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Museum Volunteer

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The Museum of Science in Boston once had an exhibit called the Human Body Connection. The exhibit was designed to teach visitors about the workings of the human body.

It took an army of volunteers to make that exhibit possible. Volunteers assisted visitors in learning about the exhibit.

To be a museum volunteer, all you need is an interest in the museum's subject matter. However, some museums require volunteers to be at least 14 or 16 years old.

Volunteers perform a variety of jobs. They do everything from running cash registers to cataloging specimens and doing scientific research. They may teach visitors about the exhibits or guide them on tours of the museum. They may also write articles or grant proposals or help with exhibit design and set-up.

One of the benefits of volunteering at a museum is that the hours are flexible. Volunteer time can be worked into existing schedules, and shifts may be as short as one or two hours per week.

"I work in a great setting with a great bunch of people," says museum volunteer Nigel Pieloth. "I get to meet interesting people, and my input is valued and valuable. I provide support and service for the museum, which might not otherwise do so well without volunteers."

The duties of volunteers are as varied as the volunteers themselves. Training is typically provided by the museum for the different positions.

In most museums, there are no costs involved with volunteering. In some cases, a uniform may be required, or volunteers may have to attend a paid training camp.

"In our gift shop, volunteers must have the appropriate clothing," says Gail Miller. She's the director of volunteer services at a major museum. "Otherwise, there is no charge to the student."

The number of volunteers varies from one museum to the next, depending on the size of the museum and the number of paid staff employed by the museum.

Wayne Roberts is assistant curator of vertebrates at a museum of zoology. He says he fell into volunteering for the museum, which led him to his current position.

"When I came [here], a curator of the museum saw me reading a help wanted poster, and asked if I knew anything about Pacific coast fish," he says. "I told him I had some experience with them and went into the museum, where I proceeded to name portions of an uncataloged accession of them -- in Latin. I was hired immediately."

Anna Lynch volunteers at a museum of archeology. "One of my favorite parts of volunteering is seeing all of the kids come in, and helping them in the hands-on area of the museum," she says.

"When we don't have any tours or classes scheduled, I work with restoring and cataloging some of the artifacts that are brought to the museum. I also do some research as a volunteer."

Lynch is a retired archeologist. She says the help provided by the museum's student volunteers is invaluable. "We have a limited number of staff people at this museum, so the volunteers are worth their weight in gold. We have students who help with the hands-on tours, and even a few who work cataloging artifacts."

"Of course, our volunteers require extensive training," she adds. "They must first attend a summer camp. Then, upon successful completion of that, they can volunteer in the museum. We try to match the style and interest of the student with the activity that needs to be done."

Deborah Higgins-Tully volunteers at a large museum. She says her interests were well matched to her volunteer activities when she started. "There is a great feeling of community at the museum, and I have gained a lot of education," she says. "I also think the museum values the contribution I make."

How to Get Involved

Contact your local museum, and ask about volunteer opportunities.

"It takes a strong commitment to get involved," says Higgins-Tully. She had a strong interest in the subject matter of the museum before she began volunteering.

"And it doesn't hurt if you have references," she adds. "You can apply through your school, if they offer a volunteer program, or go to the museum of your choice.

"I enjoy the world-class exhibits I get to view as part of being a volunteer. That, and I have learned so much. My person-to-person skills have improved, and I really enjoy it."


American Association of Museums

Federal, State and Regional Museum Associations

Association of Children's Museums


Museum of Science
Check out this Boston museum's current exhibits online

Volunteer Match
Find volunteer opportunities in your area
Search for volunteer opportunities across the United States

Do Something -- Young People Changing the World
Find volunteer jobs specifically for youth

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