Preservation Pointers for the Public

Volunteers, board members, and frequent visitors to cultural heritage institutions are likely to love old things.  Not only do they tend to appreciate your museum or site’s collections, they also often have deep attachments to their own heirlooms.  Presentations on artifact preservation have the potential to become community building events at your institution.

The Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington has developed several public programs around preservation.  These include a series of conservation lectures, workshops, and special tours of the collection.  By charging attendance fees, they are able to sustain these activities. Designed to educate potential donors, the programs also invite new audiences to become involved.

Barbara Rowe, Cape Fear Museum Curator, discusses archival boxes.

 Here are some tips for building a successful public program around preservation topics.

  •  Make it fun!  A show and tell roundtable will be interesting for participants and you can offer advice on, or lead discussions about, the specific materials the participants bring in.

  • Familiarize them with conservation and how to find a conservator.  Concepts like reversibility in treatment are important to cover.  Recommendations for trusted local conservators would also be helpful.

  • Suggest a few sources to learn more in-depth information about preservation, but keep your own presentation simple.  So much information now exists on the internet that it can be overwhelming for folks who just want to venture into preservation topics.  The Gaston County Museum has built a good thorough overview of care recommendations for different materials into their website:  This would be a great starting point for participants who request more information.

  • Focus on proper storage—no attics or basements.  Explain that high temperature, RH, and light levels accelerate degradation.  Discuss the need to provide acid-free containers and padding for heirlooms.  These products will buffer RH fluctuations somewhat and serve as barriers to pests.

  • Offer sources to the public for purchasing the products you recommend.  The Cape Fear Museum sells individual acid-free boxes and small amounts of acid-free tissue in its gift shop.  Ordering from archival suppliers is often beyond the means of most individual members of the public.  Buying surpluses of key supplies in order to re-sell small quantities to your constituents, is one good solution.  Additionally, you should identify the products they can obtain and convenient sources.  Washed, unbleached muslin or cotton knit fabric can substitute for acid-free tissue when packing textiles for storage.  Clear polypropylene or polyethylene bins can substitute for archival storage boxes.  The plastic does not have the buffering capacity of archival board and does not allow for air flow, but it can still be a reasonably protective material.  Teach participants to look for abbreviations for these materials on the underside of bins (PP, PE, HDPE, LDPE).  They should avoid plastics labeled polystyrene (PS) or polyvinyl (PV), as these materials will emit pollutants overtime.

Preservation programs will not only educate your participants about how to care for their own artifacts, but these presentations will also enhance awareness for the difficulties and costs involved in collections care.  Hopefully, participants will leave the program with a deeper appreciation of the value of your institution’s community service and the work you do.

 Have you tried this type of public program at your institution?  If so, what went well and what did not work?


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on August 23, 2011, in cleaning, collections care, Connecting to Collections, public programs, storage, workshops and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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