Twitter, Emojis, and the 10 Agents of Deterioration by Mariana Di Giacomo

Mariana Di Giacomo – @MarianaDGiacomo

Being on Twitter is extremely fun for me. People are hilarious and I’m constantly learning from those I follow. As a paleontologist, I am drawn towards fossils, and Twitter is no different. I follow paleontologists, museums, and even SUE the T. rex. I also have another interest, and that is conservation of museum collections. This makes me also follow conservators, organizations, and anyone who tweets about these topics.

A while ago, I signed up to manage the account @RealScientists, hoping to get the word out about my work in #FossilConservation. This account has over 66,500 followers, and these numbers increase weekly with every person curating the account. The idea of doing this felt exciting, but also scary because I was afraid I was not going to be able to manage speaking to such a huge audience. When one of the admins of the account contacted me, I was super happy to have the opportunity to share my work.

Curating the account means you can tweet as often as you want for a whole week. You are free to do polls, engage in Q&As, talk about your science, and even about yourself. It is a great way for others in the Twittersphere to know you, and to learn from you. I tweeted mostly about my experience in paleontology collections, but also focused on conservation.

There is one tweet in particular I want to share because I did not expect it to be so popular, and for people to be so interested. It was a tweet about the 10 agents of deterioration. My idea was to make the tweet accessible to those not working in conservation, by using emojis. This proved to be an excellent choice; the tweet has 330 likes, 146 retweets (plus 25 retweets with comment), and was seen by more than 32,000 users. Who knew people would be so excited about preventive conservation and collections care?

Image by Mariana di GiacomoImage by Mariana Di Giacomo

The most exciting part was not only seeing the likes and retweets, but reading and replying to comments. I kept tweeting that day about the different agents of deterioration, and even though those tweets were not as popular as the main one, I received comments on them as well. People were intrigued by the effects of light, as well as by the effects of temperature and relative humidity. The agent “thieves and vandals” felt odd to one user, who thought this was no longer an issue in museums. Money and budgets was also a topic of discussion, as well as participation of conservation professionals when deciding construction and renovation projects. Emergency preparedness and involvement of the inside and outside community were touched upon, and people responded positively. It blew my mind how interested people were in these topics.

One of the short conversations I enjoyed the most was about education in conservation. An educator asked how to support students interested in these topics, and I gave her some suggestions for success in the field, but ended up talking about advocacy for diversity in conservation. This brings me to the last thing I want to talk on this post: the importance of social media.

I know this has been spoken about a million times, and those managing accounts for museums and collections say this all the time. However, all of us working on conservation need to be more active if we want to inspire change. From the 330 likes I had on the post about the agents of deterioration, many came from conservators and museums, but a lot came from people outside the field. People are fascinated by treatments’ “before and afters”, but they also care about collections. Bringing communities into the backstage is something we should all do, and should do more often. In a single week, I had over a million views of my tweets, from people from all over the world. This shows how powerful social media can be for outreach purposes, and why we should be more involved.

Tell people about what you do. Be humble. Recognize when you don’t know something. Be open to comments and suggestions. Learn when to disconnect. Have fun. Inspire. Those are the things I learned during this week. If you’re on Twitter, you should consider signing up for something like this. If you’re not, what are you waiting for?

Sneak Peak at STASH Flash V storage tips session at AIC’s Annual Meeting

STASH_logoSTASH FLASH V – Storage Tips Session
Moderators: Lisa Goldberg and Rachael Arenstein
The STASHc (Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History collections) website, hosted by FAIC is now five years old and continues to expand as a resource for sharing well-designed storage solutions.  To complement AIC’s 46th Annual Meeting conference theme, the 2018 STASH Flash session, part of the Collection Care Network session in the afternoon of Thursday, May 31, will focus on the interplay between the material composition of artifacts and the materials chosen for the construction of storage and support solutions. The session will utilize a lightening round or “tips” format and the full presentations will be posted on the STASHc website following the conference.  After the presentations there will be an update on the Collection Care Network’s new Materials Working Group and we will engage participants in discussion about their hopes and needs for an online resource that will aid in making suitable materials choices for storage, exhibit and transport.  Take a look at the presentations that will be given at the session

Scrapbook Rehousing
Alison Reppert Gerber, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Archives recently received several scrapbooks created by Elizabeth C. Reed during her husband’s tenure as Director of the National Zoological Park (NZP). These scrapbooks contain information about noteworthy events and consist mainly of newspaper clippings and pamphlets from around the country. The primary goals of this housing was to provide added support for the textblock to prevent damage during handling and the mitigate future deterioration of the groundwood paper pages. It was also important to maintain them in bound form to prevent any dissociation or disarrangement of pages. First, the scrapbook was taken apart and the plastic posts and nylon cord of the spine were removed. Interleaving paper (80 lb. weight, acid-free, buffered) was cut to size and used between each scrapbook page. To replicate the support of the removed plastic posts, a “spine wrap” was created using archival E-flute corrugated board. The textblock was placed inside the wrap and the original cover pages were reattached using an 8-ply hemp cord, mimicking the original structure of the scrapbook.

Mounting Caps: from Imaging to Storage
Sarah Gordon and Isaac Facio, The Art Institute of Chicago
This project involved rehousing a series of 17th-century English caps when they were presented for imaging. The caps feature fragile metal-wrapped thread embroidery and paillettes, which were vulnerable to loss due to abrasion and lack of sufficient support in their previous storage configuration. The scope of the project was therefore two-fold: create an efficient mounting system for imaging, as the project was time-sensitive, and reconceive the storage design to prevent losses to the material. The solution was to use 0.31 mil polyethylene sheeting (“painter’s plastic”) as a quick, economical, and safe material to form easily adjustable mounts. Isaac Facio covered the existing thin, somewhat abrasive padded muslin inserts with plastic to shape a fuller mount, leaving a gap in the middle to receive an Ethafoam insert on which to rest. While the plastic was used to adjust mount size, the insert provided stability and could be removed and reused for different caps. To limit handling long-term, Sarah Gordon then constructed individual FomeCor trays, each with a universal Ethafoam insert adhered to receive a padded hat; the trays were secured with bumpers in a new blue board box. Modification of this simple imaging mount has provided an efficient approach to housing hats while limiting direct handling in the future.

In-Situ Storage of Wrought Iron Gates
Dorothy Cheng, Smithsonian American Art Museum
The historic Art Deco-era building housing the Seattle Asian Art Museum is currently undergoing major renovations. To prepare for these comprehensive updates, the entire collection was packed and transported to storage in either the downtown museum location or an off-site facility. However, the iconic wrought-iron Samuel Yellin gates, commissioned specifically for the newly established museum in the 1930s, are integral parts of the architecture and could not be removed from the premises. It was determined that the gates would be packed in-situ with materials that would buffer against inevitable environmental fluctuations and provide protection from renovation dust and debris. Associate Objects Conservator Geneva Griswold and I used a combination of the stiffer and more affordable Tyvek HomeWrap and the more commonly used needle-punched Tyvek SoftWrap, along with polyester quilt batting, Volara, cable ties, and twill tape to create secure and affordable “blankets” for the gates.

Bug Tubs: Streamlining Blunder Trap Collection for Storage and Transport
Morgan Nau, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University
Blunder traps are used throughout most museums as a critical component in Integrated Pest Management. However, given the nature of blunder traps, collecting, storing, and transporting them can become a frustrating and sticky task. Detaching traps that are stuck together not only takes time (and accidental contact with creepy crawlies!), but it can also cause loss of data through damage, as well as contamination of data if pests accidentally transfer from one trap to another. This presentation will discuss a storage and transport system for traps that was devised at the Peabody Museum. The system utilizes easy to source and relatively inexpensive materials including sealable plastic tubs and coroplast trays, requires little skill to assemble, but will result in a secure, efficient storage solution that can be used for movement within your institution or when shipping traps off site to your pest specialist.

Boa Storage: Development and Execution
Mary Kuhn, Courtney Bolin, Namrata Dalela, Miriam G. Murphy, John Weingardt, Allison Gentry, Jake Shonborn, and Mary Ballard
A group of boas were found amidst the Black Fashion Museum collection. Several appear to be associated with the Precola DeVore’s School of Charm, a charm school and modeling agency in Washington, D.C. It appears to have opened its doors in 1955. A literature survey of feather storage in other museums did not provide an adequate storage solution for these costume accessories to be stored at an off-site facility. One ethnographic conservator said that proper storage would be vertical storage with the feather hung from their central yarn cord. Such a system would not answer the needs of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC): safely transportable, protected from insects, easily accessible, and ready for transfer to a gallery space and exhibition. A special storage method was needed that would be easy to use and to re-use, that suggested to the viewer, even in storage, how stunning and alluring such a garment accessory could be.

Rehousing a Collection of Pre-Columbian Ceramics and Stone
James Thurn, Library of Congress
The Collections Stabilization Section of the Conservation Division at the Library of Congress recently housed a large collection of pre-Columbian objects made of stone and fired clay.  The collection was donated by collector Jay Kislak, and is under the care of John Hessler, Curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archeology and History of the Early Americas. The archival enclosures reduce direct handling of the objects and facilitate their viewing.  To conserve space and allow long-term storage in museum-style cabinets, the enclosures are made as small as possible.  The enclosures are outfitted with foam, polyester batting, and Tyvek sheeting to protect the objects housed within.  Three general designs were used for the project: the nest-type enclosure, the drop-front enclosure, and the drop-front enclosure with sliding tray.  The type of enclosure for a specific object is chosen based on what is most protective of the object, and how the object will best be presented to viewers.  Protective foam is configured to the specific size and shape of the object and adhered to the interior of the box with hot-melt glue.  Consideration is also given to safe removal of an object from its housing in the event removal is necessary.

Glass Enclosures for Papyrus
Marieka Kaye, Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation
While there is a general consensus that papyrus be handled, exhibited, and stored between sheets of a transparent rigid material such as glass, debates remain as to the very best material for glazing. Historically soda-lime glass has been used, but acrylic has been more recently favored in some institutions. The use of damaging materials such as cellulose nitrate and polyester films are also found in collections. There is much advancement in the field of glass manufacture in recent years, influenced by the need for a lightweight, scratch-resistant, and unbreakable glass to be used in the manufacture of electronics. With a particular focus on Corning Gorilla Glass, this paper will explore how new types of glass may be successfully employed in the housing of papyri, including economic feasibility and an investigation of the way the glass ages and how it handles under stress in a variety of environments.

Preservation Housing System for Cased Daguerreotypes
Ralph Wiegandt, University of Rochester
Due to their reactive silver and silver-gold-mercury nano-structured surface, daguerreotypes are highly sensitive to atmospheric deterioration and excessive relative humidity. Destructive deterioration occurs readily within the enclosed American-style cases, exacerbated by relative humidity >50% and off-gassing case materials containing acidic and sulfur-bearing leather, dyed wool, and silk. This submission describes a low-profile inner daguerreotype plate isolation package assembled with 0.5mm ultra-thin surface-enhanced cover glasses and placed inside the case, without modification of original materials and presentation. The “enhanced” daguerreotype case is then placed in an aluminized flexible barrier foil enclosure with a lock-zippered closure and a 40% RH equilibrated silica-gel sheet. An indicator strip is visible through a clear barrier window to monitor for sustained <50 % RH. Specific daguerreotype deterioration will be described along with the merit and imperative to address this pervasive risk to daguerreotypes with a low-cost and efficiently achievable solution.

ECPN Spring Webinar Announcement: Lights, Camera, (Preventive) Action! Careers in Preventive Conservation

The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is pleased to announce our upcoming webinar, “Lights, Camera, (Preventive) Action! Careers in Preventive Conservation” taking place on Thursday April 26th from 12:30-1:30 pm EDT.

Preventive conservation is an integral part of many cultural heritage jobs, encompassing any actions meant to minimize the deterioration of collections. But what does this look like in practice, exactly? And how is this role addressed in conservation training? Find out in this webinar, which will feature an introduction to the concept of preventive conservation and highlight potential career paths into this vital specialization.

ECPN has invited three speakers to provide their perspectives on this topic.  Dr. Joelle Wickens, Preventive Conservator for Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library and Associate Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), will provide an overview of preventive conservation activities, skills, and training. This will be followed by a facilitated discussion in which Jessica Pace, Preventive Conservator at New York University Libraries, and Jamie Gleason, Associate Preventive Conservator at the National Gallery of Art, will touch on their own career pathways into this conservation specialty and their own roles and responsibilities at their respective institutions. 

ECPN is seeking questions for the facilitated discussion session with our speakers. To submit your questions in advance, please post in the comments section below or send them via email to Questions will be accepted until the morning of the webinar, or can be submitted during the presentations via the GoToWebinar platform.

Attendance is free and open to all AIC members. Please register here to watch the webinar. If you are unable to view the program on April 26, or are not a member of AIC, the full video will be recorded and uploaded onto the AIC YouTube Channel following the broadcast.

Please see below to learn more about our speakers:

Dr. Joelle D. J. Wickens is Preventive Conservator for Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library and Associate Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). She received her Ph.D. in Conservation and MA in Textile Conservation from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, and BA in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. Joelle’s current research includes: the development of techniques that quantify and mitigate outside light in a manner sympathetic to the historic house environment; devising accessible and sustainable storage practices for museums with limited staff; the development of materials and courses for the teaching of preventive conservation.

Jessica Pace is the Preventive Conservator at New York University Libraries.  She received her MA in Art History and CAS in Conservation from the Conservation Center at NYU, and her BA in Art History and Visual Arts from Barnard College.  Prior to this role, she worked in objects conservation at the Brooklyn Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis in Turkey.  Her current projects include devising accessible and economical housing for archival collections, creating training programs in preventive techniques for librarians and archivists, and improving housing and handling of materials during transport.

Jamie Gleason is the Associate Preventive Conservator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He earned his MA (CAS) in Object Conservation from Buffalo State College in 2013, and a BA in Art History from the State University of New York at Albany. Jamie began his career at the National Gallery as the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Object Conservation, moving to the Gallery’s newly formed Preventive Conservation Department in 2015. He has worked at museums and cultural institutions across the United States. Before pursuing his interest in conservation, Jamie worked as a picture framer for seven years.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – STASH Flash V Storage Tips Session

STASH_logoTo complement AIC’s 46th Annual Meeting conference theme, the 2018 STASH Flash Storage Tips session will focus on the interplay between the material composition of artifacts and the materials chosen for the construction of storage and support solutions. The program covering storage solutions for all collection types has been scheduled as part of the Collection Care session and will be followed by additional talks related to storage rehousing. The program will utilize a lightening round or “Tips” format as well as guided, audience participatory discussion.  We are calling for contributions of short (5 minute) tips on the following themes:

  • An item’s composition will affect the materials chosen for storage as well as the design. How is your storage solution guided by the relationship between collection materials and storage materials?
  • Quality materials appropriate for long-term storage are expensive. How have you adapted economical non-archival materials to make them safe for use in a storage solution?
  • Do you have a tips on a new material that will expand our range of choices for storage?
  • Innovative storage solutions for individual artifacts or collection groups that do not conform to either theme will be accepted if space allows.

Presenters will be asked to show up with their solution in a ready format for uploading to the STASH website after the conference.

To submit your ideas please send a short abstract including the following information to Rachael Arenstein ( or Lisa Goldberg ( by December 22, 2017.

Object/collection type:
And a description of approx. 150 words on the project

Thank you from the session organizers,

  • Lisa Goldberg, STASH Editorial Committee Chair
  • Rachael Arenstein, AIC e-Editor
  • Karen Pavelka, Collection Care Program Chair
  • Gretchen Guidess, Collection Care Program Committee

45th Annual Meeting – Collection Care, May 30, “A Review and Comparison for Anoxic Treatment Methods for Pest Management” by Elena Torok, Laura Mina, and Eric Breitung

This discussion was an area that I had not researched myself, and I was interested to see what types of pest treatments were being practiced. Five professional conservators shared their different techniques when carrying out an anoxic treatment. After the discussion of the different techniques, a comparison was compiled together about the different treatments.

Rachael Perkins Arenstein from A.M. Art Conservation, LLC discussed this type of treatment being used on-site or at home. This type of anoxic treatment uses oxygen scavengers in a completely enclosed chamber to modify the atmosphere to almost entirely of nitrogen. Keeping the oxygen levels below 0.5% for an extended amount of time will eliminate the insects within the enclosure. The object being treated was placed within the barrier film and vacuumed sealed with the oxygen scavenger packets inside. A monitor to read the oxygen levels as well as the RH/temperature was placed inside the chamber. A small window can be cut to allow the viewing of the monitors. Examples of the type of barrier film used were MarvelSeal 360 or MarvelSeal 470, and for the oxygen scavenger packets, Ageless® Z1000 were used for the treatment discussed. The amount of time to keep the object within the chamber depends on the insect, and the amount of oxygen scavenger packets depends on the size of the chamber. Another system called AnoxiBug® also deals with enclosing the object with scavenger packs within a vacuumed sealed chamber. These ready-made chambers are offered in different sizes depending on the type of the object being treated. This chamber should also have an oxygen monitor inside and a window to view during treatment.

William Donnelly from the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library explained the modified atmosphere CO2 treatment within their collection. This type of treatment was carried out in a fixed location where the object was brought to the chamber. The CO2 canisters were attached to the framed enclosure by a hose hookup, as well as an oxygen sensor, gas monitor, vacuum pump, internal data logger, and a computer system to collect the data during the procedure. The CO2 concentration was maintained above 60% and completed on a 21-day cycle. The RH does dip with the introduction of CO2 in the atmosphere inside the chamber. This treatment is carried out on all the textiles coming into the collection.

Julie Wolfe from the Getty Conservation Institute at the J. Paul Getty Museum discussed the nitrogen treatment used on a variety of objects within the collection. This treatment can also be carried out on a variety of scales. The one discussed was on the larger side and took time to construct and prep before the actual treatment with nitrogen started. Instead of taking the object to the chamber, the chamber was built around the object with a Rentokil 6 m3 PVC reusable bubble. A skeletal structure from PVC tubes were constructed around the object so the chamber would not collapse on top of the object during the nitrogen treatment. A Liquid Nitrogen Dewar was used to hookup to the chamber as well as an oxygen monitor, and their home-made “bubbler”. The home-made “bubbler” was constructed to adjust the flow of humidification. To create the “bubbler”, it took about one week to build which included ordering the equipment. The construction of the chamber took about 2 days to build, and the time to flush the atmosphere to the correct percentage took between 2-5 hours.

Bret Headley from Headley Conservation Service, LLC discussed his anoxic treatment using a nitrogen-based system. The object he was treating could not fit into a freezer, so an alternative treatment was constructed. Headley highly recommends the Inert Gases in the Control of Museum Insect Pests by Charles Selwitz and Shin Maekawa (Getty Conservation Institute, 1998) when researching treatments such as the ones discussed during this panel. This treatment was also built around the object using barrier film along with the appropriate hookups for the gases and monitors.

Eric Breitung from the Metropolitan Museum of Art discussed an anoxic treatment using argon and oxygen. The setup also used MarvelSeal 360 for the chamber around the object with a hose hookup to the chamber which included the argon tank with a flow meter, water bubbler as well as an oxygen monitor. The MarvelSeal 360 was heat sealed for the treatment, and this mechanism took about 1-2 hours to setup which does differ with the size of the object. When flushing out the system it took about 1.5-4 hours for a smaller object and 4-20 hours for larger objects. The amount of time to leave the objects in the chamber was about 4 weeks which was based on kill times from the Getty Conservation Institute publications.

What I found most interesting in these types of pest control treatments, is it offered other options instead of using freezing or thermal techniques. The conservators in the panel were able to share and discuss their findings and the supplies they have found most effective. After all the presentations, the conservators were asked two survey questions about their treatments (Tables 1-3). I look forward to hearing and seeing more anoxic treatments and techniques. Thank you to everyone involved with this discussion!

Table 1: Survey Question 1

Table 2: Survery Question 2 Pros

Table 3: Survery Question 2 Cons


45th Annual Meeting – Opening General Session, May 30, “Preventive Conservation in the Renovation of the Harvard Art Museums: Before, During, and Ever After” by Angela Chang, Penley Knipe and Kate Smith

I was particularly interested in “Preventive Conservation in the Renovation of the Harvard Art Museums: Before, During, and Ever After” by Angela Chang, Penley Knipe and Kate Smith, as my employer LACMA is currently undergoing a similar museum building project.

Angela Chang, who presented the paper, began her talk with a brief summary of the museum’s history, which concluded with the presentation of the new LEED Gold building by Renzo Piano as well as the new storage facility that housed the entire collection during the museum building’s construction. She demonstrated how Harvard’s conservators successfully integrated the aspect of preventive conservation into an already established design and construction process. She also stressed the importance of cooperation and communication with external groups, such as administrators, donors, architects, and others, for the success of the project.

Angela discussed three main topics in conjunction with the new building.

  1. Samples of all potential and existing materials in the construction of the storage facility and the new museum were tested using the Oddy Test. Results of the tests, among other topics, were discussed in weekly construction meetings held with architects, contractors, engineers, and project managers. Only 50% of 900 tested material samples passed the test and some materials needed to be tested repeatedly due to sample mix-ups. Existing fireproofing material made of cementitious plaster, for instance, was completely removed from the storage facility for the sake of the preservation of the collection and health of humans.
  2. 300 computerized and smart, single or double blinds control the light levels in the exhibition spaces and the conservation labs, but the new museum building turned out to be more light flooded than initially expected. A seasonal programming schedule was derived from a light monitoring program based on over 50 readings and requirements from the facility department. Based on the seasonal occurrence of light leaks, conservation staff needed to identify exhibition areas not suited for light sensitive artworks and still works on permanent displayin order to safely exhibit parts of the collection. Light blocking films, for instance, are currently being tested to address light leaks.
  3. For a short time now, visitor incidents are recorded systematically and measured with a program developed by Security, Conservation, Collections Management, and IT called Art Touch Cards. The 46 guards can notify conservation and collection management staff immediately with urgent issues; minor issues are reported by filling out cards that are compiled and reviewed daily. Based on quarterly analysis of the data, artworks and galleries with a high incident rate can be identified and issues can be addressed. Improvements were made by adding colored lines of tape in the galleries as visual barriers, editing label texts, limiting the amount of visitors in one room, staffing galleries, and training guards.

Angela summarized her presentation by pointing out that all departments serve a collective purpose and that how relatively simple management systems, like the Art Touch Cards, can bridge interdepartmental communication gabs. She reiterating how the success of the building process, as well as its maintenance, is dependent on the close collaboration of different departments and external groups.


45th Annual Meeting – Workshops, May 28-29, “Reading Between the Lines: Understanding Construction and Exhibit Design Drawings” – Collections Care Network

I participated in the “Reading Between the Lines: Understanding Construction and Exhibit Design Drawings” workshop along with 12 other conservators. During the introductions, we learned that the participants come from all over the country and as far away as Taiwan and Australia. Many had signed up in order to prepare ourselves for upcoming major renovations or new construction in our institutions. The workshop was taught by four instructors: Jeff Hirsh (Architect, Principal, Director of Cultural Practice at EwingCole), Bill Jarema (Principal, Mechanical Engineer at EwingCole), Angela Matchica (Principal, Electrical Engineer and Lighting Designer at EwingCole), and Mike Lawrence (Chief of Design at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History). EwingCole, an architecture, engineering, interior design, and planning firm, has worked extensively with museums and other cultural and research institutions. They recently collaborated with Mike Lawrence and Cathy Hawks (Museum Conservator at the NMNH and a participant and organizer of this workshop) on building the Q?rius Learning Space at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a permanent exhibition space in which visitors can engage with the museum collections through hands-on interactions. Much of the materials that were used in the workshop – drawings, specs, images, and group exercises – are documents from the Q?rius project.

The workshop covered a lot of ground, filling two full days during which we plunged into the complex world of construction projects. The workshop utilized a mixture of powerpoint presentations, tabletop exercises, and both planned and impromptu Q&A sessions to guide us through each step of the renovation process and help us to understand different types of construction and exhibit design documentation.

Day 1: Introduction to stakeholders, phases of design, basic terminology, reading mechanical and electrical drawings

We began with an overview of the stakeholders in a given construction project and the progression of projects from start to finish. I found it very helpful to learn about the types of documentation created during the various phases of planning and what level of detail can be expected from each phase. For example, a project starts from a concept report, which narrates the scope, timeline, and intent, progress to schematic designs, then to more detailed design development drawings, and finally to construction documents, which will go out to contractors for bidding. This lesson was supplemented by a tabletop exercise that asked the participants to find light temperature information among documentation from various phases of Q?rius design process. The exercise helped to drive home the importance of becoming a stakeholder and communicating preservation priorities at an early stage of the project, since it is becomes increasingly more costly and difficult to make revisions as the project progresses.

In the morning, we also learned basic terminology and symbols found in drawings. Because depicting the numerous things that are happening in a space – both inside and outside of the walls – is so complex, multiple drawings representing various levels of detail, multiple perspectives (elevation, plan, section), and specific categories of information are necessary. These drawings are supplemented by written documentations such as indices, keynotes, and specifications to convey the full scope of information. A reviewer must understand the system of symbols used as shorthand to indicate important information such as past edits, recent changes, the location of detail drawings, and demarcations of areas slated for demolition. At the start of the workshop, Jeff Hirsch had introduced the building as “a tool for preventive conservation”, and as the session progressed, I found it increasingly more helpful to think of the drawings as a set of instructions for using a very complex tool – in our case we are looking for ways to maximize the building’s ability to support collections preservation.

In the afternoon, we delved deeper into the different types of construction drawings by examining the general, architectural, mechanical, and electrical drawings, which each come with their own system of symbols that are used to communicate a wealth of meaning. Despite the sometimes daunting complexity of the drawings, it became clear that they follow a very specific and consistent order. I learned that when reviewing the drawings, it helps to understand them as both a set of instructions for the contractors and a legally binding contract for all stakeholders. As the latter, edits and revisions are closely tracked from version to version. Successful drawings clearly, thoroughly, and accurately communicate the scope of the project, including what is being demolished, what is being built, and what materials are being used for construction. Since each drawing can contain an overwhelming amount of information, approaching them with specific questions in mind makes them easier to navigate.

Some examples of information a conservator may need include: Do the edges of a demolition space impinge on existing collections? What are the fire ratings of the partitions slated for use in collections storage spaces, and will the fire rated partitions be fully enclosed (they must be in order to be successful)? Are there flammable materials sharing a wall with collections storage? Are smoke detectors and sprinklers located in appropriate areas? Are there enough outlets reserved for housekeeping, and are they readily accessible? What types of light sources are being used and how will they be controlled? If a new HVAC system is being installed, look to the mechanical schedules for the system’s ability to provide humidification/dehumidification and filtration information, and to the control chart for set points. Finally, with all systems that require maintenance and upkeep, it’s important to consider their proximity to collections materials, the frequency of maintenance, as well as space needs of associated personnel and equipment.

Day two: preventive conservation, exhibition design, and Q&A session

On day two, instructors began with an example in which the design team and conservators collaborated to identify an optimal pathway to move collections between the freight elevator and the Q?rius exhibit at the Smithsonian NMNH. An ideal pathway was not available, so the team mapped various options on the floor plan and used color coding to identify areas with issues such as security, access, and cleanliness. The drawing was supplemented by a filmed walk through of the actual path, which communicated potential issues with a clarity and immediacy that was difficult to convey through other media. I liked the way this example underscored the ways in which preventive conservation often relies on collaboration among parties with specializations beyond conservation, and that it focussed on an aspect of the environment – pathways – that is often overlooked when thinking about preventive conservation.

This followed with a tabletop exercise to find the outlets in the the drawings for the Q?rius space, which drove home how sometimes the little things can make a big impact on the maintenance of a finished space. In this case, it was important for us to consider the amount and location of outlets designated for a new space to make sure that enough are available for both display cases and for housekeeping use. In addition, we had to consider the accessibility of outlets for housekeeping and deduce from the drawings whether staff had to crawl into the base of display cases to reach outlets, for example. Through this exercise, we also learned that it was often necessary to switch between different sets of drawings (in this case, between electrical and exhibitions) because the information we needed was covered by overlapping specializations.

Moving further into the world of exhibition design drawings, we examined ways in which an existing space can be slightly modified to provide better climate collections objects. For example, Mike discussed an instance in which he built a vestibule as a means of limiting air exchange to an exhibit space that is located close to exterior walls and windows. In these instances the contractor schedule would be the place to look for information regarding the types of doors that are designated for use in a space.

Mike also walked us through the ins and outs of looking at drawings of custom exhibit cases, which provide detailed information on what can and cannot be done. I took a lot of notes here of factors that are important in the final product, such as: glass size (may be swapped to a different type without notice), acceptable deflection amount, potential need for levelers, desiccant chamber capacity (consider the climate of space that the case is going into), presence/type of lighting inside the cases, type of gasket used (does it actually press against the other side?), presence and composition of adhesives inside case. Getting custom cases sounded like a taxing process that was further complicated by the case builder’s use of proprietary materials.

The workshop concluded with a lively Q&A session that was populated by both questions that were pre-submitted by participants and by impromptu questions. Instructors and participants discussed questions relating to fire coding in collections and user spaces, condensation in air diffusers, preparing for a new building to be added to a museum, and considering the efficacy of using inhouse vs. outside consultants on construction projects. All in all, the workshop covered a lot of ground in two day period and offered a wealth of information that I was happy to bring back to share with my colleagues in preparation for our own renovations. I certainly felt more prepared and informed when our own construction drawings arrived at my desk several weeks later.

45th Annual Meeting, Pre-Meeting Session, May 29, “CAP, MAP, and StEPS: Collections Care Opportunities for Small Museums.”

To kick off this pre-meeting session, Chris Reich, Chief Administrator, Office of Museum Services, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), provided an overview of IMLS, which was founded in 1996, previously called IMS (Institute of Museum Services), which was founded in 1976.

The IMLS is an independent agency, and the Director is appointed by the president. The Board is a congressional appointed board of museum and library professionals. IMLS is funded through annual congressional appropriations; primary source of federal support for the nationals 123K; libraries and 35K museums ; most well-known for grants; also conducts research and produces publications.

Programs that IMLS sponsors: Museums for America (Museums Empowered), Native American/ Native Hawaiian Museum Services, Museum Grants for African-American History and Culture, National Leadership Grants for Museums – fund projects that benefit multiple museums, help to advance the profession, and create models for other museums to use.

IMLS also sponsors the Museum Assessment Program (MAP), Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPS), and the Collections Assessment Program (CAP), which are funded through cooperative agreements. Grant funds go directly to the administration that administers the grants (FAIC for CAP, AAM – American Alliance of Museums – for MAP, and AASLH – American Association for State and Local History – for StEPS).

I snapped a picture of this slide that demonstrates the purpose of each program:

Why are assessments important for cultural institutions?

  • Aimed at small and medium sized museums – entry point to become poised to apply for state and federal grants
  • Improve professional practices
  • Awareness of national standards
  • Re-energize boards and staff
  • Working together
  • Establish shared goals
  • Foundation for planning
  • Building community credibility and support
  • Non-judgmental support – these assessments are collegial visits – helping that institution examine its operations and practices to help them become more professional

First, Danyelle Rickard, Museum Assessment Program Officer, American Alliance of Museums, spoke about the MAP program. It’s been around for 36 years, and operates as a self-assessment program, coupled with a site visit and peer review, and then a final report. The process has three different types of assessments available: organizational, collections stewardship, or community engagement. To be eligible for a MAP, you need to have/be the following:

  • One professional staff for FTE
  • Nonprofit – private or public
  • Located in a US state or territory
  • Open at least 90 days/ year – special events and outreach count
  • Cares for/ owns/ uses tangible objects

Costs for the MAP depend on the operating budget of the museum:

For the fee, you get a Self-Study Workbook, focused on the assessment type requested, and a Peer Review Report. The Report provides an honest snapshot at the time of the visit, manageable recommendations and resources, and also highlights good (and not-so-good) processes.

Who are the AAM Peer Reviewers?

  • Volunteers (expenses and honorarium provided)
  • Familiar with MAP and Accreditation
  • Review materials
  • Conduct site visits
  • Write reports
  • 5 years experience in decision-making roles
  • Knowledgeable about standards, ethics, practices, operations
  • Engaged with the museum community
  • Good communicators
  • Critical thinkers
  • Committed to the highest ethical standards and level of professionalism

Benefits to being a peer reviewer: learning experience, networking opportunities, giving back to the profession, and a source of professional development.

Time and Cost: 40-60 hours per assignment; AAM reimburses expenses; $400 honorarium; keep online profile and availability up-to-date; about 1500 volunteers currently

Types of Museums: children’s museums, university museums, specialized museums, zoo and aquariums, science centers, nature centers, botanical gardens, art, and history – MAP is specifically looking for people with expertise in these types of museums as volunteers.

Then, Tiffani Emig, CAP Program Coordinator, talked about the CAP Program, which is a program that provides small to mid-sized museums the opportunity to have a conservator and an architectural conservator come to their museum to perform an assessment of their buildings and operations as well as their collections care methods. The museum receives a report that is a high-level, well-rounded view of collections care for the museum.

How can CAP help museums?

  • Provides a path forward; “here are the things that are the most important things to do to help you best care for your collections.”
  • Shows evidence and support of need for grant funding
  • Outside perspective – improved board and administration support

Conservators and architectural conservators can apply to work on these assessments; there is a rolling application process. Eligibility requirements for assessors:

  • Professional training in conservation, zoology, botany or horticulture, architectural conservation, architecture, landscape, architecture, engineering, or related field
  • At least five years of professional experience in preservation, conservation, or collections care in one of the above fields
  • Experience conducting general conservation assessments
    • Potential workshop being developed for eligible people who do not have experience in conducting assessments

There is an annual call for institutions to apply for the funding for the assessment. Museum eligibility:

  • Small or mid-size – reviewable in 2 days
  • Organized as nonprofits or unit of state, local, or tribal government
  • Located in the United States or territory
  • Organized on a permanent basis for educational or aesthetic purposes
  • Own tangible objects and make them available to the public
  • At least 1 FTE paid or unpaid

Assessor fees are based on the annual operating budget of the museum. If an assessor’s fee is higher, the museum must make up the cost difference. They also pay for transportation, lodging, and meals.

CAP Program Cycle 2018

  • Museum Applications 11/15/17
  • Assessor Applications: Rolling
  • Museum Applications Close: 2/1/18
  • Availability for a new more museums for this fiscal year (before the end of 2017)

Laura Hortz Stanton, Executive Director, Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, presented on StEPS, which has been funded by IMLS since 2005 to assist in creating incremental standards for the History Museum field.

Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPS)  is open to any museum. It’s a great entry-level program for institutions that don’t feel ready for another assessment program, or can’t use an outside assessor. It is a self-study tool that is used by 850 organizations nationwide (current enrollment numbers).

The self study tool is a notebook, made up of check boxes. If one can’t check off a box, that means it is an opportunity for improvement for the institution. Here’s a sample picture of a page in the notebook:

As shown in the image above, each section has three levels – not a “one size fits all” and not intended to meet best practices if you can’t do it on your first shot. it creates a way to have meaningful progress without having to spend lots of money. The institution spends more time than money on this process. The notebook also includes:

  • Board orientation manual
  • Job descriptions for board officers and paid/ unpaid staff
  • Ethics code
  • Facilities Rental Policy
  • Emergency Plan
  • Maintenance Plan
  • Collections Policy

How to enroll:

  • One-time fee of $175 for AASLH members; $290 for non-AASLH members
    • No application to fill out and no deadline to complete the program

Benefits of StEPS:

  • Focus direction
  • Increase credibility
  • Justify funding requests and decisions
  • Plan for the future
  • Learn about standards
  • Track progress
  • Articulate accomplishments – StEPS benchmarks
  • Receive recognition (certificates when you reach certain goals)
  • Prepare for other assessment programs

After the presentations, the group broke up into groups for people to ask one-on-one questions to the presenters about their program.

45th Annual Meeting – Collection Care Session, “Evaluation of climate control in Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History–energy consumption and risk assessment” by Lukasz Bratasz et al


Lukasz Bratasz et al presented about a risk assessment and recommendations made for storage of the collections at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.  Trying to get away from flat-lined standards, they are taking a risk management approach to most effectively spend their preservation resources in a pragmatic and sustainable way.  By doing a risk analysis and gathering data on current energy use across the campus (and comparing with some far-flung peers), a pretty stark result was revealed.  What struck me most about the presentation, the active question and answer period notwithstanding, was the confirmation of my gut feeling that chemical degradation is the most serious preservation risk that many collections face.  Yes, fires can be catastrophic and leaks happen frequently, but chemical degradation happens constantly and quietly at human-comfort temperature storage with extreme relative humidity swings, until one does an analysis like this and bring it to everyone’s attention.

In their relatively quickly assembled risk assessment, the notion of item value was disregarded and every item was assumed to have the same value.  This is appropriate for collections that are of value in the aggregate.  Some audience members found this to unrealistically skew the data, but I don’t have a problem with it.  It is always possible to add on the variable of value later, when one is ready to address multiple risks of similar likelihood and severity.  But to get the big picture, I think this kind of assessment is a good first step.  The most significant risks identified included mold growth, pest damage, chemical degradation, and mechanical damage.

The scope of the project was to analyze energy consumption and current environmental conditions, assess the preservation condition of the collections and determine the risks.  The risk assessment revealed that chemical degradation was two orders of magnitude above any of the other risks.  They found they could both address the most significant risk and save energy at the same time, so they prioritized on improving the climate for the collections.

Some of the comparisons for energy use seemed like apples and oranges (i.e. comparing a multi-use, aging building in New Haven with a relatively new passive-environment storage facility in Denmark).  However, it was clear that the aging building was wasting money and energy compared to other buildings at Yale.  This was due primarily to a high ventilation rate and constricted set points that did not allow for any floating.  In other words, they were bringing in too much fresh air, and keeping such a tight set point that they were constantly running the equipment to either heat or cool.  The rigid temperature set point combined with the uncontrolled humidity brought in by unnecessary fresh air meant that the indoor humidity ranged from 10-80%, extremes which cannot be safely tolerated by natural history collections without risk of mechanical damage.

They made the point that the collections had weathered temperature and humidity changes for years before the current flat-lined temperature was implemented, and thus the collections have been “proofed” and don’t require the flatlining.  Among my library conservation colleagues the proofing concept is not fully embraced…just because the mechanical damage hasn’t happened in the past, once chemical degradation has progressed to a certain point, mechanical damage due to the shock of a temperature or RH spike could still happen even to an aged object.  However, within a moderate range I suspect the Yale authors are right that some variation of temperature and humidity is not likely to cause damage.

The recommendations made were to move the most vulnerable ethnographic collections to cool storage, reduce the ventilation rate, adopt dual set point control (i.e. minimum and maximum rather than single point) for both temperature and relative humidity, control the relative humidity to eliminate the extremes, and evaluate the conditions according to long term temperature and relative humidity values.  While the recommendations at the end of this presentation did not emphasize energy savings, I’m guessing this was a selling point and was part of the bargain with facilities and administration, who juggle multiple priorities and are more likely to embrace a win-win solution.

45th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 30, “The Fiocruz Collections: Discussing the Preservation of its Photographic Archives” by Nathália Vieira Serrano

Nathália Vieira Serrano’s talk focussed on the “incorporation” and “disincorporation” (accessioning/deaccessioning) of archival documents in the Department of Archives and Documentation at Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, in Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, in Rio de Janeiro. She discussed the overarching framework that was developed to help guide decisions of accessioning and deaccessioning collection materials, and then as a case study, the application of this framework to a specific collection–a collection of history of science of public health. This collection consists of glass plate negatives, roll and sheet film, all by various photographers and on different themes including, history, health education, scientific divulgation, and life sciences. A survey determined that the images were still in good shape, as were their supports.

The talk was a nice example of the challenges staff in the world of preservation face when needing to determine what can stay and what needs to go, the many factors to consider, and the criteria and prioritization to establish when making such important decisions. Serrano mentioned the mission of Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, the difference between multidisciplinary vs transdisciplinary, and the different stakeholders (researchers, collection managers, and potential current and future interested parties) that are taken into account. She also referred to Salvador Muñoz Viñas writings on contemporary theory of conservation and his statement that conservation is not a neutral act.

I appreciate how it is difficult to convey fully in a 20-25 minute talk the complexity of these types of projects. There are so many interesting points to think about, large and small, and people from different points of interest that are part of the decision making process. If there is one area I would have been interested in learning more about, it was some similarities and differences in their approach when compared to other national and international institutions. The presentation also gave insight to a large collection in Rio de Janeiro, how it is stored, and the building and environment that surrounds it.

Two questions that were asked after the talk were:

  • Is cost considered when deciding whether or not to deaccession? Answer: The survey is still underway, but cost will likely be considered.
  • What is the size of the collection? Answer: Still to be determined. (But an image was shown of the storage area the collection takes up)