Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (January 7, 2011)
January 7, 2011
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center
The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Exhibits and Security

In This Issue
Label Design
NATHPO and Alaska courses
Protecting Artifacts on Exhibit
Object Security: Use of Barriers
5% off two or more courses
Buy two or more same-price 2011 classes in one order from and receive 5% off.
Upcoming Classes

Jan 10, 2011
MS 101: Introduction to Museums

MS 104: Introduction to Collections Preservation

MS 201: Storage for Infinity

MS 208: Applying Numbers to Objects

MS 217: Museum Cleaning Basics

MS 226: Care of Furniture and Wood

MS 236: Education in Museums

MS 242: Museum Microclimates

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

Feb 7, 2011
AK 106: Exhibit Fundamentals:  Ideas to Installation

MS 209: Collection Management Policies

MS213: Museum Artifacts

MS225: Care of Baskets

MS227: Care of Paintings

MS228: Care of Paper Artifacts

MS 235: Scripting the Exhibition: Labels and Interpretive Panels

MS238: Design and Construction of Exhibit Mounts

MS303: Found in the Collection

MS304: Security I: Certified Institutional Protection Specialist

Feb 22, 2011

MS103: The Basics of Museum Registration

MS 001: The Problem with Plastics

Label Design Hints

By Karin Hostetter


Computers and color printers make producing your own low cost signage possible. There are a few tips to remember:


Make the text large enough to be read while standing and by older visitors with poorer eyesight. A good rule of thumb is, no smaller than 20 point for the smallest labels.


Make sure there is good contrast between the text color and the background. Black on white is the best contrast.


Do not use text and backgrounds that might look the same to colorblind visitors (such as red text and green background).


Do not use more than three different fonts - that includes different sizes and bold as different fonts.


Stay away from script fonts. They are harder to read.


Color, placement and lighting also play important roles in the success of signage.



Excerpt from MS235: Scripting the Exhibition.


Karin Hostetter is owner of Interpret This, a consulting company specializing in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and volunteer program management. Karin has written text for exhibits, wayside exhibits, visitor brochures, and professional magazines. Her skill is in making technical information understandable and meaningful to visitors.

NATHPO and Alaska Courses start in February and March


If you are an Alaskan, or if you are a member of a Tribe in the United States, you might be able to join courses that are designed for those two groups.


The Alaska State Museums' annual initiative will focus on exhibits. The state-wide project begins with a training course in February. AK106: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation (Feb 7 to Mar 18, 2011)


The National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) has three courses in 2011 for Tribal members: NA107: Introduction to Museum Security (Mar 7 to Apr 1, 2011)


NA256: Establishing a Tribal Museum (May 31 to Jun 25, 2011)


NA214: Collections Management Databases (Sep 6 to Sep 30, 2011)

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About Us

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. This issue is devoted to storage and care. 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.
Protecting Artifacts on Exhibit
by Stevan P. Layne, CPP, CIPM

If you concentrate on protecting exhibits and ignore the vulnerability of the building where they are kept, your exhibits are not protected. Your first concern should be fire and theft.

The greatest threat to collections is still fire. If it burns, it's gone, and the best of exhibit cases, alarms, or locks won't help.

Given time, proper tools, and just a bit of knowledge, a thief who gains access to your building will eventually penetrate the best of exhibit cases. Professional thieves penetrate bank vaults. They remove and haul off steel safes. Moreover, most thefts from museum collections and cultural properties are inside jobs. Staff are the culprits.

T-hanger by Temart secures paintings to walls.
T-hanger by Temart secures paintings to walls.
Protecting collections should begin with concentrating on these two vital areas - long before artifacts are placed on exhibit.

Fire Protection
Your building needs a sophisticated early warning smoke detection system. Devices need to be monitored by a licensed central alarm monitoring company or a proprietary central monitoring station. The system should be tested regularly, with detection devices both cleaned and tested.

During any construction periods, when systems may be deactivated, a roving patrol should inspect/observe the construction area around the clock. Strict fire prevention measures should be in place, and consistently enforced. Coordination with response agencies should be carried out in a professional manner. Fire suppression should be quick and efficient either by fire departments or automatic systems.

More Fire Protection Guidelines are in the Cultural Property Protection Manual available from the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP), American Association of Museums (AAM), and Layne Consultants International (LCI).

Theft Prevention
Every employee should undergo a background check that looks into their history and character. Professionalize and document the entire application/hiring process. Checks should include criminal histories, verification of former employment and education, and, for anyone with access to collections, a credit history. Consider annual criminal history checks as well as initial checks upon hiring.

Policies should be in place giving management the right to inspect all containers, lockers, briefcases, backpacks -- at any time, any place on museum property. Require all employees to enter and leave through a specified entrance staffed by security personnel or under observation of a surveillance camera. Closely regulate key control and after hours access.

Guidelines for screening staff, selecting an alarm vendor, and training security staff are found in the Cultural Property Protection Manual.

Now let's talk about exhibits. Exhibit cases themselves offer a variety of opportunities to improve protection. Following an exhaustive review and the input of numerous professionals, a guideline for the protection
Security Screw
Security screw in the
side of an exhibit case.
of exhibit cases was adopted in 1997 and revised in 2008 by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and ASIS International. It may be found in Suggested Practices for Museum Security.

Hanging Art Protection
The protection of hanging artwork isanother matter. From the use of security hangers, such as Temart's t-hangers, to the installation of wireless artwork protection devices, there are now a number of protection alternatives.Relatively low-cost, battery operated devices (Art Guard) protect hanging art. Other devices may transmit wireless signals to monitoring stations, or roving security officers. There are excellent systems available following a reasonable review of vendor literature and references.

Note that most general alarm manufacturers do not provide devices that protect artwork from being removed, vandalized or even approached beyond recognized barriers.

Video Surveillance
Video surveillance is a valuable tool. The quality of the video and the surveillance camera locations are important. So, too, is alert action by monitor operators. Some video providers advertise the ability of their systems to interpret actions of passersby and initiate alarms when intent to steal or vandalize is recognized. These are mostly false claims, as the systems are programmed to detect motion and not much more. When video surveillance providers claim that buyers may reduce the number of security officers by adding cameras, it's a sure sign of an inflated marketing campaign. Nothing can replace the presence of an alert, professional, well-trained security officer. Where securityofficers are not available, any staff member or volunteer may serve as a deterrent patrol.

Protecting Exhibits
There is no generic solution for protecting exhibits. You must determine the best solutions to the threats you have identified in your situation.

Protection begins with the perimeter of your building and should include a 24-hour sophisticated intrusion detection system. Roving patrols should observe all exhibits no less than once every 15 minutes. That's an arbitrary figure based on the configuration of your gallery spaces.
Security guard
Work study student in university art gallery provides security presence.

We are often asked how many officers are necessary for a given space. There is no reliable answer to that question, as the number of officers assigned should be based on many factors, including space, layout, visitor patterns, and other staffing. You may opt for physical barriers,hardened steel exhibit cases, alarms within exhibit cases, wall mounted wireless artwork protection alarms, or a combination of all of the above. We actually prefer the latter situation.

Talk to the professionals in the cultural protection business, not alarm sales representatives or vendors calling themselves consultants. If you deal with a consultant, make sure that they have no vendor connection or relationship. Not all museums boast proper electronic protection systems. Some are as antiquated as the artifacts. If you're talking to other institutions, do your best to find out how good their systems are.

Stevan P. Layne, instructor for MS304: Security I: Certified Institutional Protection Specialist and NA 107: Introduction to Museum Security, is the principal consultant and chief executive of Layne Consultants International, a leading provider of cultural property protection advice. Steve is a former police chief, public safety director and museum security director. He is the author of The Cultural Property Protection Manual, and the Business Survival Guide. Steve regularly presents to professional associations and has consulted with more than 400 museums and other institutions. Steve is the founding director of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection and responsible for the professional training and certification of more than 1,000 museum professionals. For more information visit his web site Layne Consultants International

Object Security: Use of Barriers

by Lin Nelson-Mayson


Barriers in museums are used for two different reasons - to provide a distance between visitors and objects and as traffic control. Exhibit furniture, such as bases an platforms, position objects or groupings of objects at a more viewable height. Platforms can also serve to provide a space between the visitor and the object. The exhibit designer uses the platform as a form of security for objects too large to fit under a vitrine and tempting for visitors to touch. 

A ground-breaking example of the use of stacked platforms in exhibit design was the Denver Art Museum's Native Arts galleries which presented materials from over 100 tribes in groups set apart from the viewer by the creative use of platforms and a minimal use of vitrines. The innovative exhibition sought to create a sense of intimacy for the viewer by only using vitrines for the most sensitive objects. The design was both praised for its access and criticized for the expanse of platform surface necessary between the viewer and the objects to ensure that the objects were not touched.

Very large objects can be set off through a system of ropes or wires stretched between poles. This is a useful technique to keep visitors away from vehicles, large mounts, fragile artworks and other objects of significant size or in areas too limited in space for a platform barrier. A variety of these barrier systems can be widely purchased or unique systems canbe built to harmonize with the museum's exhibition design and overall aesthetic.

A fixed barrier system can also be designed to incorporate a slanted label rail for mounting text panels or annotated labels explaining the materials beyond the rail. Label rails can include simple interactives or hands-on examples of the materials in the larger exhibit. They are also good sites for prototyping text and position for the objects on exhibit.

Visitor traffic control is designed to keep people away from off limits spaces (galleries under installation, for example) and guide them through lines at gallery or cafe entrances using pole/rope systems, similar to those used to direct lines at movies or amusement parks. An effective alternative to poles and ropes is painted lines on the floor or changes in flooring. Interestingly, a study on visitor behavior at a mid-sized Midwest art museum found that a different colored strip of carpet 2 feet from the wall had the visual effect of keeping most visitors away from the paintings. Of course, this primarily worked for the adult visitors, but it was quite a dramatic demonstration of the impact of very passive barriers. This same impact could be achieved through a painted line or tape applied to indicate the "respectful distance" requested of the viewer.


Excerpt from MS 106: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation.


Lin Nelson-Mayson is director of the University of Minnesota's Goldstein Museum of Design. Prior to that, she was the director of ExhibitsUSA, a nonprofit exhibition touring organization that annually tours over 30 art and humanities exhibitions across the country. For five years, she was a coordinator or judge for the American Association of Museums' Excellence in Exhibitions Competition. She currently serves on the exhibition committee for the National Sculpture Society. Ms. Nelson-Mayson has extensive experience with the planning, preparation, research and installation of exhibitions. Ms Nelson-Mayson's experience includes teaching museum studies and museology courses. Her particular interest is the needs of small museums. Lin is the instructor for MS 106: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation.

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