Question Time: Curator

Jennifer Potts

Curator of Objects at the Delaware Historical Society


What’s your average day like?

There is no average day in a small museum! Because they are small by nature, staff tend to wear multiple hats and projects can come at you from out of nowhere. In smaller organizations, collections staff may be involved in exhibit planning/set-up in addition to their regular duties of cataloguing, accessioning, and collections care. The smaller the organization, the more likely you are to be called upon to do “other duties as assigned.”

What training did you do?

I have a graduate certificate of museum studies and have worked in collections, exhibit development, and education/ interpretation in several different museum settings.

How did you get to the position that you are in?

Persistence and not getting discouraged.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to get to your position?

If you actually aspire to museum collections work as a career path, be prepared to pick up and move anywhere you need to for work and also be prepared to work part-time or on a temporary contract basis for possibly quite a long time.  Full-time work that will pay off your student loans can be hard to come by, so you must be persistent and keep your eyes open. When you cannot get museum collections work, any work that involves careful organizing and the management of small details can be helpful preparation for when an opportunity does come up.

Any helpful resources that you would suggest to help get into your profession/ continuing education/ books/ articles?

Professional organizations are an excellent way to help connect with peers in the field, check out what’s going on in the field, and guide your path forward.  There are a number to choose from: American Alliance of Museums, Small Museum Association, Museum Employment Resource Center etc., as well as many regional museum-specific associations. The Museum Council of Greater Philadelphia has a great resources page that offers access to a wide variety of regional and national job databases and other related resources. It’s also sometimes helpful to try to look beyond just museum associations at arts/history/science organizations (depending on your training/interests) generally because museum opportunities sometimes are listed there for people with field-specific training.

What’s the biggest challenge you face while working in a small museum?

Small museum tends to equal small resources.  You will probably never have enough to do what you actually want to do, so you have to be resourceful  and realistic in your aspirations/expectations.

What’s the best thing about working in a small museum?

Flexibility and being able to get a broad range of museum experience.  Because there are always limited resources, you can count on it that you will get the chance to do may things, which keeps it interesting.