Author Archives: collectionsconversations

Magnet Mounts

Have you tried using magnets yet to construct artifact mounts? Over the past decade or so, conservators have come up with innovative and preservation-appropriate designs using both small rare earth magnets and flexible magnetic strips. Here are a few reasons that magnet mounting systems can be safer for the artifact:

  • Traditional textile mounts include stitching and pinning, which can stress the adjacent fibers disproportionately. Magnets act as more of a clamp and magnetic strips distribute the pressure evenly across a border or other strip.
  • Magnets can be a safer mounting method for paper with very brittle edges than adhesive corners. This example shows magnet mounts around poster borders, leaving a thumbtack-like appearance without the collateral damage to the artifact.

Conservators and exhibit designers across the country have come up with a variety of solutions for incorporating magnets into mounting systems.

  • Find appropriate barrier layers to protect the textile or paper artifact from the magnets’ metal. Polyethylene filem (mylar) and Japanese paper are two safe possibilities.
  • Magnets can be safely embedded inside archival museum board. In this example,the magnetic mounting system kept 3-dimensional artifacts mounted on panels for a traveling exhibit.
  • Magnetic strips can be camouflaged with a digital print (to-scale) of a textile’s pattern and that is adhered to the strip.   (See example photo above.)
  • Use a larger, strong magnet to remove magnets from the artifact in this case. Attempting to pry them away from brittle paper with fingers introduces more risk to the piece.

Small rare earth magnets and magnetic strips are affordable materials for mount construction. 100 thumbtack-size rare earth magnets are available for $6.85 hereThis option for magnetic strips is $12 for a ½” width and 7 feet length.

[Thanks to T. Ashley McGrew for contributions to this post.]

Preservation vs. Access at Körner’s Folly

Thanks to Dale Pennington, Executive Director of Körner’s Folly, for this guest post.

Preservation vs. access is a tricky balance that we all have to deal with in the museum field . In “The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums,” Vagnone and Ryan continually assert that visitors really want a tactile and authentic experience while touring house museums.  But just because visitors want to touch, should we let them? And to what degree?

Korner'sVisitorsI recently had the opportunity to work through Vagnone and Ryan’s self-evaluation to see how my institution measured up to their anarchist guidelines. They sent students as “undercover visitors” to Körner’s Folly and had them graph their experience with “energy,” “imagination,” and “excitement” as variables. Vagnone and Ryan contacted me, excited by some high student marks in these categories. We do not actually allow visitors to touch our artifacts at Körner’s Folly. We do, however, offer self-guided tours, rather than a traditional guided tour.  According to Vagnone and Ryan this freedom of movement really helps improve the visitor experience.  The self-guided option was also something their students found particularly enjoyable.  So let me start with a little background on Körner’s Folly and how we evolved into our current level of preservation vs. access…

Korner'sReceptionRoomThe 22-room Victorian house was built in 1880 by Jule Körner, a local artist, interior designer, and furniture designer.  After Jule and his wife died, the family removed all heirlooms and personal artifacts, boarded up the doors and windows, and the house sat largely untouched, aside from occasional vandals, until the 1970s. In 1971, the Town of Kernersville wanted to have the house demolished as it was rapidly falling into disrepair. Fortunately, a group of town residents came together and purchased Korner’s Folly. Their goal was to eventually restore Körner’s Folly and open it for tours. They operated as an all-volunteer run organization for nearly three decades, hiring their first professional staff in 1999.  Most of original furniture remained in Korner’s Folly because it was too large to move; much of it was literally built in the room it still inhabits to this day.

While many pieces of original furniture remained, there were virtually no surviving small artifacts, valuables, or heirlooms. With a lack of “pocketable” artifacts, an unrestored house, and surviving largely on volunteers, Körner’s Folly was set-up for self-guided tours, with an orientation by a docent, and then a few velvet ropes and signs here and there to help visitors navigate. Today, while we have grown in staff size, we still largely offer self-guided tours. We have added a security camera system, “do not touch signs,” and more interpretive signs, but by-and-large, what grew of out of lack of resources is now an active choice our institution makes, guided by visitor feedback.

When I first started as executive director at Körner’s Folly, I was really unsure of this self-guided stuff. After all, I am very comfortable with rules, policies, and procedures – that’s why I got into this field, right? I thought: “They won’t read anything and they’ll touch everything!” So I started conducting visitor exit surveys, and monitoring how visitors acted on their tours. Of course, we always have visitors who do just as I suspected, but the majority of our visitors are actually respectful.  Overall, our visitors report to spend approximately 1.2 hours touring the house on their own, rate their experience as a 4.8 out of 5, and 2/3 report they read “all” of the interpretive signs where 1/3 report they read “some” of the signs. Our visitors appreciate being able to wander, take selfies, and spend as much time or as little time as they like in each room.  Additionally, with so many different rooms and architectural features, no spaces in Körner’s Folly were ever closed off from tours.  We don’t offer a “behind the scenes” tour because all 22 rooms are open to the public.  Since we lack many small original, artifacts, visitors get to walk into all of the rooms, not just do a “hallway tour.”

I have always been really interested in interactive exhibit elements and ways of making audiences more engaged.  So we are brainstorming ways to make the self-guided experience more interesting. For example, last year we created a scavenger hunt for children to do as they toured the house.  The scavenger hunt is so basic and cost us nothing, and we always get lots of compliments on it (it’s rated 4.7 out of 5).  Coming up for next year, we are experimenting with “Please Touch” baskets for a few rooms in the house.  These interactive baskets will include (reproduction) items for touch or activities that visitors are encouraged to do.

Challenging the lines between preservation vs. access is not a new concept. Ryan and Vagnone just suggest some different approaches, some that we are already implementing in my institution and some that would not work here. While I like creative ways of engaging visitors, I still can’t grapple with encouraging visitors to outright touch artifacts or sit on the original furniture. But I do appreciate Ryan and Vagnone’s out-of-the-box thinking. What works here would not work at every institution – we all have our own unique circumstances and limitations. I think what’s important about “The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums” is that it challenges us to imagine and test new ideas to enhance access, while continuing to preserve responsibly.

Wet Recovery–Photographs

Lees-McRae3With February’s onslaught of winter weather, another of our cultural heritage institutions needed help from CREST. A pipe burst in the Lees-McCrae College Library in Banner Elk on Friday night, February 20th. A member of the facilities staff called the library director Saturday upon discovery and reported the leak and damaged ceiling tiles. When librarians arrived Sunday (2/22), they found that the entire archives, containing “all the College’s history” along with additional materials of regional significance, had been soaking for 48 +- hours. CREST members Jeff Futch, Supervisor of NCDCR’s Western Office, and Heather South, Western Regional Archivist, responded to the CREST activation the following day and braved snow-covered roads to spend the next two days assisting with recovery.

Initial delays in beginning the air-drying process and inside temperatures well over 70 degrees brought difficult challenges to the recovery effort.  Air drying requires a great deal of space so that materials can be spread out and benefit from as much air flow as possible. By the time Futch, South, and library staff had secured a work area, photographs had already begun to stick together or to the envelopes and plastic sleeves that housed them.

Lees-McRae2As with any disaster, there are always lessons to be learned and the burst pipe at Lees-McRae proved to be an unplanned test of the effectiveness of archival storage. One recovery advantage was that most archival materials had been well housed in boxes. These absorbed most of the moisture from the leak, leaving the artifacts inside mostly just damp and not sopping wet.  Many of the boxes were the DuraCoat variety. DuraCoat is a thin layer of acrylic applied to the outside of archival boxes for moisture resistance. In the Lees-McRae case, wet conditions persisted over several days and the coating could not repel the volume of water. South noted that the coated boxes stayed wetter than the non-coated containers. Water was still able to seep into the boxes, and then the acrylic layer inhibited evaporation, keeping the paperboard and the boxes’ contents more moist. This disaster instance suggests that at nearly $2 more per box, DuraCoat is not a cost- effective product for more than a small leak.

DryingPhotosDryingRackDryingTraysIn cases where photographs called for simple air drying, Futch and South were able to string a drying line and pin photographs to it—a measure that economizes on surface space and maximizes air flow to each piece. They set aside boxes with photos that had become more problematic and were able to bring them back to NCDCR’s Western Office for treatment. Somewhat counter-intuitively, wet recovery of damaged photographs often involves re-submersion in water. Because the photographic production process involves water, submersion in clean water for up to 48 hours is generally safe, when followed by thorough air drying. (Note that this is not appropriate for more recent digital prints.) Careful wet treatment allowed Futch and South to remove deteriorated plastic negative casings from the image film. By the end of the week Western Office staff and volunteers had completed the photo recovery tasks.

JeffWorking2Thanks to these skilled and devoted CREST members for another CREST mission accomplished!

For more information on wet recovery, click here for the National Park Service’s guidelines for photographs, books, and papers and here for Heritage Preservation’s video on wet salvage techniques.

Bridges and Improvement

February 2015, courtesy Ocracoke Island Realty

February 2015, courtesy Ocracoke Island Realty

Although the bridges in North Carolina have been pretty icy and slippery in the past few weeks, the bridges that we are building through the C2C program and CREST are stronger than ever. This will only make our artifacts safer for future generations. I cannot stress how seriously important it is that your program – no matter how small or how big, is “on the radar” when a large scale catastrophic disaster hits our state. NCDCR now has a seat at the table of North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) during preparations before a large weather related event. We will be able to have access to better information for both response and recovery from the coast to the mountains. The very same thing is true if it is a local event and maybe just your site that is affected.  For Example:  Yancey County Public Library, Mendenhall Plantation, Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, and others have learned that preparations before an event will make a terrible situation more bearable. The overarching disaster management team (NCEM) must know of the distinct needs of cultural institutions. They need to know simply which institutions are in which counties and they need to know that, in partnership with Red Cross and other private disaster response groups, NCDCR will organize experts to help historic sites, museums and libraries recover and salvage artifacts.

Over the last eighteen months the CREST project has built important bridges in numerous areas.  Not only are many of our museums, libraries and historic sites better informed about mitigation and planning before disasters, but they are also better informed about what will happen after a disaster. CREST has proven over and over to be a necessary and viable program across the state.  Besides the dollar value of books, documents, photos and artifacts that have been stabilized and kept from further deterioration, there is also the preservation of our local history for future generations of Tar Heels.  The C2C team has been able to educate audiences about the importance of artifacts and their need for special attention before and after a disaster. This awareness has extended to community leaders, board members who support and develop our smaller institutions, and civic groups that volunteer to be of assistance. Moreover, we have encouraged larger cultural heritage institutions to re-examine their outdated plans and contact lists.  This frequently leads to a re-thinking of critical needs and response sequences.

Another important bridge of connections has been with North Carolina firefighters.  They have learned about our work by collaborating on C2C’s 6 regional fire recovery workshops, and we have spread the word about their pre-planning process to our NC cultural heritage community. Across the state, museum and library professionals are connecting with their local emergency managers and fire & rescue personnel.  This is very encouraging for NC Emergency Management professionals, as they are dedicated to the concept that disasters start local and end local.  It is, in reality, the community that will respond to help in recovery and rebuilding.  The better linked that we all are to local and state recovery officials, the more efficient recovery will be.

So, stay off of those “icy bridges” that lead to a disaster. Contact us about how we can help you create an easy disaster plan and who your local connections are and how they can help you be better prepared when a disaster occurs.

Lyn Triplet, Disaster Preparedness Coordinator

What’s Your Pres-Ac Quotient?

Have you heard yet of the “Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums?”   It started several years ago as a series of presentations and a social media campaign and will soon be published as a book. We’ve recently learned that North Carolina is one of the two primary centers of the authors’ (Deb Ryan and Frank Vagnone) research (New York being the other). Professor Deborah E. Ryan teaches architecture and urban design at UNC Charlotte and has organized class and individual student visits to several NC historic house museums.

The core concept of the “Anarchist Guide” is that focusing on preservation, historical accuracy, and exclusivity can undermine the higher callings of museums to be welcoming and engaging spaces.  Such ideas, though justifiably controversial, are worth discussing and it is the mission of our NC branch of the Connecting to Collections program to encourage both preservation and access (pres-ac). We have written here before about new access approaches to historic houses, especially programs that depart from the traditional docent-led, roped-off-room tours and facilitate historical imagining with re-enactments and visitor role playing.

RosedaleChart2Vagnone and Ryan emphasize the importance of cultivating an understanding in visitors of what it was like to inhabit a space in earlier periods. In one class exercise, Ryan instructed students to graph their historic house museum experiences with “energy,” “imagination,” and “excitement” as variables. In the past several years, Ryan and Vagnone have repeatedly included the graph one student created about his visit to Rosedale Plantation in Charlotte as an example in their “Anarchist Guide” presentations.  Like most museum visitors, Kevin Schaffner’s energy level started out fairly high and continuously decreased over the course of the visit. His imagination and excitement peaked when he could feel like he was discovering traces of the past by encountering artifacts or century-old handwriting on a wall, but overall, he felt bored by the docent-led tour. This detailed visitor feedback, especially from a younger visitor—a demographic historic house museums often struggle to interest—is valuable, if challenging, and has led Ryan and Vagnone to advocate self-guided tours and allowing visitors to touch artifacts.

When visitors can sit down and enter typically closed-off spaces like bathrooms, Ryan and Vagnone believe historic house museums can sustain visitors’ energy and heighten their imaginations about what it was like to live in the house in the past. In houses with lower visitation levels and fewer safety and security concerns, this may be an option. If the site displays “expendifacts,” sitting on the furniture may be okay. But many historic house museums cannot allow unfettered access in general on a daily basis without compromising the artifacts that make them unique. Preservation and access is always a tough balance to manage.

What innovative approaches has your institution tried? How do you negotiate between these often-competing needs for both preservation and access?

Exhibit Outreach Program for Western NC

Many thanks to Matt Provancha, Exhibit Developer Extraordinaire at the Mountain Gateway Museum, for this guest post. 

vignette for the "North Carolina School for the Deaft, Then and Now" exhibit at the Historic Courthouse in Morganton

vignette for the “North Carolina School for the Deaf, Then and Now” exhibit at the Historic Courthouse in Morganton

Up until the mid-2000s, the Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center was known as the Mountain Gateway Museum and Service Center. No, you couldn’t get an oil change or your tires rotated while you were learning about Appalachian history or touring one of the cabins. The designation “Service Center” referred to the museum’s Exhibit Outreach Program (EOP).  You see, since the museum joined the NC Department of Cultural Resources in the late 1970s, part of its mission has been to share the collective experience of its museum professionals with all the little history museums and historical societies in Western North Carolina. Since the Mountain Gateway Museum (MGM) is the smallest museum in the Division of History Museums (with the largest service area) this exhibit outreach program has greatly increased the impact our little museum has on our part of the Old North State, extending our reach well beyond our walls.

Matt Provancha designed this exhibit title panel for the Rural Life Center at Mars Hill University.

Provancha designed this exhibit title panel for the Rural Heritage Museum at Mars Hill University.

Creating exhibits that cost from $30 to $3,000, the MGM has worked with numerous organizations’ budgets. From the creation of simple informational labels to the construction of museum-quality display cases, the EOP has helped non-profit, history-based organizations in our 39-county service area make their exhibit ideas into reality for more than 30 years. Here’s how it works:

  • We assist qualified agencies with planning their exhibits by utilizing their existing research to develop an organized and engaging storyline.
  • We advise them on collections care in the exhibit environment, and collections storage.
  • We help them design their exhibit layout, as well as simple informational and graphic exhibit elements.
  • We will design and fabricate exhibit elements, such as: display cases, artifact-specific mounts, and other exhibit furniture as necessary.
Provancha built this case for NCDCR's Western Office in Asheville.

Provancha built this case for NCDCR’s Western Office in Asheville.

Planning, consulting, design, and fabrication time/labor is provided free of charge.  The only cost to the interested agency is the cost of materials. MGM is lucky to have some key materials donated to us, so make no mistake: We can, and have, produced exhibits for as little as $30 in the past. [In fact, Gaylord just advertised a case nearly identical to the one I built for the NCDCR Western Office  with a starting price at $5,600. My case (at right) cost the Western Office in the neighborhood of $1,200.]

Utilizing the knowledge and resources of the EOP can open many avenues for history-based organizations interested in developing and displaying a high-quality museum exhibit at their institutions. For more information on this program, visit our website at MountainGatewayMuseum.org and click on “Outreach,” or give us a call at 828-668-9259.

Disaster Gypsies

???????????????????????????????Just before Thanksgiving 2014, the Historic Jamestown Society’s Mendenhall Plantation sustained a disaster. Arsonists used bricks and stones to break through windows of the 1817 Lindsay House, squirted lighter fluid on the floor, and set fire. Fortunately for this historic landmark, damage was minimal. The fire burned out floorboards in two places and left sooty residue and smoky odors. Despite the contained area of damage, the mostly volunteer staff had to struggle with a recovery challenge they never expected—disaster gypsies.  The director, the only paid staff member of the site, was out of town when the arson occurred and a long-time volunteer board member had to respond to the situation. Disaster response contractors quickly descended upon her and, panicked and disoriented on a cold night, she had trouble keeping them at bay.

Disaster gypsies are irresponsible contractors who show up immediately after a disaster, while emergency responders are often still on site, and promise quick fixes to panicky staff (or inhabitants). They may assure you that if you pay up front, your insurance will reimburse you. Don’t let soothing tones and comforting phrases fool you—these are salespeople out to prey on misfortune. They may promise rapid solutions such as quick drying after floods or chemical washes after fires that will ultimately damage historic structures more than the initial disaster event.  Don’t let these ready-at-hand “advisors” rush you. The emergency responders will stabilize the situation and you will have time to sort repair bids out to your institution’s best advantage.

In addition to being forewarned about disaster gypsies remember these tips for dealing with disaster recovery contractors:

  • Always call your insurance agent–before agreeing to any recovery service–to find out coverage specifics.
  • Be sure the company is IICRC credentialed (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoring Certification).
  • Check Better Business Bureau reports on the local franchise owner.
  • Take time to gather and compare multiple bids—3 is a good benchmark number.

???????????????????????????????The Mendenhall Plantation’s staff’s instincts to hesitate on decision-making served their site well and, for the most part, they avoided signing up with the wrong companies for questionable services. Good restoration companies with knowledgeable contractors do exist. If you can identify them in advance, you’ll be able to take a giant leap toward preparedness.

Mendenhall’s director and 3 board members shared tales of their recent trials and tribulations at a January gathering of cultural heritage practitioners in the Triad region. [Read more about that meeting here.] Above left, Director Shawn Rogers gave meeting participants a tour of the damaged building. (Note the broken and boarded window behind him.) In addition to the group learning an important preparedness lesson from the Mendenhall experience, the arson event catalyzed interest in forming a regional response network. Twenty folks have agreed to participate so far and the group looks forward to future expansion.

CREST Training

CREST_logo_edited-1We want to take today’s post to brag on our Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team members and assure you of their availability to provide NC sites with tangible assistance. CREST consists of experienced professionals who are dedicated to serving the cultural heritage cause across the state and are willing to take a leadership role in their own regions. In addition to the 3 of us on our C2C team, there are currently 14 CREST members across the state. Each has agreed to help out with artifact recovery in the event that any NC cultural heritage collection suffers from a disaster. Further, each works for an institution that supports his or her time away from the office for this purpose. This willingness to assist other institutions fits into the NC Department of Cultural Resources’ mandate for statewide outreach, and consequently, the majority of CREST members work for state-run institutions. Two of our members work for the National Park Service on opposite ends of the state, one in the mountain region, and the other on the Outer Banks. Notably, 4 of our members work for private organizations: Old Salem, the Asheville Art Museum, Wrightsville Beach Museum, and the NC Preservation Consortium. Our admiration and gratitude especially go to these institutions, which—without any governmental mandates—allow their expert personnel to respond to statewide calls for post-disaster artifact recovery.

In addition to all the artifact preservation experience the members have gained as librarians, curators, registrars, archivists, and administrators, each is required to complete 3 Federal Emergency Management Agency courses successfully:

These credentials serve 2 purposes: First, emergency managers and first responders take our group more seriously, knowing that a part of CREST training overlaps their own. Secondly, team members are able to interact with these leaders more effectively. With the training, CREST members understand chains of command and their own place within them, should their deployment be necessary. Members become familiar with emergency leaders’ processes, priorities, and terminology.

CREST members also commit to help our C2C team out with fire recovery workshops. They serve as team leaders, or in other administrative roles, during the workshop. Consequently, each gains hands-on practice in a disaster scenario as a leader, and some of the training concepts, such as Incident Command System, come to life. Moreover, the fire workshops have borrowed from Community Emergency Response Training in developing an artifact triage system. This interplay of knowledge between preservation expertise and emergency management procedures makes CREST members uniquely qualified to lead post-disaster artifact salvage efforts.

Always remember to call on CREST if your NC collection suffers disaster damage.

Our State Now Digitized

A rich resource of North Carolina history and culture is now easily accessible online. The State Library of North Carolina has recently completed a collaborative digitization project with Our State Magazine, Digital NC, and additional partners. Staff scanned over 102,000 pages of a comprehensive set of issues from 1933 – 2011. (Our State’s website includes archived issues from the present through 2009.) Not only is the site searchable by key word and subject, but it also has a convenient “page flip view” feature, which allows viewers to peruse any issue, page by page, and pause for more in-depth reading with a click. Browse through and land upon topics that interest you or have potential to engage your community.

theState1p2June 1933 marked the first issue of The State, which began as a weekly news magazine and evolved into the monthly features publication Our State is today. That first issue referred to local particulars of significant national pressures such as the Depression (1933 was the most intense year) and the end of Prohibition. Interestingly, The State’s coverage indicated that community leaders were relieved the repeal had not increased public drunkenness or crime, but that some business owners were disappointed that beer sales had not yet boosted the economy.

courtesy Orrin Scott

courtesy Gary N. Mock, textilehistory.org

The State provided a forum to discuss and promote North Carolina businesses. The 1933 inaugural issue included an advertisement for Chatham Blankets (right), a product of the woolen mill which was once the primary employer in Elkin, NC. It’s laudable that the Chatham Manufacturing Company supported the new Raleigh-based publication with an advertisement touting the industry’s role in sheep raising in the NC mountain region. Meanwhile, the company produced large, colorful advertisements for national audiences in prominent magazines like Good Housekeeping and Life (as in this 1947 example on right).  The current issue of Our State brings the subject of Elkin’s renowned factory full circle by profiling a town pharmacist and local historian, whose grandparents worked at the mill and who now collects Chatham blankets and other local memorabilia.

What 20th-century topics are relevant to your community’s history? If you work with an NC institution, there’s sure to be some useful text and imagery in this treasure trove. So–ready, get set, GO explore Our State!

Further Debunking the Myth of Artifact “Rest”

AnneLaneNorth Carolina’s Anne Lane initiated a discussion several months ago on an international blog—“Registrar Trek” about light damage and the usefulness of exhibit rotations for preservation. [We also picked up on this idea in one of our posts last spring.] Our whole C2C team is a fan of Anne’s; she is an extraordinary collections manager who is currently working at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center and previously devoted many years of her professional life to the Charlotte Museum of History. She combines broad preservation knowledge with impressive hand skills and a helpful spirit, and we’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from her as guest poster for this blog, as well as an instructor for C2C box-making workshops. Anne’s Registrar Trek post elicited two useful responses from preservation experts. Both stress the need to assess of a variety of risks more holistically, rather than a singular focus on light damage. Instead of leaving them embedded in the comments section of Anne’s post, it may be helpful to our readers to see them up-front here.

1. Mark H. McCormick-Goodhart, Director, Aardenburg Imaging & Archives: I don’t know of any materials that rejuvenate from light induced damage in dark storage. I do know of materials that continue to degrade due to light-induced damage after removal from display and subsequent dark storage. I also can cite materials that can recover from some discoloration by fresh exposure to light, but it’s kind of a catch-22 as some components (e.g., inks on paper) in the artwork are being further degraded while other components (e.g., color of the media) are being improved by further exposure to light.

The key knowledge to be acquired by curators and conservators is not easy to gain in many instances, but it is how the light fade resistance compares to other degradation pathways. When a material is very light sensitive, it’s pretty much guaranteed that light exposure on display will be a major factor of concern, but with materials of moderate or high light fade resistance, then other weak links like gas fade resistance, thermal and humidity degradation, etc., may prevail in such a way that worrying about amortizing the time in the light on display may be totally irrelevant. Policies for storage and display need to be decided based on better understanding of all the likely variables of decay and not just one variable only since the variable in question may not be anywhere close to being the weak link in the chain.

2. Robert Waller, Ph.D., CAPC, FIIC, President and Senior Risk Analyst for Protect Heritage Corp.: Mark makes an excellent point about needing to evaluate light damage relative to other risks to the collection in order to understand its importance. It would be a shame to keep objects from view only to have them degrade in other ways or be lost to fire, flood, or theft long before their useful display life has been used. Recognizing the importance of considering risks in context is the driving force behind leading institutions now embarking on comprehensive collection risk assessments. If there are one or more risks other than light damage that dominate the risk profile to a collection then there may be little point to rotating which objects are on exhibit.

It is also important to realize that rotating objects from the collection on and off exhibit does not reduce light damage to a collection as a whole but simply alters its distribution. In some cases distributing light damage more broadly through the collection will result in greater loss of value from the collection. The change in object value seldom has a simple, straight line relation to extent of light damage. Usually the change from a “pristine” state to a “just noticeable change” results in a much greater loss in value than a just noticeable change step somewhere in the mid-range between pristine and completely damaged. This is generally recognized by herbaria who, knowing that dried plant specimens are extremely light fugitive, will choose only one page of a bound herbarium to be opened on exhibit. In this way light damage to the contents of the book is restricted to a single page. The remaining pages remain in the near pristine state for occasional viewing. In contrast, if the book has 100 pages and a different page is displayed each month then it would only be a matter of decades, if not just years, until every plant specimen in the book was severely faded.

Agnes Brokerhof and colleagues presented this issue well in their 2008 paper, now available in book form.

Thanks to Anne for getting this conversation going, and thanks to Mark and Rob for such an insightful discussion and their willingness to share it with our audience.

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