Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (December 13, 2010)
December 13, 2010
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center
The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Starting Right:
 Insights from Our Instructors

In This Issue
Conservation Assessment Program
Starting a New Museum
Preservation from the Start
Getting Ready in Indian Country
Costume Grants
10% off all 2011 Courses
Until December 15, 2010 receive 10% off on any 2011 class purchased from

Limited Offer

Upcoming Classes

Jan 24, 2011
MS 008: Buy In: Getting Staff to Support Preservation

Join Our Mailing List
Publications by Our Instructors
Promoting the exchange of knowledge in the museum field

John E. Simmons is best known for his book Things Great and Small: Collections Management Policies (2006). He runs Museologica, an independent consulting company. He has a B.S. in Systematics and Ecology and a Master's degree in Historical Administration and Museum Studies. He served as Director of the University of Kansas' Museum Studies Program until 2007.

John works extensively in Latin America and has two on-line publications in Spanish. The first is
a book on care of natural history collections: "Cuidado, Manejo y Conservaci=F3n de las Colecciones Biol=F3gicas"

John and his wife presented a faculty seminar at the Universidad Nacional in Bogota in 2009 on using works on paper to determine how natural history specimens were prepared. It is available online: Simmons, J. and J. Snider. 2010. Ciencia y arte en la ilustraci=F3n cient=EDfica. Cuadernos de Museolog=EDa, 40 pp. Sistema de Patrimonio Cultural y Museos, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Bogot=E1

The Conservation Assessment Program
Deadline January 21, 2011

The Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) is a federal grant administered by Heritage Preservation for the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Applying is easy and grants area awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The small grant provides funds to bring a conservator to your site to assess your collection and assist you in establishing care priorities. If you are in an historic building, the grant will pay for an architect and a conservator. Once you have an assessment, you can use the report to apply for other grants to address the needs identified in the report. The assessment visit often serves as a way to educate staff and board members on the needs of the collection and the importance of good care.

CAP provides small to mid-sized museums of all types, from art museums to zoos, with a general conservation assessment of their collections, environmental conditions, and facilities. Forms for applying to CAP are now available at An online form version of the application is also available, at The postmark deadline for submitting applications is midnight, January 21, 2011.

Program participants may start planning their assessments as early as January 1, 2011, making it possible for museums to get feedback on their collections and historic structures without delay. For more information, call Sara Gonzales, CAP Coordinator at 202-233-0831 or 202-233-0800 or email

Heritage Preservation's CAP is supported through a cooperative agreement with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
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About Us

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. This issue is devoted to starting right, no matter what the project. It 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.
Starting a New Museum
by Peggy Schaller

There's a lot to consider when you start a museum. These must include:

Mission Statement

What is the purpose of the museum?
What is your unique identity?
What is it you want to be?

The mission should be easy to remember and easy to share.  It can be one sentence or longer, with at least one core statement or idea that summarizes the purpose and identity of the museum.  It can have many supporting documents, such as:

Vision Statement

What is your vision for this museum? 
How do you envision fitting into your community?
How do you want to be perceived by the community and beyond?


What are your goals for the museum?
What do you hope to accomplish?

Goals can change over time. Or they can be be broad, static goals that help define the museum. They can be part of the strategic planning process as tasks to accomplish and then be replaced with other goals as you move through them. Static goals will remain with the museum permanently and be addressed by daily activities.

Target Audience

For whom is this museum being created? The community, school groups, tourists, surrounding communities, your small group of friends? Who do you want to come to the museum?

Audience Goals

How do you plan to reach your audience?
What do you hope that they will take away from the museum?


What services or programs will the museum provide?
Education? (Adult Programs, School programs, Other children's programs)
Lectures and talks?
Traveling trunks of objects for schools?

What resources can/will the museum provide? Museums are resources and contain a vast amount of information. How will the museum make that accessible?

Interpretive Themes

What are the stories you are trying to tell?

Peggy Schaller is instructor for MS 007: The Mission Statement, MS 103: The Basics of Museum Registration, MS 207: Cataloging Your Collection, and MS 218: Collection Inventories.  Ms. Schaller, founded Collections Research for Museums in 1991 to provide cataloging and collection-management training and services. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology with minors in art history and geology from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She has a master's degree in anthropology with a minor in museum studies from the University of Colorado in Boulder and is a Certified Institutional Protection Manager II. She provides workshops and project services to museums and historical societies across the US.

Endowments from the Start
by Karl Hoerig

Start endowment building from day one. Municipal funding or large donation to establish a facility? Try to direct some of that money to seed a permanent endowment. The closer you can get to self-sustaining from the start, the more you will be able to put into operations and programming in the future.

For more information on endowments, read How to Start an Endowment for Your Non-Profit.

Karl Hoerig is director of Nohwike' B=E1gowa (House of Our Footprints), the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum, in Fort Apache, Arizona. The position requires multifaceted involvement in the community, a mix of museum tasks, heritage promotion, cultural heritage resource protection and management, capacity building, economic development and enhancing sovereignty. Karl Hoerig has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Arizona. Karl is the instructor for MS 254: Retail Store Management for Small Museums.

Starting Right with  Microclimates 
by Jerry Shiner

If you have a museum, you will have microclimates. Any enclosed space, be it a glazed picture frame, showcase, storage cabinet, workroom or gallery will have its own characteristic set of environmental behaviors, commonly referred to as a microclimate.  Understanding the relationships of humidity and temperature, and remaining vigilant for their effects will help you protect your collection, and save you money.

Climate control in a museum, gallery or archive is often the lion's share of operating costs. As a rule, the closer you get to optimal conditions, the higher your environmental control costs will be. By maximizing your efforts to maintain acceptable conditions in your microclimates, you can usually relax environmental control limits for your larger museum spaces, and substantially lower your operating costs.

Microclimate control need not be expensive: state-of-the-art options available include whole gallery microclimate generators, and

oxygen-free picture frames and showcases. But solutions can be as simple as improving your enclosure sealing and adding PROSorb

Pro Sorb cassette
ProSorb cassette goes into exhibit cases to control relative humidity fluctuations.

or other silica gel.  All you really need are a few inexpensive measuring devices and some basic understanding of the effects of humidity, temperature, and pollution in enclosed spaces. In this case, a little knowledge can be a very useful thing.

Further Reading:

Museum Microclimates, 2007 Copenhagen Conference

Jerry Shiner teaches MS 242: Museum Microclimates. He has extensive expertise in active and passive methods of mitigating and controlling humidity, temperature, pollution, and oxygen levels for display and storage enclosures. He works with architects, engineers, and conservators to design local and central systems. As founder of Keepsafe Microclimate Systems he has provided hundreds of active and passive solutions for low oxygen treatment and storage (anoxia), and showcase humidity and temperature control to museums in the US and Europe. 

Preservation from the Start
by Helen Alten

Preservation activities are not costly or time consuming if they are part of your planning from the start. Let me give you an example:

A group of people in a small Iowa town wanted to start a museum.  They had acquired an empty Carnegie library building and begun fundraising. They bought one hour of my time during their planning process. Walking through the empty building I pointed out sources of damage - the windows, dust, mice droppings. We discussed the 10 Agents of Deterioration and brainstormed how to limit their impact in display and storage areas.

I returned many months later for the grand opening. It was a delight to view their solutions. Exhibit cases made from old oak bookcases met preservation standards. They replaced wood shelves with glass, lined the interior with aluminum foil covered with a nice exhibit fabric, and fastened plexiglas to the front of the shelving. There were homemade plain cotton shims (stretched fabric) over the windows that gave a nice glow, but reduced visible light and eliminated UV light. It also eliminated a potential bright spot (windows) that would make the interior seem poorly lit. In a large open exhibit of circus miniatures, they covered the top of the area with a striped fabric to look like a circus big top. This limited dust inside, and lowered light levels. The fabric came right over the plexiglas side walls of the exhibit. It looked like it had been planned from the start, but I knew the original intent was for those miniatures to be on open display. I was comfortable in this small museum, something that is rare for me. But here, preservation, was part of the museum's consciousness from the start. And it showed.

Helen Alten teaches MS 104: Introduction to Collections Preservation, MS 201: Storage for Infinity, and MS 226: Care of Furniture and Wood along with 14 other online courses. She founded, and is the Director and Chief Objects Conservator of Northern States Conservation Center. She completed a degree in Archaeological Conservation and Materials Science from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in England. She has built and run conservation laboratories in Bulgaria, Montana, Greece, Alaska, Minnesota, and West Virginia. She lectures throughout the United States on collection care topics.
Getting Ready in Indian Country

Emergency Preparedness and Response for
Native American Cultural Resources

In recent years, emergency preparedness has become an increasingly important focus for historic sites and cultural institutions alike. The number of information resources, planning tools, and model practices has been increasing. But some tribal cultural organizations and heritage caretakers still lack access to the resources and relationships that would help them become well prepared for any emergency.

Getting Ready in Indian Country is an invitation to consider emergency preparedness specifically for Native American interests. Developed by Heritage Preservation with support from the National Park Service and the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance of the Department of the Interior, this new initiative is intended to advance emergency preparedness, stimulate discussion, and inspire new projects for the care and protection of tribal heritage. It has three parts:

  • A brief Report offers a national overview of the issues and suggests ways to better protect tribal cultural heritage from disasters. The recommendations cover funding, capacity-building, outreach, research needs, and relationships with emergency management agencies.
  • The online Inventory of Disaster Resources for cultural heritage provides access to a wide variety of materials on the protection of cultural heritage, emergency management practice and policies, and tribal programs.
  • Preparedness Discussion Questions for tribal archives, museums, libraries, and culture centers are designed to spark conversations on getting ready for emergencies. The six basic questions can be used at tribal gatherings, workshops, or staff meetings.

The primary audiences for Getting Ready in Indian Country are the Native Americans who are the stewards of their peoples' heritage and the non-native cultural community, public safety officials, and agencies that provide services and funding for tribal projects.

Getting Ready in Indian Country was developed by Heritage Preservation, Inc., on behalf of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, with a grant from the National Park Service and with support and guidance from the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance, U.S. Department of the Interior.
costume society logo
Grants to Support Costume in Small Museums
February 1 Deadline

The Costume Society of America's Small Museums Collection Care Grants are intended to assist the costume and textiles collections of small museums (including historical societies, historic houses or sites, and other similar institutions) that have very limited budget and staff. Funding may be used to support the care, conservation, and/or exhibition of costume and textiles that have historic, regional, or other significance and are intended for preservation.

Up to two $1,500.00 grants to support costume in small museums are awarded annually. These Grants, first awarded in 2003, may be used for appropriate supplies or display items, the services of a consultant or specialist, or other projects that relate directly to the institution's costume collection and foster the care or use of the collection at a level appropriate to the particular collection's most pressing needs.

Completed applications and relevant documentation must be postmarked by February 1.  More information and the application form are on the Costume Society of America website.

Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Brad Bredehoft, Sales and Technology Manager

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

© 2002 Northern States Conservation Center

Updated 11 May 2002