This blog article comes from Sarah Gowanlock, a final-year Medieval History and Social Anthropology student who joined MUSA in September and quickly became fully involved in the volunteer programme. Sarah was recently invited to join the staff team at MUSA and here she looks back over her many experiences at the museum as a volunteer.
One of my favourite parts about volunteering at MUSA is greeting each and every visitor who walks through the door. Although the exhibitions mostly stay the same, every person interacts with the galleries slightly differently, and some visitors give us feedback about what they liked or what they thought could be improved. Often, visitors can point to at least one way they felt connected with the exhibits. These conversations with visitors are the most rewarding part of volunteering at MUSA because they give me a better sense about what role museums play in the community.
I started as a volunteer at MUSA in September 2014 as a fourth year student studying Medieval History and Social Anthropology. Last summer, I interned at a museum in the States, but it was mostly curatorial research and I left wanting to interact with the public more, and to learn who came to museums and how they used them.
As a front of house volunteer, I’ve learned how many different visitors come to the museum, what their different motivations are, and how the museum strives to fulfil the needs of all their various visitors. For this reason, another favourite part of volunteering has been to conduct visitor surveys. I enjoying getting more insight into what people think about the museum and I’m often surprised by how enthusiastic visitors are to complete the survey.
I spend most of my time at the reception desk. From here, I greet visitors, give directions, operate the till, and answer the phones. I also run gallery checks periodically to make sure everything is as it should be.
In addition to my time at the desk, I’ve also been able to volunteer at lots of our events. These have included everything from an evening talk with a surgeon specialized in cleft palette cases, a Teddy Bear Hospital workshop designed to make kids less scared of going to their GP, an adult printmaking class, and a talk with the author of a novel about the infamous murderers Burke and Hare.
Most memorably, however, has to be the Perfect Poo workshop which I wrote about recently [https://museumoftheuniversityofstandrews.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/in-search-of-the-perfect-poo/]. These events are all free and it has been great to be a part of MUSA’s community outreach through these workshops.
The volunteer programme provides a perfect opportunity to get involved with a whole range of different museum activities. Not only does MUSA provide museum experience which is crucial for anyone hoping to go
into that sector, but the museum also encourages the volunteers to get involved in other aspects outside of front of house tasks. For example, MUSA provided workshops about collections care and organized a tour of the collections storage space. Finally, when MUSA expanded their casual staff for the summer, they looked to their existing volunteers first for candidates. When I was offered a casual contract to work at MUSA over the summer, I was thrilled! My time volunteering has been a truly invaluable experience this year, teaching me more about how museums operate and also about all the different ways MUSA and the community interact with one another.