So You Want to Work in a Museum? Professional Development Book Review

Written by Judi Mae “JM” Huck, EMP; Development Coordinator, The Neon Museum

Our institution has a museum membership with the American Alliance for Museums (AAM). Recently, I asked AAM members to recommend books to emerging museum professionals considering post-baccalaureate work in Museum Studies, in the hopes of furthering their careers. I received over a dozen book recommendations and was able to borrow a few at my local library or buy them secondhand from AbeBooks and Amazon.

This post is a brief review of the 2019 title – So You Want to Work in a Museum? by Tara Young.


Photo of Terrible Herbst sign from a July 2022 show of “Brilliant!,” The Neon Museum North Gallery.

Photo of Terrible Herbst sign from a July 2022 show of “Brilliant!,” The Neon Museum North Gallery.


Well-Organized Layout

The book is divided into 15 chapters, with an overview of the museum industry and resources for museum professionals. Its core consists of career comparisons, across several departments within a typical museum. Readers can learn about what it’s like to work in just about every area, from administration, to collections to education to visitor services. Each chapter covering these museum divisions features a profile of a professional working in a related role. The layout makes the book easy to follow, and also easy to skim!


Line drawing of the Herbst sign by JM Huck.png

Line drawing of the Herbst sign by JM Huck.


Helpful Lists Inside Chapters

My favorite part of Young’s book was the fit and skills section of a chapter. According to Young, museum pro’s who are likely a good fit for a Development Manager position tend to have the following traits (three paraphrased as an example):

  •  Highly organized, with a knack for remembering names and faces
  • Communicates well, regardless of channel
  • Adept at using a database, handling event logistics and financials

This section is useful and convenient for those already familiar with personality assessments used in career navigation with Meyers-Briggs or Enneagram-based methodology.


Lobby selfie.jpg

Lobby selfie. Outside The Neon Museum La Concha Lobby, on my first visit with my mom and sis in May 2018.


Ideal Readers

I wish I’d known about the book when I was still an undergraduate. I think it’s a terrific read for anyone wanting to take the leap and begin a career in the museum industry. It is also a handy resource for mid to late-career professionals wishing to enter the field, or existing museum staff evaluating other roles or departments. Although, no advice is given on resumes or job interviews!


Caveat Lector

Young’s penultimate chapter identifies current challenges of careers in museums, such as work-life balance and lack of diversity. Yet these issues are being addressed by industry leaders, so be sure to review the Western Museums Association's resources on self-care and diversity and inclusion.

My thanks to Anne Ackerson of Creative Leadership & Management Solutions for this book recommendation, as well as the one by Greg Stevens and Wendy Luke, A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career.

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Judi Mae “JM” Huck is an emerging museum professional and development coordinator at The Neon Museum, where she chairs its newly formed Employee Engagement Committee. Prior to joining Team Neon in Las Vegas, she worked for membership organizations in NYC for 5 years and taught English in Japan for 3 years. Add her to your LinkedIn network.