When crowds gathered outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art last winter to watch a pancake-tanned Burt Reynolds filming exterior scenes for the movie "Paternity," one museum employee was taking pains not to be seen coming and going to work.

In fact, Caroline Kennedy, who was living across the street in her mother's Fifth Avenue apartment when she started working at the Met last year, has been keeping her job so secret that a co-worker said this week he was fearful he will be fired for discussing her presence.

"We've been asked to simply leave her alone," he explained.

Only Kennedy's closest friends knew much about the job.

Her connection to the museum leaked out recently when her name was listed among those who worked on a special report prepared for circulation to members of the board of directors.

Kennedy, 23, is working for one of her mother's closest friends, Karl Katz, who used to visit the former first lady and her children when they still had Aristotle Onassis' private island of Skorpios available to them for vacations in the Aegean Sea.

Katz was once curator of the Israel Museum in Jerasulem and later head of the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. Later he went to the Metropolitan to be in charge of Special Exhibitions and Loans.

In the mid-1970s, he was touted by the supermarket tabloids -- incorrectly -- as someone who might someday become Carolina Kennedy's stepfather.

He is now a special consultant on film and television projects for the Metropolitan, job he undertook last July.

After some museum employes declined to discuss Caroline's job on or off the record yesterday, Richard Dougherty, vice president for public affairs, said that he has worked there full time for "a year or more." Asked for a job description, he said, "she does assignments given to her by Katz," adding:

"She's a very hard worker . . . involved in a number of projects."

She is "one of four or five people" working for Katz on the video project, he said.

Katz and his staff have been studying the role that video discs and other future technology can play in museums.

The project is funded "partly by the museum and partly by small private contributions," according to Dougherty.

The board of trustees recently voted to continue the study for another year, he said.

The Metropolitan had once intended to get into modern communications in a big way, with a visual arts center for TV, tapes and film that was to have been underwritten with a $20 million gift from media tycoon Walter Annenberg.

Annenbert, U.S. ambassador to Great Britian at the time, later withdrew his offer.

Dougherty said yesterday he didn't know who the donors are who are helping to underwrite the current study.

Kennedy, who took a year off from college to study art in London, graduated last June from Harvard with a degree in fine arts.

She has worked as a still photographer, covering Elvis Presley's funeral for Rolling Stone magazine, but she always has been interested in film and spent one summer in the hill country of Tennessee making a documentary about coal miners.