We got in touch with people from a few GLAM backgrounds and asked them the following questions. To get a bit more context, please check out our contributor’s bios, along with their social media links here.
If you have more specific questions for advice, email them through to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to get a response to you.
This is an area we’ll update as we get more responses.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt/challenge faced from your GLAM career so far?
This is quite a tricky question for me to answer! I feel like the last two years of my career were huge learning curves for me, as I worked on several high-level projects I would only have dreamed to be involved in when I was at university. Social media is so reactive and visible, that if you make a mistake, not only will your colleagues be able to see it and let you know very quickly, but so do your audience. Having that level of scrutiny and accountability can lead to second-guessing your decisions or overthinking what and how you should approach content, something I definitely experienced.
I also believe that there is definitely a process of learning how to propose new projects and fight for them to get off the ground. You need to find a way to show initiative whilst being respectful of resourcing constraints, as well as what your colleagues or predecessors have done in the past. So, I’d say that my biggest learning experience was not to let my mistakes, however minor or public, stop me from working the best way that I could, and trust that I had good ideas that were worth pursuing and nurturing.
I spent a lot of time as a casual worker in the sector early on. This was good in one way as it meant I had fairly flexible working arrangements while I was studying for my Research Masters, but it can be difficult to stick with these short contracts and get into more permanent employment.
I was lucky that I always knew that I wanted a job in the Arts and was able to start volunteering when i was 14 at a university museum. This eventually turned into sporadic paid work during undergrad. I had no idea that the traditional archaeologist/anthropologist career I had planned would go out the window when I was faced with a tough decision – support my family or build a career. I chose family, but I came to realise that that didn’t have to mean sacrificing a career in archaeology – I just took a step to the left into a more public arena and found myself loving the GLAM world.
There are so many avenues to get involved in the GLAM sector than just the traditional, idealised role of the “curator” – this can be challenging when you might actually get the job you thought you wanted and its nothing like what you imagined at all. Unpaid work like volunteering or internships can be incredibly hard to do when you’re trying to support yourself (and maybe others too!), but they are valuable opportunities to find out what exactly you might find great about a career in GLAM.
I’m not going to lie – it can be frustratingly hard to get the job you want, and it may not be a while until you land yourself a permanent or substantial contract role. You will get job application fatigue, disillusionment and sometimes you will have to ask yourself hard questions like “is this really the career I want?”. I’m not going to say you need to persevere, or “suck it up”, because we’ve all been there (I definitely have) but sometimes these challenges can be addressed with having a break outside but somehow related to the GLAM sector. Don’t beat yourself up if you have to work a paid shift over an unpaid internship – there are ways and ways of achieving a role in GLAM. Look at opportunities in policy, academia, overseas bursary programs….or even your own blog. Sometimes taking a break from the GLAM race can be scary, but it really is helpful!
One of the biggest challenges of my working life within the GLAM industry was actually getting a foot in the door and gaining some employment. I’ve learnt that the volunteering opportunities of past decades are rarer now than they’ve ever been within the industry. Its one thing to study Information/archive/museum studies at a university or TAFE level but another to actually gain practical hands on experience that allows you to actually apply for positions within the industry. Opportunities like student placements and internships should be looked at strategically and thought of as serious bridge building experiences for individuals looking for employment within the GLAM industry. If approached in the right way these opportunities could lead to future employment.
I got into the industry by being persistent and eventually gaining casual employment in the library information industry at first, my background in adult and secondary education helped greatly in this instance as well. From here whilst studying information and archive management I also thought stragegically about where a good place to go on placement would be and made my pre-existing skills in digitisation and collection handling known to the small university archive I did a placement with. This placement later led to contractual employment and further contract work. Working within this small archive brought me into contact with archive management professionals whose advice I sought regarding employment within the industry.
More recently the challenge of the GLAM sector or cultural sector in general has been employment freezes and a marked reduction in the number of positions available. During this time I’ve sought other opportunities by applying for secondments within the industry. While I’ve only been able to take on one secondment offer during this time other secondment offers have allowed me to build contacts inside the broader GLAM industry that may prove helpful when the job market shifts in the future.
If you could give practical advice to someone considering a career in the GLAM sector, what would it be?
I feel that volunteering is a really valuable experience. Not only does it help to give you practical skills that you can use when you’re applying for roles within an institution, but it gives you a sense of how that organisation works, what the people are like and whether you are a good cultural fit. I had wonderful mentors when I volunteered at the Justice and Police Museum who I learned a lot from – the different types of work that they did, how they expected me to work, and how to optimise my resume so that I would actually get an interview. The other advice I would give is that I don’t believe you necessarily have to be a subject matter expert in order to love and succeed in your job.
My experience from my own roles, as well as recruiting, training and mentoring others, if that if you have a passion for what your institution does as well as the ability to be adaptable and flexible, you can learn about the collection on-the-job. So I think that if you’re really passionate about working in a GLAM, don’t feel like you’re never get work unless you’re know everything about the Australian political system, or post-modernist Australian painting, or feminist literature from the 1960s, or whatever it is that your fave institution specialises in. Having general skills like being able to write content for the web, plan an event, or explain complex ideas in a simple way, are highly applicable.
In my opinion, one of the best things you can do for your career is spend time in GLAM institutions, particularly early in your career when you’re trying to get a foot in the door – volunteer, attend public programs, look for work experience/intern opportunities, visit exhibitions, apply for jobs, and talk to other like-minded people about these experiences.
Being in an around GLAM institutions at this critical period means you are always learning new things, you can get a sense of the different roles and specialities in institutions of different sizes, and you’ll get to know the staff too which helps when job searching. Of course, most of these things are just a good idea throughout your career too!
If you are considering a career in the GLAM sector – and you haven’t started working in that sector yet, I would strongly suggest:
- Start working before you have a job
Doing some volunteer work at your local museum/gallery/archives/library to get an idea of the nature of the work. Being a curator is not all about creating wonderful exhibitions just as being a librarian is not all about cataloguing and shelving!
- Follow relevant social media
Join some of the free groups on Linked IN and Facebook and follow some blogs where people post interesting articles and upcoming events in the GLAM sector – engage with your future peers and some of the issues to help understand where the GLAM sector is at. Some groups you could ask to join on fb are: Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies and Emerging Museum Professionals (which is mostly American). Some membership groups (such as Museum Historians, Oral History Association, Museums Australia and Australian Historical Association) also have fb pages – sometimes you have to be a member of these groups to see their pages. On Linked IN, check out ICOM, the Inclusive Museum knowledge Community and American Alliance of Museums. Some blogs you might like to follow are Art Matters Now, Museum Hack and Leadership Matters.
- Embrace online PD opportunities
Following on from the above point, you can get a lot of free professional development from the Internet! There are over 20 TedX talks by highly regarded museum professionals which you can access for free. Many conference organisers post video links or papers from their keynote speakers after a conference has concluded. Sometimes you need to be a member to access this part of the website (see for example Museums Australia) and sometimes you don’t (see for example Museum Next). If you really want to extend your learning opportunity, why not get some GLAM volunteers/colleagues/students together to watch the Ted X talks and then discuss the ideas afterwards (over a drink or a cuppa!). The National Museum of Australia’s reCollections: A Journal of Museums and Collections is available free online. Reading and discussing some of the articles is another free professional development option.
- Go west
Look for work in the GLAM sector in regional areas. If your life circumstances allow you to move out of a capital city and work in a regional town, then you are more likely to gain extra experience, and a more diverse skill set in a shorter space of time. Regional GLAMs have to spread the work across a smaller group of paid staff and volunteers and if you are keen to contribute, you will learn heaps!
- Be nice
The GLAM sector does tend to attract introverts but the thing that will make the biggest difference to your employability is your ability to get along with other people and work as part of a team. Every manager wants a staff member who will do their job while contributing to a harmonious workplace. Sometimes I have seen the “team player who may not be highly intelligent but gets the job done with minimum fuss and ruffling of feathers” get the job over the “brilliant but difficult” person. So if you imagine that working in the GLAM sector means hours of peace and quiet doing research in the secluded collection area, then you might need to temper that with an image of working with the different personalities and agendas of volunteers, IT staff, marketers and donors to get stuff done.
My main advice would be to gain some practical experience as early as possible to build your skills and knowledge of the industry. Think strategically about where you might want to work within the broader industry be it libraries, library achieves, galleries, museums or a combination of all these etc. Think about what pre-existing skills you may already have that would make you more employable beyond simply having a museum/library/archive degree. For example you may have skills in art education or social media skills that would prove very useful to any organisation seeking to engage more with the public.
Understand that some work within the industry can be very process based and that there can be a lot of red tape. Patience is key to working within the GLAM industry even once you manage to obtain a job. Always hold the collections you work with in high regard and remember your key custodian role!
Support. A thousand times, support is what will get you through challenges in your emerging career. Friends, family, peers or even a delicious burrito will help you. If you’re in uni, build those relationships now. If not, consider joining a professional group like the Museums and Galleries Australia Emerging Professionals network (also check out their Facebook page!). Be genuine in your networking (people can definitely tell when you’re not that interested in them/their work, but more so what they can do for you!), be respectful and be open to new things – this may sound like boring traditional advice, but it definitely still stands! Everyone’s got to start somewhere – and for most of us that’s on the floor of a museum or gallery. I wouldn’t trade my start in GLAM on the floor doing education programs for the world – its given me a great appreciation of all aspects of working in a museum.