Everyone who works in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) sector has a unique career pathway. However, with the ongoing incredible financial pressures on this industry, and seeing fellow organizations we know and love in Victoria recently closing, we recognize that it can be difficult to see yourself beginning a heritage or museum career.
There is no blueprint for a career, but in this #MeetMMBC series of blog posts, staff at the Maritime Museum of BC want to share how they got into their field of museum work, and what industries, skills, and contacts helped them along the way.
I’m Anya, the Events and Development Manager. I run events, help manage marketing and social media, and occasionally don our mascot crab costume for Crabtoberfest. I am interviewing myself so that we have a template for this series!
I started as a volunteer! At 17, I quit an afterschool job, and on the way home I saw a big poster outside my hometown museum, showing the detail of a uniform in their Collection. Drawn in only by the thought that I really would like to work somewhere like this, I immediately signed up for volunteer shifts. My first project was transcribing and indexing oral history interviews. Volunteering specifically with oral histories made me feel very grounded and connected to my tiny hamlet hometown: narratives and reminiscence connected me to people who I was born far too late to ever meet, but the time between us suddenly felt like an eyeblink.
Did you find any degree or diploma programs useful for museum work?
I completed the Masters of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto–“museum school”–directly after my undergraduate degree (English Literature and History). As I had some practical experience already, I wanted to explore theory and possibly pursue further graduate studies; I chose this program over similar degree and diploma programs for this reason. I also wanted to move away from Collections work. I found myself mostly working with databases and archives, and really wanted to be in an interpretive or exhibit planning role instead.
Now I do events and marketing. So, none of the above! But understanding museum theory and having experience in all areas means I have a good foundation for my current role. When I’m trying to create a good experience for visitors at events, and trying to communicate in our marketing what’s so special about what we do, I lean on my museum training.
Have you worked outside the GLAM sector, and has that contributed to your museum work?
After museum school, I completed a 6-month museum contract and then moved to a major city for personal reasons–I never regretted this move. But it did set my museum career back by about 5 years. Short-term, very low-pay museum contracts were all that I was being hired for. They would have eventually led to more stable work, but I needed full-time hours immediately to pay my rent and bills. So, I left the GLAM sector!
I worked in events logistics for conferences and professional development/continuing education for professional industries. I learned so much! The practical application of my museum school skills in project management and interpretive planning was very apparent, and eventually, the practical application of my event management skills became very useful as I transitioned back to the GLAM sector.
Have you completed co-op or intern terms of work? Were they paid or unpaid?
I started at the Maritime Museum of BC as the Public Engagement Intern! After years of working outside of the industry, I needed a way back in, so pitched it as a “returnship” in my cover letter and interview. The focus of the role on digital programming, marketing, and social media was a gap in my experience and resume–the role helped me gain skills I had never done before while also having a paid contract in a museum again.
I did the dreaded unpaid internship during museum school. I received a small financial need bursary from the school that did not actually cover rent for the summer–and some classmates were not even eligible for that because student loans were counted as income! I’m glad the industry is shifting away from unpaid contracts. In some ways that internship was life-changing. The museum was in a hospital and long-term care facility that focused on memory care and neurological care, mostly for older adults. The value of the museum space went beyond learning or creating a fun experience; the museum connected people to themselves. I still think about it constantly.
In the GLAM sector, what has been your breakdown of full-time vs. part-time or casual work, and permanent vs. temporary contract work?
When I was a student, I appreciated the opportunity to keep a year-round connection to museum work with casual contracts. I completed archives or research projects and provided holiday coverage for full-time staff. Fully entering the workforce shifted contracts into a scary space–the dread and panic as your “expiry date” looms shreds your nerves and it’s very difficult to get through periods of contract work as a single person trying to rent in an expensive city. I was not able to re-enter the GLAM sector until I moved in with my partner. I have now been in my first full-time permanent position for just over a year, after almost two years of contract-to-contract living.
Have you been mentored?
So much! I’m so grateful for my colleagues here at the Maritime Museum of BC who have been very determined mentors, and for so many colleagues throughout my very early museum work who took me under their wings! Aside from sharing practical skills, mentors can help you pick out a path that turns into a career. It can be hard to see yourself in this industry; the more intersections of marginality you experience, the fewer exact career blueprints there are to follow. Mentors help. Working with so many early- and mid-career colleagues who are just a step ahead of me has been fun as well; we are all growing together.
Why do you do museum and heritage work?
I thought at first I just loved stuff, that living in a Collection was the life for me. Then, I got enthralled by narrative. I wanted to listen to every story and index every memory. Now, I am thrilled when we as a collective group of museum workers can make someone happy. Seeing the joy of recognition; of knowing; of experiencing; of sharing–that’s the stuff! It’s beyond learning or experiencing facts and dates and interpretations–museums help people connect to themselves.
Do you have any advice for your future colleagues in the GLAM sector?
Know that all of your own personal experiences and specific knowledge have value in museum and heritage work–you will use skills every single day that you never thought would apply to this field.