Femurs and Lemurs

I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to post new things regularly – I suspect that like a new toy this blog will be loved intensely for about a week and then get discarded and forgotten – but I will try to write at least one post a week (even if I have to resort to writing book reviews, or posting New Scientist stories or something!). So while I’m feeling motivated…

I have visited a lot of museums, but I’ve only worked (well, worked for money!) in one. And so far it is very much living up to my expectations. I’ve always had a picture in my head of museum storerooms as being slightly musty, dusty repositories of ancient curios, with endless wooden drawers full of hidden treasures. And that’s pretty much what it is really like! Most of the stores are not actually all that dusty (though some of them are a little musty!), and they’re incredibly well organised…in a slightly chaotic sort of way!

Which is good, because it means that while the cataloguing and storing of objects by type, age, species, etc. means that you have a fairly good chance of being able to predict what’s coming up next, there are always surprises, anomalies that keep you on your toes and make the job extra interesting. Finding something you don’t expect is always an amusing diversion, especially when you find a femur that has been labelled as a lemur, or a kangaroo skull that somebody has identified as belonging to a pelican! But these things happen when you have volunteers (who are mostly enthusiastic members of the public with little formal training or education in the relevant subject areas) doing your documentation work for you…It’s great having people who are interested and want to do it for free (because most museums are permanently cash-strapped and can’t afford to actually hire the staff they desperately need), but it does occasionally lead to these sort of clerical errors because the volunteers don’t have the specialist vocabulary required (although a little common sense would have helped in the case of the femur/lemur! And the kangaroo/pelican. I mean, the snout still had some mummified flesh clinging to it, complete with whiskers! It must have been a rare whiskered pelican…).

Not that I’m knocking volunteerism – I did it for two years because volunteering is the only way to get the experience that museums want in their curators. It is something of a catch-22 situation…museums want people with experience, but the only way to get the experience is to work in a museum. So a lot of people end up doing it for free. Like me. And I enjoyed it, and it got me my current job. It took me a while (in the current climate finding a job in any industry is hard!) but I got there in the end. And I’m very glad I did. For a while after I got my job I kept thinking “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!”. I’ve just about gotten over that now, but it does still strike me sometimes just how lucky I am to have a job that I love (especially when I hear other people bitching about their jobs!). I did this for free for two years, and now somebody wants to pay me to do it. That’s amazing.

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