The Job Description of a Museum Tour Guide

A museum is an institution that cares for and houses a collection of artefacts, generally of scientific, artistic or historical importance. They can have their own collection or show travelling exhibits. Guides are frequently used to help viewers understand collections.


There is no college major directing a person to becoming a museum docent. Rather, it is a combination of skills that will allow someone to thrive in this capacity. One must enjoy the objects that the museum specialises in, and be willing to learn about the objects and share that information with the public. One must be able to generally communicate in English to the public, although knowledge of other languages can be helpful and utilised by the museum. Docents come from a wide range of backgrounds, although many who volunteer are retired.

Museum Education

Most museums are non-profit institutions. They are granted that status from the government because of their educational mission, and tours make up a very important component of this mission. A good tour can complement the teaching missions of other educators, families and students by helping people better understand the collection and the role of individual works of art within a collection.

Museum Tours

Museum tours take several forms. They can look at important works in a collection. They also can be a general walk-through of the collections to get visitors comfortable walking around and making their own discoveries. Tours also can focus on themes in the collection, such as families in art, or still life painting across cultures. Tours also can look at a special exhibition that is only at the museum for a limited time. Typically tours involve walking with a group, although most museums are accessible for those who might be disabled.

Volunteer or Job?

Most museums that offer tours have vibrant volunteer programs where they develop talent for giving tours. These tour providers are often called docents, and they learn their craft after much training with the museum. Typically, museum docents have several years of training, and they provide tours on a given day of the week. Other tour guides might be paid members of the education department - a department in a museum that harnesses the educational value of the collection by designing programs to engage the public - whereas most volunteer docents are not paid for their efforts. According to the website, the median annual income of an education specialist at a museum is £28,868. Those who volunteer might be given perks depending on the museum, such as free or discounted parking and free admission while working. While a college education is generally not necessary for volunteer positions, it is generally a requirement for those seeking paid positions in museum education departments, with the most common majors being art history for art museums, or education.

How to Become One

Becoming a tour guide generally involves contacting the museum's education department and asking if they need help. From there, you likely will be ushered into their volunteer program, where you will be trained with a group of incoming tour guides. The education department also might be able to alert you to paid opportunities within the museum.

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About the Author

Egon Schiele is an art connoisseur who has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He works as a practicing attorney, and enjoys writing on many different topics for online publications such as eHow, Trails, and various contributions to blogs as well as print publications aimed at collectors of antiques.