Museum professionals are a varied bunch. In a museum setting, you can expect to find curators, educators, collections managers, registrars, exhibit designers, etc. Because there are many specialized jobs, the typical day for a museum professional varies greatly from person-to-person.
At Northeast Museum Services Center, where I currently work, the archeology lab has a few key areas or tasks we work towards on a daily basis. These include:
- Cataloging artifacts – artifacts are only as useful as their documentation. Good documentation means lots of useful information for researchers, curators, you name it.
- Rehousing collections – standards change. Resources change. Materials age and degrade. Sometimes collections need a little TLC.
There are, of course, other things that pop up here and there, just to keep life interesting, but in general we catalog and rehouse artifacts/museum collections.
From Excavation to Museum Collection
Before getting into the whole nitty gritty of what this all means, let’s start by taking a look at what happens after an archeologist (spelled the park service way) finishes an excavation.
After everything has come out of the ground, the really time consuming part of archeology begins. This would be the lab work and collection management part of archeology, the less glamorous part that the everyday person doesn’t often associate with archeology.
Lab work – the ins and outs
Lab work involves several stages:
- Cleaning the artifacts
- Identifying the artifacts
- Updating/creating catalog records with the new artifact information
- Storage – both long and short-term
Now let’s fast forward several years down the road. In the case of one of our ongoing projects, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site rehousing project, most of the objects were originally boxed up in the early 1990s. This means they have been sitting on shelves for 20 years. Not only do materials begin to degrade – boxes get dusty, labels fade, bags start turning brittle and no longer seal – but the standards and the available materials have changed in this time as well. And in comes rehousing.
Over the next few weeks we will bring you inside our daily lives, examining the tasks we do to give you an insider view. Of course, we’ll also be sharing interesting historical facts and tidbits, tips for identifying artifacts, and other fun things we encounter as museum professionals.
Stay tuned for our next Day in the Life…post, where we will take you inside the exciting world of rehousing.