Conservation DistList Archives [Date] [Subject] [Author] [SEARCH]

Subject: Unpaid positions

Unpaid positions

From: Helena Jaeschke <helenajaeschke<-at->
Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I wholeheartedly agree with Tom Dixon's posting on unpaid positions.

I don't understand why conservators should be expected to work
unpaid and why, when they do so, this is not called "volunteering"
as it is in many other sectors. There are several conservation
training courses in the UK which turn out many students each, every
year, far more than the paid conservation posts available. Many of
these end up volunteering at museums because they hope this will
give them an advantage when they apply for jobs.   Sometimes this is
a helpful way for a conservation dept to assess candidates before
committing to employing them, but it is hard to think of another
profession where this would be deemed acceptable practice. I have
come across conservators who have taken a variety of unpaid
positions for more than 10 years after graduating from a reputable
course and still have not had paid employment in their profession.
Would this have been the case if museums had not been able to use
their services for free?

There is a further problem, as internships are frequently used as a
way for the university or college to avoid having to teach practical
skills or provide lab time--the student is deemed to have gained the
requisite experience in the museum.  As a result we have museums
finding that some interns are poorly educated about bench
conservation and working with objects (in the worst example staff
from a major international museum stated that the interns could not
be allowed to handle objects until they had received training in the
museum as they were so unsafe) and students who find the work they
do in the internship is limited and may leave large gaps in their
experience. Hard pressed museums are often under pressure to meet
internal deadlines which do not allow them to develop a
comprehensive program for their unpaid conservators.

Of course it is beneficial for conservation students and recent
graduates to have experience working in a variety of institutions
and much good work could not be done without volunteers. I could
have cheered when I read Tom's description of a previous museum
director who "courageously diverted considerable acquisition funding
towards four development conservator positions... He reasoned there
was little point in acquiring things you couldn't care for and that
the storerooms were full of items in too poor condition to display."
If only there were more such professionals in the field!

Tom's posting drew attention to the disproportionate amount of
unpaid work which is currently (and increasingly, it seems) being
used.  In some cases people can only afford to take the unpaid
positions if they have family who can support them or if they are
prepared to risk further debt after paying academic fees for several
years. This is not fair nor is it desirable.

The current practice is highly unsatisfactory and I agree that it
can encourage employers to feel that conservation services are
neither very valuable nor very productive (though some paid
conservators share the responsibility for engendering that

Some professional bodies have battled to raise minimum salaries for
conservation posts. Perhaps it is time we turned our attention to
the principle and practice of unpaid positions. ICON in the UK is
about to undertake funded research into the conservation workforce


I hope this project will included the problems of poorly paid and
unpaid conservation positions.

Helena Jaeschke

                  Conservation DistList Instance 26:27
                Distributed: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
                       Message Id: cdl-26-27-003
Received on Tuesday, 20 November, 2012

[Search all CoOL documents]

Timestamp: Sunday, 12-Jun-2016 11:50:37 PDT
Retrieved: Sunday, 08-Dec-2019 23:59:44 GMT