Friday, June 29, 2012

Improving collections care

Stewardship of a massive collection like the Northwest Railway Museum’s can be daunting.  A trained curator can quickly see there are issues with storage conditions, damaged artifacts, and security. Heat, light, humidity and too few restrictions on collections access are the usual culprits, but they do have to be identified and assessed before they can be mitigated. So what to do?
Cristy L. highlights one of the
new dehumidifiers in the
periodical and drawing
storage area.
For starters, solving collections challenges is a long term process – there are no quick fixes in this field.  In 2006 the Museum hired Randy Silverman, preservation librarian at the University of Utah’s Marriot Library in Salt Lake City, to conduct an assessment and write a preservation needs report.  That project, funded with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has helped guide a long term strategy to improve collections care, primarily through improved collections storage.

The latest implementations of the Silverman report's recommendations - thanks to a 4Culture Collections Care Grant - are the acquisition of three dehumidifiers and a special museum vacuum.
Environmental monitoring devices were installed in collections areas in 2010 and 2011.  With nearly a year of data, collections staff were able to identify areas where environmental conditions were presenting the greatest threats to the collection.  Three areas were found to have humidity that was unacceptably high on a consistent basis.  The collections care grant has allowed the purchase of three modest-size dehumidifiers that are being used to reduce humidity and improve the storage environment where small objects, periodicals and drawings are stored.
Cristy L. demonstrates the Nilfisk HEPA
variable speed vacuum on a wood crate.
Cleanliness is next to . . . well, you know the saying, and it may as well have been written for museum curators.  “Dirt” threatens museum collections, whether it be in the form of mold, dust, rodent droppings, or just plain sand.  Long term preservation needs demand that artifacts be clean and the environment that they are stored in be just as clean.
A museum vacuum has variable speed to allow control over the amount of suction, and a HEPA filtration system so that hazardous substances – such as mold or Hantavirus – are not sucked up and transmitted around the room.  So a Nilfisk model GM 80 vacuum with a museum kit has been purchased with the collections care grant proceeds.  The museum kit provides a HEPA filter, variable speed to control suction, and special attachments to get into unusual spaces.
So thanks to a 4Culture collections care grant, the Northwest Railway Museum is able to make additional improvements in collections storage conditions.  This is helping ensure the Museum’s collections will survive long into the future.

1 comment:

Cat R said...

Finally someone is actually posting information on object collections care that museum patrons can easily access and understand. Great job Cristy!!!