Monday, October 4, 2010

Environmentally Conscious

Hi, my name’s Laura; I am a Collections Assistant at Pueblo Grande Museum. One of my responsibilities at the museum is environmental monitoring. You might be wondering why a museum would be interested in monitoring its environment? Things around us can influence and affect us in positive and negative ways; museum collections are no different.

The environment around an object, whether it is on exhibit or in storage, is full of potential threats. Light, temperature, relative humidity, pollution and pests are all environmental conditions that can act as agents of deterioration. We can’t completely eliminate these environmental conditions, but keeping track of them is the first step in figuring out ways of minimizing their effects.

How do we monitor the environment? We record our observations; basically we write a lot of notes to ourselves. We also use low-tech and specialized equipment to measure conditions so that we can compare values over time. Light meters, ultraviolet (UV) light meters, and blue wool cards are used to monitor light intensity and exposure. Sticky glue traps are used to monitor pest activity - such as crickets, silverfish, and carpet beetles. Psychrometers, Arten gages, and data loggers are used to keep track of changes in temperature and relative humidity.

Let me tell you a little more about how we use data loggers. Data loggers are small devices that take temperature and relative humidity readings at set intervals in one location over a period of time. We have a number of data loggers that we deploy in exhibits, work, and storage areas. Each month hundreds of readings from these devices are downloaded into a computer and graphs detailing changes in temperature and relative humidity are generated.

What do I do with all that data? I compare the detailed graphs with my observations about events that might influence the results - such as a rainy afternoon, large tour groups in the galleries, or a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. I look for spikes or dramatic changes of any kind; dramatic changes in the environment signal potential opportunities for damage to an item. By minimizing exposure to extreme conditions we can preserve our collections for future generations.

Monitoring the environment in a museum truly does have its ups and downs, but it is an important part of properly caring for a museum collection.

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