Category Archives: storage
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?
With 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.
As 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.
In 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.
North 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.
In our efforts to nurture a sense of community across our statewide network of cultural heritage practitioners and beyond, our C2C team has bravely plowed ahead into the social media realms of blogging and Facebook. By offering preservation tips and sharing stories from NC’s cultural heritage collections, we have carved out a fairly small online niche. We have 240 followers and another 30+- Facebook followers view our posts each week. Followers’ online addresses suggest that about 2/3 of them hail from NC. Though small, our audience extends across the globe, with over 3 thousand views in 2014 from other English-speaking countries and scattered views from 112 additional countries on every continent. We appreciate all of our readers and especially those who take the time to offer feedback and share any useful or interesting tidbits they find on these posts with colleagues.
The wordpress forum provides quantitative information about blog use by tallying the number of times viewers click on a given post. Sometimes we can infer more qualitative data about topics readers found the most helpful. As a result, here are some superlatives for posts based on views during the past year.
- Most curious: “Beware Carpet Beetles” received a tally of 3,500 views. Although it is important to learn about these heritage eaters for integrated pest management and collections preservation, it’s astounding that this post [from 2012] has been our most popular this year. Also perplexing is that there are rarely corresponding referral links or signs of readers clicking on a link the post provides. These statistics lead us to wonder whether the high number of views is the result of human activity or whether instead, the post has gotten attached to some kind of repetitive robo-visitation.
The following superlatives only had views in the hundreds, not the thousands.
- Best preservation tips: “Pros and Cons of Plastic Storage Containers” and “Sealing Wood for Storage and Exhibition“—a guest post by conservator Marc A. Williams went live in 2012 and 2011 respectively and address essential preservation concerns, applicable for even the smallest museums. This quilt from an NC county historical museum is a good illustration of the importance of sealing wood before using it to mount artifacts–especially textiles and paper. The yellowish, brownish lines on the quilt are the result of acid migration from a wood frame behind. A plexi cover over the quilt trapped the acidic vapors inside a narrow space. Although we can’t all have the in-depth preservation knowledge that many conservators–like Williams–have accumulated, we can learn enough to avoid such errors and strive to “do no harm” to the artifacts under our care.
- Cross-disciplinary: “Mineral Hazards” is a guest post by Chris Tacker, who is a curator at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, published in spring of 2013. That it is our 4th most viewed individual post in 2014 is a testament to the usefulness of Chris’ knowledge and the power of reaching out to colleagues outside our history discipline.
- Most popular 2014 posts: Both “Thinky-Drinky” & “Expendifacts” earned this title and both deal with hands-on experiences in historic houses and sites.
- Most collaborative: “Sleep Tight,” another guest post published this year, was written by a public history graduate student from the UNCG program who worked with staff from the High Point Museum to re-string a period bed at Blandwood Mansion. The group of four used a video that colleagues from Historic Hope Plantation developed for guidance. That’s a total of 6 NC cultural heritage practitioners and 4 allied institutions involved in the project that our blog has the privilege of showcasing!
We hope to continue to provide sometimes exciting and always informative content in 2015, so stay tuned and keep us posted on the challenges you’re encountering as well as what’s working for you.
If you skipped the AASLH conference this year and you don’t follow the Engaging Places blog, you may have missed the “Active Collections Manifesto.” It’s a strong stance on promoting quality over quantity in collections and argues for a discriminating approach to resource expenditures. The Manifesto’s writers have an impressive record of professional accomplishments in the museum field and their ideas are worth considering and debating.
The Manifesto calls for prioritizing collections into different levels and providing a corresponding tiered standard of care. In many ways, collections stewards already do this by default. The objects relating to research requests are usually documented more thoroughly and stored in positions of greater accessibility. In other ways the differing values placed on collection items are more deliberate. Our workshops always promote selecting 5-10 priority artifacts that are crucial for the institution’s mission or community identity as a disaster preparedness measure. Sorting collections into tiers of significance and/ or stakeholder interest and concentrating documentation efforts and scare preservation resources on the upper tiers could have multiple benefits beyond disaster preparedness. Would a field for priority codes in systems like Past Perfect be useful? Prioritizing collections is something those in the library/ archives field already do deliberately and it makes a lot of sense for museums to take a tiered approach to collections too.
Here are two additional great ideas the Manifesto promotes:
- emotion-provocation as a criterion in assigning an object to a tier
- a deaccession special task force: As we’ve seen with assessment programs, outside experts can be convincing for boards and stir up the stagnation that is all too often a dominating force.
As a former curator for a state history museum, I do have some concerns with mass-scale deaccessioning, however, and I’ll share a story from my previous position to explain. As the Manifesto mentions, audiences’ needs evolve and the stories stakeholders want to tell change over time. Some lower-tier artifacts may jump to a higher tier, depending on the story, so in my experience, mass deaccessioning projects need to be undertaken with great care.
One part of my job was managing a historic row house, and I researched those who lived in the house during one decade—the 1850s. That had never been done before because heads of household were tenants, rather than owners, and had been overlooked in earlier interpretations. (This new research approach also uncovered a lot of great information on slaves, but that’s another story.) Anyway, imagine my surprise and delight when I did collections database searches on all the tenants’ names and discovered a pair of shoes that had once belonged to the final tenant of that decade! The pair had probably never left a storage box since its donation in the 1920s, and in a tiered approach it would have been placed on a low level. Once a new interpretive direction came to the fore, the shoes launched into a higher tier.
Similarly, masses of WWI stuff that seemed fairly low priority 20 years ago are undergoing a dramatic shift in significance now in collections across the country as institutions commemorate the centennial.
Professional standards in preservation have risen to such great heights in the last few decades that very few history museums can keep up. A tiered approach to management could really help by considering those standards only for the higher priority level(s). Thanks to Rainey Tisdale, Trevor Jones, and Elee Wood for their bold decree and for supplying more food for thought on collection topics.
—Adrienne Berney, C2C Collection Care Trainer
According to recent reports by the Image Permanence Institute, the 70 degree/ 50 % relative humidity target for collections storage environments is not only outdated and unsustainable, it was never optimal in the first place. What started as a best guess, based primarily on human comfort, became accepted practice in museums and libraries for decades. However, “research at preservation science laboratories in the United States, Canada, and abroad provided data to show that wider fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature were not necessarily damaging to collections.” The old standard is “difficult to achieve, even harder to maintain, expensive and not always necessary.”
But where should collections stewards aim? The target is now always moving based on seasonal drift and material types. For instance, moderate temperatures are not appropriate for preserving certain materials. Most photographs and films should be chilled. For optimal preservation, different types of materials should be stored together and in smaller, customized environments where possible. These separate measure do not have to be costly. A frost-free refrigerator/ freezer can house a photograph collection safely. Many can be stored in the freezer section, while special types, such as glass plate negatives, can be stored in the refrigerator section. Polyethylene or polypropylene boxes with silica gel inside can provide affordable storage for humidity-sensitive materials such as leather and metals.
IPI’s “Quick Reference” guide can help to plot environmental priorities for various collection material types. Further, The University of Illinois Library is developing another tool to help collection managers make item-level and collection-level preservation assessments and identify actions to improve conditions. The Preservation Self-Assessment Program is a free online method to target solutions. The program is new and currently limited to library materials–books, papers, photographs, and film–but is worth exploring for museum collections too. The Connecting to Collections online community will introduce this tool more fully in an upcoming free webinar, scheduled November 5, 2014.
As collections stewards, we shouldn’t be afraid that the monolithic standard has been debunked. Preservation knowledge has grown more complex, but we are all crafty and resourceful enough to adapt to the new moving targets.
The hands-on training and opportunities for networking and discussion that C2C offers in regional workshops are important collections care resources, but more and more collections professionals look to the internet for answers. Our team also strives to act as guides for our NC cultural heritage community in navigating the vast tangle of resources available online. In this vein, we urge you to check out a new website http://stashc.com/. Weeks ago the Connecting to Collections online community hosted a free webinar in which Conservator Rachel Perkins Arenstein introduced this new resource and highlighted some of the storage solutions she considers to be the most practical. You can view the archived version here.
The acronym STASH stands for Storage Techniques for Art, Science, and History. This effort represents collaboration across the disciplines and those of us working in history organizations perhaps have the most to gain/ learn from our colleagues in these other fields. Science museums, especially, have developed storage systems that allow both preservation and access. Researchers analyze collection specimens in those institutions as evidence of ecosystem changes and/ or species-specific evolution. Storage systems must allow close inspection of specimens, while minimizing handling and providing thorough support for artifacts that are often very fragile. Many of these solutions are great examples for cultural heritage collections to emulate.
Of the three types, art museums are often the best funded and individual collection items typically boast a much higher monetary value than do historic artifacts. As a result, these institutions can more often afford professional conservation staff who have set professional standards for all types of museums, especially in climate control, filtering systems, lighting, and exhibition mount-making.
Our favorite examples from the STASH website include a discussion and list of disaster recovery supplies for every institution and a nearly comprehensive list of collections care supplies, along with suggested sources. Several of the specific storage solutions are low-cost and simple enough to recommend to the cultural heritage institutions we work with. For instance, check out a quick and easy-to-construct tray system made with corrugated polypropylene board here. This system would work well with many types of lightweight artifacts and help maximize shelf or box space.
What storage techniques are successful in your space? STASH also includes an option for submission so you can share your ingenuity to a broad collections care audience. And of course, we’re always happy to provide a smaller-scale forum for your collections care stories here.
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?
“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.
“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.
While in Western North Carolina a few years ago, I heard an old Mountain idiom that went: “Yep – those directions was just about as clear as mud.” I think that is what is happening with the new disaster recovery organization structure here at C2C. So I am going to try to clear up the mud hole in regards to the structure and purpose of CREST and the related sub groups for emergency salvage of artifacts in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
CREST – Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team
Breaking down the letters of CREST, acknowledges that the group originates here at the NCDCR. The purpose of forming a statewide team is to be able to respond to any library, museum or historic site in North Carolina that has a disaster or crisis. CREST participants would provide the manpower and the supplies to begin immediate salvage and recovery of artifacts and collections at the site. It is an “all hands on deck” for the people who are signed up as part of the CREST team to respond as quickly as possible. Here in Raleigh, we will maintain a cache of recovery supplies that might be needed. Supplies are stored here in large tubs ready and waiting for a call to respond. Examples of the supplies are soot sponges, wax and parchment paper, tarps, Tyvek tags and pens, drying racks for small and medium sized textiles, rope, close pins, clean water, fans, extension cords and numerous other items we can stockpile. Should a call come to Raleigh of a crisis, we will deploy CREST persons with the tubs of supplies to that facility. All CREST team members receive an individual “Go-Pack” of personal safety equipment and immediate triage supplies to get started. Items in the go-pack include a safety helmet and vest, masks, gloves, flashlight, simple tools, and other items. (See photo)
On the local level, there are regional groups that support the CREST team. The letters of the regional groups stand for Area Cultural Resource Emergency Network. So far, there are three groups. They are in the Triangle, Mountain and Piedmont sections of North Carolina. Add the first letter of the region to *ACREN and you have TACREN, MACREN, and PACREN. These regional groups are the first responders to their regional area that is experiencing the disaster. The CREST team will arrive as quickly as possible with trained personal and specialized supplies as backup.
Both CREST and *ACREN members have been trained in personal safety, recovery of artifacts and organizational procedures in a disaster. Workshops and classes emphasize an immediate triage and joint effort to stabilize the condition of the collection. The goal of quick response to a disaster is to prevent further long-term damages until the items are evaluated for future conservation and restoration by professionals.
Anyone who is trained in artifact recovery can be on either the regional *ACREN group or the statewide CREST team. Actually, a participant can be on both because the training is the same. The differences lie in the ability to respond. A CREST member must be willing to respond anywhere in North Carolina. (And of course in their region as well.) However, a member of one of the *ACREN groups only responds to help their colleagues in their geographic area.
We are striving, through workshops and training to empower library, museum and historic site staff in all regions of the state. There are dreams of a CACREN, (Costal) WACREN (Wilmington) and OBX-AREN. (Outer Banks)
If your area is interested, we will be more than happy to provide training, workshops and burn recovery to collections. We would love to have a long list of *ACREN groups ready and prepared to assist each other. Hopefully, this clears up the muddy mess to at least a watery mess. Stay safe and continue updating the inventory list.
Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
NCDCR – C2C