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UCL Careers Themed Weeks 2019: Museums, Arts & Cultural Heritage Interview

By Skye A Aitken, on 14 November 2019

Ian Richardson – Senior Treasure Registrar, Department of Learning and National Partnerships, British Museum

MA in Cultural Heritage Studies from the Institute of Archaeology (UCL) in 2007

Photo of interview, male wearing a suit in front of a bookcase
What is your role and where you work?

I work as part of a project called the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is run by the British Museum. Specifically, I manage a team of four Treasure Registrars and we carry out the administration for cases of ‘Treasure’ reported under the requirements of the Treasure Act 1996. Treasure items are objects which, when found, have no known owner and which are made of gold or silver and are more than 300 years old, hoards of coins except for base-metal coins hoards of fewer than 10 coins, and prehistoric base-metal hoards. In practice, the vast majority of this material is found by metal detector users.           

What challenges does your sector / organisation face at present?

One challenge that we face which is specific to our jobs is that continuous rise in the amount of material being reported and which we have to process. This seems down to the growing popularity of metal detecting as a hobby and also to the fact that reporting such finds has been made easier over time. This challenge is linked to something that is facing the entire museum sector, which is a lack of funding to support all of our activities. Many people are now expected to ‘do more with less’.

What is the range of roles that people can apply for in your organisation?

There are a wide range of roles available at the British Museum. Probably what first comes to find is ‘curatorship’ but in fact, roles directly involved with the collection only make up about 1/3 of the jobs at the British Museum. There are also opportunities in fundraising, facilities and maintenance, finance, human resources and education, for instance.

What skills/qualities do you feel are particularly important in the type of work you do?

In my role it is useful to have a good general knowledge of British History, current archaeological and museological principles, and of the types of artefacts that are typically found in Britain. However, the last topic is something that is picked up quite quickly ‘on the job’. More generally it is important to be organised, have good attention to detail and the ability to understand how one’s job impacts on wider activities within the museum and beyond. There is a lot of diplomacy required in this role, as it involves dealing with colleagues who one has to chase for progress, and also involves a lot of correspondence with members of the public whose expectations (in terms of timescales and potential financial rewards) have to be managed.

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