42nd Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, “Stressed about Pests? A Panel-led Discussion on Integrated Pest Management” Moderators: Bernice Morris, Patricia Silence, Rachael Arenstein.

This session included three presentations on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The first speaker, Bernice Morris, is the IPM coordinator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA.)   Bernice said that IPM began in earnest at the PMA in 1990. She has built on this foundation, developing an IPM system consisting of dividing the museum into risk zones, the use of barcoded (numbered) blunder traps (with pheromone lures as needed), and iPhones outfitted with barcode readers. The iPhones scan the bar code on each trap. The pest type and count are entered, and the data is sent to a computer, becoming a row on a spreadsheet. This makes the gathered data accessible for analysis. The number of traps and the frequency of monitoring are dependent on zone type. In addition, all museum staff are now aware of the importance of prevention and vigilance. The staff has a “bug hotline,” and Internet reporting for pest sightings. It is a very low cost system with the exception of the iPhones, and for those with moth problems the pheromone lures are expensive but worth the investment. The textiles in the collection are most vulnerable while moving in and out of the galleries, and the museum. New acquisitions and loans come into the museum wrapped in plastic. They are isolated and examined, and if evidence of infestation is found the objects are treated with low temperature treatment or anoxia treatment to kill all insect life stages of the infestation.
Patricia Silence is the Conservator of Museum Exhibitions and Historic Interiors at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CW). As she said it is “the oldest and largest outdoor living history museum in the United States.” CW had always depended on outside pest management professionals. She and her colleagues developed a vision of what a successful IPM plan would accomplish: “prevent harm to people, collections, and buildings, use minimal pesticides, and foster a sense of ownership of the IPM program in the foundation employees.” Due to the complicated interconnected nature of the collection, architecture, landscaping, livestock, commercial entities, and residences, it was determined that it is would be best to have someone who was on the CW staff to manage the IPM. Ryan Jones was hired as the integrated pest management specialist. The IPM has been so successful the program has expanded to include monitoring and treatment of termites. He and an army of other staff members have certification for pesticide application, but housekeeping, routine trap monitoring, and building inspections and maintenance reduce the need for pesticides. A holding room, and freezing and anoxic treatments are used for objects with infestations. The staff can report pest sightings via intranet; identification sheets with common pests are made available with a pest specific follow-up sheet sent after identification. Patricia has taken a holistic approach.
Rachael Arenstein is currently the conservator at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, Israel. However, as a former conservator in private practice she spoke about some of the challenges she noticed with smaller museums that lack IPM plans. She felt that the biggest problem was most often that pest damage is not recognized and is thought to be the natural effects of age or light damage. Rachael pointed out that all museums have some kind of pest problem. Small museum are understaffed, under-resourced, collections are crowded, and if there is an infestation the staff is just “grossed out.” Mistakes are made using inappropriate products and procedures.   Rachael is a member of the IPM Working Group, which grew out of colleagues banding together to learn how to deal with infestations. Over the past ten years Rachael and these colleagues have created an invaluable resource, Museumpest.net. It is everything one might want or need to know about IPM: prevention, monitoring, identification, treatment solutions, and implementation of an IPM plan, and more. Through the site you can join the Pestlist, an e-mail distribution list that allows members to ask questions, and receive answers and advice from museum and preservation professionals, entomologists, and other practitioners.
The speakers opened the floor to questions and discussion. The first question was concerned with how to get the staff to “buy into” the importance of protecting the collection. The reply to this was that presentations to staff showing damage, or potential damage were helpful. Unfortunately, it often takes a major infestation to drive home the importance of IPM. Other questions were asked about pheromone traps, how to handle a museum wide dermestid infestation, if there were any lasting effects from the use of Vikane fumigation, and “are crack and crevice” treatments of any use. The answers were helpful, but too lengthy to address here. All roads lead to http://museumpests.net (and housekeeping.)
The speakers have posted their presentations on the Museum Pest web-site:

One thought on “42nd Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, “Stressed about Pests? A Panel-led Discussion on Integrated Pest Management” Moderators: Bernice Morris, Patricia Silence, Rachael Arenstein.”

  1. Hello, Cathleen. I happened to come across your blog post and I’d like to say I take a keen interest in the subject, as I’m a professional in the industry. Great panel, by the way. I have never quite thought about what kind of attraction a museum is to pests! I admire the way these representatives have taken it to heart to solve pest infestations with creative, thoughtful and responsible pest control.
    I also took a look at the website, museumpests.net and I think the creators have done a splendid job. I like the accent on pest prevention, which as an expert I can say is key to proper pest management.
    All in all, I’d like to say I’m becoming a fan of your work and I believe that it’s when serious people like yourself and the representatives at the panel take interest in IPM and start spreading the word – that’s when we have a chance of getting something done.

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