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Volunteers and Volunteering in Museums

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On the 18th of November Otago Museum hosted one of its two annual Regional Museum Gatherings. As the name suggests these are an opportunity for staff and volunteers from museums and heritage institutions from around the region to get together and talk about issues that are important to us all. The theme for the latest meeting was Volunteers and Volunteering in Museums. Volunteers are a very important part of the heritage sector. Large museums are keen to open up to volunteers whose generously donated time can help to further enhance the work of the permanent staff while smaller museums are often run entirely by volunteers dedicated to telling the stories of their towns or regions.

We heard presentations from Anna Clere, Manager of Volunteering Otago, Anne Harlow and Jamie Metzger from the Otago Museum, and Edith McKay from Cromwell Museum, who between them covered a wide range of volunteer-related issues.

Anna talked to us about cross-generational volunteering and the six differing generation groups that museums might want to attract volunteers from, and how to tailor the volunteer experience to each generation. There was much nodding of heads and some wry laughter as Anna worked through the characteristics of the generations from those born before 1945 to those born between 1995 and 2010. The talk highlighted how volunteering has changed in recent years and how museums need to reflect that change if we’re to keep attracting new volunteers.

This led into the sticky topic of managing difficult volunteers. Anne Harlow approached this with a great deal of honesty and a lot of humour. The light-hearted talk about a sensitive issue opened up a good deal of discussion about how to deal with difficult people, particularly in a small community setting.

Next we heard from Edith McKay, Director of Cromwell Museum, who talked about the volunteers who have been transforming Cromwell Museum, and the joys and challenges of being a volunteer directing other volunteers. Many were interested to hear how Edith and her board of Trustees managed to get so many volunteers to donate their time on such a regular basis, and the importance of team bonding and morale really shone through.

Finally for the formal presentations Jamie Metzger talked about how museums could best attract university volunteers. Jamie put her recent personal experience to good use reminding us all of the excellent volunteers university students can make, as well as the part museums large and small can play in helping aspiring museum staff to gain experience and training.

The gathering was a great opportunity for all involved to share their experiences and we hope that many of the tips and tricks discussed will be put to good use retaining existing volunteers and attracting new ones in the future.

If you’re interested in volunteering in museums in the Otago region why not give it a go? Get in contact with your local museum, they’d love to hear from you. And if they don’t have the right opportunity available for you they will be able to suggest other institutions that might. It could be the start of something wonderful!