Northern States Conservation Center

Providing collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services to collectors and collecting institutions.


Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (December 15, 2013)
December 15, 2013    
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Documentation and Interpretation
In This Issue
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
Submissions and Comments
2014 Course Schedule
The Genius of Omission
Introduction to Collections Management
January 2014 Courses
Disaster Preparation and Prevention
Upcoming Classes
January 6, 2014


MS103: The Basics of Museums Registration   


MS104: An Introduction to Collections Preservation    


MS219: Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums    


MS228: Care of Paper Artifacts


MS235: Scripting the Exhibition


MS242: Museum Microclimates


February 3, 2014


MS213: Museum Artifacts: How they were made and how they deteriorate   


MS227: Care of Paintings    


MS236: Education in Museums    


MS238: Design and Construction of Exhibit Mounts


MS266: Legal Issues in Collection Management


February 10, 2014


MS002: Collection Protection - Are You Prepared?   


MS008: Buy In: Getting All of Staff to Support Preservation


CCI Fabric of an Exhibition: An Interdisciplinary Approach
Fabric of an Exhibition: An Interdisciplinary Approach
CCI Fabric of an Exhibition: An Interdisciplinary Approach
CCI Fabric of an Exhibition: An Interdisciplinary Approach - Preprints by various authors. 26 papers that offer new solutions to problems encountered when exhibiting textiles. Topics range from temporary to long-term displays, exhibition environments, historic houses, traveling exhibits, support and presentation, and expanding professional roles. 206 pp..

Regional Workshops 

Where you can find some of our instructors this year:  

Susan Duhl & Helen Alten

The Disaster Plan at Greek Cultural institutions

Susan Duhl 

  • March 2014 (date to be determined)  Guidelines for Disaster Responders in Cultural Institutions, Delaware Disaster Assistance Team

John Simmons

Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences  

  • "Integrated Pest Management for Cultural Institutions," 13 May 2014
Philadelphia History Museum 
  • "Exhibitions for Cultural Institutions" (with Julianne Snider), 07 October 2014
School of Library and Information Science at Kent State University 

On-line graduate workshop 07 April to 02 May 2014

  • "Museums and the Law"

On-line graduate classes 13 January to 05 April, 2014

  • "Museum Collections"
  • "Foundations of Museum Studies"

Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania

Undergraduate course 20 January to 06 May 2014

  • "Museum Education" (with Julianne Snider)

Forthcoming publications:

  • "Foundations of Museum Studies: Evolving Systems of Knowledge" with Dr. Kiersten F. Latham
  • "Fluid Preservation: A Comprehensive Reference"
  • "Collection Care and Management" in "Museum Practice," edited by Conal McCarthy
Karin Hostetter

National Association for Interpretation  

  • Jan. 21, 2014 1 - 2 pm (Mountain) webinar for National Association for Interpretation on Overview of Volunteer Program Management
  • Mar 18, 2014 1 - 2 pm (Mountain) webinar for National Association for Interpretation on evaluation for front line interpreters
  • May 6, 2014 1 - 2 pm (Mountain) webinar for National Association for Interpretation on some aspect on volunteer program management--specific topic still to be decided
  • Sept. 16, 2014 1 - 2 pm (Mountain) webinar for National Association for Interpretation on some aspect on volunteer program management--specific topic still to be decided

Conferences and Meetings


Renewal in the Renaissance City

Alabama Museums Association Annual Meeting
February 10-11, 2014, Florence, AL


American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting

May 18-21, 2014, Seattle, WA  


March 5-7, 2014, Napa, CA


Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums Annual Meeting

May 8-10, 2014, Cody, WY


Society For the Preservation of Natural History Collections Annual Meeting

June 22-28, 2014, Cardiff, Wales, UK


Association of Midwest Museums Annual Meeting

July 14-17, 2014, St. Louis, MO


Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts, 2014 AASLH Annual Meeting

September 17-20. 2014. St. Paul, MN    


Mountain-Plains Museums Association Annual Meeting

September 28 - October 2, 2014, Aspen, CO


Western Museums Association Annual Meeting

October 5-8, 2014, Las Vegas, NV


Southeast Association of Museums Annual Meeting

October 20-22, 2014, Knoxville, TN


New England Association of Museums Annual Meeting

November 19-21, 2014, Cambridge, NA

Submissions and Comments


How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  

If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to  


We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 


Have a comment or suggestion?   


Send it to

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Northern States Conservation Center

Online courses in museum studies

About Us

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
2014 On-line Course Schedule Released

We have just released the 2014 course schedule for Several new courses have been added to the schedule this year including Formative Evaluation, Museum Storage Techniques, Disaster Preparation and Recovery, and Museum Ethics.

Our popular course An Introduction to Collections Preservation will now be taught more frequently because we feel it is an important foundation for many of our Collections Management and Care courses.

There may be more courses added to the 2014 schedule in the next couple of months so come back and check.
End of Year Course Sale

Buy one 2014 course before December 31, 2013 and received 5% off the regular price!

Buy two or more 2014 courses before December 31, 2013 and receive 10% off!

The Genius of Omission

By Karin Hostetter


Saying less is saying more. And starting out with the right steps is a good way to say less.  


"There is so much to say and so little space to say it." This is a common sentiment expressed time and again in the text development stage of a new exhibition. Curators and researchers spend lifetimes gathering content for exhibits and it is all important. So it follows that this important information should be shared with the visitors. The problem is that visitors can absorb only so much new content at one time.


Step 1: Determine your visitor experience
Assign visitor goals to the exhibition, limiting these to two or three. Do you want visitors to know some specific content? Do you want them to feel differently? Do you want them to take some kind of action after experiencing the exhibit? Having an exhibit team agree on two to three goals for an exhibition can be frustrating, but it is good team building and always results in a better exhibit.  


Step 2: Develop an exhibition theme
Themes are not topics. Themes are a complete sentence which grab the visitor and make them want to learn more. It contains the main idea of what you want visitors to experience as determined by the goals. Topics are a word or phrase which describe generally what the exhibition is about. A topic is "frogs" while a theme would be "frogs predict the future." Themes need to be specific without being limiting. In "frogs predict the future," text might unveil the food sources of frogs, the pesticide chain, their sensitivity to environmental changes, their life cycle, etc. In each case, any text written on these sub-topics would relate back to the general concept that frogs respond to the environment and their rise or decline in populations is an indicator on the health and future of an area.


Each exhibition should have an overarching theme which ties the goals together. Each section of the exhibition or each exhibit within the exhibition can have its own subtheme, a little more specific than the overall theme, but still related to it and to one of the identified goals.  


Step 3: Write and Edit
The greatest value of a theme is in telling writers what to omit. If information does not support the theme, it should be saved for some other time or program. George Miller's research in 1956 still stands the scrutiny of science today. He found that on the average, the human brain is capable of making sense out of 7 +/- 2 separate and new ideas at one time. The brain needs around two hours to process new information before it can take in more new concepts. Since visitors to a museum are primarily there for recreation purposes and not prepared to work hard at learning, not to mention many do not stay for two hours, we should gear our exhibit interpretation toward the "minus" end of this "rule" or no more than five new distinct and separate ideas.  


"Separate and distinct ideas" in this case would be each sub-theme under our overarching exhibition theme. Illustrating each separate concept with a variety of examples and in a variety of ways drives the theme into the visitor's brain and offers opportunities to share content. Just keep in mind that once five or so new concepts have been introduced, visitors have to dump out the first one to make room for the new one or, alternately, the new concept is just words and spills out before it ever gets "captured" and processed by the brain.

Exhibition texts which say less really do lead to saying more in the long run. Having the genius to be brave and omit information leads to a more meaningful visitor experience

Check out Scripting the Exhibition coming January  6-31, 2014  for more information. 


Karin Hostetter has over thirty years experience with museum education. With a career that includes natural history museums, cultural history museums (including first person interpretation), nature centers, and zoos, Ms. Hostetter is experienced in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and staff and volunteer training. Ms. Hostetter is owner of Interpret This, a consulting company specializing in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and volunteer program management. When she is not consulting with other museums, she likes to volunteer and contract teach at them with a special love for preschool and family programs.

Resources: Ham, Sam. Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide, Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, CO. 1992.


Miller, George. The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Psychological Review 63(2):81-97. 1956.

Introduction to Collections Management

By Peggy Schaller


Collections Management is a critical component of running a Museum. Most museums have collections and these collections are what drive all the public functions and activities of the institution. There are, of course, non-collecting institutions; however, most museums have collections of one sort or another and must effectively manage them or they are not properly performing their stewardship and public trust responsibilities.


What does Collections Management consist of?


Collections Management is the physical management of the items in your museum. The physical care of these items involves proper storage and handling and maintaining a proper environment to keep them from deteriorating. Knowing where everything is and being able to find it quickly when necessary is also part of the physical care of your collection.


Collections Management is also the intellectual management of the items in your museum. Intellectual management is the documentation that records the physical description, condition, and the importance of each item in the collection. You need to collect and record the individual history of these pieces and how they relate to the purpose of the museum--its Mission. Part of this intellectual management is to have policies and procedures in place so that the museum collects only what is important to its Mission and the purpose it was defined to accomplish. Collections Management policies begin and end with the Mission, as do all policies and activities of the museum. Having a policy to guide what the museum collects--The Collection Policy--is critical to making sure the museum does not collect unrelated material. No museum has extra space for storing stuff so we must be vigilant about the materials we bring in--why is this particular object important for our museum; what is its story and its relationship to the story we are trying to tell? Museums also need to have a policy that explains the way things will come into the museum--The Acquisition Policy. These along with the mission are the primary policies this course will focus on.


Creating the documentation for each object in the collection involves registration, cataloging and inventories. Each of these activities is critical to the complete documentation of your collection. Maintaining this documentation can be done through traditional catalog cards and paper records or it can be computerized. It is important to remember that computerized collections documentation is only as good as the data that is created and entered into the database.


The methodology and information to be recorded for each item brought into the collection; the policies that will govern what is brought into the collection and how; and the most important piece of institutional policy--The Museum Mission Statement are all assembled into the Collections Management 'bible'--the Registration Manual.


Excerpt from The Basics of Museum Registration 


Peggy Schaller, founded Collections Research for Museums in 1991 to provide cataloging, collection-management training and services. She has worked with a large variety of museums and collections for more than 20 years. She provides workshops and project services to museums and historical societies all across the country.


January 2014 Courses  


MS103: The Basics of Museum Registration

Instructor: Peggy Schaller

January 6 - 31, 2014


Collections management is a critical component of running a museum. Most museums have collections and these collections drive the public functions and activities of the institution. Collections management is the physical and intellectual management of these items. In this course we will examine how information is collected and recorded for each object brought into the collection - a process called registration. We will also examine the policies that govern what is brought into the collection, including the most important piece of institutional policy--the museum mission statement. These policies are assembled into the collections management 'bible'--the registration manual. At the end of this course you should have a clear understanding of how and why collections are documented in museums and the governing principles that drive daily museum activities.


MS104: An Introduction to Collections Preservation
Instructors: Gretchen Anderson & Helen Alten 

Jan 6 - Jan 31, 2014 


Every museum professional needs a solid foundation in preservation principles and techniques. Introduction to Collections Preservation provides an overview of current preservation issues from environmental monitoring to collection cleaning, exhibit mounts and storage furniture. Participants learn about every aspect of the modern museum and how the building, staff and fixtures affect preservation. Subjects include the agents of deterioration, risk management, object handling and transport, object labeling, exhibit lighting, security, emergency preparedness, materials for storage and display, storage and exhibit philosophies, and condition assessments.


MS219: Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums

Instructor:   Fiona Graham

Jan 6 - Jan 31, 2014 


The seasonal closure of a museum presents unique challenges and opportunities for collection preservation. This is an introductory-level conservation course exploring simple collection preservation methods for seasonal museums. The target Audience for the course is curators and other museum personnel, volunteers, site managers, maintenance personnel. No prior conservation training necessary. Participants will learn about the challenges and opportunities associated with caring for collections in seasonal facilities. They will learn about the risks to collections and how to mitigate them through closing and re-opening procedures, as well as throughout the winter season.


MS228: Care of Paper Artifacts
Instructor: Susan Duhl

Jan 6 - Jan 31, 2014 


Care of Paper provides an introduction to the materials and techniques of papermaking, how paper use and the agents of deterioration affect paper's longevity, and how to improve storage and exhibit to increase that longevity. The course covers all paper types, including archival materials such as books and manuscripts, art on paper, oriental paper, western paper and 3-D paper. The course is designed for librarians, archivists, curators, collection managers and those interested in paper and its care.


MS235: Scripting the Exhibition
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
Jan 6 - Jan 31, 2014 


So much to say and so little space in which to say it. That is the dilemma when scripting an exhibition. How do you say what needs to be said in the space available? How do you even figure out how to limit the information in the first place? Discover the value of themes, tangibles, intangibles, and universals in writing exhibit text that visitors really want to read - and remember. Additional resources provided on font size and colors as well as label layout.


MS242: Museum Microclimates
Instructor: Jerry Shiner
Jan 6 - Jan 31, 2014 


A microclimate is the environment immediately surrounding an artifact. Microclimates designed for optimum storage, display, or treatment conditions can be created and maintained in showcases, storage cabinets, rooms, or plastic bags. This course covers the basics of creating and maintaining microclimates, including discussions of suitable enclosures and appropriate means of controlling humidity, temperature, pollution, and oxygen. Learn what constitutes a microclimate, how to use silica gel and other environmental control materials, how to reduce internally generated pollutants, and techniques for monitoring the microclimate you have created.

Introducing one of the New Courses for 2014


Disaster Preparation and Prevention

By Susan Duhl  

Disasters happen. Irreparable damages and financial losses can result from disasters of all sizes: small disasters like home water pipe leaks, or large disasters like weather incidents, can cause to homes, businesses, cultural institutions, and people. Many disasters can be avoided or minimized with a preemptive assessment of potential hazards, pre-disaster planning and preparation, and systematic recovery after an event. Understanding the kinds of property that need to be protected (buildings, furnishings, artwork, etc.), the ways in which those items can be best protected, and the priorities and techniques for salvage after an incident can safeguard cultural assets and human safety.


Undertaking a self-assessment, or using professional building and disaster response professionals will identify potential problems specific to local geography, weather, building structures, and contents protection. Preservation conservators, fire and police departments, alarm companies, disaster response companies, insurance agencies, and home inspectors can all contribute to identifying potential problems and implementing prevention actions.


Planning ahead and being prepared will save physical and financial loss, and more importantly, improve the psychological response of the people involved. Advance planning and preparations include: getting trained in disaster response; identifying people, local resources, response actions, and safety procedures to assist in event of a disaster; creating phone lists and supply kits; and setting up the building or storage facility to maximize protection from disasters.


Sound structures and mechanical systems are important components of protecting building contents. Building repairs and regular maintenance are excellent protective measures. Thoughtful placement, storage, and installation of art, personal possessions, and home furnishings can protect valuable items in case of disaster. Every region has specific weather issues and awareness of seasonal weather can give advance warning and time to prepare. Buildings can be a source of protection or potential disaster.


Understanding and undertaking a logical sequence of response actions will protect people and personal property of all types. Human safety is the first priority. Recovery and salvage property is best done in a pre-determine priority order. Vulnerable items include those that are: financially, artistically, historically, or sentimentally important; items made from organic materials (paper, textiles, paintings, wood, etc); and items that are fragile before the disaster event.


Introduction to Disaster Assessment, Prevention, and Recovery 

November 3-28, 2014. Instructors Helen Alten and Susan Duhl. 


Susan Duhl is an Art Conservator in private practice specializing in art on paper and archival collections. She provides workshops, preservation consultations and conservation treatment to institutions and private individuals throughout the world. Susan treats works on paper, including prints, watercolors, drawings, wallpaper, documents, and 3-dimensional paper objects. Her work includes disaster response and recovery, consultations and collection surveys to determine condition, treatment and long-term care recommendations, and helping clients prioritize treatment needs.
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.


Helen Alten, Director

Brad Bredehoft, Sales and Technology Manager

Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager 

P.O. Box 8081, St. Paul, MN 55108   Phone: (651) 659-9420

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Updated 24 January 2012