Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (February 25, 2011)
February 25, 2011  
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center
The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

When Bad Things Happen 
In This Issue
Choosing Trustworthy Volunteers
Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan
Gift Store Security
Suspecting Pests
Security for Tribal Museums
Upcoming Classes
Feb 22, 2011
MS103: The Basics of Museum Registration

March 7, 2011

NA107: Introduction to Museum Security 


MS108: Fundamentals of Museum Volunteer Programs 


MS202: Museum Storage Facilities and Furniture 


MS205/6: Disaster Plan Research and Writing 


MS254: Museum Shop Management for Small Museums **NEW**


MS302: Fundraising for Collections Care 

March 21, 2011
MS 002: Collection Protection

Choosing Trustworthy Volunteers  

By Karin Hostetter and Gary Outlaw  


Interviewing potential volunteers is time-consuming, but proves invaluable. Interviews give staff a chance to meet prospective volunteers and allow the volunteer candidates a chance to ask questions in a face-to-face setting. Topics to address include requirements for the job (have the job description available again), firing policy and procedures, what the volunteer wants from the experience, and forms that will need to be signed. Depending on the organization, required forms might include a contract, release of liability, code of ethics, and permission for background checks.


Interview sessions should set the culture of the organization and help both the staff and the candidate decide whether an individual is suited. This is the final opportunity to weed out those that might not fit well in the program. Never feel you have to take everyone who wants to volunteer! Immediately before the interview is a good time to have each candidate fill out a general application with information on address, phone, emergency contact, criminal history, interests, hobbies, and job experience. The final statement on the form should be one that requires a signature and states that all information is true.


Criminal background checks are becoming more and more common, but they are expensive. Even if your organization does not require these checks, a question on the application combined with the final signature helps protect everyone. If an incident occurs later and a relevant criminal history is revealed, the "true information statement" provides some proof of an attempt to select individuals who have a history compatible with the volunteer work. Also remember that one criminal incident might disqualify a candidate from one type of volunteer work but not from another, depending on the policies of the organization.


Writing good interview questions takes practice. Begin by writing down what you want to know. Then write the questions.  Scenarios and "tell me about a time when..." are good openers. Avoid questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no."  If a human resources staff person is available, use him/her. Take draft questions and ask for help in revising them. Also, a human resources employee can help eliminate illegal questions. Try out the final questions on friends to see whether the answers are helpful in getting to know a candidate and making hiring decisions.


Spend time deciding who should be on the interview committee. One staff person can do the job, and this makes scheduling easier, but it is time consuming for that individual and also means that his/her preferences and biases persist in all selections. A committee of staff and volunteers works well but has the challenges of scheduling and consistency. Using volunteers shows them that the organization trusts them and values them enough to work side by side with staff on important issues. It also allows new recruits the possibility of recognizing one or two volunteers as soon as they begin working.


With careful recruitment and selection, the best possible volunteers are ready for training. 


Excerpt from "Nine Steps to a Better Volunteer Program, part 2 of 5," Legacy, March/April 2003 Pgs 40-43, 46.


Karin Hostetter and Gary Outlaw are trainers and writers with Interpret This.  Karin Hostetter teaches

MS 108: Fundamentals of Museum Volunteer Programs

Seeking Funds?

By Helen Alten 


If you want or need money, take a deep breath. It takes time. you can't rush into fundraising. First, compile the history of prior donors. They are most likely to continue funding your organization. Then research their current activities. Sectond, compile a list of people who have donated items to your collection. They have a vested interest in helping to preserve that collection. Establish a data management system - be it note cards, paper or on a computer - to sort and manage the information you are collecting. Third, begin researching new funding prospects. Funds might be available from government grants, foundations or individuals.


Why would someone give you money? 

People and institutions that donate money know what is going on. They listen to rumors and innuendo. They follow those who have received money from them closely. They care about how their money is spent and how that reflects on them. Foundations talk to each other, move in the same social circles, and share information (usually informally) about good and bad grant recipients.


Keep your nose clean. Make sure your institution is well known, respected and credible. If you say you are going to do something, do it - well. Develop a history of strong fiscal management, be known for a strong, involved board made up of community leaders, and make sure your volunteers are known for commitment and whole-hearted support of the museum. If your volunteers badmouth staff, or your board is divisive, it reflects poorly on your institution. Finally, make sure you have qualified staff. If they are not originally educated in the museum field, make a commitment to ongoing education. Show that they are dedicated and knowledgeable.


Your project should address a community need and meet the funding organizations' interests. For example, how does storage meet a community need? What is storage but the secure, safe housing of the community's history or cultural heritage? Storage saves the past for the future. Storage saves beauty and eye-opening knowledge for tomorrow's children. In some communities, heritage preservation is a rallying call for community improvements that lead to population increases and attract vibrant businesses because of the excellent quality of life provided to residents. At the start of the U.S. labor movement, women garment workers sang, "Give me bread, but give me roses, too." Yes, we need to eat. We need housing. We need to be safe. But the joy of life is in the roses. Museums can be the roses of their communities.   


Excerpt from MS302: Fundraising for Collections Care.

Helen Alten is director of Northern States Conservation Center, which operates 

She has written foundation and federal grants for many museums and for preservation outreach projects.

Ms. Alten is also the development officer for the Gabriel Project of West Virginia and the former development officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving-West Virginia. Ms. Alten teaches MS302: Fundraising for Collections Care.   

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Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. This issue is devoted to the unexpected and the unfortunate and how to protect yourself from them. 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.
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Why Do We Need a Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan?
by Terri Schindel          

A museum is responsible for the safety, health and welfare of its staff, volunteers and visitors in the event of an emergency. The museum likewise has a legal and ethical responsibility to the community it serves to preserve the collection it holds in public trust. The museum recognizes it is an integral part of the community and will work community-wide following a major disaster. With this in mind, a good disaster preparedness and response plan is vital to the sound management of a museum's assets. It will ensure that the collection survives a disaster in the best possible condition.


Emergencies, disasters, accidents and injuries can occur in any setting at any time, usually without warning. Museums potentially could have a greater range of disasters than many other institutions. Museum collections are both vulnerable and irreplaceable; even small accidents can harm a collection. Being prepared physically and psychologically to handle emergencies is an individual as well as an organizational responsibility.


Realistic Expectations:

  • Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, people understand the need for emergency planning, but do not realize the many steps it takes to be prepared. Expect resistance, start small, make sure management supports the process and keep your sense of humor.
  • Budget: Insist on a line-item in your museum's budget for emergency preparedness and plan to increase the budgeted amount as you begin to practice and implement procedures.
  • Time: It will take longer than you expect. You must schedule time to work on disaster preparedness weekly for a year, but you still may not be finished.
  • The quality of your plan will be the result of training and good communication. Remain flexible and open to learning new
  • procedures.

To achieve the goals and objectives of disaster planning, you will need to spend time forming a planning team, assessing risk, determining health and safety issues, finding resources such as insurance and personnel, regional help and equipment suppliers.  To complete the plan you will need to develop charts of community and institutional resources, lists of supplies, telephone trees, and present preliminary findings to the emergency planning coordinator and incident commander, and the museum's governing body.  You also need to write and practice the time as well as build in evaluation and time to make adjustments.  Disaster planning is a process.


(Excerpt from MS205/206:Disaster Plan Research and Writing)



Terri Schindel teaches MS 205/206:Disaster Plan Research and Writing, and MS002: Collection Protection. Terri Schindel graduated from the Courtauld Art Institute, University of London with a concentration in textile conservation. Since 1988 she has taught collections care and preventive conservation to museum staff. Ms. Schindel specializes in collection care and preventive conservation and works regularly with small, rural and tribal museums.  

Museum Gift Store Security 

by Karl Hoerig 


Museum gift store security starts with museum security. When thinking about security, consider all of the threats your facility, collections, and shop might face. That includes the obvious threat of loss or damage due to the acts of criminally inclined people. It also includes threats like the threat of loss to fire, or damage that can be caused by water - either by way of natural floods or by the unwanted introduction of water from broken pipes or failed fire-sprinkler heads. Your store inventory and cash is far less sensitive than your museum collections, so the protection you have for your facility (you do have it, right?) should be more than adequate to protect your shop.


Hopefully your facility has adequate and appropriate monitoring and alarm systems for fire, water and intrusion. At the least, your museum should have a central alarm system that is monitored all the time. This system should include smoke and/or heat detectors in every room; water sensors anywhere you might have water coming into your facility (e.g. basements); a flow sensor attached to your fire sprinkler system if you have one; and perimeter and interior motion detectors to sense unauthorized afterhours access.


Unless you have your own 24-hour security team, you should contract with an alarm monitoring company that will alert your local fire and police departments and call you if an alarm is tripped.

If your museum store is located inside your museum facility, it should be included in the net of protection provided by this system.


If your shop is not inside your main facility, try at a minimum to maintain a monitored intrusion and fire alarm system for your shop. You should be able to add it to your main facility's monitoring contract.


Business Hours  

Security during business hours is a bit more of a worry. Unlike your collections storage areas or the locked cases in your exhibit galleries, you want people -- as many people as possible -- to come into your museum store and to touch your merchandise.


Your first consideration should always be for the personal safety of your staff. They are not paid enough, nor are they trained to serve as a private police force. Everyone on your staff should understand that they are not expected to place themselves in danger to protect merchandise or cash. If confronted by an assailant, no museum shop staff member should ever do anything that could place himself or herself in danger. If a bad guy has a weapon or makes a threat, let him take the stuff, then call the police.

We have a rule that there must always be at least two museum personnel near the admissions desk and museum store. This helps  insure the safety of our staff, and also guarantees that we've got extra help nearby if a tour bus unexpectedly shows up. 

Shoplifting and Employee Theft 

The two most common sources of loss in retail stores are shoplifting and employee theft.  

Shoplifting is an obvious threat. Unfortunately, employee theft is not as uncommon as we'd like it to be. Of course, none of our staffs would ever steal from our stores, but there are times when people just seem to think that since we've got 100 of those T-shirts in stock, no one will ever miss one, or who just can't handle the volume of cash that touches their fingers without some of it ending up in their pockets. 

In all matters relating to security, vigilance is the key to minimizing problems. You and your staff should always remain aware. If someone is acting strangely or the numbers don't seem quite right, something probably is not quite right. The good news is, just having a well-trained staff who do their jobs is the most important thing you can do. For example, shoplifters are much less likely to try to steal if they know someone is watching them. 

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart and the most successful retailer of all time, came up with the idea to put greeters at the entrance to each of his stores because he figured that no one would steal if they thought their grandmother was watching them. It makes a difference.
If your store staff is paying attention to each guest, greeting them and following the other recommendations for good customer service, you remove most opportunities to steal.
Do everything you can to make it easy for your staff to see what's going on in the store at all times. This includes things such as cash register placement. When developing your store layout you do not want to put the "cash and wrap" in a spot that will block interested shoppers from getting into the store (the problem we have at Nohwike' Bágowa), but you do want to place it where your staff can easily see the store exits and the sales floor. It's also a good idea not to display small, unsecured items in a back corner of the shop, or anywhere else where it's easy for a shoplifter to access them unseen.


As discussed before, I think there is real merchandising value to placing items where shoppers can touch them. Try to create those opportunities in places where your shop staff will be able to keep an eye on the activity, like near your checkout counter. This is all obvious, common-sense stuff, but it does make a difference in discouraging "shrinkage."   


Minimizing employee theft is also mostly common sense. Well trained, engaged staff members who are personally invested in your institution's success are less likely to be inclined to steal. Be sure you keep close tabs on your sales, cash transactions, and inventory. You should trust your employees, but also make it your responsibility to keep track of what's going on. Building a culture of trust in which everyone knows their job and is always aware of your store's mission will help. You can't always tell who might succumb to temptation, as I have unfortunately learned the hard way.



Security cameras can be helpful deterrents to all forms of theft. In fact, the simple presence of visible cameras can be enough to discourage many would-be thieves.   


One of the most significant limitations to security cameras is that you have to know something has happened, and generally when it happened, for them to be of value. You will likely not be able to afford to have a security person monitoring your cameras all the time, and you can easily find yourself spending dozens of hours watching security footage if you know something has happened but not when.  

Choosing locations for cameras is pretty commonsense. Be sure you have coverage of
· all entrances and exits
· the cash register (you want to be able to monitor the actions of both guests and staff where money changes hands)
· displays of particularly valuable or easily grabbed merchandise
· access to the shop office, storage, or other locations where cash or merchandise is stored

Finally, be sure to include security in all staff training. Everyone who works in your store should know what to do if they witness a shoplifter or other person who might present a threat. By maintaining high standards for staff training, customer service, emphasis on mission, and awareness you can keep security concerns to a minimum.


Excerpt from MS254: Museum Shop Management for Small Museums.


Karl Hoerig is director of the Nohwike' Bágowa (House of Our Footprints), the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum, in Fort Apache, Arizona. Karl Hoerig has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Arizona. He teaches MS254: Museum Shop Management for Small Museums. 

When You Suspect Pests Are Present 

by Gretchen Anderson 


A curator returns on Saturday from a donor's house with a collection of wool textiles. he is in a hurry and places three suitcases in his office, bypassing IPM procedures. His office is adjacent to a collection processing room that doubles as overflow storage, again bypassing the IPM procedures. The museum is in the middle of an installation project, and he forgets to inform collections management or conservation of the new collection. Weeks go by, until the conservator notices small, pale moths fluttering out of the office. 


Define the problem

you know you have a pest problem. You have seen them, or you have seen suspected pest damage. Do you know why they are there? Do you know the extent of the problem? Do you know what the pests are? Are the insects you are seeing actually damaging the collections, or are they simply a nuisance pest? Do they indicate some other problem? These are all valid questions.


Why are they there?

Pest species, like the rest of us, require certain conditions to live. They need food, harborage (a place to live) and water (or moisture). They also need oxygen.  The pest species is in conflict with us because we are providing them with one or more of these basic needs. by eliminating access to just one of these elements, then you can begin to manage the pest. Depending on the species this may mean different sources. If you can identify what the pest is there for, then you can come up with a strategy.


Understanding your pest species

For IPM to work, you must understand the basic biology of pests you encounter. For one thing, many of the insects that you find in the building might be "casual invaders" or incidentals. There are insects that have wandered into your building, but are not directly damaging your collection. But the presence of other insects might indicate an actual problem that needs attention.  For example, carpenter ants nest in rotted wood, and their presence indicate there is rotted wood in the vicinity. If they appear inside during the winter (in colder climates), that probably means you have a nest of carpenter ants living in the building. This indicates a moisture problem causing rot. Get rid of the moisture problem, and you get rid of the ants.


Basic biology of pests

Identification of the pest is a primary aspect of IPM. You can get help through various resources such as a local pest-control company. Make certain that your pest management company is familiar with IPM. Check with local universities and agricultural extension programs, too. They often have an entomologist, mycologist (mold) or biologist who can help identify pests for a small fee. Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC) in California is also an excellent resource for pest identification and IPM information.


Always look at the details of the pest life cycle.

  • What does it eat?
  • What kind of environment does it prefer?
  • How does it travel?
  • How long does each stage of life last?

Answers to these questions provide the clues you need to determine how to control the pest.  For example: If you have determined that the pest causing damage to your archives is silverfish, you should check the relative humidity and temperature. A major part of your strategy will entail changing environmental conditions, because silverfish flourish at 75 percent relative humidity. You will also look at your housekeeping, clean up the dust and debris and remove the clutter.


Initial Assessment

If you suspect the presence of pests, any kind of pest, it is time to start asking questions. Once you begin to answer these questions, you can build your strategy to reduce the pest population. The following questions will help you assess the situation. The answers to these questions will provide the information that you need to develop your IPM plan.  These questions can be applied to the pests that threaten the collections, the building and the human inhabitants and visitors. The questions to begin with are:

  1. Who are they?
  2. Where do they come from?
  3. Why are they here?
  4. What do they tell us about the environment?
  5. Are they pests or CI (casual invaders)?


Excerpt from MS 210: Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives.


Gretchen Anderson is the head of the conservation section at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA. She teaches MS210: Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives and MS217: Museum Cleaning Basics online at Objects conservator Gretchen Anderson learned her craft at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian's Conservation Analytical Lab, the Canadian Conservation Institute, Getty Conservation Lab, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Minnesota Historical Society. She established the conservation department at the Science Museum of Minnesota in 1989. She is the co-author of A Holistic Approach to Museum Pest Management, a technical leaflet for the American Association for State and Local History and established a rigorous IPM program for the Science Museum. She was a key member in the planning team that designed and built a new facility for the Science Museum of Minnesota. This endeavor resulted in not only a state of the art exhibition and storage facility, but also a major publication about the experience of building a new museum and creating the correct environments: Moving the Mountain. Ms. Anderson is a member of the American Institute for Conservation and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. She lectures and presents workshops on preventive conservation, IPM, cleaning in museums, and practical methods and materials for storage of collections. .

Security Class for US Tribal Museums 


World events continually remind us just how important security is. The FBI and Interpol databases record thefts from small rural museums and world renowned art collections. The prevalence of collections lost to theft is brought home to us with regular sensational newspaper stories. Native American items are sought by collectors abroad, and may be stolen "to order." And then there are the internal thefts, fires, and collection vandalism that also result in loss. Security must be a priority for every tribal museum and cultural center, regardless of size.

NA 107: Introduction to Security, starting online March 7, 2011,  teaches basic, practical approaches to protecting against threats such as theft, vandalism, violent acts, natural disasters, fire and environmental hazards. Topics include selecting security systems, determining security needs and how to build affordable security systems. Staff screening, hiring, firing, workplace violence, policies and procedures and emergency management planning are covered as well.


Sign up at
Students must be staff at a U.S. tribal institution and meet NATHPO qualifications. This course is subsidized by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through a grant awarded to NATHPO.


This course will be offered to non-Native museums, too, if there is enough interest. E-mail Helen Alten if you would like to sign up for the course, but don't meet NATHPO qualifications. 

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