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Case Study: Lily Barnes

Personal details
Degree:MA History of Art Profile picture
School(s): School of Art History
Year of Graduation:Jun-2016
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: National Trust for Scotland
Job title: Documentation and Digitisation Officer
Occupational Sector: Museums, galleries and Auction houses
What has been your route to getting your current position?
After graduating, I was unemployed for six months. I decided to use that time to add to my experience by volunteering with museums and heritage organisations, as I had done throughout university. I also completed online courses in various related disciplines, such as art crime, archaeology and maritime archaeology, and attended various training days relevant to the museums and heritage sector. I then worked on a six month contract at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, helping them to merge their various Collections Management Systems into one. After that I returned to Scotland and became a Curatorial Intern at the McManus Collections Unit in Dundee. Here I worked on an audit of their loan documentation, transcribed accession registers, and participated in an audit of their photography collection.
What does your job involve ?
I create digital records for over 6000 photographs - consisting of film and glass negatives, transparencies and prints. Initially, this requires me to scan the objects and record their physical characteristics. I also create descriptions and organise the resulting records of these objects for future use. I also help to share stories of the Trust's work on photography projects via talks, articles and social media.
What are the best bits of your job ?
I love being able to share what I do, so really enjoy the outreach elements. However, I also really love the actual process of digitisation, which is the bulk of what I do. It feels really productive to be chipping away at the collection. Having worked and volunteered in collections with, due to lack of resources, bad records and inadequate images I know how much of a difference my work is going to make, and that keeps me going! The images themselves are fascinating, and it feels brilliant to be able to spend so much time with them.
Why were you successful?
I've always known that this is a competitive industry - despite its promises of low pay and rare job security! I knew everyone would have a degree, and everyone that it was unlikely that a job was going to come up in an area in which I was the most qualified and experienced expert. I realised I would need as much experience and knowledge as possible to set me apart. So I've volunteered in museums and heritage organisations from since I was 17, and I constantly look for training and courses which will set me apart.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
As of yet I haven't worked in a collection where the content of my art history degree has been particularly relevant - I've gone from Natural History, then mainly on to social history. However, I think my abilities as a public speaker, and to take on a heavy and varied workload - both necessary during my degree - have certainly stood me in good stead.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
In my experience, enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard, get your hands dirty and - most of all! - keep learning are sincerely appreciated by employers. And if an employer doesn't value those things, I would argue that you're perhaps better off without them. Don't ever be passively unemployed, or passively studying! Look up the job you want in ten years time, or something similar. If you're not there yet, work out the steps you need to get there. Then search for those courses, ask for that voluntary experience, apply for those roles which will get you there. E-mail people currently in those roles, or roles in between you and your final goal. Show that you care, and that you're willing to try hard, and people will respond to that.