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David Kayser

Majors: Government and History
Year of Graduation: 1974
Graduate School: Master's, Museum Sciences
Current Job: Museum curator/technician/specialist, National Park Service, MA

Dave can be contacted at [email protected] if you have questions for him.

Describe your duties
I am a museum curator/technician/specialist.  I am a chief cultural resource for the National Maritime Historic site, so I contribute to everything related to historic structures, the campus historic works at the Salem Harbor, historic landscapes, and along with that, I oversee the exhibit program at the park.  I have been with the Park Service for 28 years.

What makes you look forward to coming to work each day?
With all my assorted duties, I still like dealing with the artifacts - fabricating exhibits, dealing with historic structures, writing copy for the exhibits, and so on.  That's the creative stuff.  I don't get to do that enough because now I do a lot of administrative work pushing papers.  But my first Harbors Ferry Center Exhibit production, where I fabricated exhibits, was a really fun job.  We have historic structures dating as early as 1675 (the Narbonne House).  Dealing with those buildings, trying to take care of them is good fun.

What has been your favorite job thus far?  Why?
Three projects really stand out to me.  First, eight years ago I overhauled a warehouse exhibit that I really liked.  I wanted to show the range of goods that came into Salem in the 1820s, part luxury goods, and it just came together nicely.  We did the research, obtained a good exhibit fabricator, and I was the planner.  We put it together so it did not affect the historic structure in any way.  It was either connected to itself or gravity did its work.  It was a very smooth walk through.  Second, we now have a dedicated, secure, environmentally-controlled storage space.  It was a three-year project that entailed planning and construction but it was worth the wait.  The planning really paid off so that we got exactly what we needed.  By contrast, many parks still have inadequate storage and it causes all sorts of problems.  We had to get the funding and get the studies and research done.  And the third one, still in the study stages, is a chimney project.  We're doing three buildings.  The project involves trying to figure out what is wrong with some leaking chimneys in the exhibit; how to fix this is an interesting challenge.  We have historic architects as well as masons involved so far.

What personal qualities are most important in your field?

You need patience and good humor.  The park service is under budget constraints that are really affecting our operations.  We don't like to see resources go down the drain and sometimes that's difficult with lack of staff and money.  Some things get left behind.

What led you to your current job?

After SJU (with History and Government majors), I know I did not want to go to law school and thought "What am I going to do now?"  One day, I walked by the Quad bulletin board and there was a flyer for a museum studies program that only accepted half a dozen people a year, but the light went on.  I thought "I could work in a museum."  I had an internship with the park service (after graduate school) and off I went.  I worked for the National Park Service temporarily until they hired me for a permanent position after a year or two.

What advice would you give to students thinking about this/how can they prepare for this?

It's not often that you fall in your chosen profession.  I got a master's degree in museum science.  It's very difficult to get into the park service, and back in the '80s it was extremely difficult to get a museum job because there weren't many.  "Collections" was a perfect opportunity. Try to get an internship if you can.

Where are some other places to look for jobs?

There's a website at that lists almost all current federal jobs available (at the time we spoke, the count was 20,902).  A lot of states also have some sort of non-profit museum consortium clearinghouse, or they have museum advocates that put out newsletters and have museum websites.  Now it is done on the web.  A number of universities have museum studies.