Protecting America's Legacy
(Originally published in Cleaning & Maintenance Management)
The Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum complex and research organization, was established in 1846 when British scientist James Smithson bequeathed his estate “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”
Today, the Smithsonian has 19 museums that encompass an area of 12 million square feet.
Visitors number over 24 million people each year, making the museums more heavily utilized than originally intended when the Institution was founded.
“In addition to exhibitions for the public to view, the Smithsonian also has extensive research and collections storage facilities not generally accessible to the public,” says Judie Cooper, performance analyst for the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Facilities Management and Reliability (OFMR).
With a campus this large and the consistent foot traffic it sees on a daily basis — facilities are open 364 days a year — the Smithsonian is forced to balance a comprehensive cleaning and maintenance strategy with time constraints.
“Most of our rigorous cleaning is done between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.; however, we have staff working day and evening hours to ensure the facilities are appropriately cleaned and policed throughout the day,” notes Cooper.
Incorporating mixed-shift cleaning allows the Smithsonian maintenance staff to perform critical cleaning tasks before thousands of visitors pour through the doors between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and also allows the flexibility to perform other tasks whenever feasible throughout the day.
Doing more with less
As the case with many in-house cleaning managers, the Smithsonian is forced to deal with budget constraints.
Admission to all of the museums is free, so monetary support comes from contributions or government funds.
This means that the Smithsonian has to be business-savvy and stretch each dollar as far as possible.
In an effort to do more with less, the Smithsonian uses in-house training.
Thirteen Cleaning Management Institute (CMI) certified trainers — and nine more slated to become certified by the end of the year — bring the knowledge they have acquired back to the Smithsonian and cost-effectively train the janitorial and maintenance staff.
Not only does this ensure that the current staff is well versed with the necessary skills to perform daily duties, it is also an investment for the training of future employees.
Having in-house, certified trainers also makes advanced training and continued education more economically feasible.
Managers are responsible for keeping track of their departmental budgets.
Bookkeeping on the departmental level makes tracking investments and expenditures easier and more accurate than it would be on the large scale.
Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are encouraged to allow employees to take ownership of managing their own career and foster the atmosphere of OFMR being a professional organization of lifelong learners.
More than traditional mop and bucket cleaning
The Smithsonian facilities house a number of art collections and significant research activities, as well as numerous collections in storage.
While some of the research equipment has specific cleaning requirements, the real challenge is maintaining collections of art.
Environmental conditions are crucial when displaying or storing works of art.
“At any given time, less than 10 percent of the Smithsonian’s collections are on display for the public to enjoy,” notes Cooper.
As a result, keeping storage environments clean, humidity-free and well-organized becomes a top priority for the maintenance staff.
Some of the Institution’s facilities double as special events venues as well as field trip destinations.
Concerts, galas, educational events, and even inaugural balls are some of the activities that go on after the museum is closed from the public.
These events provide the opportunity to transform the facility into a performance or party venue and require even more meticulous cleaning than normal daily tasks before the building opens to the public.
“Obviously, cleaning up after adults is different than cleaning up after children,” notes Cooper. “Cleaning a darkroom that has just been used for a photography class is vastly different than cleaning an art studio that has been used for an oil painting or sculpture class.”
Special attention is also required to clean and maintain some of the Smithsonian’s older buildings.
It proves difficult to maintain aging buildings while still yielding similar appearance and hygiene results to that of newer facilities.
Cooper notes that because of the increasing difficulty to replace things like floors, counters, and other antique items while matching them to existing items, it becomes ever more important to properly clean and provide adequate maintenance.
Specialized restoration and delicate cleaning expertise becomes vital in achieving these goals.
This, according to Cooper, along with increased focus on cleaning for health and the movement toward green cleaning and sustainability efforts has had a tremendous impact on work processes and staff proficiency.
Training in green concepts
“We are just launching a serious green cleaning initiative that is being led by some of our CMI-certified trainers who have researched green cleaning extensively,” says Cooper.
A crucial phase of the green initiative was inventorying all of the cleaning supplies used to clean each facility.
Cooper then sought to standardize them and find environmentally preferable alternatives to replace traditional cleaners wherever possible.
Another critical part of the Smithsonian’s sustainability effort is the continued education of the staff.
Going and staying green cannot be a reality unless everyone on every level is willing and able to contribute.
To ensure the entire staff of approximately 6,000 is well-versed in green cleaning, trainers have begun a program that educates personnel on the realities of green cleaning and the endless benefits it can provide for the facilities, the staff, and the millions of patrons who walk through the doors each year.
The program is still in the early crucial stages — researching and gathering data.
“The next step is to utilize our CMI-certified trainers to research best practices in green cleaning and work to propose and develop a green cleaning program that will be utilized throughout our facilities,” states Cooper.
The goal of the program is not only to train staff to be good stewards of their facilities and protect the health of themselves and their visitors, but also to set a high industry standard that others can see and follow.