Museum technicians and conservators salary & career outlook

Do you ever wonder who keeps museum exhibits in pristine condition and ensures that they are topical, relevant, and appropriate for a variety of visitors? Museum technicians are found in most museums across the nation. Museums are anything but stuffy, and they can make for an interesting place of employment for those with a passion for a specific field of art, design, costumes, architecture, or many other sub-specialties for which museums exist. These include botanical gardens, ship-making, basket-weaving, and many more. These professionals who are a quiet, yet pivotal presence in the museums they work at. Learn more about what they do, how they get to that position, and how much they make doing it.

What museum technicians do

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report data exclusively for the position of museum technician, but extensive data is available for the combined occupations of curator, museum technician, and conservator. These technicians might be employed by private entities, such as the many private museums that can be found around the country. They could also be employed by public institutions and non-profit organizations that manage some of the country's flagship museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Guggenheim. According to the BLS, a museum technician's job might very well include some of the following duties and responsibilities, although they can vary greatly from museum to museum:

  • Help develop and set up exhibits
  • Clean objects to be exhibited using a number of special tools and cleaning products appropriate for the object
  • Assist with the organization of museum tours for members of the public
  • Help plan and conduct special research projects
  • Assist with promotion and public outreach efforts

How to become a museum technician

Most museum technicians are expected to hold at least a bachelor's degree in art history or a related field, according to the BLS. Few universities offer actual bachelor degrees in the field of museum studies, and might perhaps offer it as a minor for students of a closely related field, such as art history, archaeology, costume design, etc. While many museums place emphasis on a master's degree in museum studies, the BLS notes that it may be more important to have in-depth knowledge of the museum to which one is applying. For instance, those who want to become a registrar in the John Steinbeck museum or the National Numismatic Collection should be very knowledgeable about the literature of the great American writer or about coins, respectively.

Museum technician salary trends

There are museums for every possible area of interest and specialty, including museums that you would have never thought of, such as the SPAM Museum and the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Museum technician earnings may vary depending on the museum's size, funding, and other factors. In general, according to the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics as of May 2012 (bls.gov, 2013), the mean annual wage for museum technicians nationwide was $49,920. Not surprisingly, museums, historical sites and similar institutions had the most jobs for museum technicians, followed by the federal government, colleges and universities, and state governments. In terms of location, museum technicians earned the highest mean annual wage in the following states:

  • District of Columbia ($55,670)
  • Maryland ($55,570)
  • Alaska ($54,650)
  • New York ($53,790)
  • Connecticut ($49,760)

Career outlook for museum technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for museum technicians are expected to grow by approximately 7 percent between 2010 and 2020. The BLS notes that employment will vary by specialty, and points out that the job market for these positions will be quite competitive, as many professionals will hold the necessary credentials. On the flip side, the BLS expects museum attendance to increase in the coming decade, which could mean increased construction, additional exhibits, and perhaps more employment opportunities.