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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A support group for the museum-stereotyped

'No Dad, it's really not much like
Night at the Museum'

If you work in museums then you may have come up against certain stereotypes. Perhaps your friends might be a bit hazy on what you do all day? Your parents could be mystified by your museums studies course? You could be just a bit tired about explaining the difference between a conservator and a conservationist?

Here at the Ministry, we know how you feel. We want to be a support group for all mis-understood museum geeks. If you feel personally victimised by any of the following museum stereotypes, please feel free to pass this post along and educate your loved ones.

1) Museum people are creepy loners who never see the light of day and love their objects more than people
Henry Balfour amongst his friends
*cough* objects

I am not going to try and tell you that we don't love our objects. Most museum professionals I know are down right parental about 'their' collections. But we are also able to carry on normal conversations, and relate to other people. Even if we do spend most of our time in the stores, that doesn't mean that we come out being scary and pale. No wait actually the pale thing is genuinely a problem.

2) Museum people are crazy old dudes

I wish this stereotype was less true actually. I still know a fair amount of crazy old guys who work in museums. But equally I know a lot of really fun cool young people, girls and guys. I can't speak for the Victorians, but mostly we are not drug addled (looking at you medical curators). And generally it's no longer best practice to wear our collections to parties or otherwise play with the objects. Generally. 

3) Conservators save the rain forest, or extensively re-construct broken objects

The work of this (amateur) restorer is pretty different than a
what a conservator might have done
I literally put conservationist into google and got this
This is actually a mis-understanding I didn't include in my original Museums Showoff presentation, but I think it bears mentioning. To be clear: it is the job of a conservator to preserve the object in the condition in which it is accessioned. Conservators aim to maintain an object's structural integrity, without 'fixing' it or making it look shiny and new. An object's age and even it's defects bear witness to its history. If you want a piece of furniture re-constructed with new bits to look brand spanking new, then you need a restorer. And you are also probably not a museum. 

And do I need to say it? A conservationist works to save the environment. The hard working people striving to save the rainforest have a very different day to day life than someone tirelessly cleaning thousands of coins armed with just a cotton bud.

4) Museum people are whip-wielding, mystery solving geniuses who tame dinosaurs who come to life

This stereotype is one that really bothers a lot of museum professionals, but I never really got that. If you think this is what we do all day, then yes definitely. I am a super genius and I am always needed by the Vatican to solve thousand year old riddles. On Tuesdays I fight zombies. But honestly we spend a lot of our time doing research and paperwork. 

I know some of us may wish these stereotypes were true. I personally wouldn't mind uncovering buried treasure or time traveling, but the fact of the matter is museum people are just like you. Many of us are young or female, or both. Lots of us love being with people and quite a few work not in labs but with the public. We can be tech-savvy, stylish and silly. To be honest, you can often find us at the pub. 

So if your son/daughter/sister/brother/friend/lover works in a museum, don't be alarmed. Treat us like you'd treat anyone else with an unnecessarily detailed knowledge of some minor branch of history. But maybe buy us a drink, because damn we don't get paid very well (and that's a fact). 

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