“No, actually I do like it!” why preventative measures matter.


“No, actually I do like it!” why preventative measures matter.

Being able to work on-site during an active global pandemic is a luxury, not a right. It’s even more of a luxury when you get to be in a museum exhibit, caring for said exhibit, while sitting two feet away from artifacts that predate even the oldest of grandmothers… by, say, 68 million years? Yet the common sentiments I received when explaining my job to others was mostly negative, and now, with my own blog post, I’m here to argue in favor of the reality of museum work. That in most cases it looks tedious because it is tedious, but tedious work does not equate to bad, and is just as important, and fulfilling as any other aspect of museum work.


The cleaning of exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is an annual process, usually taking several months beginning in January and ending in June. However, with the museum closure in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, the cleaning progress has gone far past schedule, leaving one of the most expansive exhibits, Dinosaurs in Their Time, for routine maintenance in the Fall and Winter months of 2020. The reality of cleaning museum exhibits is dirty work, and by dirty I mean dusty. Cleaning DITT means dusting everything, the ground, all of the leaf litter, and every leaf on every fern. But cleaning the dust off elements of the display that are fake (i.e. anything that isn’t a dinosaur) is crucial in the preservation of the exhibit, dust is corrosive and causes harm to artifacts if left uncleaned, besides that, it also looks bad. Most dust is from patrons' clothing, jean material especially, but due to the restrictive measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the CMNH, I’m told the amount of dust is not as bad as previous years.


Dusting entails using tools like brushes, cloths, and vacuums to remove dust particles, most days I use a brush to gently clean the leaves of the plants, however on Tuesdays, while the Museum is closed to the public, I can be seen sporting a portable vacuum which shares a striking resemblance to a Ghost Busters “Proton Pac”, which we all like to joke about.


Being a part of the Conservation Department at the CMNH has led to so many organic educational moments with the general public, and though some may express concern for my plant- dusting wellbeing, I love getting to share my positive experiences working in DITT. Even more so, I find that being close to the ground on the exhibit leads to more questions from young patrons. I have found being eye level with young children makes them more likely to come and ask me questions about what I am doing, what the exhibit is, and engage with museum spaces in new ways. Children often find it very exciting that I am in an enclosure, and the best parts of my day are spent sharing this excitement, and encouraging minds of all ages to recontextualise what it means to be a conservator.


Photo Credit: Daveynin via creativecommons.org

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