A Summer at the Museum

In late 2015, I graduated from the University of Otago with aspirations of working in the museum sector. After discovering that employment was not easy to come by in my chosen profession, it was time to be realistic with myself. I had been very successful at University and I had this wealth of theoretical knowledge, but, suddenly I realised that I was lacking the key to landing a job: experience. So I came back to my home town and applied to volunteer at the Ashburton Museum.

Day One

I did not know what to expect when I came in for my first day as the new summer intern. Initially, I was given a tour of the museum and the behind-the-scenes areas by the museum director Tanya, and I have to admit I was very impressed. I have been lucky enough to visit museums all over the world in places like Italy, Germany and the US, and for the size of Ashburton, our museum facilities are world-class. I was shocked when Tanya mentioned that there were only three staff members making everything happen behind the scenes at the Ashburton Museum. Kathleen an archivist, Maryann a curator and Tanya herself. Then I met some of the thirty-five regular valuable volunteers that help with projects and the day-to-day running of the museum. Even with public programmes, education and front of house roles, its still a lot of work for just a few people.

1. Libby Neumann working with archival material donated to the museum collection.

Week One

My task for the first few days was to assist Kathleen in the archives by sorting through and recording a plethora of donations to the museum. So already, I was hands on with the materials. I was also tasked with taking down some of the portraits on our portrait wall in order to make room for our new installation.

2. Part of a Christmas installation curated by Libby Neumann.

Week Two

After completing my first few tasks, the team suggested that I could research, curate and install my very own installation for Christmas in the Archive Research Room. This was very exciting for me. For days, I scrolled through our archives and collection catalogue for ideas and inspiration.

I came across a tiny ceramic ‘frozen charlotte doll’ that had traditionally been placed in Christmas pudding. This became the showpiece that I paired with a sixpence, a Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book and a contemporary bowl and steamer in one display. In the other display case I went for a Christmas cheer theme, featuring common Christmas gifts, Christmas lights, Christmas crackers and photographs of locals with Santa Claus. I was responsible for creating mounts, labels and signage for this Christmas Past installation and I am really proud of how it turned out.

Week Four

In the next few weeks the opportunities for handling objects and curating displays just kept coming. Maryann asked me to research and pick out some objects for the Exquisites and Peep-hole displays in the main museum area. This time I was only dealing with objects so I took my time to carefully choose items that to me looked exquisite and interesting. I learnt a great deal about museum practice during the installation.

4. An installation of photographic material and images related to tourism photographer Frederick Cooper from varying dates.

Week Six

Another installation that I researched, curated, designed and installed here at the Ashburton Museum is the display of our camera collection. I carefully selected some of our 20th century cameras to put on display within the museum to show the transformation of the humble camera.

I also had the chance to research the life and work of Ashburton photographer, the late Frederick Cooper. He was a talented adventure photographer who spent his early career pioneering scenic photography around Mount Cook, the glaciers, the sounds and other beautiful spots in the country. I designed an installation featuring his photography and his story is now on exhibition in the Archive Research Room at Ashburton Museum.

And more

Along with plenty of curating experience, I have also been tasked with preparing blog posts for this online repository, assisting with the annual Santa hunt, setting up projects for other volunteers and writing our heritage pages for the Ashburton Guardian.

I have also worked front of house shifts at the Museum reception. These have given me essential customer service skills and provided me with the opportunities to communicate with the array of visitors to the museum. I have had a lovely chat to a Canadian visitor with a keen interest in New Zealand heritage and I often see familiar local faces popping in for a look around.

I am so thankful to all the team for all of the time, effort and faith they have put into having me as an intern. They gave me advice and helped me to gain the experience needed to enter the industry. Every hour that I have put in here at the Museum has been rewarded with a valuable and diverse vocational experience.

What’s next?

With the experience I have gained during my internship here, I have got my foot in the door of my chosen career path. I was recently hired by the Choice TV television show called Heritage Rescue, where I will work as a curatorial and design assistant contributing to the show as they travel around New Zealand helping to improve smaller struggling museums manage and present their collections.

I strongly urge others to get out and volunteer in our community, whether it be for job experience or for goodwill, it is always worth it.

By Libby Neumann


  1. Libby Neumann working with archival material donated to the museum collection. ©Ashburton Museum.
  2. Part of a Christmas installation curated by Libby Neumann. ©Ashburton Museum.
  3. Libby Neumann ready to take on her new role working with museums around New Zealand. ©Ashburton Museum.
  4. Part of an installation of photographic material and images related to tourism photographer Frederick Cooper. ©Ashburton Museum.


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