August 15, 2015      
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter


In This Issue
Storage Philosophy
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
Submissions and Comments
Painting Storage Simplified & Streamlined
Preparing for New Collection Storage Systems
September & October Courses

Announcing Early Bird Discounts for Full Length Courses


An Early Bird Discount will be available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  


Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and pay only $399.00!


For our course list or to sign up:  


To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at 


The Early Bird Discount deadline for October 2015 courses is September 7, 2015.

Upcoming Classes
September 7, 2015
October 5, 2015

October 12, 2015
October 26, 2015
Storage Philosophy
By Helen Alten
The collection is the heart of the museum and its single greatest asset. Storage is the collection's safe haven and must be as secure and environmentally stable as possible. Proper storage should provide easy access to the collection while keeping objects safe and secure. The keys are adequate security, proper environmental conditions, appropriate storage fixtures and proper packing and support of artifacts in storage.
Storage areas should be clean, well ventilated and properly illuminated. Temperature and humidity levels and air quality must be maintained and monitored regularly. Appropriate fire protection should be installed. Illumination should allow access to the collection without causing damage. While stored, items should be in the dark at all times.
How objects within storage areas are packed, supported and stored can be either beneficial or harmful. Often, this is where museums fail. Storage isn't sexy, making upgrades to storage a hard sell to funding sources. Conversely, exhibits are visible, tangible and understandable.
Storage Philosophy
Storage areas provide collection preservation as well as access. Ideally, the area should have a controlled environment, be filtered for dust or have the artifacts covered to protect from dust, and include furniture and storage supports made of inert materials. A clean storage area with open aisles is critical for access. Since carts and large objects need to move through storage areas, using disability guidelines will help plan for smooth artifact movement in countries that don't legally require that spaces be accessible. Design storage areas to make access easy for staff and researchers. The design also should make inventory control easy and allow the collection to be moved with minimal trouble.
Planning Storage
How much of your structure should be designated for storage? A general rule of thumb is 40:40:20. The space in the ideal museum is allocated 40 percent for exhibits: 40 percent for storage: and 20 percent for other functions (education, theater, corridors, staff offices). In general, museums that balance storage and exhibit space equally find it easier to store the collection without causing damage.
When planning a storage area, calculate the size of the collection today and in 20 years based on annual donation and acquisition levels. Then calculate storage furniture needs today and in 20 years. Location is critical. Think about staff, public and object movement. Think about environmental risks. Consider handling frequency and its purpose. Do you access collections regularly for exhibits or research?
Storage Room Basics
Collection storage rooms need good air circulation and stable temperature and relative humidity. Storage rooms should be accessible to disabled staff and visitors. The storage area should be negotiable by wheelchairs as well as carts full of artifacts. In the United States, one can't discriminate against hiring people with disabilities. Because storage is a semi-public area, it must meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They must be made secure by limiting access and issuing only a small number of keys. Storage rooms also should be easy to clean. Place items on rolling pallets or store off the floor to make cleaning easier. Lifting everything 3 to 6 inches (5 to 10 cm.) off the floor also lessens the possibility of insect and water damage to the collection. Finally, the storage room floor must be strong enough to bear the load of artifacts.
Store collections separately from non-collections material. Exhibit props, freezers, museum store items, publications, cleaning supplies, paints, lumber, trash cans, lawn mowers and gas cans need their own storage location far from the museum's collection. Food, live animals and dermestid colonies do not belong in storage either. New acquisitions should be placed in an isolation room and examined for pest infestations before entering the storage area. If infested, they will need to be treated. Finally, staff should not be housed in storage areas. Place staff offices outside secure storage areas, rather than inside them.
Arranging Storage
How should you arrange storage? A collection may be stored according to environmental requirements. Metal, for instance, needs a dry environment. Organic materials need higher relative humidity. Or you can store items by security. Gold would go in a vault; archeological stone waste flakes in less secure drawers. Other options include curatorial classifications such as natural history, size (all large items in a barn, small items in the main building), or by storage systems such as costume cabinets.
From a preservation standpoint, environmental considerations are primary when determining storage arrangements. Within each environmental area, store like objects together for ease of retrieval and comparative research.
Storage design should incorporate an area, just outside storage, where gloves, padding materials, aprons, footstools, carts, acid-free papers and boxes, and tags can be stored. Storage also should include areas with padded examining tables. Aisles and doors should be large enough to allow easy passage of carts and people carrying objects.
Excerpt from MS202 Museum Storage Facilities and Furniture one of three courses covering Museum Storage available from Northern States Conservation Center's The other two courses are: MS203 Museum Storage Techniques and MS204 Materials for Storage and Display all taught by Helen Alten.
Helen Alten founded Northern States Conservation Center 18 years ago and  http://www.museumclasses.org10 years ago. She is an objects conservator with a desire to bring about change through museums, improving our communities and the patrimony we leave to our off-spring.   
Cleaning Kit

For basic collection care work using any canister vacuum, preferably a high filtration unit such as our Atrix vacuum cleaners. Ideal for removing dust and dirt from incoming collections. Kit includes a soft dusting brush, an upholstery screen, vacuum cleaner micro-tools, small polyvinyl alcohol sponges, latex gloves and a cleaning instruction booklet.

Collections Labeling Kit 

Based on work by the AIC/AAM Joint Committee on Numbering, this kit provides three half ounce brush top bottles of different clear lacquers, two bottles of solvents, and bottles of black and white acrylic inks. Included are three different ink applicators: a fine brush, a quill pen and an empty COPIC marker. Three different pencils, two that are water soluble, samples of different tags and ties, and gloves also are included. A small booklet provides information on how to use each of the items in the kit.

Regional Workshops

Where you can find some of our instructors in 2015:

Stevan P. Layne
CIPS Regional Security Officer Certification Classes 
  • Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, September 17 and 18, 2015
CIPI Instructor Certification Class
  • Washington DC/Reston, VA, September 18-20, 2015
  • Disaster Preparedness for Cultural Institutions, San Jose, CA, October 24, 2015  
Gawain Weaver
The Care and Identification of Photographs
Photograph Conservation Workshop for Book and Paper Conservators

Conferences and Meetings


Society of American Archivists

Cleveland, OH

August 16-22, 2015.


American Association for State and Local History

Louisville, KY
September 16-19, 2015


Mountain-Plains Museums Association

Wichita, KS

September 27 - October 1, 2015


Southeastern Museums Conference

Jacksonville, FL

October 12 - 14, 2015


Western Museums Association

San Jose, CA

October 24-27, 2015


International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection

Hosted by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR and the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK   

October 27-31, 2015


New England Museum Association

Portland, ME

November 4-6, 2015


NAI National Workshop

Virginia Beach, VA
November 10-14, 2015 

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

Join Our Mailing List
Quick Links
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.
Painting Storage Simplified & Streamlined
By Patricia Ellenwood
Safe storage of collections has always been an intimidating and time-consuming proposition. Now PerfectFitTM, a new moving painting storage kit system, simplifies and streamlines that task by providing conservators and collectors with unparalleled control.  And that control was engineered-in from conception of the new system. 
PerfectFitTM is an ultra-stable, freestanding moving painting storage system that arrives as a kit. It's safe and simple to assemble. Two people can assemble it in a few hours, as no component weighs more than 30 pounds (13.6Kg).
Engineered from aerospace aluminum with no outgassing, PerfectFitTM not only makes collections eminently re-locatable, but transforms overlooked, problematic or impractical areas into usable space. Its ergonomic design provides the user with a solution for immediate, long term, and permanent storage. 
With moving units measuring 7' high x 8' wide, the Standard PerfectFitTM is, as the name implies, a perfect fit for tight environments.  It is available with 4, 5 and 6 units.  The Extended model is 10' wide and available with 9, 11, and 13 units.   The system height is shy of 8' for use in rooms at the standard 8' height.
PerfectFitTM from CSI is a wonderfully simple, precision-made system that includes many advanced engineering benefits found in its larger sister systems. It features extremely smooth operation with an upper active guidance that synchronously adjusts to floor irregularities.  The hanging surface is created from flattened and expanded diamond-pattern aluminum sheets. CSI's unique "S" hooks maximize the placement flexibility and eliminate horizontal movement.
What may be the most remarkable aspect of PerfectFitTM, is what is NOT needed:
  • No loading dock.  
  • No freight elevator. 
  • No special tools for assembly.
  • No special training. 
  • No attachment to ceiling.
  • No long term planning requirement.
  • No track. 
And no paint or applied finishes are involved.  Putting control in the hands of conservators and collectors, PerfectFitTM is not only for moving painting storage, but also for prints and rolled textiles as well.

Patricia Ellenwood is President of Crystalizations Systems, Inc. (CSI), the industry-leading designer and manufacturer of fine art storage systems for the international community of museums and galleries. For some 30 years she has focused her Long Island-based firm on providing effective art storage solutions on a global stage. To learn more about the PerfectFitTM System and Crystalization Systems, Inc.'s other storage solutions visit their website at
Preparing for New Collection Storage Systems
By Bill Schuster
In the over 25 years that I have been personally involved with assisting clients in assessing their storage requirements, I have found these helpful tips to be useful in the overall planning process. Some of these are common sense, but perhaps you will find a tip or two that you haven't considered in the past.
Your collection is valuable. When it comes to storing your collection, you want it done right. If you're installing new storage or upgrading old, below you'll find some important tips to help.
  1. Ensure proper storage specifications from the start. Stored object sizes and weights should be double-checked by more than one person.
  2. Review your expansion plan to avoid future storage limitations, and over-estimate storage space needed. Eliminating excess storage is easier than making room for unplanned storage.
  3. Consider using compact mobile shelving storage systems.   They can increase your storage capacity by up to 40%.
  4. Remember to plan for work surfaces in your cabinets or shelving where desired.
  5. Know load limitations for floors and/or ceilings (for hanging storage). Check with the building engineer or facility manager.
  6. Temporary transfer storage units may be necessary to store artifacts when units need cleaning or repair. If so, also consider the security needs of temporary storage.
  7. Request a mock-up, prototype or develop some type of review process to make sure you are getting exactly what you're looking for. Drawings are great but the real deal is better.
  8. Validate the quality control program for all potential suppliers. Ask for detailed reports on paint and other products the manufacturers will be supplying. Ensure nothing will produce off-gassing.
  9. If installing electrical compacting storage, electrical access points and capacities will be important. Coordinate with lighting, electrical and other trades as early as possible.
  10. Consider the effects of airflow from ventilation units when determining storage unit placement.
  11. Storage placement should promote access to important items during unplanned events such as fire or natural disaster.
  12. Double-check any potential installation obstructions such as ensuring storage units will fit into rooms with small doorways or low ceilings. Support columns and light switches can also be potential obstructions to preferred storage placement.
  13. Allow sufficient time for installation. Sometimes changes are desired after planning, and allowing for extra installation time helps accommodate these changes.
  14. Consult with other institutions that have upgraded or installed new storage systems. Visit other museums with collections similar to your own.
  15. Quality and economy are usually proportional, so choose the best vendor, not just the lowest price. Product warranties typically cover 10 years, but your collections last a lifetime.
Of course all of these "tips" are all a part of what we consider to be "standard and best practice" in preparing for new and expanding Collection Storage Systems. One such project occurred this past year with the expansion of the newly renovated Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising on the Campus of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO.
A variety of storage requirements were designed to all "co-exist" within an expanded storage footprint. Shown here are the 48 additional Viking Wardrobe Cabinets (together with the 48 existing) all housed on an Aurora Office 1000 Mechanical Assist High Density Mobile System, Viking custom sized flat files, and Aurora Art Bin Storage. Not shown are the Oversized Furniture Shelving Units, Open and Cabinet contained Rolled Textile Storage, and Aurora Quik- Door Archive Storage Units.
Aurora Office 1000 Mechanical Assist High Density Mobile System 
Viking custom sized flat files
Aurora Art Bin Storage
Many of the tips shown above were covered in the pre-planning process for this project. This resulted in a smooth and successful implementation of the various storage systems as described above. I would not say that in following these tips you will eliminate ALL challenges and issues associated with the expansion or replacement of your existing storage systems. However, if you adopt some or all of these practices this will result in a much smoother transition to your new collection storage system.
Bill Schuster, CRM, is President of Certified Business Services, Inc. a company specializing in Museum Collection's Storage Systems located in Centennial, CO. Certified Business Services is very involved with both Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA) and Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums (CWAM). Currently Bill's firm is the exclusive vendor supporting the MPMA Collection's Furniture and Storage Equipment CO-OP. For more information feel free to contact Bill Toll Free at 877.825.89782 or by email or visit them on the Web at .                                                
September Courses
MS 010: Condition Assessments
September 14 to 18, 2015
Instructor: Helen Alten
Whenever an object leaves or enters your museum, it should have a dated condition report completed. A condition report is so much more than "good" or "poor." Learn about different types of condition reports, what is essential and what is optional information in each, the function of a condition report, and how to use an online condition assessment tool.
September 7 to October 2, 2015
Instructor:  Helen Alten
Is your collection stacked, packed and stressed? Museum Storage Techniques has the solution. The course builds on its sister course, Museum Facilities and Furniture, which looks at the bigger storage environment.. The Museum Storage Techniques course emphasizes the needs of individual objects and collection groupings. Guidelines for specific materials are provided. Participants learn about storage materials and mounts and the most effective use of trays, drawers, shelves and cabinets.
September 7 to October 16, 2015
Instructor: Helen Alten
Cobwebs in the gallery, dust on the dinosaur skeleton, mice in storage - a dirty museum results in poor visitor experience and poor collections preservation. In a museum, cleanliness really is next to godliness. Museum Cleaning Basics explores everything you need to know about cleaning your collections. Participants learn when to clean - and when not to clean. They also learn how to make those decisions. Topics range from basic housekeeping to specific techniques for specific objects. You will learn why cleaning is important and how to prevent damage when cleaning. We will look at specific techniques that minimize damage while getting the work done. And we will discuss when to call in a specialist, such as a conservator. Students will create a housekeeping manual for their institution.
September 7 to October 2, 2015
Instructor: Diana Komejan
Outdoor sculpture, silver tea service, gold jewelry, axe head, wheel rim - metals are found in most museum collections and may be stored or displayed indoors or outdoors depending on the object. Learn how to identify different types of metal and their alloys. Gain an understanding of how and why metals deteriorate and methods for preventing deterioration from occurring or continuing. The pros and cons of different popular treatments will be covered along with recommendations for the least damaging approach to treatment. Care of Metals provides a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of metals, explaining the importance of the galvanic series and electrochemistry in care strategies. Starting with an overview of the history and function of metals and how they are made, the course will cover guidelines for handling, labeling, exhibiting and storing metals. An overview of treatments, including cleaning, used on metals and how appropriate they are for the long-term preservation of the metal object will help students make care decisions when consulting with conservators.
October Courses
October 5 to 30, 2015
Instructor: Helen Alten
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.
October 5 to November 13, 2015
Instructor:  TBA 
Nearly every museum develops exhibits, but how can we improve communication with visitors while taking care of our objects? Exhibit Fundamentals explores exhibits from idea to final installation in a variety of settings. Topics include exhibit theory, the role of the museum's mission, creating a timeline, accessibility and script writing. Also covered are design elements, installation techniques, object safety and security, visitor safety and evaluations. Each student develops an exhibit plan for his or her museum.
October 5 to November 6, 2015
Instructor:  Sue Near
Sound business practices are critical for a museum to fulfill its mission. Sounds like vegetables, right? Museum management is complex. A museum exists to preserve collections and educate, but it is also an institution that must employ sound business practices while being accountable to the public as a non-profit organization. Instructor Sue Near teaches participants how to administer a successful museum efficiently and effectively. Participants will engage in discussions about the changing cultural climate and its effect on museum operations.
October 5 to 30, 2015
Instructor: Helen Alten
Applying Numbers to Collection Objects covers the materials and methods of object numbering: registration, handling, labeling and marking, number placement, documentation, health and safety, transponders and barcodes, surface marks, inks, paints and barrier coats. Each participant receives a Northern States Conservation Center collections labeling kit and performs experiments using its contents. Participants learn to determine what pen, ink, barrier coat or tag is appropriate for each object and storage or display situation.
NEW DATES: October 12- November 20th
Instructor:  Victoria Montana Ryan
Caring for paintings requires some knowledge of the component structure of paintings and the reaction of those components to both natural and man-made environments. This course looks at the painting structure, the effects of damaging environments, and proposes simple steps for basic care. Topics include the structure of paintings, proper condition reporting with standard damage vocabulary, and basic care and handling including environments, storage, and transport. The course is intended to help those entrusted with the care of paintings in any environment.
October 5 to November 13, 2015
Instructor: Tom Bennett
Sprucing up your exhibits with safe, effective, inexpensive mounts can be easier and more fun than you thought. With a few tools, good technique and a bit of practice, you will be well on the way to presenting your objects in their most interesting light, with an eye on long-term safety and security. Design and Construction of Exhibit Mounts presents the basics of mountmaking for the small to medium-sized museum including tools, techniques and materials. Be prepared to construct mounts during the course. Students will be sent a list of materials and tools to acquire before the course commences. Come along and exercise your creative side while doing the collection a world of good.
October 19 to 23, 2015
Instructor: Diana Komejan
As we march boldly toward the 22nd century, artifact collecting includes that most fragile of materials - plastic. Not only is it in our collections, but it is used to house our collections, too. What problems have you seen? What problems have others seen? What materials are best? What can we, as caretakers, do to minimize long-term damage? Join Diana in this mini-course for discussing care and deterioration of plastics. Bring any questions you have about plastics in your museum.
October 26 to 30, 2015
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
What do you do with collection objects that no longer belong in the scientific collection but are too good to throw out? What do you do with the donations that just don't quite 'fit?' Use them in education collections. Their value as educational objects for the public is immeasurable.
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

Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager