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. They are sometimes called a conservator.
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 type of material they are made of
looking for signs and the 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 work to be done
photographing objects and producing reports, and dealing with other paperwork
providing support and protection for objects in fragile condition
carrying out work to stop the condition of items deteriorating
advising on the correct conditions of heat, light and humidity needed to keep objects in good condition
maintaining records of objects, including work carried out.
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 £17,000 to £21,000 a year. Experienced conservation officers earn around £25,000 to £31,000 a year. Senior managers and heads of conservation can earn up to around £55,000 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.
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).
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 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.
a genuine interest in conservation and the area you specialise in
problem solving skills
relevant scientific knowledge
appropriate technical skills
good practical skills
excellent communication skills
an enquiring mind and sound judgement
a methodical approach
You need to be able to:
pay careful attention to detail
cost projects and work with budgets
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. According to the Museums Galleries Scotland website, there are over 400 museums and galleries in Scotland. They vary in size from the National Museum of Scotland, with many employees, to small local museums and galleries.
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.