Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (December 21, 2011)
December 21, 2011  
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Designing for the Future     
In This Issue
Scholarship Opportunity
Regional Workshops
Holiday Reading
2012 Course Schedule
Upcoming Classes


January 9, 2012


MS 101: Introduction to Museums 


MS 104: An Introduction to Collections Preservation 


MS 107: Introduction to Museum Security 


MS 208: Applying Numbers to Collection Objects 


MS 226: Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts 


MS 235: Scripting the Exhibition  


January 23, 2012


MS 008: Buy_In: Getting All of Staff to Support Preservation 



February 6, 2012


MS 209: Collection Management Policies 


MS 213: Museum Artifacts 


MS 227: Care of Paintings 


MS 228: Care of Paper Artifacts 


MS 236: Education in Museums 


MS 242: Museum Microclimates 


MS 265: The Green Museum: Introduction to Environmental Sustainability in Museums   


MS 302: Fundraising and Grant Writing  


MS 303: Found in the Collection  


February 13, 2012


MS 002: Collection Protection 


Scholarship Opportunity


Beginning in January 2012 the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (ICPC) will be offering a reimbursement scholarship to Northern States Conservation Center's online classes.


The scholarship for ICPC members is available to Iowa residents working in a Museum, Historical Society, Library, Archive, Genealogical Society Library, Government Record Office or other institution that preserves the history of Iowa.


We will post a link to the scholarship application when it becomes available.


Want a scholarship but are not a member of ICPC? Other museum service organizations could provide similar services. We would be happy to work with your regional organization to make this happen.

Regional Workshops
Where you can find some of our instructors this year.

Gawain Weaver

Photograph Care and Identification Workshops

  • Feb 21-24: Los Angeles, CA
  • Mar 26-29: New York, NY
  • Apr 23-26: Can Francisco, CA
  • Jul 16-19: Austin, TX
  • Sep 17-20: Philadelphia, PA
  • Oct 15-18: Atlanta, GA   

Peggy Schaller

Collections Management Boot Camp 

  • May 14-18 2012: Estes Park, CO
Holiday Reading

The Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, has created a best seller that clarifies why most of us love working in museums. A History of The World in 100 Objects is long enough to fill the time between Christmas and the New Year, giving you ammunition for the next time someone asks, "Why do you have all this stuff?" From an Olduvai hand axe to a solar powered lamp and charger, the history of man is described through his material culture detritus. The Economist calls it "A book to savour and start over." Andrew Roberts of the Financial Times writes "MacGregor demonstrates the power of objects to recover the place in history of lost civilisations."
The book is full of wonderful tidbits and pulls together the work of hundreds of scholars. From early on in the book, MacGregor writes about the Olduvai hand axe. "...this chipped stone tool may hold the secret of speech... scientists have looked at what happens neurologically when a stone tool is being made... Surprisingly, the areas of the modern brain that you use when you're making a handaxe overlap considerably with those you use when you speak. It now seems very likely that if you can shape a stone you can shape a sentence." The book is peppered with informational tidbits and gems. MacGregor ends with this intriguing thought, discussing artifacts used in Antartica "...the paradox of man the toolmaker: it is things we make that allow us to dominate our environment, and then we come to be totally dependent on them for survival."

A History of the World in 100 Objects is also a brilliant piece of museum marketing. It was a successful BBC radio show (still available online), spawned a sought-after exhibit, a web-site and promotes the British Museum and its holdings. Don't you wish you had thought of it?

Buy it, read it, savor it. Happy Holidays from all of us at Northern States Conservation Center. 
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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.
10% off courses ordered in 2011
 for 2012


Buy any 2012 classes courses before the end of 2011 from and receive 10% off.
Importance of Groundwork

by Helen Alten   


With a new year around the corner, what have we accomplished and where we are going? How do you build a museum that is a community asset and, if you are ambitious, a national treasure? What makes the Chicago Art Museum different from the Wright County Historical Society? Are collections the only reason they are different?

Clearly, knowing who you are and what you want to be are critical to creating exhibits, programs, fundraising and marketing - the public face of your museum. Your mission statement guides everything you do. Vision, goals, dreams. Do you want to be an international star? Are you interested in improving your local community? Are you a vehicle for preservation? What function does your museum play in quality of life for your city or region?

If you know who you are, you can make a case for funding. "Making the ask" is all about selling who you are. Start with your elevator speech. What would you say to someone you met in an elevator? What are the crucial points about your institution? What sells it? Know your mission statement and know the three main ways you meet it. Government funding is often the best way to get sustainable support for your institution. If you have become an intrinsic part of your community's life, then asking the city, county or state for financial support should be easy. As with any funding, you need to ask. The best is getting a piece of the tax pie. Half a percent equals a lot of money, if the voters agree to it. Most of the biggest and best known museums got that way because they were included in the community tax rolls. Once on, I have never seen a museum taken off the tax rolls. And once you are on, you don't need to beg at every city council meeting, which is a big relief. Fiscal stability gives you time to plan for better programs and exhibits and to build the collection that supports them.

The function and purpose of museums changes with our society and its needs and mores. For example, what is the purpose of a museum being open 9 to 5 if most of the people in your community work during those hours? Some museums have experimented with evening hours.
Matropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art has evening hours on Friday and Saturday.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York managed to make themselves an attraction for single professionals during their evening hours, which are on Friday and Saturday night. It makes for an inexpensive date night and a great place to meet other singles. Smaller institutions hold evening lecture series or professional development opportunities, catering to working adults. Being open early mornings makes you a venue for small children and their caregivers. This is another population that is desperate for things to do that are safe, fun and allow for exploration and learning. Young children awaken early and nap around 10 a.m. A few months later, they nap after lunch, having the energy to go all morning without stopping. By age 2 1/2 naps are fading out for many children, with crankiness the norm until they adjust to their new no-nap life. Thus, early morning activities that allow for movement are best for most young children. If your community is primarily older folks, then daytime hours are best. Many times, older visitors prefer not to drive after dark. If they are retired, they have time during the day to volunteer or visit a museum. Some communities, such as Alaska in the summer, cater to hordes of visitors, many of whom are retired. Again, daylight hours work for them.

Assessing who you are, what you have to offer and what you want to accomplish takes good community and self analysis followed by thoughtful planning. The groundwork for a stellar museum. The American Association of Museums Museum Assessment Program is one way that smaller institutions can gather information about themselves and their community. The program pays for consultants who analyze different aspects of the museum and provide a summary report. This information becomes the foundation for building your future dreams.

Another essential groundwork element is good staffing. The creativity, vision and energy of your staff make your museum shine. What motivates these people? Most museum folks don't work for the money, although pay should be enough for them to support themselves and their family. If you don't offer benefits and a retirement option, those should be added to your long range goals. Good staff should be kept happy and given the security that allows them to plan for the museum's advancement and future. How can you keep their skills current, meeting the profession's standards? Staff should be receptive to training opportunities and new ideas rather than protective of their turf. A professional library should be available with a budget for adding current publications. Insisting staff join professional organizations, either regional groups or national groups, also makes them keep their skills current. For many small museums, these are pipe dreams. However, they are important pipe dreams. Part of that strong foundation on which stellar museums are built.

The collection, which is the heart of a museum and defines its purpose and existence, should meet the mission and goals of the institution. It is built through staff knowledge and persistence. Self-analysis shows where there are gaps and where there are strengths. The self-aware museum doesn't allow just anything into its collection. The collection is purposely built. This takes a museum-savvy staff and a well though out Collections Policy. As the museum gains in reputation, the collection becomes more amazing. Building a museum and its collection is an example of circular reasoning - raise money, put on programs, build a nice building, become more visible and more people want to house their collections with you, trusting that you will care for them into the future. With nicer collections you have better exhibits, better research opportunities and more program material, which in turn improves your reputation and helps you raise more money and acquire more collection items.

Remember, an important part of acquisition is long-term care. Good care means those items are accessible for all your programs. Poor care means you lose them - it is as debilitating as theft. Poor care also means you waste money and resources, because you end up purchasing and acquiring more items to fill your needs. If you use items that are in poor condition, you get a poor reputation. Listen to your community, if they think you are a junkyard posing as a museum, then you have some work to do. Dust, cobwebs and other signs of neglect have no place in stellar museum. Your collection should be cared for and showcased like jewels. Because your collection is your most important asset. The jewels in your crown.

Helen Alten is the founder of Northern States Conservation Center and an objects conservator with 30 years experience. She has been working with small museums throughout the US for over 20 years. Helen teaches many courses for including MS104: An Introduction to Collections Preservation, MS 208: Applying Numbers to Collection Objects, MS 213: Museum Artifacts, and MS 302: Fundraising and Grant writing.
2012 Course Schedule Released 

Many Exciting New Courses Available     


Northern States released the 2012 course schedule for Museum Classes in early December. Several new courses were added this year.


Education and Exhibits

We are expanding our education and exhibits offerings with two new long courses and one short course. For those working with volunteers, Karin Hostetter developed a new course about the Museum Volunteer Handbook. MS259 Fundamentals of Museum Volunteer Programs II - The Volunteer Handbook is a follow on course to the Fundamentals of Museum Volunteer Programs course that Karin has been teaching for several years. Karin adds a short course on education collections. This one-week course, MS014 Education Collections, discusses what is in an education collection and how it is used in educational programming.  


Lin Nelson-Mayson, former Director of ExhibitsUSA, shares her knowledge in MS244 Traveling Exhibits where she covers the essential elements of every traveling exhibit. Traveling exhibits are one way for your museum to further its community reach. Some museums use them as a revenue generator as well.    

Museum Management   

Claudia Nicholson stepped into the Northstar Museum of Scouting as its first professional staff two years into its conception. After a career in national and state museums, she has now built a museum from the ground up. MS256 Establishing a Museum gives the basics, with the practicality of someone who has done it. A new museum is like a new small business, it takes business acumen as well as strong museum skills. Claudia has successfully raised money and developed the exhibits and programs while keeping bathrooms cleaned - all part of the small museum's reality when there is just one staff person.


Saving energy, recycling paper, keeping your carbon footprint to a minimum. Being green is being responsible in the 21st century. And visitors notice if you are or are not. Sara Brophy, author of The Green Museum, offers her first online course, MS265: The Green Museum: Introduction to Environmental Sustainability in Museums.    


Books, magazines, newspapers, movies and TV news crews can put your museum in the limelight. People who have never visited you will know who you are if your images are splashed across their reading materials. Hopefully in a good way. But there are skills required to having photographers operating in your institution. First to get the best image. Second to avoid damaging the collection or harming people. Safe lighting, cord placement, and guidelines for avoiding heat build-up are all discussed in MS264 Motion and Still Photography in Museums and Historic Sites taught by David Harvey.


Just in time for Halloween, we offer a fun short course by David Harvey, MS013 Paranormal Investigations in Museums and Historic Sites. David has published and lectured on this topic at AAM. For those of you who hear bumps in the night, consider taking this course.

Collections Management and Care
Outdoor sculptures weather extremes that no other collection item must survive. Sculptures are also your most visible collections. Their care reflects on your institution and its public reputation. MS257 Care and Conservation of Outdoor Sculptures taught by objects conservator David Harvey, gives guidelines for long-term maintenance and care of outdoor sculptures.
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


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

© 2002 Northern States Conservation Center

Updated 11 May 2002