on archivists and on schools offering courses in archival studies, contact:

    • Society of American Archivists, 17 North State St., Suite 1425, Chicago, IL 60602-3315. Internet: http://www.archivists.org

    For general information about careers as a curator and schools offering courses in museum studies, contact:

    • American Association of Museums, 1575 Eye St. NW., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.aam-us.org

    For information about careers and education programs in conservation and preservation, contact:

    • American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1156 15th St. NW., Suite 320, Washington, DC 20005-1714. Internet: http://www.conservation-us.org

    For information about archivists and archivist certification, contact:

    For information about government archivists, contact:

    • National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrators, 1450 Western Ave. Suite 101, Albany, NY 12203. Internet: http://www.nagara.org

    Information on obtaining Museum Technician positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

    Source: OPM's Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work

    Last Modified Date: March 4, 2011

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