Last month the Southern Appalachian Archives of Mars Hill University’s Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies acquired Fiddlin’ Bill Hensley’s fiddle, “Old Calico.” Below Master Fiddler Roger Howell and members of Hensley’s family pose with “Old Calico.”Along with previously accessioned Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s “dehorned fiddle,” the instrument raised an important ethical question for collections stewardship. Should the fiddles be repaired by an experienced luthier so that they can be played briefly as a special feature for the festival that MHU hosts every year in October?
As a species of museum object, musical instruments can provide the curator and conservator with some dilemmas. Musical instruments are designed to be functional objects. They have moving parts or they require physical interaction to fulfil the purpose for which they were made. They have this in common with many other objects including clocks, transport vehicles, arms and armour, hand tools, domestic utensils, scientific apparatus and industrial machinery…The primary function of an instrument is usually to produce sound. If we are not permitted to hear the music it makes, our experience of an instrument is limited and its role as a historical document can only be partially fulfilled.
Lengthier treatment of the issues surrounding playing musical instruments in cultural heritage collections is available in a manual ICOM produced on the subject.
If playing accessioned musical instruments, at least occasionally, is important to your institution, it is a good idea to outline that use in your institution’s collections policy. For one example of an instrument playing policy click here. The highlights of this policy include:
- collection instruments are not available for rehearsals.
- playing time limits are strict.
- appointments are required.
- player cannot bring additional objects into musical instrument gallery.
Does your institution’s collection contain musical instruments? If so, is the original purpose–to create sound–maintained or exhibited? We hope to share future updates on Mars Hill’s decisions concerning the Hensley and Lunsford instruments.
If you’re thinking of including QR codes in an upcoming exhibit as a portal for the students (in the streaker-stroller-student visitor continuum), this post is for you. NC’s own Michael Scott, Curator of Education at the High Point Museum has added comments from his past experience at the NC Museum of History to a fascinating discussion of the QR code issue that appeared on the AAM Registrar’s Committee listserv last week.
The QR codes that we used for the Watergate exhibit saw very low use…the highest usage numbers were for the codes at the edges of the exhibit and very little for the ones inside the exhibit.There [are] also some QR codes outside of the museum for garden plants. One of them had a song attached to it and had received higher use than some of the others, but it was still a low number.
[However,] I still like them. Not a lot of institutions can afford to buy devices or to build an app or to even redesign a full web site to be mobile friendly, but they can still link to a page either on their servers or to something that they have stored elsewhere online. There is a large bar of entry to using them (device, wifi, time, etc…) but I think that just means that whatever you’re wanting to link to needs to be very compelling material. Some information just might not be [attractive] enough for a QR code and not a high enough priority to be in the physical exhibit. Until the use of NFC/RFID becomes more widely used, I see the QR code as really the only tool available to [provide more in-depth information at the point of viewing]. Generally, it think that it’s a matter of finding a balance between content, access, and resources available to an institution. For the same cost (time, money, etc..) as generating a QR code that links it to a video you shoot on a iPhone that’s hosted on Youtube, what other options are there?
Let me be the anti-QR code curmudgeon here. Think about the last time you scanned a QR code? If you can’t remember, or you don’t have an app to do so, that should tell you something. As an iPhone addict, I haven’t scanned a QR code in…maybe three years? The last time I did it was because I was forced to in order to get the information I needed, and then the connectivity was miserable and the experience was ho-hum. If the institution [which] created this situation had just provided a short URL, I would have just opened my browser and gone there, without having to:
- Think about what I’m going to use for QR scanning
- Think about where that QR code is going to take me (and is that page safe to look at- nightmare scenariohere)
- Decide that yes, I want to take the time to connect to wifi, accept the wifi policy, connect, scan, go to the site, and then dig for whatever it is I’m looking for.
- Do all of the above.
QR codes work brilliantly for machines. They’re designed for machines to read quickly. Their applications for humans are, in my personal opinion, small. There’s a lot of maintenance that goes in to making them, a lot of vigilance needed to maintain good links to content, not to mention the creation of the content itself, and the hurdles of bad wifi- particularly if your building is a granite or marble bunker. Let’s add to that the hurdles of privileging content to those who have access to smartphones, and are savvy enough to understand the “scan QR code, get info” mechanics (of course, having on-campus devices to loan helps lower that barrier, but there’s another thing you need to maintain and track and charge, and train non-native users on how to get the content from the QR code).
Tracey suggests creating a web site with additional content and including a shortened URL on the exhibit labels.
You can also use an app to do this if you have one, but that requires a lot of hoops with iOS/android development, and again pushes out those edge cases. A responsive web site works on any device (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop) and can give more people more access (and provide loaner devices to get more people more access). Thus ends my rather long winded treatise against QR codes.
- Tracking numbers: “QR codes let you see what people are the most interested in, which objects draw more attention, where people are coming from and what devices they are using.”
- Shortening label text: “Studies have shown that beyond a certain word count, people move on. ([Microsoft] recently did a study that shows the average human attention span is now 8 seconds, one second less than a goldfish and four seconds less than five years ago).”
- Lack of meaningful insights: “What kind of people use their devices for QR scans? Does it really identify what you want to know about your audience?”
- Logistical problems: “If the QR code is too small, people will lose interest if it is difficult to scan. If it is too large, it can be distracting. You would have to find a balance. Too many QR codes in an exhibit can be overwhelming.”
In the end, Stalvey’s museum gave up on QR codes, in reaction to the low proportion of users to visitors. Tablets that the museum provided were more effective. “The app was built with layers and did not need a wireless connection. It was incredibly time consuming for IT to put together, but it was rare to NOT see people using those devices. We also had them locked so that was the only thing people could access.”
Has your institution experimented with QR codes? When was the last time you used one?
Some of you may have noticed that we have begun to let our regular weekly posting routines lapse several times in the last couple of months. As our C2C team approaches the end of our second IMLS-funded grant cycle (focusing on the creation, training, and activation of CREST), our staff responsibilities have shifted and we are moving from weekly to occasional blog posts. Our project will officially end in November. For those of you who appreciate stories from NC collecting institutions as a way to connect to a statewide network and those of you who benefit from preservation tips, our partner organizations will help fill any void we leave. NCPC promises to pick up the pace with its preservation workshop offerings. It, as well as the Federation of NC Historical Societies, publishes quarterly newsletters for members. NCMC offers weekly announcements of museum happenings around the state. All 3 of these partners coordinate annual meetings with important professional development training and networking components. Both NCMC and the State Archives’ TAP will continue to offer free site visits to connect NC cultural heritage collections with local professional advisors.
Take heart that the NC Department of Cultural Resources will persist in its outreach mandate. Read more about the relevant state statutes in one of our earlier posts here. Many branches of NCDCR offer vigorous outreach programs, including the State Library, the State Archives, NCMOH’s education department, The Federation, and the State Historic Preservation Office. Future federal grant-funded projects will likely allow NCDCR to offer targeted outreach to build on the work that the NCECHO, NC C2C, and CREST projects accomplished in the period 2000-2015.
Until November, stay tuned, because we still have more important issues to discuss and good stories to tell. In the coming weeks, look for a critique and discussion of the value of QR codes in exhibits and an account of the Ramsey Center‘s (at Mars Hill University) struggle with whether or not to allow the playing of musical instruments in its collection. There’s still time for you to contribute your own collection-related stories and advice to this forum, but keep the November deadline in mind. If you’d like to join our illustrious list of guest posters, please email email@example.com. Let’s continue the collections conversations here as long as we can and then extend them into the work of our partners and other NCDCR divisions.
We’ve written about the importance of Knox-Boxes on this blog before and stressed the simplicity and effectiveness of this disaster preparedness step. Contact your local fire department to order and install a Knox-Box. A Knox-Box is a small, wall-mounted safe that holds building keys for fire departments and emergency medical services (and sometimes police) to retrieve in emergency situations. Local fire departments hold master keys to all boxes in their response area so that they can enter a building quickly, without having to force entry. Important information for cultural heritage institutions to stash in their Knox-Boxes include:
- emergency contact list
- floor plans showing utility cut-offs
- list of 5-10 priority artifacts with locations
Several participants in our C2C programs have made progress recently with their Knox-Box implementations. Their news can help motivate other cultural heritage institutions to schedule those regular check-ups with fire fighters. At last month’s Triad Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network (ACREN) meeting, Dale Pennington, Director of Korner’s Folly in Kernersville reported that a regular fire inspection of her institution prompted her to order a Knox-Box for the site and it cost about $250. Firefighters decided that, rather than drill into the historic structure for installation, it would be better to insert the site’s Knox-Box into a metal pole coming out of the ground. This allows them easy access to crucial, site-specific information without compromising the fabric of the unique building.
The High Point Museum already had a Knox-Box before their MayDay preparations motivated them to schedule a pre-plan with their fire department. During the tour of their institution, staff discussed the importance of the museum’s artifact collection and walked firefighters through the storage areas. This collaboration helped firefighters revise the emergency plan for the building and they decided to install a 2nd Knox-Box at the back of the building for quicker access to collections storage. At the end of the pre-plan process, staff members Marian Inabinett and Corinne Midgett enjoyed posing for a group shot with their local firefighters (at right).
Does your institution have a Knox-Box? If not, consider doing contacting your local fire department to begin the ordering process. This small step could be a giant leap for your site’s disaster preparedness.
What connects individuals to artifacts? The answer is often deeply personal, and while it’s possible for museum audience evaluators to trace clear patterns, the connection is often idiosyncratic. A new model of group tour and the internet itself can embrace the individualization of artifact engagement. Check out the following models at major museums—the Metropolitan in New York and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The much smaller, less well funded museums we work with here in NC may not be able to support the platforms in these examples, but the ideas of customization and engagement can be translated to both history collections as well as to smaller venues. [For example, at left, participants in a Delta Sigma Theta reception at the Greensboro Historical Museum look closely and discuss artifacts in a case related to their organization.]
If you haven’t yet heard of Museum Hack (or even if you have) this TEDx video is a good introduction to the company’s why and how. The founder never liked museums and didn’t bother attending them until a friend gave him a personal tour. Once he was able to explore according to his own impulses and share thoughts and impressions individually, he fell in love with museums and began giving tours to his friends, featuring his top 10 objects and stories in the museum. His tours generated a buzz and became so popular that he’s built a business out of small group museum tours with entertainment as the primary goal. If you were to give a “hack”- type tour of your own institution, what objects and stories would you include?
Online artifact images, accompanied by stories, allow users to customize their own learning (or entertainment) paths. Some institutions have been reluctant to share digitized versions of collection items for several reasons. Among them is the fear that putting collections on the internet will be a disincentive for face-to-face visitors. Despite digitizing and sharing most of its artifacts at high quality resolution for free, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has experienced record-breaking attendance in the last year. Could it be that the virtually unlimited access to collections this museum supplies online actually motivates in-person visits? If your institution shares some or all of its collections digitally, can you correlate that to an increase or decrease in visitation?
In your experience, what other methods of customized engagement with collections have been successful?
Please *bear* with us as we take a brief blogging break. Travel and piles of budget forms have interrupted our posting routines.
If you miss this week’s post, please consider contributing a guest blog. Topics we love include preservation tips, audience engagement with artifacts, disaster preparedness, and stories from NC’s cultural heritage institutions.
For more on the JFK Special Warfare Museum, click here.
Two of our institutional partners in the NC mountain region have been moving mountains—of collection materials, that is—in May.
May Day moving was once tradition, from the colonial period to WWII, in urban areas characterized by a high portion of rentals, such as New York and Chicago. This 1865 political cartoon pokes fun by connecting the tradition to the April surrender of the Confederacy by depicting government leaders packing up and leaving Richmond on May 1.
The Mountain Heritage Center of Western Carolina University is also packing up and moving. Staff members deconstructed exhibitions in late April – early May and have been re-configuring spaces to accommodate more artifact storage. By the end of the month they will move their offices to the campus library, where a new exhibition space will open in August–in time for the academic year.
The Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, part of the National Park Service, began packing its collection of approximately 50,000 objects, ranging from furniture to archival materials, in the historic house in January. This month staff began moving boxed artifacts to an off-site storage facility in preparation for substantial renovations to the structure. Staff decided that rather than closing the house to tourists during the move, they could use the event as an interpretive opportunity. According to the site’s preservation webpage:
During this packing process visitors on tour will have an opportunity to see museum object preservation in person. The home’s interior will start to look more like the Sandburgs are just moving in with boxes still packed as the year goes on. This will be a fun time to visit the home to see the activity and to feel like the Sandburgs when they first moved to Connemara.
The move has also become a way for the site to connect with its social media audiences. Staff has been posting interesting collection finds on instagram, as well as a view into the tracking process. A collection inventory is a necessary and time consuming part of the move. Sharing a bit of the process with online audiences helps the public understand the meticulousness of preservation procedures, as well as engaging viewers with collection discoveries.
Need help planning a future collections move? The Science Museum of Minnesota has reported its experiences and advice for a major collections move, “Moving the Mountain,” and made the guidebook available as a PDF online. Beginning on page 66 are some helpful and well illustrated suggestions for fairly simple artifact mounts that could be used to move the artifact and continue as safe, permanent storage thereafter. Anne Lane, collections manager extraordinaire at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, will be instructing C2C’s Box Making Workshop next month where she will share her impressive skills for creating custom storage mounts and enclosures and update participants on her institution’s recent moving process.
What would you do if a couple of middle-school-aged kids (12+-) walked into your museum unaccompanied by adults? Would you stop them immediately and bar them from their journey of discovery? Or would you treat them as you would adult visitors and wait to see if they were disruptive before interfering with their visit? Or do you have a special procedure for youth to “register” at the front desk with a parent’s name and contact information?
Two years ago, when one of my sons was that age, he experienced two different museum procedures in Raleigh’s capital cluster of museums on the same day. He and a friend went into “Museum A” and explored and enjoyed themselves—no problems ensued. Afterwards they ventured into “Museum B” and an official stopped them at the door and told them they were not allowed in without a parent. Perhaps there are sound policies in place, based on liability or other concerns, that guided the boys’ exclusion. But whether or not that was the case, I believe a ban on kid visitors is a shame.
I support free-range parenting, which has become something of a movement in recent years. Most parents of tweens and teens today are old enough to remember a time when kids played outside all day and even visited stores, libraries, and museums without parents. Perhaps there’s no need to mention to the large portion of readers who are also historians that as soon as children were physically able in the past, they were encouraged to do all sorts of tasks independently. Amazingly to us today, in 1941-42 my grandparents put my aunt, who was a precocious 2-year-old, on a city bus in Iowa City by herself to ride to pre-school daily. How can it be that in the 21st century, even if we trusted our kids to function independently, we’re either too stunted by fears of criminals or fears of being criminalized ourselves to send them out on their own for brief excursions? Free-range parenting guru Lenore Skenazy has a thorough discussion of the possible reasons for the shift from free-range to cooped-up, often over-scheduled, kids in the last 20-30 years. She argues that the result is often harmful for both child development and parental well being.
Can our institutions function as part of kids’ free range? Read about a 60-something museum professional who fell in love with archaeology by repeatedly visiting his local museum alone when he was 8 years old here. Are there sound reasons to prevent decently behaved children, who are able to move through the space independently, from entering museums? (Granted, precocious 2-year-olds seem too young, but middle-school-age seems reasonable.) If so, can minor adjustments be made—such as registration upon entry—to allow older kids the freedom-with-responsibility they desire and arguably require?
Skenazy cites one school which instituted a “Free-Range Kids project” with great success. Can our cultural heritage institutions partner with schools, scout and church groups, etc. to welcome free-range children? Let’s join the chorus of the free-range kid movement. Independence paired with a sense of responsibility nurtures good citizens, and the freedom to explore inspires effective learning. Shouldn’t museums be a part of those essential processes?
Adrienne Berney, C2C Project Director
This week and into May, cultural heritage institutions of all types will be actively promoting preservation. Even though our C2C team is always preaching preservation, we try to make an extra push at this time of year. The American Library Association has decreed the last week in April Preservation Week. We are recognizing the campaign by meeting with the Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network at NCDCR’s Western Office in Asheville on Monday. MACREN formed 15+ years ago after the Wolfe Memorial fire and has been a model for us as we’ve tried to help establish regional mutual-aid networks for disaster recovery across the state. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help reinvigorate this group and tell them about CREST’s recent deployments in the mountain region.
This year MayDay synergistically falls on Friday, the end of ALA’s Preservation Week. Organizations that promote disaster preparedness for cultural heritage collections urge staff to “Do one thing” on May 1st to improve your institution’s disaster preparedness. It doesn’t have to be huge or involve much advance planning; you can still accomplish a worthwhile MayDay task. A few simple ideas with lasting benefits are:
- Update your institution’s emergency contacts on MayDay each year.
- Tune into the Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation’s FREE webinar this Friday, from 2:00 – 3:30 on disaster preparedness. http://www.connectingtocollections.org/after-disasters/
- Contact local firefighters to schedule a pre-plan for your institution, if you have not already been through this process.
- Order a Knox Box through your local fire station.
For groups involved with building preservation, May is Preservation Month. Old Salem and Historic Forsyth are offering a multitude of free preservation programs this month. Our state historic preservation office has organized a window workshop later in May in Black Mountain. The NC Museum of History has planned a Preservation Day for Saturday, May 9. The event will correspond with the museum’s quarterly Conservation Assistance Day and will include displays by representatives from preservation organizations from across the state (including Edgecombe CC’s Historic Preservation Technology Program) as well as special exhibits on the topic.
Does your institution have any special preservation-related activities this week or in May? How can you engage your community with this topic for next year? Take advantage of some of the programs other groups are offering now and use these ideas as a launching pad to plan next year’s preservation promotions!
Last week C2C conducted our 6th and final fire recovery workshop at the Fayetteville Fire Training Center. Overall, the process of setting up and burning the mock museum replicated that of earlier workshops. Our “artifacts” experienced a range of damage from a level of charring that would lead to deaccession to a light level of soot and ash to the absorption of smoky odors. The scenario gave our staff and participants a rare opportunity to witness the protective powers of various storage materials and the effectiveness of simple recovery treatments.
This event offered reminders of 3 preservation techniques we’ve discussed before, both in workshops and in this blog.
- Textile interleaving helps protect artifacts. The vast majority of disasters involve water. Even fires usually end with the activation of sprinkler systems or water hoses. Although a fire’s intense heat often evaporates any water involved very quickly, bleeding dyes and sooty tide lines can remain. Participants in our “Collections Care Basics” workshops get to practice rolling textiles for storage. They are careful to interleave the object with acid-free tissue during each revolution and cover the rolled fabric with muslin, Tyvek, reemay, or tissue. In this case (shown above) the muslin cover appeared to protect the rolled textile inside but once opened, water damage became apparent. Dyes bled onto the muslin and interleaving tissue, which mitigated the damage from one layer of the textile to the next.
Plastic storage boxes are a protective option—even in a fire. We previously postulated the melting fate of plastic boxes in fires as disadvantage of that storage option. However, in this fire, the plastic box protected its contents similarly to the board box. We had placed a like array of materials (8 objects) in each of 4 boxes—2 plastic, 2 board. One plastic and one board box survived well on a lower shelf. Both the plastic and the board box on a top shelf experienced destructive heat. The fire melted the plastic and caused the board to char and collapse. In both boxes most materials suffered damage but could be recovered. Once cooled, melted plastic could be pried off the surviving objects fairly easily and board dividers and tissue inside the box protected much of the contents.
Deodorization chambers are effective as a recovery technique. Paper, textile, and wooden objects absorb smoky odors easily. The deodorization chamber we have recommended previously worked really well for the textile items involved in this fire. We placed two infant clothing items in the chamber overnight and all traces of odor disappeared. The Gonzo product needed recharging in the sun before the next session but then resumed absorbing effectively and deodorized two dresses that had been on the garment rack during the blaze.
Although every disaster is different, we learn lessons after each that help us mitigate risks and be better prepared. What lessons have disasters taught you?