Graduation is fast approaching for museum studies students. If you haven’t already, you will soon be looking for your first job. As a newly minted museum professional, it can be tough to navigate the maize of organizations out there to join.
You don’t have to be a member of most groups to use their online job search sites. But joining does have benefits.
Most organizations have student membership rates. If you haven’t graduated yet, JOIN AS MANY AS YOU CAN AFFORD! This will give you a year’s membership at a reduced price. The discounted student rate will save you quite a bit of money in a profession that notoriously doesn’t pay well.
The best reason to join a professional organization as a new professional or a student is to network by attending the group’s conferences and regional meetings. Members not only get advanced notification of these events, but they also usually get a discounted registration fee. Some meetings are open only to members.
The publications – newsletters, magazines, and journals – will also keep you on top of emerging issues in the field.
Your career goals and interests will determine what groups you should join. Here are some options:
GENERAL MUSEUM ORGANIZATIONS
American Association of Museums
This is the premiere national organization for museum professionals. AAM is a well-known, established group that sets the professional and ethical standards for the profession. The AAM annual meeting is often the setting for job interviews for a variety of positions. The members-only Information Center is a vast resource on all kinds of museum topics.
American Association for State and Local History
AASLH serves the museum community who is working hard to preserve local and state history. The organization’s superior workshop series is definitely worth looking into. Scholarships are available for new professionals who are already employed.
National Council on Public History
This organization has a bit of an academic slant. NCPH publishes a journal called “The Public Historian,” and has a wide membership base including curators, professors, teachers, archivists, and many other professionals.
If you are living or looking for a job in a specific area, you should join a regional professional group. Every state has at least one organization at the state level, and there are often regional groups that represent part of a state (such as the Lower Hudson Conference in New York’s Hudson Valley).
Here are some major regional groups to consider:
Association of Midwest Museums
Historic New England
(formerly the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities)
The Southeast Museums Conference
National Council for History Education
While this group is mostly aimed toward history teachers, it is an interesting group to join as a museum professional. It offers you insight about the state of history education in this country, and the annual meeting usually features a session on museum professionals and teachers working together. (On a personal note, I had the opportunity to hear David McCullough speak at one of their conferences – for me, it was like meeting a rock star!)
Museum Education Roundtable
MER publishes the only professional journal dedicated to museum education. They are currently working on forming a national network of museum education professionals.
The Association for Living Historical Farms and Agricultural Museums
ALHFAM represents historic villages or “open air museums,” usually with first person interpreters. This is a great group to join for those who want to preserve historic crafts, heirloom agriculture and livestock, or be “on the front lines” interacting with the public in a living history environment.
Association of Science-Technology Centers
ASTC is the premiere organization of science centers and natural history museums. Member museums offer reciprocal or discounted admission in all 50 states and several countries.
SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Costume Society of America
If the history of fashion tickles your fancy, join the Costume Society of America.
Association for Gravestone Studies
I am a cemetery enthusiast and have been a member of AGS for several years. A major benefit of this group is the wonderful journal “Markers,” with in-depth articles on cemetery history. Also, the group has a clearinghouse of resource materials available to members only.
National Trust for Historic Preservation
If preservation is your thing, the National Trust is the best group to join. I have been a member for a long time, and have noticed that the wonderful glossy magazine “Preservation” is shrinking. But there are still wonderful articles on a variety of preservation issues, including a column about what historic properties have been lost, are in danger, or have been restored. I love looking at the historic property listings in the back – even though there’s no way we could ever afford one!
There are many, many more organizations out there. This list represents some of my favorites. Check out the link to the Smithsonian’s list for some more ideas.