From Inside the Vaults Blog

From Inside the Vaults: Museum Housekeeping and Gallery Maintenance

From Inside the Vaults is a monthly blog that gives insight into best practices for collections stewardship, curation, and archaeological collecting institutions.

What Does Housekeeping Look Like for Museums and Collecting Institutions?

How is it different from our typical at-home housekeeping? The past few months we have been exploring best practices of collections stewardship and discussing the importance of preventing collections from damage and deterioration. Housekeeping and gallery maintenance must be actively maintained to extend the life of artifacts. By following a schedule and housekeeping plan, collections managers can perform preventative measures that will preserve collections.

Different collecting institutions may have varying approaches when it comes to housekeeping and gallery maintenance. Spaces and collections are monitored and maintained differently based upon how artifacts are used and stored. When performing housekeeping tasks, it is important to inspect artifacts and their condition regularly for any signs of deterioration. Cleaning materials and methods will differ and should be researched before any cleaning is performed.

Housekeeping Schedule and Tasks

At the San Diego Archaeological Center, the housekeeping schedule is divided into daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Each day the Collections Manager (or Collections Technician) inspects garbage cans, wipes down counter and work surfaces, and cleans any visible debris, dust, or pollutants from the curation lab, collections vaults, and gallery spaces. At the end of each week, garbage bags are replaced; all surfaces are cleaned and dusted; floors are swept and vacuumed; and exhibit cases are examined for artifact dust. When sweeping, a “dust mop” is used rather than a normal broom to limit the disturbance of dust in collections spaces. Monthly, oversized artifacts are examined for dust accumulation and cleaned as necessary, windows and doors are cleaned, and all curation lab, collections vaults, and exhibit gallery floors are mopped. Housekeeping tasks are recorded and any sign of debris, dust, or dirt build up are noted. Housekeeping is time consuming but can increase the life of artifacts greatly if performed with care and attention to detail.

Why is Housekeeping Important?

Preventative measures are taken so that damage to collections overtime is minimal. Dirt and dust contribute to the deterioration of artifacts and unclean spaces attract rodents and pests. A housekeeping plan outlines a schedule that should be carefully followed and on a consistent basis. By adhering to the housekeeping schedule, collections managers are able to provide preventative care for artifacts, which leads to their longevity.

By Jessica McPheters, Collections Manager

Volunteers work in the Center’s Research Library, cataloguing materials and organizing on a computer-based system.

Marketing and Administrative Volunteers assist the Development Office or Administration Office with data entry, updating marketing materials and clerical tasks. Computer experience is a plus.

Docents welcome visitors and answer general questions regarding the Center and exhibits. Docents staff the gift shop and help out with administrative and curatorial tasks.

Volunteers support event activities at the Center, such as the Annual BBQ, lectures, workshops, and fundraising events. Be a part of the party!

Volunteer provide support for K-12 programs offered at the Center. These are fun, hands-on programs that kids really enjoy. Teaching experience is a plus, but not required. Background checks are required.


With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will use photogrammetry to prepare one or more archaeological collections for digital preservation, as well as create a virtual museum exhibit for our Public Archaeology department. Per approval, special projects of the intern’s choosing are also available. During the research and planning, the intern will receive guidance as appropriate to their selected project. Prospective interns should already be familiar with photogrammetric procedures, and Agisoft Metashape.

Collections Management

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. During the course of the internship, the intern will learn to identify artifacts and ecofacts common to the San Diego region, including lithics, ceramics, historical objects, and faunal, botanical, and mineral specimens. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and preventative conservation. In addition, the intern will become familiar with historical trends in archaeological practice in the San Diego area and will be introduced to current legal and ethical issues in archaeological curation as well as the concerns and rights of culturally affiliated groups with regard to archaeological materials.

Development and Marketing

Under the direction of Center staff, the intern will support the department in various activities, including, but not limited to, fundraising and grant research; e-newsletter development; social media marketing; and website maintenance. This internship will give the intern valuable, real-world experience in non-profit fundraising and marketing.

Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology

Prospective Interns must have completed three courses: Introduction to GIS, GIS Database Management, and Intermediate/Advanced Methods in GIS. The intern will be assigned a project where they will create shapefiles and maps for curated archaeological collections, museum exhibits, and/or public outreach using ArcGIS 10.6. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological GIS laboratory procedures such as computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and database management.

Library Science

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will arrange and catalog materials in the Center’s library. During the course of the internship, the intern will take a leading role in the cataloging, sorting and storing of research files and creating user guides for these collections. Center staff will instruct the intern on archival procedures, computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Public Archaeology

Harness your passion for Public Archaeology and gain hands-on experience with K-12 museum field trips, lectures, and public outreach. Additional projects may include creating virtual museum exhibits and activities, assisting in the development and implementation of K-12 curricula programs, planning and presenting public facing content, or educational field trip content of your own design. Must be able to pass a Live Scan.