AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Outreach to Allies Session, May 9, Collection Care Network Brainstorming Session: Table 7 – an architect’s view

The last presentation of the Outreach to Allies Session at the AIC Annual Meeting 2012 was an interactive session organized by the Collection Care Network. The leadership team of the network designed it as a way to identify priorities and projects for the network. Imagine nine groups of 7 to 9 people sitting around tables discussing the content of a nine different short videos. Each video presented a collection care challenge or question. The discussion aimed to suggest projects the Collection Care Network could develop that would provide tools to overcome the challenge or answer the question. Now imagine people engaged in conversation. So engaged they didn’t get up for food when asked to do so! So engaged they had to be asked a second time!! Now you have a very small idea of what the session was like. This particular post gives you more details about the discussion at Table 7. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.

Table Seven: Building design is a topic near and dear to my heart as I am constantly reminded of its impact on collections care. Understanding the environment in which one’s collection is housed is critical to preventive conservation, and a well designed and built/remodeled structure can make all the difference. Most conservators and collections care professionals participate infrequently in building projects, so sharing information and experiences is key to successful outcomes. Until we demonstrate the value of collections care input in the planning process, specialists in this field will continue to be consulted too little and too late.

The video: The video presenter was Samuel Anderson, an architect based in New York City. Sam is the principal of Samuel Anderson Architects, and includes conservation facilities, museums, and collections storage amongst his specialties.

In his video, he requests collections care information that has been vetted by conservators, including recommended literature. Sam seeks positive, optimistic language to communicate the importance of collections care considerations in building design to “decision makers”.

The discussion: We discussed that it is expensive and really beyond our means to establish standards, but that we can participate in the mechanisms that are already in place for this activity. We need to make collections care specialists aware of standards and how they might apply to their situation. Additionally, gathering and sharing information that is already out there and making it pertinent in terms of how one applies it to their particular situation would be a big step in the right direction. We recognize that “boiler plate” information is desired, so sharing something about the nuances of our expertise is critical for proper decision making.

Information if this sort needs to be flexible and affordable (we liked what Sam said about flexibility). Small and micro-small institutions need recommendations that they can implement. For example, basic tenets of storage encourage consideration of people in the space (or not), disaster recovery, and pest prevention.

We discussed what resources would be the most useful for the one-pager on collections care? These ranged from SPNCH guides to ASHRAE chapters, which would be hard to combine and distill to one page.

Lots of ideas of about information sharing mechanisms came up: there is already a LinkdIn group for collections care, collaborative knowledge is created via QUORA. Folks asked: Do we want to have architects and engineers come and talk to us? Building projects are more of a one-off experience for most conservators, and the necessary expertise comes from experience.

The ideas for Collection Care Network projects (in no particular order):

  • Ally with Smithsonian conference on cultural property protection as this annual meeting deals with risk assessment and risk management.
  • Ally with museum and other collections facilities’ engineers and mechanical specialists
  • Communicate info via wiki, website, workshop – to share resources.
  • Share information with students and others who want to work with collections – it would help to get this info in the hands of broadly educated people who participate in building design.
  • Assess and comment on existing standards and guidelines such as NFPA, ASHRAE, etc.
  • Teach and learn technical language of various professions (including ours)
  • Perhaps develop one-page info sheets on different topics – storage basics, exhibition galleries, lighting, environmental control.

The contributors: Moderator – Patty Silence; Note Taker -Jennifer  Hain-Teper ; Table participants – Whitney Baker, Stephanie Gowler, Rick Kerschner, Richard McCoy, Susan Russick