44th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 16, “Understanding Temperature and Moisture Equilibration: A Path towards Sustainable Strategies for Museum, Library and Archives Collections,” by Jean-Louis Bigourdan

Preventive conservation is becoming an increasingly important part of our work as conservators, but it often seems that many important questions about environmental control have yet to be answered. Questions such as to what degree are fluctuations of temperature and RH humidity damaging to collections, and are they more or less damaging than strictly maintained but not ideal conditions?
Jean-Louis Bigourdan addressed some of these uncertainties in his talk on temperature and moisture equilibration in storage spaces containing significant quantities of hygroscopic materials. He focused on reconciling the need for climate-controlled storage with the quest for sustainability and the pressure of budgetary limitations. His introduction was reassuring: the current thinking on storage climate is that relatively stable low temperatures are desirable (“cool storage”), but there is little benefit to maintaining a perfectly stable climate (i.e. without fluctuations). Rather, a certain degree of cycling is acceptable, so long as the shifts are not extreme.
Following from this fact, Jean-Louis presented the concept of “dynamic management” of HVAC systems. Dynamic management entails shutting down the HVAC for short periods, such as overnight, and adjusting climate set points seasonally. This would save on energy, and thus reduce the environmental impact and cost of operating such systems. Of course, we as conservators are immediately concerned with the effect on collections materials during such shutdowns: How extreme are the fluctuations in temperature and RH resulting from periodic shutdowns of the HVAC?
This is the questions Jean-Louis attempted to answer through two phases of testing. He was particularly focused on the possibility that collections containing large quantities of cellulosic and/or hygroscopic materials might buffer against large or sudden shifts in temperature and RH. Jean-Louis undertook two phases of testing to understand the extent of the self-buffering capabilities of such materials. The first round of testing was conducted in the laboratory, and the second in library and archive collections storage rooms.
In his laboratory tests he exposed different types of materials to large fluctuations in temperature and RH. The materials included things like closed books, matted photographs and drawings in stacks, and stacks of unmatted photographs. He also tested the effects on these materials when they were placed inside cellulosic microenvironments, such as archive storage boxes, measuring the temperature and RH at the surface of objects, and at their cores. His results indicated that the RH at the core of books or stacks of cellulosic material does not change as rapidly as the exterior environment. Temperature equilibration occurred over a period of hours, and moisture equilibration occurred over the course of weeks or even months. Microenvironments increased the time to equilibration, mostly by controlling diffusion of air.
Another useful result of this laboratory experimentation was that it demonstrated that the moisture content of paper-based and film collections was more affected by environmental temperature than by environmental RH. In other words, at the same exterior RH, the moisture content of the collections object was lower at higher exterior temperatures. The laboratory testing therefore suggested that storage spaces with significant quantitates of hygroscopic materials will be buffered against large changes in RH and temperature due to moisture exchange with the collections materials.
Jean-Louis found that field testing in collections storage spaces returned many of the same results as his laboratory tests. 6-8 hour shutdowns of HVAC systems had little impact on environmental RH, and many of the systems they examined were already following seasonal climate cycles without causing dramatic shifts in the temperature or RH of storage environments. He encouraged conservators to take their collections materials into account when evaluating the buffering capacity of their storage environments.
I was very encouraged by these findings, although I have some remaining questions about the potential effects on collections materials. How much moisture is being exchanged with collections items in such a scenario? Is it enough to cause dimensional change in hygroscopic materials, especially on exterior surfaces, and will that contribute to more rapid deterioration in the long term? Regardless, I was happy to be prompted to remember that collections materials are an active part of the storage environment, not an unreactive occupant of it.
The talk wrapped up with Jean-Louis raising a few areas of further research. He hypothesized that changes in storage climate which are achieved through a series of small but sharp changes would result in slower moisture equilibration between environment and collections than would a change made on a continuous gradient. He also raised the possibility of predicting the internal moisture fluctuations of collections materials using their known hygroscopic half-lives. Both of these areas of research could be extremely helpful to conservators attempting any dynamic management of their climate control systems.
A particularly thoughtful question by an audience member provided the opportunity for more climate control wisdom. A Boston-area conservator of library and archive collections wondered whether it made sense to use dew point as the set point on HVAC systems in the winter to save money on heating costs, but during the summer to use RH as the set point to insure against mold growth. Jean-Louis felt this would be an unnecessarily complicated method of control, but offered a general rule for the storage of hygroscopic collections. He suggested thinking of lower temperatures as the primary goal, and of RH as important to maintain within a broader range. Lower temperature slow degradation reactions inherent to such materials, and so generally lower is better. However, RH need only be high enough so as not to embrittle material, but low enough to prevent mold growth. Essentially he suggested that if your RH and temperature are too high, you are better off reducing temperature slightly, which will slow degradation reactions, and as a side-effect your collections may absorb a small amount of moisture, thereby lowering the RH in the building environment.
Jean-Louis’s talk left me intrigued and excited about the possibility of taking advantage of hygroscopic collections materials to provide a more stable and sustainable storage environment.

AAM’s Direct Care Survey: Please complete ASAP

As I recently wrote about on the Conservators Converse blog (http://www.conservators-converse.org/2015/02/direct-care-and-conservation/), the AAM has formed a task force to better define the meaning of “direct care” in regard to deaccessioning. This issue has a direct impact on funding for preservation and conservation at museums.  Unfortunately, their task force did not include any conservators but now it is our chance to be heard.  Anyone, not just AAM members, can fill out the short survey.
The link is:
The survey deadline is tomorrow, Mar. 4, so please complete it ASAP and forward it to other conservators.

42nd Annual Meeting, Collection Care Session, May 29, 2014, “The Future of Risk Assessment: Developing Tools for Collections Care Professionals” by Beth Nunan

Beth Nunan of the American Museum of Natural History described an almost 10-year approach to gather data across the many departments of the museum, using the cultural property risk assessment model (modified for AMNH). No one wants their risk assessment survey to sit on a shelf, and one thing is for certain: if the data cannot be compared across collections, the data will stay unused and uninterpreted. Even if the data is used, it can be called into question if the tools that captured and analyzed the information are perceived as biased.
Here are some of the takeaways from the AMNH approach:
1) The more complex the collection program at a museum, the more difficult it is to comprehensively apply and manage a risk assessment project. At the American Museum of Natural History there are millions of specimens ranging from vertebrates to botanical specimens and including libraries and archives.
2) There is a trend that AMNH is following about being able to compare risk assessment data with other like museums. Sharing risk assessment data and finding benchmarks across the museum field is becoming important; so risk assessment surveys should consider what will be the common data points shared with other museums, and what the definitions of those data points are.
3) Once tools are developed they should be shared with other professionals to amplify the use of the tools at other institutions. Groups like Collection Care Network and others are seeking to standardize templates and tools in order to facilitate comparison.
4) Partners are crucial to the success of risk assessments. Partners are frequently allied professionals, such as curators, librarians and archivists.
It’s clear that AMNH has many challenges in developing the tools it has used for risk assessment, but I expect we will hear much more from the conservators there as they promote their tools and lead other natural history museums towards this smart way of evaluating risks.

42nd Annual Meeting – Collection Care Session, May 29, “The Ossabaw Island Workshops – Preventive Conservation Training in a Real Life Setting” by David Bayne

Since 2010, there have been four Preventive Conservation workshops on Ossabaw Island, three of which have been generously funded by FAIC. These workshops have provided a unique training experience for both emerging conservation professionals and pre-program students.
Background and History of the Island
Ossabaw Island is a 26,000-acre remote barrier island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. It has five residents, and may only be accessed by private boat. It is mostly wilderness, but there are some very interesting historic buildings, including some slave cabins of tabby construction (a technique using oyster shells, sand, and water as the mortar ingredients), the Club House (c. 1885) – where lectures take place and participants are housed, and the Torrey-West House or the “Main House” – where the actual work is carried out.
Dr. and Mrs. Torrey bought the island in 1924 and had a house built there to be their family’s winter home to escape the harsh winters of their native Michigan. The house was completed in 1926, and the Torreys spent four months (January – April) there each year afterward. The current owner of the house is Mrs. Eleanor “Sandy” Torrey West, who is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Torrey and is currently 101 years old.
In 1961, Mrs. West and her husband started an artist colony, where writers, artists, and composers could come stay in the Wests’ home and be inspired by the island’s natural beauty and tranquility. In the 1970s, this evolved into the Genesis Project, where college students and less-established artists came to work on various projects. The Genesis participants were more self-sufficient and built settlements, cooking/dining/washing facilities, and a pottery kiln at an area of the island called “Middle Place.”
With her money running out, Mrs. West decided to sell the island to the state of Georgia in 1978, but she had several stipulations. She wanted the island to remain wild and continue to be a place of inspiration, creativity, and discovery, so the state was not allowed to build a causeway or start a ferry service to the island. They also had to continue encouraging arts and sciences projects/research and allow her to continue living in her house on the island until her death.
The Workshop
The original goals of the workshop were to use the Main House to:
1. Train housekeepers working in historic houses.
2. Professionalize preventive conservation.
3. Expose professional and emerging conservators to a nascent historic house and provide an opportunity for them to take part in its institutionalization.

The living room in the Main House on Ossabaw Island, GA.
The living room in the Main House on Ossabaw Island, GA.

The workshop provides a unique opportunity for participants to learn about preventive conservation and housekeeping practices for a historic house.  The things that make this program so unique are that the house…

  • is still a home in which the current owner is a 101-year-old woman who resides there full-time.
  • is on a remote island, and supplies must be brought out by chartered boat from the mainland.
  • suffers from MANY problems, such as:
    • The environment of the island (heat, humidity, salty ocean air, etc.)
      • Mold and mildew
      • Rotting wood
      • Rusting metal
    • Pests
      • Extensive damage to house, furniture, pillows/cushions, carpets/rugs, books, taxidermy, etc by termites, carpet beetles, silverfish, rodents, and other pests.
    • General neglect
      • As Mrs. West became older, she could not take care of the house by herself, and she could not afford to pay for the amount of repairs and housekeeping that the house required.
    • Arsenic
      • Exotic game heads (a lioness, black rhino, water buffalo, and a few kinds of antelope) have always been a major component of the living room décor, even appearing in the original architect drawings for the house.  These may have been shot by Dr. Torrey himself on a safari hunting trip to Africa.  All of them were treated with an arsenic-based pesticide.  Testing of the heads found that some had arsenic content that was off the charts (>160 ppb).

Though current housekeepers in historic houses were the original target audience, most of the people who have completed the workshop have been pre-program conservation students. A house with such a rich and fascinating history, but so many conservation issues, provides a lot of opportunities for pre-programmers to learn and gain hands-on experience. That is probably the workshop’s greatest achievement: exposing potential conservation students to collections care and preventive conservation.
I was lucky enough to have been one of the participants in the 2013 season. It was not glamorous. We worked hard and got dirty, crawling around on the floors and under cobwebbed furniture, vacuuming, dusting, moving heavy wooden furniture, and examining sticky traps that had caught all sorts of disgusting, multi-legged creatures. Through all of this, we got exposure to integrated pest management (IPM) and the care of furniture, paintings, textiles, books, and works of art on paper. It could be gross, but it was fun and exciting, too. As David said in his presentation, “Everything is an adventure on Ossabaw.”
Another major achievement of the workshop has been in helping emerging conservation professionals by providing third-year students or recent graduates the opportunity to be instructors. In 2013, that included two former WUDPAC students, Stephanie Hulman (paintings) and Emily Schuetz Stryker (textiles). These young professionals play an essential role because they have knowledge of the most recent techniques and advancements in the field and are better able to answer pre-program students’ questions about portfolios and conservation school.

2013 Team - Ossabaw Island Preventive Conservation Workshop
2013 Team – Ossabaw Island Preventive Conservation Workshop

Unfortunately, Emily Schuetz Stryker died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year. She was a great instructor, a wonderful person, and the most talented knitter that I have ever met. The Ossabaw workshop would not have been the same without her sense of humor and her wonderful laugh.
RIP Emily Schuetz Stryker (1987 – 2014)

“42nd Annual Meeting,” Collections Care Speciality session, May 29th, 2014, "Simple Method for Monitoring Dust Accumulation in Indoor Collections." Bill Wei

“Simple Method for Monitoring Dust Accumulation in Indoor Collections,” by Bill Wei was the first session in the Collections Care specialty section that was given on Thursday afternoon. As a museum technician in Preventive Conservation, dust is something I deal with on an almost daily basis. I thought that Bill’s talk could lend some valuable insight to my work, and I wasn’t wrong.  Bill Wei is a Senior Conservation Scientist at the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, and in his session he presented on a simple and easily implemented way a museum could monitor how fast dust accumulates in an indoor collections space. He used the Museum de Gevangepoort and the Galerij Prins Willem V to demonstrate how the method.
The talk started off with a humorous introduction by Bill about views on dust in museum spaces. How for some people, museum professionals in particular, we can take a defensive stance on dust as if it implies we aren’t doing our jobs. For other individuals, dust adds an element of age that seems appropriate. He also mentioned that when the words “dusty museum” are googled the result is over 12,000 hits. Apparently more than just museum professionals see dust. Bill brought up the fact that dust is not only an aesthetic issue in museums, it can present chemical and health issues, and it can be costly and timely to remove. The two sites were then introduced, both of which house collections and are historic buildings. Construction was being done near the sites, and there was a concern about how much more dust accumulation this might cause, so they provided a good case study. Bill then introduced the question of how do you monitor dust?
Bill explained that dust on the surface of an object causes the light to bounce off in many different angles, as opposed to at the same angle, this makes a surface look matte. The resulting matte surface can then be considered to have lost gloss. This loss of gloss is something that can be measured using a glossmeter. The type of glossmeter used during this test was made by Sheen manufacturers. Bill was careful to point out that this test doesn’t measure how much dust you have, but how quickly it will accumulate. For this run of the test Bill used microscope glass slides, because they are cheap, reusable and glossy. The steps of the test are as follows:

  1. Using the glossmeter, measure a clean slide on a white background (copy paper is suitable. This should be the same background used throughout testing.)
  2. Put slides out at various locations you wish to test, remembering that the more slides you put out, the more work you will have to do. The slides should be placed in out of the way locations and staff should be told about them.
  3. After a predetermined amount of time (ex. one month), using the glossmeter measure the slide on the same background that you used in step 1.
  4. Clean the slide, and reuse, starting over at step 1.

The calculation that is then used to determine the rate of accumulation of dust over the time period is
Fraction change= (Dusty Slide after 1 month measurement – Clean Slide measurement)/ (Clean slide measurement)
Multiply that by 100 to get the percentage.
Bill explained that for every month that you take a glossmeter measurement, you add the value of the new measurement to the previous, since this is cumulative you will go over 100% at some point. You can then use these values and plot them in a graph over time.
If you wanted to test the dust samples, to find out where the dust was coming from and what it was made of, you could incorporate small conductive carbon stickers on the slides. Since this talk focused on the accumulation, not the source of the dust, this topic was not discussed in detail.
The placement of the slides was at one point done both vertically and horizontally surface. The vertical placement was done to mimic how much dust a painting might accumulate. However the vertically placed slides needed a much longer period of time to really show a loss in gloss, so it was not considered as necessary to run both types of slide placement.
When it came to analyzing the results of this test one thing that was found was the fact that the slide nearest the entry had the most dust. When it’s results were plotted onto a graph it produced the steepest slope over time. The more visitors a museum has, the more dust accumulation occurs. During peak tourist times there was a correlating peak in dust accumulation. One thing that was also noticed at the Museum de Gevangepoort was that during construction periods there was also a rise in dust accumulation. The results confirmed a long held thought that visitors are one of the main sources of dust in museums.
Bill then talked briefly about the chemistry of dust. When the dust was analyzed it was found to contain salts, iron, chalk, sand, clay and concrete among other things. When the makeup of the dust was looked at, it was possible to notice trends, for example during the winter months, February in particular there was a noticeable rise in the amount of salts found. Looking at what the dust was comprised of could allow scientists to identify the source of the dust.
Bill pointed out that the idea of too much dust isn’t really something that is definable in terms of science. It’s more defined by people’s perception of it. Different surface types can be just as dusty as one another, but if the dust is more visible on one type of surface, say plexi, the viewer read’s that surface as being less clean.
In discussing an action plan for dust monitoring Bill said you have to determine why you are doing it, i.e. to see if your new HVAC system is producing better results, and it’s important to define “too much dust” as a difference in gloss.
The questions asked after Bill’s presentation included, how many/ what angle should a gloss measurement be taken, to which Bill answered one measurement at 85 degrees was sufficient. He was also asked how often one should be taking measurements. He said that three to four weeks at most will produce good results, if you measure too soon a change won’t be seen.
Bill’s presentation was informative and lively. He presented a system for testing dust accumulation that could easily be implemented and followed. Thanks to Bill for a great talk!

41st Annual Meeting – Joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles, by Kathleen Kiefer”

Kathleen Kiefer, who was until recently Senior Conservator of Textiles at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), gave the final talk of the joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts session on upholstery. The talk, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles,” was written with IMA Director of Historic Resources, Bradley Brooks, and IMA Scholar in Textile Conservation, Wendy Richards, was a fitting end both to the session and to Kathleen’s time with IMA, as it brought together many strands of conservation, preservation, and presentation.
The Miller House in Columbus, IN was designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard (who did the interiors) for J. Irwin Miller and his family. Mrs. Miller lived in the house until her death in 2008. In 2009 the house was acquired by the IMA. IMA administration decided that the house should be opened to the public by 2011, which gave the conservation/curatorial team a huge challenge.
Kathleen reviewed the design of the house, showing how the architects (and landscape architect Dan Kiley) connected the interior, exterior and landscape design, partly through the use of natural light through large windows and skylights. She pointed out, of particular interest to this audience, that the house is believed to have the first designed conversation pit. She also talked about how Girard’s fondness for textiles and folk art were an important part of the design of the house.
The IMA team began by deciding on their conservation philosophy for the house. Should they interpret it to 1957? Would it be better to interpret it as it exists today? In part because of the limited time in which to prepare the house for the public, they decided to show it as it is today, taking a conservative approach and not doing anything irreversible. Kathleen noted that the public seems pleased with this approach. She mentioned one scholar who said he was pleased to see original, if worn, Eames chairs, because if he wanted to see new ones, he could go to a Herman Miller showroom!
Among the issues they have addressed so far are access and light levels. Public access, in the broadest sense, was an issue for the surrounding community, as the house is in a neighborhood. The neighbors did not want an increase in traffic and parking problems. As a result, all tours of the house begin from the town’s Visitor Center; visitors are taken by small buses to the house. On the more local level, the IMA team decided to create a “tour path” through the house, using new runners. They chose a light color for the runners and created some wider areas as “gathering areas,” where visitors would stand to look and listen to the docent. In a creative, but extremely practical way, they used craft paper to make mock ups of where the runners would go and how they would be sized.
To reduce light levels, they have added uv-filtering and light-reducing film to the windows. They have begun to monitor the environment using PEM dataloggers.
Before the house went to the IMA, the Miller family took or sold some of the furnishings and sold the art work. Thus, the house was somewhat bare when it was acquired. To rectify this, IMA has been purchasing similar pieces.
On the other hand, the family did leave quite a few pieces that they had no longer been using in the garage/barn. Kathleen described a project in which they removed carpets from the barn, documented and accessioned them, vacuumed them, and re-rolled them properly. For the time being, they had to return these pieces to the barn, but are working to find a better long term solution for their storage.
IMA Textile Conservation Scholar Wendy Richards has worked as a woven fabric designer and weaver. As part of her work, she produced graphs of the weave structures of some of the fabrics. She also helped with commissioning some reproduction carpets from Edward Field. This aspect of the project was particularly intriguing to me.
Many in the audience had been to the Miller House as part of the AIC tour to Columbus earlier in the week. I was not among them and, after hearing and seeing this talk, regret that I was not. I will look forward to learning more about how IMA preserves and interprets this house, as well as to seeing how this work relates to preservation/interpretation work being done on other modern houses, such as the Eames House in Los Angeles.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Outreach to Allies Session, May 9, Collection Care Network Brainstorming Session: Table 1 – Mountmaking

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 1. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.

Table One: I greatly appreciate the importance of good mounts both for visitor experience and for conservation so I was quick to volunteer to moderate the discussion at this table.  Due to the diversity of issues raised in the video and of perspectives around the table our discussions quickly became wide ranging.  Our table’s discussion dealt more with how we collaborate rather than what topics we deal with first.

The video: The video presenter was Shelley Uhlir, staff mount maker at the National Museum of the American Indian.  Shelley loved the idea of bringing together different but complimentary disciplines, of mount making and conservation.  She had seen the power of such collaboration in a mount-making forum held at the Smithsonian in 2010.  In that venue a wonderful conversation and exchange of ideas between mount makers and conservators took place.  Shelley hopes the CCN could make that sort of exchange available anywhere and anytime.   She went on to suggest a wide range of issues to address and kinds of information to exchange.

The discussion: Probably because the video was so clear and comprehensive in describing topics for interaction between conservators and mount makers the group discussion quickly turned to issues of how to facilitate exchange of information, particularly over the internet.  Concerns were raised about the person time required to maintain currency of information and several good suggestions were made.  The idea of having a credible source for information on the internet was especially appreciated and the importance of maintaining credibility emphasized.

The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:

  • Establish a Wiki or similar platform for sharing relevant information, especially providing links to the most reliable current information and not striving to reinvent the wheel.
  • Provide a venue for publishing reports on specific, small collection management and care related studies.  Such reports might be too narrow and focused for traditional publications but be valuable to colleagues facing similar challenges.
  • Establish dates for themed discussions, for example, selection and use of materials for mounts.
  • Possibly in conjunction with themed discussions, have a small group work intensively for two days to bring together a news report like summary of best current methods and information on a specific topic.

The contributors: Moderator – Robert Waller; Note Taker – Rob Lewis; Table participants – Priscilla Anderson, Jody Breek, Jennifer le Cruise, James Gilbert, Pip Laurenson

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Outreach to Allies Session, May 9, Collection Care Network Brainstorming Session: Table 9 – Collections Managers and Other Collections Staff

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 project 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 the 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 9. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.

 Table Nine: Collections Managers are not bountifully represented at AIC – we are in the minority. However, in my role as Collections Manager for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my responsibility is to put conservation theory into practice. I work closely with our departmental conservators. The Collection Care Network encourages all staff vested in collection care to get involved, so it was important that one of our discussion groups talked about working with allied collections professionals.

The video: The video presenter was Derya Golpinar, Assistant Registrar for Collections at the Rubin Museum in New York. In the video, Derya described her daily responsibilities, including maintaining proper environment, security, identifying potential condition issues with the collections, and identifying appropriate conservators and other experts to consult on overall preservation issues impacting the collections. It is a role that Derya described as liaising with all departments of the museum to create a coordinated preservation effort.

In her former position as Collections Manager at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, many of Derya’s responsibilities were the same, even though her title was different. This underlines the occasional lack of clarity of roles among collections staff. From this discussion of her role, the following questions were posed to meeting attendees:

  • Collections Managers and Registrars apply much of the conservation ideals the field establishes. How can we support them as a professional in reaching these goals?
  • How can titles affect professional standing for this group? Is there a benefit to having more standardized titles?
  • In some cases conservators are the employers of collections managers, and in others, collections managers are the employers of conservators. What are the skill sets that we share? What information do museums need from us when establishing preservation staff roles?
  • Much of what collections managers do is implement the ideals of preventive conservation, but they themselves do not have a professional organization, or clear pathways to entry level or mid-career training. What programs do you feel to be the best? What training would you identify for a collection manager at mid-career? In what areas should conservators and collection managers train together?
  • How do we increase visibility, and therefore better support collection care?

The discussion:  The topic – discussing collection staff – came as a surprise to Table 9’s participants. Interestingly, most of the participants at Table 9 were not institution-based conservators, but instead worked in private practice. They also usually were contracted to perform treatments, rather than examine and establish collection care policy and procedures. It was evident that traditional conservation training often does not address how conservators will work with others in preserving collections – one participant noted that she didn’t learn about collection managers until she was interning with a paper conservator. Another point made by Table 9 participants was that they often want to address collection care policy that may have led to damage they are contracted to repair, but that museums may not be receptive to this approach.

The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:

  • Mid-career training for collection staff is often difficult to identify. Available training has often targeted conservators or is more entry level in nature. Needed training that would be useful to both conservators and collection mangers included mentorship opportunities, self-assessment, benchmarking, and fundraising.
  • Create tools to assist the private practice conservator address collection care when creating a contract with an institution.
  • All collection activities and staff need more visibility to generate support for collection care. Some ideas included public interaction when some collection care activities are taking place and web features that highlight behind the scenes work.
  • Increased communication and visibility of collection staff and their work can also assist conservators in furthering a preservation message.
  • AIC collaborations with organizations such as ICON, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists, the Society of Historical Archaeology, regional organizations, and others can only help us to better understand each other’s goals and develop methods to work together.

The contributors:Moderator – Becky Fifield; Note Taker – Christian Hernandez; Table Participants – Molly Gleeson, Amy Brost, Kathryn Oat Grey, Nicholas Dorman, Melanie Brussat, Felicity Devlin, Ann Shaftel

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Outreach to Allies Session, May 9, Collection Care Network Brainstorming Session: Table 5 – Alexander Architectural Archive Archivists

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 5. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.

Table Five: Working with archivists is very close to my heart, so I was very happy to moderate table 5.  Archivists must deal with masses of materials and a collections approach is the only thing that normally makes any sense for them.  As such, I see archivists as a perfect community to work with the collections conservation network.

The video: This video has three speakers, Nancy Sparrow, Curatorial Assistant for Public Service, Beth Dodd, Curator, and Donna Coates, Technical Services and Collections Manager for the Alexander Architectural Archive at the University of Texas at Austin.   Like many archives, they are never likely to have a full-time conservator on staff and they seek avenues to communicate with the conservation community.  Some of the specific issues they have right now are:

  • How much light exposure can be allowed for architectural linens?  They need more specific information than is given in the current NISO standards.
  • They need to display fragile, oversize materials periodically.  One iconic drawing on tracing paper is about 4′ x 8′, and needs to be displayed several times each year.  They  would like ideas or guidelines for handling the materials safely.
  • Can they, or the student workers who work with them, perform minor treatments, such as small mends and simple mold removal, in-house?  Can conservators provide guidelines for what can, and cannot be done in-house without a conservator on staff?

Each of the archivists in the video has great respect for conservators and would like a closer relationship with that community.

The discussion: The video prompted a lively discussion about the need to make straightforward, accessible information about conservation and preservation readily available to the public.  An interesting idea to come out of this session is working toward manning a “hot line” staffed by conservators.  The public could call in and get advice, and pay a fee when possible. In some cases, rather than being billed they might be sent a receipt for an in-kind donation that might be used toward a grant or another effort.  This might give the public access to conservation information and let them understand the cost associated with the information.

The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:

  • Use social networking tools to make information available.
  • Publish guidelines for care, display and handling.
  • Collections Link in the UK might provide some models for us to consider.

The contributors: Moderator – Karen Pavelka; Note Taker – Amanda Holden; Table participants -Kristen Adsit, Jane Hinger , Rustin Levenson, Josefina Lopez, Caroline Peach, David West