Author Archives: collectionsconversations
Our C2C team recently coordinated a very successful and simple public program that any of you can R & D (rip off and duplicate) for your own heritage organization. In partnership with the Mecklenburg Historical Association, we hosted a “Pop-Up Museum of Damaged Treasures.” We’ve written about the potential of pop-ups and public programs on preservation before, and the enthusiastic participation at this event supports our previous contention that these events can be good ways to engage audiences.
Eighteen people participated in the program and populated the “museum” with 26 objects. Supply needs for hosting were minimal (tables for display + card stock and pencils for label-making) and directions for participants were easy to understand. Prior announcements emphasized that contributing to the pop-up museum was an optional part of the program and that attendees could participate without contributing. We invited those who wanted to contribute to follow a few simple steps:
- Find a family treasure in your house that shows signs of damage.
- Bring it to the location of the program.
- Use provided supplies (card stock to fold in tent form & pencils) to make a brief label for your object.
- View other contributions to the museum and learn more about what we can do to protect family treasures.
- Bring your object home with you at the end of the program.
The overall topic of preservation was an accessible theme for a pop-up museum. Most of us have objects at home that show some kind of damage. The trick is identifying the cause(s) of the damage, and that exercise encouraged participants to look more closely at each object in the pop-up museum and learn more. A brief slide presentation on 6 preservation dangers before the group activity helped give audience members specific information about each. Next, they paired off and had 2 objects to analyze and identify the causes of damage. When they decided, they left a small graphic representing each cause near the object. The six shown in this post are the ones we selected to print in grayscale for the activity. The group as a whole discussed each object together and often the owner/contributor chimed in with additional comments about provenance. One measure of the program’s success was that at the end of the allotted time, when the presenter suggested wrapping up, many participants insisted on staying and completing the object-by-object discussion.
Could this program work at your institution? Let us know if you try it or have other ideas to engage audiences with preservation.
Image credits for preservation danger icons:
- Light: http://eofdreams.com/photo/sun/05/
- Temperature: http://envirodailyadvisor.blr.com/2013/05/tips-for-safe-mercury-cleanup/
- Relative Humidity: this graphic and links to many other great preservation resources can be found here: http://ccaha.org/publications/technical-bulletins
- People: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand
- Pests: http://www.phillipspestmanagement.co.uk/domesticpests.html
- Pollutants: http://www.sciencescene.com/Environmental%20Science/05Atmosphere&Climate/SUPPORT/05_primary_pollutants.htm
Today is the anniversary of the worst tornado outbreak in NC history! It was just three years ago.
What I remember most is that for several days, the TV news and weather reports were filled with stories and pictures of total destruction across the southeastern parts of the United States. What I marvel at is that we all sat in our recliners, in our comfortable homes, and ooohed and ahhhed, while staring at the plasma/HD idiot box at the reports of coming destruction and did absolutely nothing. We just sat there in our comfortable couches and recliners, all snug and smug in a blanket of ignorance and decorated with denial, feeling certain that a tornado could never have that kind of effect on us here is North Carolina. We just knew it would fizzle out before reaching our state. Greg Fishel, Gary Stephenson, Chris Hohmann and many other weather professionals told us the dangerous front was heading our way. Meteorologists repeatedly warned us of this dynamic weather system sliding across the US leaving a huge trail of destruction, death and damages. Did we heed the warnings ahead of time? Did we make advance preparations? Or did we wait until WRAL was signing off because the tornado was headed down Western Blvd. to get off our duffs and do something?
Here are some facts from the National Weather Service for that day:
- Estimates of total structural damage in central North Carolina was added up to more than $328 million dollars.
- 24 individuals lost their lives across NC and 400 more sustained injuries.
- Two tornadoes were on the ground for more than 58 miles.
- 30 confirmed tornadoes added up to the greatest one-day total for NC.
- More than two thirds of NC was affected by this weather front.
Please look at the sheer number of counties that qualified for a Federal disaster. It is almost 1/3 of the state.
This was not just a freak natural event. North Carolinians are vulnerable to serious weather events all year long. If anything, that outbreak should teach us to get up out of those comfortable chairs and prepare for disasters. Like we say in NC Emergency Management circles, “It is not IF we have a disaster, it is WHEN we have a disaster.”
We can no longer play the innocent citizens who were blindsided. It is real and it happens here. Are you prepared? Is your museum, library or historic site prepared? Think about it…just think about it.
–Lyn Triplett, C2C Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
Just because the disaster might be large, the preparation does not have to be overwhelming. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Taking the time to create a disaster plan is easier than you think. Several templates online create the format for you. All that needs to be done is to fill in the information. We especially like the downloadable version of the Pocket Response Plan. But if you google “disaster plan-template,” numerous possibilities will pop up. Filling out the form is tedious, boring and definitely dull, but it really is NOT that difficult. So much of the plan is repeated information that the wonderful ability to “copy and paste” makes this far easier to complete than you would think. We are pleased at the number of places that have contacted us for assistance with writing and/or updating their disaster plans. Several times, I have heard people remark that it was not as challenging as it first seemed. Historic sites, libraries and museums have found this out as they worked with staff and boards creating their disaster plans for the first time. It can be overwhelming to see that you need a plan for not only a tornado, but also a chemical spill, wild fire, and earthquake. However much of the process and response is the same. Copy and paste is your new best friend! Questions such as who is in charge, where is a safe place to go, and who are the first people to contact, are answered the same regardless of the type of disaster.
Planning ahead for freezer storage is critical. Annmarie Reiley-Kay, Curator of Collections at the Earl Scruggs Center, and I have exchanged emails and brainstormed ideas for possible freezer storage. It is important to make these connections before a disaster so that you have confirmation of assistance when needed. In the middle of a fire, or flood or broken water pipe there are too many urgent needs to have to try and figure out short-term freezer storage. Make contact with the local grocery chain, icehouse, medical supply company or anywhere that has large freezer space on site. UPS and FedEx are mobile and can come to you, but so could any trucking company with freezer capabilities. Also, check around for the local food service distributor in your area. Trucks with Kraft, Sysco, Southern Foods, and others will have freezing capabilities when brick and mortar places might be without electricity. Discussing your potential needs with these contractors will help build community respect through knowledge of your program and site.
It is already mid-April so add these ideas to your MayDay “Do One Thing” list for emergency preparedness. Make a call to a local vender, Google that disaster plan template, and/or print the Pocket Response Plan and look it over. Later this week (4/17) Heritage Preservation is offering a FREE webinar to inform cultural institution staff members about Incident Command Systems. Participation will be a great way to jump start your MayDay disaster preparedness efforts. Please call, email us, or leave a comment below with your planned MayDay activity.
Ben was a very practical man. He knew the worthiness of planning ahead and being prepared. We should too.
–Lyn Triplett, C2C Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
Would scents help the past come alive in new ways for your site’s audience? Several museums around the world have experimented with this technique. Exhibitions usually rely on the visual sense to convey information, but sound is also a common means of setting the scene. Touch, taste, and smell are usually trickier senses to engage, especially given the preservation concerns involved in the display of artifacts.
Last fall the California College of Art installed a scent-only exhibition, entitled “An Olfactory Archive: 1738-1969.” The groundbreaking show experimented with scent as a method of propelling imaginations into the past. To see the installation and snapshots of audience participation, view the show’s flicker page here:
The business of simulating and stimulating scent is growing, with many marketing studies connecting scent to memory, emotion, and ultimately increasing consumer desire. Shouldn’t history institutions tap into the nose’s potential to intensify engagement? Overtime the topic of enhancing exhibit ambience with scent has come up on museum-related listservs. Several historic house staffers have reported using scent diffusers, which work with essential oils to generate ambient scents. This method can replicate cooking smells in places where there is no active living history kitchen demonstration.
Exhibit designer Larry Fisher, however, has warned against the use of liquid scents. He has cited spillage, evaporation, and residue contamination as potential problems. Instead, he recommends scents that use dry media for delivery. Fisher’s reference for this kind of product is Lorane Wasserman, Essential Resources, Torrance, CA, (310)534-3481 Escentialr@aol.com. “Lorane has a standard line of scents and she is miraculous at creating virtually any scent you can, or cannot, imagine. Her ‘scent orbs’ are a dry media form of delivery.” Fisher notes that the beads can be used with special devices for larger spaces or delivery on cue.
One leader in the field of dry delivery methods for synthetic scents is in our own state. The corporate headquarters for the international company, ScentAir, are in Charlotte. Among the firm’s most notable clients is a British Science museum. Exhibit designers wanted to include a cordite scent for their programs commemorating the 40th anniversary of lunar landings, since multiple astronauts had reported smelling gunpowder while on the moon.
Are there any scents that are naturally generated within your institution that visitors have commented on? Have you tried using smell as a way to engage audiences at your site? If so, are there methods you can recommend to other readers?
Hi, I’m Diane Berg. I’m a library science student from North Carolina Central University and am an intern for the Office of Archives and History, Education & Outreach Branch [of which C2C is also a part]. While I’m here, I’m working on two main projects. One is checking and updating information in the North Carolina cultural heritage institution directory on the NC ECHO database. The other is working to compile a comprehensive list of WWI materials from the private collections in the archives. This involves defining what type of WWI materials and an estimate of the number of items that are contained in the collections.
I was looking through some of the correspondence in the Walter Clark papers when I came across a 1915 letter from William M. Wilson, a Charlotte attorney. The first part of the letter was about placing a woman in the office of Notary Public. I was almost going to continue on with the letters when the last paragraph caught my eye and piqued my interest. It was about children engaging in a debate about women’s suffrage. What interested me about this is that most of the letters and lectures I had previously come across were from an adult’s view on the subject. This little excerpt seemed an interesting find. It reads as follows:
“I was in Rock Hill yesterday and my sister was telling me of a debate on ‘Woman Suffrage’, that the school children had there last week. All of the little girls were loaded up on facts furnished by the National Suffrage League; the little boys’ arguments were originally drawn from the Bible, and their arguments kept the audience in a continuous roar. One little boy said that Eve had gotten man into trouble at the start and that man didn’t intend to give them any more chances; another one that the Lord said ‘Let woman obey man in all things’, and that as far as he was concerned they were going to keep on obeying. Needless to say the girls got the decision.”
Thanks to Diane for her guest post, on this last day of Women’s History Month, and for all her hard work and contributions to the 2 projects she has described.
Last month, North Carolina’s Department of Cultural Resources Education & Outreach Branch, which includes our C2C team, hosted a meeting for history field service agents across the country. Members of the Field Services Alliance, an affinity group of AASLH (American Association of State and Local History), do what we do in their respective states and regions. They reach out to staff (both paid and volunteer) at state and local history organizations with training opportunities, technical assistance, and other support services. This year’s meeting focused on online collaborations to support our work. Because the nature of field services involves travel time, which in turn costs money, our group was eager to learn about ways that online interactions could help us serve our constituents.
Have you ever signed onto a webinar with a particular question in mind? Did you have to wait long for an answer, if you were ever able to ask in the first place? Webinars are usually one-to-many presentations with limited opportunities for audience participation. We’ve experienced webinars that scheduled brief question & answer sessions at the very end, when most participants were beginning to sign off. Learning from other participants’ questions and responses can be the best part of group training, but the typical webinar format often limits this potential enrichment.
Several of our cohorts in other states offer training sessions for the non-profit boards that govern history organizations. What would be the best way to engage these constituents online, to encourage collaboration? We need something easy and, in most cases, free or low-cost. Other field services offices have important statewide networks that need to meet regularly for planning and updates, like CREST here in NC. A feasible online solution would be a welcome alternative to conference calls, where everyone who is able to join live tends to stare at the spider-looking thing in the center of the conference table, and speakers have to lean in and talk loudly to be heard.
Two guest speakers at the meeting discussed online collaboration options, including state-of-the-art budget-busters and a great learning platform (though not always collaborative), developed by UNC, Learn NC. The solution with the most promise for our field service applications, however, is one which some FSA members are already using. Google Hangout is free for up to 20 users and has $19/ month fees for up to 100. Newly developed applications even allow Hangouts to incorporate slide share, whiteboard, and scoot&doodle.
To participate in a Google Hangout, you need a computer (or mobile phone) with a webcam and speakers, and you have to set up a (free) Google+ account. The executive director of Learn NC warned us during our meeting that online collaborations can never replace the value of face-to-face interactions. But these methods have promise to assist in building professional learning communities more effectively and efficiently. Does Google Hangout sound like a group communication method that would be helpful to you, either as a way to participate in professional training or networking or as a way to engage interest groups for your own site?
March marks the time to join colleagues around the state in professional organizations committed to preserving North Carolina artifacts and history institutions. The three we recommend are our partner organizations: North Carolina Museums Council (NCMC), Federation of NC Historical Societies, and North Carolina Preservation Consortium (NCPC)
Here are the membership costs and primary benefits of each one:
- NCMC: $20 allows you to attend the low-cost annual conference (coming up March 23-24), which brings together not only those working in history museums but also allows sharing between various types of museums, such as children’s, science, and art. Regular email and newsletter updates help you become familiar with institutions around the state.
- Federation : An institutional membership is $25; there is no individual level. Membership connects you to a network of historical organizations that are often mostly volunteer-run and supports high school history day, building bridges to community youth through local history. In addition to an informative quarterly newsletter, interest-free loans to support your organization’s publications and events are available as another benefit of membership.
- NCPC: This group focuses on artifact preservation and the $25 membership fee supports a network of professionals across museums, libraries, and conservation firms. NCPC has scheduled a particularly robust slate of workshops this spring, so joining now will entitle you to register for any day-long workshop at the rate of $50.00 The other great thing about NCPC is that it has long been the only statewide source for grants to fund conservation projects or upgrades to storage environments and systems.
Ideally, the institutions for which we work would all join these organizations, and we as individual employees would be able to reap the benefits of membership without having to pay dues out of our own wallets. The reality, however, is that most cultural heritage institutions are strapped for cash and often have to discontinue any expense that does not relate directly to keeping the doors open, lights on, and toilets flushing. There are many history/ museum causes that compete for your attention and dollars, and in a field that usually provides modest compensation at best, individuals need to conduct careful cost-benefit analyses before selecting those to support.
Why consider supporting statewide organizations over regional or even national ones?
- Lower cost: individual membership in the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) costs $45.00 . Joining the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) costs $70.00 . Individual membership in the American Alliance of Museums costs $90.00. In addition, statewide organizations’ events involve less travel time and money and the fees for in-person workshops and conferences are much lower.
- Networking: Statewide organizations make regular efforts to schedule events in various regions of the state. The result of the combined geographic convenience and lower cost is that you are much more likely to collaborate with folks having similar interests and/or institutions from your own region. In addition to increased camaraderie, local networking events can lead to building a readily accessible support system for supplies and skills sharing and/or disaster recovery.
- Requirements: Several programs at the national level require that institutions be open to the public for 180 days/ year to qualify for participation. Statewide programs, such as NCMC’s free on-site consultation service or NCPC’s preservation mini-grants are more accessible for smaller institutions.
- Quality: Committed and knowledgeable professionals are behind each of these recommended statewide organizations and can steer you in the right direction as you navigate professional standards.
- Shared Mission: These organizations exist to promote North Carolina history and artifact preservation. Isn’t that what you’re working for everyday too?
Don’t forget to connect with our C2C team at NCMC in New Bern next week!
Remember last week’s blog post announcing Severe Weather Preparedness Week? Well, this year the recognition and warning happened to coincide with actual severe weather. An estimated 3 inches of snow and ice fell in Guilford County on Friday, March 7. The combination of an icy coating and high winds caused many trees to split, or even fall, resulting in widespread power outages. The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum in Sedalia suffered a small-scale disaster when melting ice leaked into the roof of its collections storage building.
Saturday morning, knowing that power was out at the site, staff members arrived and to begin inspecting each of the site’s several buildings. Frachele Scott and Kara Deadmon, the site manager and assistant manager, quickly noticed water leaking in several places in the structure that housed collections. They contacted Martha Battle Jackson, Chief Curator for NC State Historic Sites and a CREST member, who quickly called us. Since the site is fairly close to Raleigh (over 1 hour’s driving time), and since we believed the scope of recovery was manageable for a small group, we limited the CREST activation to those 4 Raleigh-based members, loaded up with our cache of recovery supplies, and headed west.
By the time we arrived in the early afternoon, Deadmon had made great progress sorting collections and had already moved boxes that she knew had been affected by water out into the Visitor Center building that was dry and naturally well-lit. Once there, some CREST members prepared a recovery space on a large, screened-in side porch and began the air-drying process for dampened artifacts and books. Beginning to dry items that day was crucial, since mold begins to grow within 48 hours of damp conditions, and we knew that leaks may have started as much as 24 hours previously. (Above: a nylon window screen made a useful surface for air-drying a dampened felt pennant ad a ledger book.) Meanwhile, other CREST members continued the process of loading vans with collection storage boxes and relocating them to the Visitor Center.
By the end of the afternoon, damp items had been drying for several hours and nearly all the stored collections had been relocated. We moved the air-drying-area from the screened porch into the building for the night and left, confident in the collections’ safety. Such an incident, at a museum with a small staff, highlights the importance of CREST as a resource for helping hands, useful supplies, artifact recovery knowledge, and moral support in the wake of a disaster.
March 2-7, 2014 = National Severe Weather Preparedness Week
It seems odd here in Raleigh, during the first week of March, that the Library & Archives Building is scheduled to have a tornado drill. That in itself is not odd – but the footnote – added to the memo was most unusual. It read: “unless snow and ice keep us from being at work.” We have certainly had a true winter here in the Triangle area this winter of 2014. It is not unusual for this area to have all of the trees blooming, flowers popping out and the forsythia long past full bloom by Valentine’s Day. However, this year, we are just slogging through to the spring like everyone else.
Let National Severe Weather Preparedness Week serve as a reminder that preparations for possible severe weather are paramount for every cultural site in the state. Even if ice in March is not the normal state of the climate, it can cause damages to structures, people, landscapes and visitors. The same is true for heavy winds, torrential rain, tornados, fire and hurricanes. Take this week to inspect your site, review your disaster plan, make a cake for the fire chief, or just take a walk around your property to look for potential areas of damage.
If you are scheduling a drill, having a meeting with your board about the disaster plan, or even getting tree limbs cut, let us know what you are doing to prepare and prevent as much damages as possible. Stay safe and stay warm and be careful.
–Lyn Triplett, C2C Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
Theft is the most obvious danger to artifact preservation that people pose. As we’ve discussed previously in this blog, museum staff, volunteers, and researchers comprise an amazingly high percentage of museum thefts (approximately 90%). But mishandling can also damage artifacts, and probably a similarly high percentage of the most egregious examples can also be considered insider jobs. Now, most of us who work with collections take our ethical responsibilities seriously and are scrupulous about honesty and proper stewardship. The vast majority of professionals provide care that is in line with current conservation guidelines, in so far as training and budgets allow. Exceptional cases of mishandling, however, can be instructive, and breaking news provides two interesting examples:
- Recently, a Miami artist intentionally lifted a Chinese artist’s vase from an exhibit at an art museum in that city and dropped it on the floor, shattering the piece. He committed the destructive act in protest of the museum’s practice of only displaying international art.
- Earlier this month, a French museum employee sat on a red leather folding chair that had belonged to Napoleon and broke it.
In addition to such stories that generate media attention, many of us who have been in the museum field for awhile have heard legends and rumors about staff members taking advantage of their access to collections in ways that could damage the artifacts. For instance:
- True story: graduate students in a program at a much-venerated East coast museum spied a museum historian and registrar embracing after hours on an 18th-century 4-poster bed sometime in the late 1960s. Since both staff members proceeded to have long careers there, and grad students kept coming, the story continued to be passed along for at least 30 years.
- Rumor: a rather large male costume and textile curator tried on women’s undergarments from the collection while working late.
These colorful examples of mishandling remind us that human nature is imperfect; that familiarity breeds complacency; and that accountability helps us all do the best job we can. Another reminder is that no matter what protections we put in place to keep artifacts safe, someone (out of thousands or more?) may put his own personal agenda above the responsibility to protect the artifact for perpetuity.
What can we do to protect collections from insiders who may believe themselves to be exempt from usual handling limitations? One answer is to require collections work to be on a buddy system, although that guideline clearly would not have prevented the 4-poster bed scenario. In addition to being an added security measure, the buddy system has practical benefits by ensuring more man and woman power when oversize objects and large boxes may need relocation. Another answer may be to limit after-hours work in collections storage. What works at your institution? Have you tried security cameras as a solution? Or has the honor system been enough protection so far?