Museums have different histories and purposes, and the staff may not have collaborated with communities before. Your experience will vary depending on the museum, its policies and procedures, the purpose of your visit, and the staff involved. Most museums have a similar plan of organization. In a small museum, one person may be responsible for multiple jobs, whereas in a large museum, responsibilities are divided into different departments.

You will usually work with people in following positions:


Collections Manager





Collaborative work associated with collections often takes place where the collections are stored, in the conservation laboratory, or in the archives. These spaces might be in a different building than the main museum.

Stephanie Riley, Assistant Curator, Haak’u Museum, Acoma Pueblo

Kelly Ford, Registrar, National Museum of the American Indian

Joe Horse Capture, Curator, National Museum of the American Indian

Collections housing

Ideally, collections are kept in clean spaces with controlled temperature, humidity, light, and filtered air. The environment is stabilized to assist in the long-term preservation of collections.The following rules are typical; their purpose is to prevent damage to the collections.

Exceptions are generally made for cultural practices.

Food and beverages are kept out of collection areas to prevent pest infestations.

Large bags, purses, backpacks, etc., are prohibited to prevent damage to the collections.

Pencils are used instead of pens because ink is very difficult to remove.


Museums have differing policies about wearing gloves when working with collections. In some cases, wearing gloves is mandatory. Gloves protect the items in the collections from your hands’ natural oils and may protect you if the items have been treated with pesticides.

Conservation lab

The conservation lab is a clean and controlled environment. Conservators are concerned with the science, technology, cultural context, and meaning of collections.

Items are brought to the lab for examination, documentation, and, if appropriate, conservation treatment to prevent the item from deteriorating. When community members identify an item as having been made with the expectation that it would eventually deteriorate, conservation treatment may not be appropriate. Increasingly, conservation decision-making, examination, documentation, and treatments are carried out in collaboration with community members.


People visit archives to find original, historical information about the world, their community and family. Archivists identify significant cultural and/or historical records for their community and preserve them. Preserved records can include paper documents such as letters, reports and other data, newspaper articles, photographs (plates, negatives, film, prints and digital images), videos (originals and digitals) and much more.

Like Collection Housing areas, Archivists strive to ensure records will be available for future researchers by storing items in climate - controlled spaces in acid-free folders and boxes. To access these unique records, an archive might require you to fill out a form and make an appointment.

[Link to archive protocols.]

About these guidelines

This project was funded by the Anne Ray Charitable Trust with additional support from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Guidelines Project Credits

Get in touch