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The North Carolina Connecting to Collections staff provided regional workshops and preservation and disaster recovery services from 2009-2015. Please continue to benefit from this online forum by using the search field (at right) to find a variety of preservation tips, stories from North Carolina cultural heritage collections, and audience engagement discussions.
The Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team will continue to respond to collections disasters across the state.To connect with CREST, please contact Adrienne Berney, Outreach Coordinator, NCDNCR, 919-807-7418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a useful discussion of an important topic we’ve discussed before in this forum. Specific examples offer tremendous guidance on enhancing accessibility.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensured equal access to persons with limited mobility, limited vision, limited hearing, and other disabilities. Shortly after this law was enacted in 1990, museums and historic sites were scrambling to figure out the consequences, especially the cost of installing ramps or hiring sign-language interpreters.
Much of it also revolved thinking bigger and realizing that improving access for the disabled would improve the experience for everyone. For example, lever handles replaced doorknobs, which makes it easier to open a door when you’re carrying a package; enlarging type and increasing contrast on exhibit labels makes them easier to read (which I really appreciated as I grew older); and integrating ramps and removing thresholds is nice for visitors in wheelchairs and for staff who are always hauling tables and chairs for events. For several years, professional associations hosted sessions…
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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.
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.
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.
Earlier this month, C2C partnered with Iredell Museums to host a Mold Recovery Service Learning event at the institution’s Gregory Creek Homestead site in Statesville. Months ago, Director Debbie Newby discovered mold growing in a building used to store overflow accessions. Remember that mold grows when the relative humidity is above 65% for more than 36 hours. The flood-prone masonry building traps moisture and Iredell staff recognized the need to relocate collections objects. They reorganized areas in a climate-controlled collections storage building to accommodate salvaged objects. However, they needed help learning how to assess whether mold is active or inactive and what steps to take to clean inactive mold from artifacts. C2C organized a staff training event and then invited others from NC’s cultural heritage institutions to join in to share knowledge on mold prevention and practice recovery techniques, such as vacuuming and wiping with rubbing alcohol.
We did not expect many folks to take advantage of the service learning opportunity, since mold poses a health risk, especially to those with previous respiratory problems. But we had seriously underestimated the generosity of our NC cultural resources community, and an additional 14 people came from 7 regional institutions to work with C2C and Iredell Museums’ staff. A special shout out to Davidson College Library for donating 6 staff members to the cause!
Personal protective equipment is critical when working with mold and working outside is safer, when possible. C2C provided N95 particle masks, nitrile gloves, and aprons for all participants. In more extreme situations, safety goggles and tyvek suits may be necessary.
Our treatment consisted of both dry cleaning and wet cleaning for most objects. See a previous guest post on our blog for further instruction about cleaning moldy books. For dry cleaning, brush the object in the direction of the vacuum nozzle. A nylon screen cover prevents sucking tiny pieces and parts into the vacuum. Plastic baggies are useful to have on hand to collect any loose pieces that dry cleaning dislodges. Necessary supplies include:
- natural bristle brushes
- vacuum (HEPA filter needed for indoor work)
- soot sponges
- groom/ stick paper cleaner or absorbene
- microfiber cloth
- rubbing alcohol
- paper towels
There are several useful mold recovery resources available online:
- The national Connecting to Collections organization produced a free webinar on mold recovery. View the archived version here.
- The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts has posted guidelines for managing a mold invasion. Upload available here.
- Information from the Canadian Conservation Institute offers more information here.
- It’s a useful reminder that not all white growth on artifacts is mold. Metal corrosion can be white. Anything with fat content, esp. dressed leather, is prone to fatty bloom as it ages. A good resource with more information and identification help is the “What’s That White Stuff?” website from Alaska State Museum conservators.
For most finished wood and metal there’s an additional mold recovery and prevention step you can take after the dry cleaning and wet cleaning steps. Microcrystalline wax—we use Renaissance wax— contains mineral spirits, which is another spore-killing and tarnish-reducing solvent, and works to even out finishes that mold or corrosion has left spotty. It’s also a thin coating on the object to deter mold spores from settling.
Several of our participants had previous experience working with various mold recovery products. Here are two they recommend:
- Davidson College Library uses Betco BTB Instant Mildrew Remover & Cleaner to clean areas up before painting.
- One of our participants is a building engineer and consultant who also works with the Burke County Museum. He suggests an affordable mold test kit. For $169 you can test an area, submit the results, and receive professional lab reports.
What strategies can you share for preventing and/or recovering from a collections mold attack?
C2C’s Disaster Preparedness Coordinator, Lyn Triplett, shares her thoughts…
We just got back from attending the American Association for State and Local History conference in Minnesota. Because my background is in Education, FEMA, and the arts this was my first time to attend a national conference with so many historians. I was surrounded by sharp, learned, and interesting people, all of whom had a very high level of expertise in their chosen passion and career. The best part of most professional conferences is being able to immerse yourself with peers who really speak your language and know the ins and outs of the professional world of your career. People were always willing to share information, display new ideas and approaches, chat, vent, problem-solve and cheer each other and their institutions onward and upward.
The best part was learning that stumbling blocks in our area are the same in other areas. Getting small and medium museums to write disaster plans, update inventories, and document artifacts are challenges across the country. Not all ideas at AASLH were met with cheers and confetti. The ideas of gearing education programs to specific styles of learning (traditional schools vs. home schooled), contemporary approaches to media (Zombies and comic books), interactive collaboration between fields of study, and cross categorical implementation of the arts still makes many museum, library and conservation professionals uncomfortable. However, I think that it can be said that we need those folks to make us get out of our ruts, view our sites and collections with a new prism and encourage fresh ideas in order to keep the funding, the audience and, most importantly, the educational enlightenment that arises from attending the state and local history sites and museums at a peak.
The one component that everyone could agree upon was that the local group of dedicated individuals, upon which every historic entity depends, is absolutely paramount to the continued success of preserving history for the future. That unique group of people gives their time and their money to keep the doors open and are the backbone of sustainability for tens of thousands of museums, sites and libraries across the United States.
A friend once told me that every event depending on participation from others was a risk. Whether it was a birthday party, an open house, or a black tie charity ball, in order for the attendees to say “Yes” to that event, they had to say “No” to something else; even if that something else was just getting off the couch and not watching TV. Her point was that we should always appreciate, with genuine and deep gratitude, the people who choose to support us with their hard work and devotion. They could easily choose to do something much more glamorous, fun or relaxing. Thinking of this, I realized that many historical institutions and museums are hanging from a very thin thread. When that connective filament breaks down between the custodians of the sites and artifacts and the local community, the worst disaster possible will occur. The doors will close and the history will be locked away. That will mean no more stories, no more education, and especially, no way to learn lessons from our past to create a better future.
From developing new attendees, to filling the financial coffers, to showing admiration for the work-horse-volunteers, we must do whatever it takes to keep the doors open. If that means dressing up as a super-hero, or learning a new computer system or spending money for a professional consultant, then it simply must be done. It will also mean that I might be a little uncomfortable in the process. But I learned something very important at the AASLH Conference: that history and artifacts do not belong to just one group or individual – we are simply the temporary custodians. It is our responsibility to entreat others and inspire the next group of learners who happen along. And we must make sure that those people are welcome and willing to say “Yes” to history and its importance to our cultural growth.
A few months ago we blogged here about the now-prominent view among historic preservation experts to shutter historic house museums with low visitation and/or revenue and shift them to private ownership with protective easements. Last month, in an article entitled, “The Great Historic House Museum Debate,” a Boston Globe journalist introduced these arguments to a broad audience and highlighted the contrary ideas of William Hosley, a New England-based museum professional. Hosley offers important cautions about privatization that add to our own about limiting access to the wealthy.
Hosley discusses small historic houses as grass-roots community history institutions. He argues that historic houses should be valued as specimens of cultural diversity in the same way that our society seeks to protect endangered species for the sake of biodiversity. Moreover, old buildings and the artifact collections they present work to preserve the distinctiveness of locales and express the idea that history-creation is a basic civic right. As other public history leaders have discussed, history-creating activities (although not a specific reference in the Bill of Rights) strongly relate to the 1st Amendment’s call for freedom of expression and the right to assemble. Telling stories of the past is an essential function in human society, and gathering places and objects enliven and enrich these histories.
Although most of the well attended and well funded house museums reflect the history of the elites, grass-roots organizations continue to found and struggle to sustain vestiges of humble circumstances. Two highlights from different parts of North Carolina are notable. In the Charlotte area, the Belmont Historical Association has restored a 1920s house inhabited by mill workers from Parkdale Mills. Like Belmont, a committed group of volunteers keeps the Penderlea Homestead Museum open one afternoon each weekend in Burgaw, north of Wilmington. Penderlea is a restored Depression-era farmstead, which the federal government made available to poor farmers who passed an approval process. Both sites stand as testaments to the trials and tribulations of the past. The volunteer staff opens their doors to help interested visitors learn more. No, they don’t have the same dazzling effect and popular following as the Biltmore, but they do offer insights into 20th-century textile mills and farm life.
An impressive group of folks from each of these communities has invested its time, passion, and often money to preserve these buildings, artifacts, and local history. If we subscribe to the view that “America does not need another house museum,” then we limit the possibilities of future lifestyle interpretation. Some of these micro-museums may not ever undertake the capacity-building initiatives that allow them to professionalize. Others have hired some professional staff but then cannot sustain activities that meet professional standards. The energy and support levels of the governing boards combine with market forces to determine which house museums will grow, stabilize, or falter. Leaders should regularly consider alternatives to current operations, but remaining a micro-museum may be the best possible service for some localities.
Read about another potential historic house in Tryon here. After the purchase of African-American singer, Nina Simone’s, modest childhood home, the buyer worked to restore it and turn it into a house museum. Costs have escalated beyond his means, however, and he’s hoping to sell the property with a subsequent buyer’s commitment to somehow continue efforts to preserve Simone’s history.
It’s worth pondering whether our communities would be the same without these tangible lessons in cultural heritage. Does having a space open to the public as a museum make the preserved past more meaningful than restoring a structure for private ownership?
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
If you listen to the words of that iconic song, then, yes, we do think it “…strange, that you are wishing for rain.” There is a quarter mile crack in the roadbed of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell and washed out roads have been reported from all over western North Carolina. The eastern half of the state has been deluged with storms and flash floods practically every week since late May. The center of the state; the Piedmont, Triad and Raleigh areas, are very soggy, but are just getting by. River levels of the French Broad, Neuse, Catawba, and Cape Fear are full and/or close to capacity. Reports of mold, mildew, leaks, drainage problems, and wind damages are coming in from all over. There is no doubt that this has been one of the wettest springs and summers on record. This is unusual considering that there have been no tropical storms or hurricanes to influence the climates so far. Whew! What a change from last summer.
On Tuesday, August 6, noted meteorologist, Greg Fishel, of WRAL TV Weather Center quoted the following statistics: “To this date in 2012, we had recorded a total of nine days where the temperature was 100 degrees (F) or more. Plus, we had experienced 44 days of temperatures in the 90’s.” Those 2012 numbers Mr. Fishel reported are just to the beginning of August. Many of us remember that long hot summer that continued through the middle of September.
Each type of climate and local weather patterns brings its own signature of problems in archiving and conserving the cherished artifacts around North Carolina. Spring and summer of 2012 was the year of extreme heat and typical southern humidity. This year problems are evolving because of the extended periods of constant rainfall, high humidity and flooding. Although we are thankful for the cooler temperatures, the pervasive dampness can wreak havoc with artifacts of paper, wood, and fiber. Please be sure to watch items closely and to take preventative measures to preserve these special collections. Fans, lights, dehumidifiers, proper storage and staff vigilance can help forestall any potential insect, mold and/or mildew problems.
My own home attic has created the headache of condensation on the AC ductwork that is dripping through the ceiling tiles. Thank heavens it is not a roof leak, but that is symbolic of the weird weather we are experiencing. The “artifacts” in my attic are only sentimental, but definitely replaceable. What is happening at your site? Be sure to take advantage of the cooler weather to check attics, closets, storage units and other areas for possible problems. In addition, remember, we here at C2C are always available to help you. Be sure to check the list for upcoming Disaster Preparedness Workshops and Collection Care learning opportunities. Stay dry!
C2C Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
NC Department of Cultural Resources