When most people think of librarians, they may consider librarians working in jobs in public, university, and school libraries. Although museums might not come to mind immediately, some of these nonprofit organizations are also premier research facilities in the arts and sciences. Many museums have fine library facilities, giving information science professionals opportunities to pursue careers as museum librarians for several reasons.
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Museum libraries fulfill an important role of offering resources and space for curators, academics, and other professionals to conduct research. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, museum librarians work to build collections of books, periodicals, digital resources, and archives that focus on a number of specialized subjects. Many museum libraries attract researchers from a particular region or worldwide, and librarians work directly with researchers as they seek resources, ask for assistance, and make important discoveries.
Meet Organizational Missions
While many museum libraries seek to help researchers from outside regions, many of these facilities also fulfill important needs for employees of the organization itself. After all, museums employ curators, educators, conservators, designers, and other professionals who rely on both historical and current resources to do their jobs well. As Lisa Harms, formerly of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains, a comprehensive facility like the Thomas J. Watson Library houses 700,000 volumes, largely for the benefit of museum employees.
Pursue a Distinctive Specialty
Since most museum libraries support institutions that focus on history, the arts, or natural sciences, these libraries often have a relatively limited focus. To do their jobs effectively, museum librarians must develop a high level of knowledge in a relevant subject, according to Harms. To professionals with interests in the arts and sciences, pursuing roles as museum librarians allows them to cultivate these additional interests and enjoy a distinctly fulfilling career.
Maintain Historic Objects
Just as museums often collect and display historic objects, many museum librarians concentrate on preserving and displaying archival materials. As Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian explains, museum libraries are typically considered special libraries, as they don’t fall completely within the definition of a standard public or school facility. Instead, museum libraries collect rare books, historic documents, original letters, and much more for the purposes of research and documentation.
Preserve Collections for the Future
Whether they carry out archival work or focus completely on digital collections, museum librarians protect collections and preserve objects for the future. Using a variety of metadata standards and digital preservation techniques, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other museum libraries around the globe strive to digitize collections. Not only does a move toward digital preservation ensure a longer life for the collections of museum libraries, but digital preservation also enables data to reach a larger audience, according to Madeline Sheldon, a 2013 Junior Fellow with NDIIPP.
With ibrary and information science careers, museum librarians have some of the most desirable jobs in the field. If you want to apply your skills to research, archives, or rare books, a career as a museum librarian may be a rewarding choice.
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