Q&A: Museum Locksmith

Feb. 1, 2010
Because of the security concerns of the museum, all information contained in this story will be generalized.

Working as an institutional locksmith has its advantages, especially for this museum locksmith. The museum is spectacular, a combination of old world beauty exhibited by the use of doors equipped with oil rubbed bronze traditional cross bar design exit devices. The interior and exterior of the buildings are accented with indicators of 21st century technology including electronic monitoring, closed circuit television, proximity readers and Hirsch Electronic ScramblePads®.

A museum is a unique facility because appearance must create the ambiance for the artifacts being displayed. Thus the use of aesthetically pleasing hardware, wooden and bronze doors of varying sizes and appearances contrasting the striking architecture is essential. At the same time, the buildings must be up to code and secure to protect the museum pieces.

The head locksmith, who is responsible for this museum and a number of locksmiths and other service personnel, is proficient and extremely knowledgeable, coming to this job after having more than 35 years of locksmithing shop and service vehicle-based experience.

She began working for a locksmith, her husband’s best friend, when he needed a counter person as his business was growing. She learned the basics and was sent out onto the road. Over the years she worked for other locksmith companies, gaining not only the mechanical expertise, but learning how to work for and with others, not an easy undertaking in a male dominated career.

The job as a museum locksmith became available some years ago. She started as temporary employee, and if successful, she would be vested in approximately one year. However, she had to prove herself continually in order to gain the respect of her superiors and to advance within the hierarchy.

As a starting locksmith, she was given the job of installing several hidden push desk locks to test her ability. The logic behind these tasks probably was if she made a mistake, at least it would not be visible. She successfully and professionally installed the locks. Her next task was to install exposed utility locks. As time went on, she worked her way up to being the head museum locksmith.

Following are the Ledger’s questions about the role of an institutional locksmith for a museum and our interview subject’s answers.

How many doors are you responsible for?

There are approximately 3,000 doors.

What work do locksmiths perform for the museum?

All of the mechanical lock work, safe servicing, closers, all keying and key control, door hardware including hinges and pivots, and an increasing amount of electronics. We service swinging doors, sliding doors and custom rotating doors.

Would you name some of the lock hardware companies whose products you use?

The museum has Schlage, Rixson, Von Duprin, LCN, Marks, Adams Rite, Medeco and Olympus to name a few. We have our own keyway.

Who orders new and replacement locks, keys and door hardware?

I am responsible for the ordering and implementation. The locksmith department has total control over all keys. We have key forms that are required to be filled out by each person in order to receive a key. The appropriate supervisor must sign each key form in order for a key to be issued. All keys are tracked and must be returned when requested.

As we are walking, I noticed a number of electronic key cabinets. You opened one and there were a lot of key rings containing keys. What is the purpose?

Many keys cannot leave the museum. We have three shifts of security personnel. Each employee has his or her own identification number. This way, we are able to electronically track who and when keys are checked out and returned. If a key or ring of keys is not returned by the specific time, the security and locksmith departments are notified. Whoever checked out the missing keys must return them immediately.

There are electronic key cabinets strategically placed throughout the facility.

What is your work schedule?

The locksmiths and I are on a split schedule. We work five days one week and four the next. We are also on call at varying times.

How is lock work scheduled?

We try to maintain the locks and hardware using pre-maintenance. I have set up schedules for servicing locks and door hardware to try to prevent problems from occurring when there are visitors in the museum. We cannot always catch a problem before it happens, but using communication and pre-maintenance, we have been able to limit the problems.

I work with all of the service and security personnel to have them notify me if there is the smallest hint of a problem. (As an example, during this interview, a maintenance person brought in a part that had come from a mortise lock.)

Does your employer provide an acceptable pay scale and benefits?

I am satisfied.

Do you like your job? Would you recommend being a museum locksmith?

I love my job. I love it when we are busy. The people here are appreciative of the locksmith shop and my efforts.