42nd Annual Meeting- General Session, May 30, "Using Webinars to Tackle Conservation Misinformation in Ontario's Community Museums" by Fiona Graham

“Conservation is an elusive practice just outside of budgetary reality.”  Fiona Graham, a conservation consultant in Kingston, Ontario, received this comment in a survey filled out by a small museum in Ontario, and it made her take notice.  Museums believing that conservation only equates to (costly) treatment leaves no room for implementing best practices, taking vital preventive measures, and leads to a general misunderstanding of the basic principles of preservation.  Graham set out to change the perceptions of these museums and chose webinars as her format.
Who: Ontario’s Community Museums–roughly 300 institutions that range in size but are not art galleries, private collections, or national museums.  Only 14 have in-house conservators (in one case, 9 museums share one conservator!).  The collection care for the remaining 286 falls into the hands of non-conservators.
Why: 185 of those Ontario Community Museums receive operating grants from the Ministry’s Museum Unit to survive economically.  In order to receive these grants, the museums must meet regulatory requirements, including a conservation standard.  To assess the state of conservation and preservation in the museums, a questionnaire was distributed to the museums, and Graham and her team discovered some startling misunderstandings.  For example, many respondents believed that light damage was caused only by UV, that pesticides are still needed, and that cold temperatures are always bad for collections.  (Since they are in colder climates, it’s especially disconcerting to think of the expenses paid to raise temperatures in these museums.)
What was done:  To debunk misunderstandings at as many of the museums as possible, the Ministry funded two 1.5 hour long webinars.  The webinar format was chosen because it can reach a targeted audience, has wide accessibility and the ability to be interactive, is inexpensive to produce, and has been successful through the Ontario Museums Association (an organization that provides training in museum work).  After institutions answered preliminary questions on their registration forms, webinars were conducted as powerpoint presentations narrated live by a conservator using the icohere platform.  The first webinar, Conservation 2.0, was a “good practice” refresher course meant for non-conservators, while the second, Climate Control: what do you really need?, focused on misinformation hot spots.  Participants used their own computers and sent questions to a moderator who passed them to the conservator to answer.  The Ontario Museum Association posted the slide deck and audio to their website after the webinars ended.
More details?  The prep questions: Define what conservation means in the context of your museums? What question about conservation would you like answered in this webinar? What do you think relative humidity and temp levels should be in your museum’s collection areas? Do you monitor RH and/or T; do you actively control RH? (The webinars included a disclaimer that “this webinar is not a substitute for proper training.”)
Results:  The webinars were open to all, not just the Ministry-funded institutions, and 55 organizations participated during the live broadcasts.  The prep questions from the registration forms informed the content of the webinars.  There was positive feedback overall, with requests for more programs.  The negative feedback regarded the amount of detailed information on conservation.  Graham recommends being very clear on expectations.  The webinar team will be able to gauge the long-term results of the refresher courses during the next audit in 2018.
(Author’s comments: This talk was part of the general session on Engaging Communities in Collections Care.  The U.S. Heritage Preservation organization also offers webinars to help smaller institutions with collections care.  Their webinars are part of their Connecting to Collections (C2C) online community.  Past programs are available in their archives.)

One thought on “42nd Annual Meeting- General Session, May 30, "Using Webinars to Tackle Conservation Misinformation in Ontario's Community Museums" by Fiona Graham”

  1. AIC’s Collection Care Network found in its survey that webinars were deemed one of the most practical ways for delivering interactive but low cost training opportunities to people when time and budgets are tight. The Heritage Preservation C2C webinars are aimed at a general collections audience but many of them provide excellent training to conservators as well in some specialized topics. Thank you Fran for your post.

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