The implementation of a long-range conservation plan has led to a dramatic improvement in the storage environment for the 8.5 million specimens cared for by the San Diego Natural History Museum. As critical tools in the museum’s mission “to interpret the natural world through research, education, and exhibits; to promote understanding of the evolution and diversity of Southern California and the peninsula of Baja California; and to inspire in all people respect for the environment,” specimens document over 130 years of change in the natural environment. This documentation of change through time needs preservation; with the museum’s 1992 strategic plan, board members and staff committed to improve the environmental parameters that could safeguard the specimens for many generations of research.
A Conservation Assessment Program report funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant in 1993 provided the background for staff to develop a 10-year conservation plan. The highest priorities were renovation of existing spaces, addition of new space, and replacement of outmoded, poor-quality cabinetry and storage materials.
The Board of Trustees launched an aggressive, successful $43 million campaign to increase the size of the museum’s facility as well as renovate the older, existing spaces. Through the construction and renovation process in 1998-2002, the museum grew from 60,000 square feet to 159,000 square feet, and the quality of the collection storage space improved significantly.
Implementation of the plan was made possible through private donations, five Institute of Museum and Library Services Conservation Project Support grants, three National Science Foundation Biological Research Collections grants, and the museum’s operational funds. Old, wood-frame cases with galvanized metal exteriors were replaced with steel cabinetry and archivally safe storage materials in all major collections: entomology, paleontology, mammalogy, marine invertebrates, and mineralogy. New cases were added in botany and other collections areas to relieve crowding and prevent physical damage. A fifth IMLS grant will allow replacement of cases in ornithology over the next 18 months. As the project nears completion, staff is developing the next long-range conservation plan.