Museum conservators put together exhibits at galleries and museums by selecting, installing and assembling pieces to be put on display in exhibitions. Conservators design the layout of the exhibitions and carefully find and correct any problems with the exhibits before it is opened to the public.
When it is time for the objects to be taken off display at the museum, conservators are responsible for ensuring each item is accounted for and packed carefully for shipping or storage.
Museum conservators work with artifacts within the areas they specialize in. Some may work to preserve and prepare a collection of books and documents, while others may restore and preserve valuable paintings from around the world. For conservators who work in museums of natural science, a major part of their position is to create and construct precise skeletal mounts for fossils and life-sized replicas of specimens.
Conservators preserve their artifacts by ensuring the light, temperature, and humidity levels stay regular. They also clean the artifacts with carefully chosen cleansers that are best for each material, whether they are made of fabric, metal, paper, glass, pottery, wood or stone. Conservators have the knowledge to make educated decisions about the care and preservation of even the most delicate, ancient artifacts, and when there are questions about these techniques, they must test different temperature settings and other conditions to ensure the artifacts are safe in the display environment.
When restoration and preservation are necessary for artifacts before they can be shown within the museum walls, conservators must be able to accurately estimate the total cost of these tedious projects. The estimates are based upon examinations of the artifacts. Museum conservators carefully study the artifacts to determine their age, as well as precisely what they are made of. This often involves testing of the physical or chemical nature.
Museum conservators are responsible for supervising curators and other museum technicians. They assist their subordinates in properly displaying artifacts within the exhibits. Museum conservators must carefully document each item and its whereabouts as they are the professionals that are responsible for the artifacts – no matter how many other hands have touched them. Conservators assign each artifact with a number, and document the condition of each item with great precision.
When they are not testing artifacts or restoring them to their original splendor, museum conservators often give tours of the exhibits, and present special programs to the public. They also spend time teaching and training subordinates with programs they have created themselves after evaluating the educational needs of these employees, and then build structured teams of employees to handle tasks effectively, putting team members into groups where they can shine. Museum conservators also take charge of scheduling, from the work schedules of curators and technicians, to the scheduling of public events.