Behind the Scenes of Collections Management

Collections management involves everything that is done to safeguard artifacts during their life at a museum. This includes preventative conservation that works to identify and fix conditions that may lead to future harm of an artifact. If you visited Banting House NHSC in the last few weeks you may have seen the new small white devices on our walls. These devices are temperature and relative humidity data loggers. They are placed at eye-level and away from any vents or drafts to ensure accurate readings. They’ve been set to record the hourly averages of the temperature and relative humidity in each room of the museum for a month. At the end of each month they are collected by a staff member and the data is transferred onto a computer. They are then reset and placed back on the walls to record for the next month. We are able to put the data collected onto a graph to analyze and track changes. This helps to identify if there are areas of the museum that need extra attention to ensure they remain at ideal temperature and humidity conditions.

Data logger 2
A relative humidity and temperature data logger in one of the galleries at Banting House NHSC.

You may wonder why temperature and relative humidity are so important? Large changes in temperature and relative humidity can cause dimensional changes in the artifacts as they swell and contract as an attempt to adjust to environmental conditions. This includes warping, cracking, and breaking of fibers. If temperature or relative humidity are too high, chemical reactions such as yellowing of paper, clouding of glass, and corrosion of metals can occur. Finally, biodeterioration is also a concern if relative humidity is too high as mold and bacteria can grow. Each of these factors threaten the lifespan of an artifact and should be avoided.Therefore, a strong understanding of a museum’s relative humidity and temperature averages are extremely important in creating proactive collections management procedures to prevent the levels from getting too high or too low.

These newly installed devices will be an immense help in identifying the needs of the museum and creating plans to ensure that our artifacts are in the best conditions to be viewed and enjoyed by future generations.

Banting House National Historic Site and Diabetes Canada thank the London Community Foundation for their generous gift in support of this project.

This post was written by Rachel Delle Palme, Graduate Research Assistant at
Banting House NHSC. Rachel is currently completing her M.A. in Public History at
Western University.

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