Museum Monday: A Job Description That Helps the Field

Recently, the Dallas Museum of Art has been looking for a Director of Collections Management (go for it!). Anyone who has looked for a museum collection management job knows that our profession suffers from an identity crisis. Job search engines return listings for banks and collection agencies. “Collection Management” has, after all, been in use by that industry longer and more widely than in museum work. Among proper museum collections management job descriptions, the work can vary widely, including anything from registration, collection care, facilities and general operations, database administration, curatorial work, preventive conservation, basic conservation treatment, exhibition planning and design, and so forth.

I was pleasantly surprised by this line in the Dallas job description:

“Establishes a work environment that allows for open communication, professional growth, and retention of committed professional staff.”

Wow, that’s nice! Charging administrative staff with developing not only the institution but also their team is rare. Certainly, this commitment to staff begins with senior administration’s dedication to providing development funds, a congenial and respectful work environment, and creation of necessary advancement opportunities.It’s great to see a commitment up front to professional development and retention of collection management staff.

Increasingly, collection management positions have been cut to temporary, project-based, contract positions. There is a perception that collection management talent can come and go freely, and there are no long term institutional benefits to fostering growth and development among a permanent collection management staff. Administrations have little perception that rapid turnover in collection management causes an institution to hemorrhage institutional memory, staff time in retraining, and morale. Positions offered are often at starting levels, the capacity of the positions allowing only for just moving from project to project, rather than building a strong, comprehensively planned and managed collection management and care program.

So kudos Dallas Museum of Art – nice to see commitment to collections management where it counts – up front.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.