Museum conservation officers keep works of art and historic objects in good condition. They preserve, restore and care for items ranging from paintings, ceramics, textiles or furniture to archaeological and geological specimens.
Many conservation officers specialise in one area of work such as paintings, fossils or furniture. Others work with a wider range of objects. You could be:
- examining objects to assess the nature of the material they are made of
- looking for the symptoms and causes of decay and damage
- deciding what repairs and treatment may be needed and cleaning and restoring objects so that their original features are not lost
- estimating the costs and time needed for the proposed work
- photographing objects and producing reports, and dealing with other paperwork
- providing support and protection for objects in fragile condition
- carrying out work to stop items decaying and rotting
- advising on the correct conditions of heat, light and humidity needed to preserve objects in good condition
- assisting in the development of activity programmes.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
- where you work
- the organisation you work for
- the demand for the job.
The starting salary for museum conservation officers is usually around £21,000 a year. Experienced conservation officers earn around £25,000 to £31,000 a year. Senior managers can earn up to around £45,000 a year.
- In museums and galleries you work regular hours in a studio or laboratory.
- Many conservators or restorers work on a freelance basis or on short term contracts.
- For some jobs you may have to concentrate for a long time while sitting or standing.
- You would work with a range of tools and materials, such as scalpels or carpentry tools and chemicals such as paints or solvents.
- You may have to do some heavy lifting and climb ladders.
- Most entrants have a degree in conservation or in another relevant subject, such as fine art or geology, depending on the type of objects to be conserved.
- Entry to a degree course normally requires a 4-5 Highers in relevant subjects.
- If your first degree is not in a conservation subject you will probably need a postgraduate qualification in conservation. A number of postgraduate courses in conservation are available in the UK. In Scotland, the University of Glasgow offers a two-year full time MPhil in Textile Conservation.
- There are no degree courses in museum conservation or restoration work in Scotland, but there are a few in England and Wales. A list of relevant courses is given on the website of the Institute of Conservation (ICON).
- There is a lot of competition for all work in this field and it is not easy to get in.
- Voluntary work experience can help you get in.
- You might be able to get short term work and this may lead to a permanent position.
- Higher Chemistry, or an equivalent qualification, is very useful for entry to conservation.
- You need good IT skills.
- You should have good eyesight and normal colour vision.
What Does it Take?
You need to have:
- problem solving skills
- relevant scientific knowledge
- appropriate technical skills
- good hand skills
- computer skills
- an enquiring mind and sound judgement
- a methodical approach
- patience and concentration.
You need to be able to:
- pay careful attention to detail
- communicate well with others
- plan and organise your time well
- use your own initiative and judgement
- work unsupervised and often alone.
Further training is on the job, combined with in-service and specialist training courses.
- With experience and further skills, you may be able to move around within the public or private sector.
- For permanent employees in large museums there may be a formal promotion structure from assistant conservation officer to conservation officer.
- You may also be able to move on to be a senior conservation officer.
- When you establish a good reputation, you could work as a freelance conservator or restorer. You may form partnerships with other conservators.
- You may be able to work in research into new conservation techniques.
- You may also be able to teach conservation and restoration techniques.
- You can become a member of a professional body, such as the Institute of Conservation, and work towards Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers.
The Institute of Conservation website lists degree and postgraduate courses in conservation subjects. The Museums Galleries Scotland website lists over 300 museums in Scotland. They vary in size from the National Museum of Scotland with many employees to small local museums with very few employees and often run largely by volunteers.
The Creative and Cultural Skills website has a careers section called Creative Choices which covers careers information, jobs and opportunities in the heritage and culture sector, including conservation work.
The following organisations may be able to provide further information.
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