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Working with museums

Archaeology has many faces. As an academic, I seem to encounter most of them, and that’s a very good thing. My most recent project involves analysing material recovered a long time ago. This is stored at the National Museum of Archaeology, Malta. Museums are a very different world from a university or a Cambridge college. In this case (and many others) they are warm, welcome places that house fascinating collections and even more fascinating scholars. Here are some tips on working with museums as a researcher.

Isabelle’s top ten tips:

1. Museum staff are overworked and underpaid. Be nice.

2. They will happily help you but remember point 1.

3. Your research uses up museum resources, including personnel. Be mindful of this and don’t be a snot.

4. Remember point 1? Don’t waste anyone’s time. Be clear about what you want. Send a concise and coherent research proposal. Staff will happily give you access to collections, but don’t wander in, without an appointment, and expect to be shown whatever it is that you want. If your questions concern aliens, for Batman’s sake just go away.

5. Museums all require agreements. This means that in return for access, you deposit a copy of your data with the museum, copies of any ensuing publications etc. Check the rules for copyright (for example for photographs). Do not argue. Yes, you took the photo. Yes, the copyright belongs to the museum, not you.

6. Be generous. People have given you their time and expertise. Be generous with your knowledge and with cups of coffee. The occasional cookie wouldn’t go amiss either.

7. Listen to the museum people. Yes, you may be the fancy academic and that’s great. But museum staff know a heck of a lot about objects. Listen carefully and give thoughtful consideration to any new perspectives.

8. Share your knowledge. Knowledge cannot be a one way street, enter into a dialogue with your museum colleagues and offer your perspective.

9. Invite your museum colleagues to present papers with you. Do I need to explain this?

10. As always in life, be nice, generous and thoughtful and treat others with the respect you think you deserve.


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