museumworkI work for a small museum owned by the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, so when money is available, our facilities department provides maintenance and repair services.  When it isn’t, our staff and volunteers do maintenance and light repair work at the museum.

Our department head recently asked if we could use an extra staff member, a city bus driver, on a temporary basis.  With only 2 staffers, the answer was an excited “Yes!”  This person was recovering from an injury and needed to do “light duty” for eight weeks. (I guess the human resources office classifies museum work as “light duty,” compared to driving a bus.) The bus driver turned out to be an excellent worker who enjoyed organizing files and data entry, jobs that always seem to be on the back burner with our limited staff.

While I was happy to get help, albeit temporary, it bothered me that someone considered our work “light duty.” I began thinking of all the jobs and responsibilities that I’ve had while working in both public and private museums.  In addition to my normal duties, I’ve done landscaping, roof repair, painting, bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing (it’s unbelievable what some people try to flush down a toilet!), installed track lighting, laid railroad track, and removed graffiti. I’ve also moved headstones, historic carriages and heavy safes, washed windows and walls, disposed of dead animals, and scraped ice off of walkways.

Museums…”light duty.” Really?  Any museum professional (and my aching back) will tell you that museum work is not light duty.

Unfortunately I think many people who work outside of our field think that we just dust off our cabinets of curiosities and sit around as the public views our displays.  We small museum folks know how much really goes in to keeping things open and running. It’s not just a matter of unlocking the front door and keeping our facilities tidy.

These are a few of the jobs I’ve had to tackle in museums. Would any of you care to share your own experiences?  Maybe we can build a great list of what museum work really entails….much that isn’t on the job description.