Monthly Archives: April 2014

Preservation Myths Debunked

This week, Preservation Week 2014, we’re taking a cue from our blogging colleagues at History Myths Debunked,  and debunking a pair of common preservation myths. Both anthropomorphize objects. Can you think of others to include for this topic?


This shirt really could have used a rest!

This shirt really could have used a rest!

Artifacts need rest.”

We usually hear this in regards to textiles and the practice of rotating them on and off exhibit. Think of the artifact’s longevity in terms of a bank account, rather than a tired living thing, capable of rejuvenation. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible. Darkness itself does not re-invigorate that object in any way, although preparation for storage should involve proper vacuuming for pest management and padding out for support. Those benefits will be the only possible interest coming into the bank account. A textile’s appearance and fiber integrity will last finite amounts of time in a given light level—the more exposure, the less time. Each period of exhibition makes a withdrawal from the initial bank account. Rotation into storage will not reverse light damage but will save the remaining qualities of appearance (such as color) and fiber integrity.

Will a plastic container stifle it? image credit--

Will a plastic container stifle it? image credit–

Artifacts need to breathe.”

Here’s what Jim Reilly, Director of the Image Permanence Institute, has to say about this one in his worthwhile article, “Ten Surprising Things about HVAC and Sustainable Environmental Management.” Citing regular “confusion about ventilation requirements for collections in storage,” he writes, “collections don’t need to ‘breathe’ in the sense that the objects need fresh air and oxygen just like living organisms do. In fact, reduced oxygen can even be beneficial to preservation for certain materials.”

“Ventilation requirements for collection spaces are determined by three main goals [bullets added]:

  • ensuring good uniformity and mixing of air
  • supplying sufficient fresh air for human occupants
  • diluting any volatiles that may arise by out-gassing from collections or building materials

Experience has shown, however, that ventilation rates for collection storage are frequently much higher than they need to be to address these goals. Unnecessary fresh outside air and air circulation can work against sustainable operation, however. Many institutions have found that reduced outside air volumes and air circulation is a useful energy-saving measure.”

The breathing notion also often comes up when evaluating storage containers made from plastic vs. archival board. Trapping high RH in a micro-climate is a concern with plastic containers as are any plasticizing chemicals left over from the manufacturing process. Allowing the plastic to out-gas for one or more weeks before use and packing during a period of moderate RH are ways to mitigate the potential dangers of the sealed environment. A monitored and managed micro-environment can even be a preservation advantage for many object types.


Pop Up for Preservation

Pairs of participants look closely at each treasure and place one or more graphics nearby to ID cause(s) of damage.

Pairs of participants look closely at each treasure and place one or more graphics nearby to ID cause(s) of damage.


lighttemperatureOur 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.

humiditySONY DSCEighteen 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:

  1. Find a family treasure in your house that shows signs of damage.
  2. Bring it to the location of the program.
  3. Use provided supplies (card stock to fold in tent form & pencils) to make a brief label for your object.
  4. View other contributions to the museum and learn more about what we can do to protect family treasures.
  5. Bring your object home with you at the end of the program.

pestsPollutantsThe 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:

Special Bulletin on the 2011 Tornado Outbreak

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.”

Please take time to prepare.  What is your “one thing” for disaster preparation that you personally or your institutions are addressing for MayDay? Please leave a comment and let us know.

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

Benjamin Franklin was Right!

image credit:

image credit:

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

Smelling the Past

Mrs. Louise (S.L.); Courtesy Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Division

Mrs. Louise (S.L.) Pinkston with a smelling salts container, 1956; Courtesy of the Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection

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 “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?