Friday, February 15, 2013

Getting to Know Your Building: Writing an Operations Manual


Are you new to managing a small museum? I bet you feel comfortable with your area(s) of expertise, but managing a facility might not be a part of your life or work experiences.
If you do not have something like an operations manual at your facility now, then you and your facilities manager should begin assembling one immediately. (I inherited my building from the county with nothing but a set of original architectural drawings.) If precious little material exists to get you started, begin by documenting what the facilities manager is doing or having done. Knowing exactly when lightbulbs get changed (and approximately how many hours you get out of them) will, in the end, give you an excellent idea of your building’s life cycle. This documentation will tell you when regular maintenance needs to occur and what tasks need doing at the change of seasons. Record everything, even the seemingly unimportant—it is impossible to know immediately upon occupying a new (to you) building where everything is or what everything represents. At some point, you will identify the spigot for which you have found the water shutoff.
The following items would be a great start for a basic operations manual:

1. As-built drawings of the building
  • Building map (floor plan)
  • Lighting map
  • Alarm map
  • All rooms with numbers or names
  • Circuit map (detailing which circuit breakers control which outlets and lights)
  • Plumbing map or information about the locations of shutoff valves
  • Fire-suppression system map
2. Major modification or renovation description and drawings

3. Basic maintenance schedule of building and grounds
  • Daily cleaning
  • Weekly cleaning
  • Monthly cleaning
  • Deep cleaning schedule
  • Filter change in HVAC system
  • Periodic tree-trimming and gutter-cleaning schedule
  • Major grounds keeping activities, such as fertilization, annual plantings, leaf removal

4. Other documentation

  • Material safety data sheets for all chemicals used in the building
  • Warranty or purchase records for building tools and equipment
  • Manuals or other operating information for the museum’s HVAC system
  • Contact and contract information for vendors who regularly service the building
  • Key and alarm-code policy and current key log
  • Notes on discoveries that the facilities manager has made

In addition to the basics, you may wish to include things like environmental readings taken from data loggers or hygrothermographs, periodic light-level readings, floor-load information, and elevator sizes and load capacities. In fact, if you and your facilities manager have time to fill out the American Association of Museums Registrars Committee’s General Facilities Report, you will have a great deal of vital information about your facility all in one place.
Be sure to keep your operations manual up to date. Any time you have major work done at your facility, make sure that you gather all this important information and place it in the operations manual, purging superseded information. Review your operations manual yearly with your facilities manager to ensure that it has all the information you need.
Claudia J. Nicholson has thirty years of experience in history museums and historical agencies, as well as a master’s degree in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. An experienced curator, she became executive director, fundraiser, curator, educator, press officer, and tour guide at the North Star Museum of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting in North St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2005. Her chapter was written based on her experience converting a non- purpose-built structure into a history museum.

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