Exhibit Maintenance Manuals

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The creation and disciplined use of an Exhibit Maintenance Manual insures that conservation features built into the exhibit continue to function as designed. Maintenance and routine inspection also catch problems before collection objects are affected.

What is an Exhibit Maintenance Manual?

The Exhibit Maintenance Manual organizes documentation about the exhibit and identifies all tasks necessary to insure that the exhibition continues to perform as intended. The Manual is an important tool for object preservation, identifying maintenance necessary to support conservation features.
Elements of the Exhibit Maintenance Manual should be compiled into one document; a three-ring notebook is a useful format. Several people will contribute to the manual, but one person should be in charge of collecting and organizing the information. Often, this person is the exhibit planner or a curator. As with any important document, store a backup copy in a second, secure location.

What type of information is included in the Exhibit Maintenance Manual?

The three basic elements of a Maintenance Manual are listed below. The specific content of the manual depends on the exhibition design, the length of exhibit, the condition of the objects, and whether or not conservation features have been incorporated into the cases; therefore, a unique manual must be created for each exhibit. Along with general information the following conservation-relevant information should be included.

  1. Documentation of the exhibit: Information on the exhibit content, planning and construction.
    • object list and object locations
    • names and addresses of any lenders
    • exhibit layout plans
    • conservation criteria for the overall exhibit and for any special cases
    • technical description of microclimate equipment if included in exhibit cases
    • exhibit case details showing construction and case access
    • materials used to construct and finish the exhibit
    • sketches of mounts and de-installation instructions for complex mounts
    • lighting plans including lamp types, voltage, beam width, and aim
    • list of filters on lamps
    • products necessary for maintenance, with suppliers listed
    • any warrantees on products or services
  2. Written description of tasks: Information necessary to complete tasks for general maintenance and to support conservation features.
    • initial check of conservation features
    • addressing defects found during initial inspection
    • routine checks of the exhibit space
    • regular inspection of the objects
    • rotating or substituting objects
    • vacuuming and cleaning requirements for the exhibit space
    • implementing a pest management program for the area
    • monitoring of environmental conditions in the overall exhibit space
    • monitoring of environmental conditions in environmentally controlled exhibit cases
    • changing filters in the overall exhibit area’s HVAC system
    • maintenance of any microclimate HVAC system
    • reconditioning or replenishing silica gel used to maintain case environments
    • replenishing pollutant absorbers inside cases
    • changing filters over vent holes in ventilated cases
    • relamping and checking light levels
    • changing light filters
  3. Schedule for tasks: Organized, comprehensive system for alerting staff to needed maintenance, and to document completion of each task.
    • The frequency of required tasks is determined by members of the exhibit team. The conservator, for example, sets the schedule for conservation tasks such as reconditioning silica gel. Some tasks will require daily implementation (routine security check of space) while other procedures may be infrequent (relamping). Maintenance tasks may be assigned to occur:
      • daily
      • weekly
      • monthly
      • three months
      • six months
      • nine months
      • one year
      • eighteen months
      • two years
      • seasonally
      • as required

What is needed to implement the Exhibit Manual?

The museum administration must commit the personnel and monetary resources for continuing exhibit maintenance. One person needs to be in charge of exhibit maintenance, although many different people are usually involved in implementation of required tasks. Use a Maintenance Schedule, such as the one in this TechNote, as the basis for communicating needed exhibits maintenance.
A budget must allocate funds for needed exhibit maintenance. Replacing expendable items—such as recording charts, pollution or dust filters, and curatorial cleaning supplies—must be included as an ordinary expense. Relamping is perhaps the most costly part of maintaining a longer-term exhibit; annual budgets must factor in such extraordinary expenses.

Exhibit Maintenance Tasks and Schedule