Museums and Archives | The Day-to-Day Jobs


museums and archive, antique cameras
An exhibit of cameras and related photographic ephemera, open for periodic inspection and cleaning.


At a visitor’s first glance, the contents and displays of typical museums and archives may make it seem as if everything has always been there, frozen in time and space, for dozens—if not hundreds—of years. This is actually almost never the case, as museums are usually quite active, dynamic, busy environments.


museums and archives, archival gloves
An artifact held in a white cotton inspection glove to keep naturally-occurring oils on hands and fingers from coming into contact with the object. 
(Please click on image for more details.)


Museums and Archives: The Day-to-Day Jobs


Each day curators, archivists, staff and administrators are busy with hundreds of standard day-to-day tasks that must be addressed when running any small, medium or large business, as that is essentially what historical societies, archives and major museums really are. Each department has its own job, often with much cross-over, and while some “permanent” exhibits may seem like they never change there is always something going on behind the scenes.


Permanent Exhibitions must be cared for, which means that different artifacts or parts of the exhibit have to undergo scheduled maintenance. Objects are taken off the shelf and often transported to various collections departments in artifact boxes. There they are inspected, often with gloved hands, perhaps cleaned if needed, and otherwise made ready for that next group of museum patrons.


Rotating Exhibitions have to be planned, archival mats must be measured and cut, exhibits must be installed, glass and plexiglass must be cleaned, and while all of this might appear seamless on opening night it actually requires an immense amount of work and preparation by a dedicated staff.


Traveling Exhibitions have to be received and inspected, items must be cataloged by the registrar, picture frames must be hung with the correct types of picture hangers, the show must be promoted, opened, monitored, and then closed, disassembled, repacked, and shipped out to its next venue.


museums and archives, archival boxes      museums and archives, archival boxes

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museums and archives, acid-free, Archival Paper      museums and archives, picture frame, frame kit

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museums and archives, museum case      museums and archives, archival boxes


On top of all this, it is often said that 90% of any given museum or archive’s collection is actually not on display due to spatial constraints and other limiting factors. Yet all of these artifacts—kept safely in museum quality archival storage boxes, various portfolio boxes and museum cases, or carefully protected with interleaving tissue or nestled in crystal clear bags or archival polyethylene bags (see above)—must be inventoried, periodically inspected, cared for, and prepared for any upcoming exhibitions that might include them. 


museums and archives, acid-free, archival box, archival tissue
Most of any given museum or archive’s collection is in archival storage rather than on display. Here artifacts are nestled in shredded archival tissue inside an acid-free box (Please click on image for more details.)


All in all, even the so-called “sleepy” museums and archives are often veritable hives of activity, with dedicated staff members and administrators performing near-Herculean tasks each and every day.


Visit Museums and Archives with a New Sense of Appreciation

In this age of instant internet access and digital downloads, nothing beats seeing the actual artifacts of history—from yesterday and today—at a museum or archive. The next time you are visiting one of these repositories of art and culture, whether it be the Louvre in Paris / the Prado in Madrid / the Met in New York / or your local historical society on Main Street, USA, we hope you will take a moment to consider and appreciate the tremendous effort and care that goes into the archival preservation and presentation of all you will enjoy during your visit.

Oh, and by the way, check out this list of 12 university art museums you perhaps never even knew existed. In addition to any permanent exhibitions, a huge range of fascinating shows cycle through these spaces, so they’re worth visiting the next time you’re nearby.


Contact Us

If you have any additional questions or would like more information on the archival storage and presentation materials that are right for you, please contact us here at Archival Methods. We’re always there to help with any archiving, storage, or presentation questions you may have.