Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (July 16, 2010)
July 2010
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center
The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter
In This Issue
Top Notch Education Programs Are Mission Driven
Testing Pens Helps Determine Applicability in Museum Object Labeling
Upcoming Classes
July 19
MS217: Museum Cleaning Basics

MS107: Introduction to Museum Security

August 16
MS 001: The Problem with Plastics
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About Us

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. As we relaunch our old Collections Caretaker in a new electronic format we hope 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.
Top-Notch Education Programs Are Mission Driven
by Karin Hostetter

Education programs support the institutional mission statement and highlight what is unique about the collection.

Using Your Mission
Successful museums unite collections, research and education under a mission statement. Collections are at the core of why our museum exists. From the collections, grow research and education. To unite these three, the mission statement must be obvious. It must be at the center of strategic, marketing and business plans as well as publications, management style and business practices. Education "program design should always begin with reflection upon the mission and what piece of that mission a particular program will support." (ANCA).

Peggy Schaller, online instructor for MS 007 The Mission Statement, calls the museum mission statement a key governance and management tool that should inspire and guide the museum and its people. It also should create an institutional sense of purpose, have an outward focus, incorporate education in the broadest sense, and reflect the diversity of the museum's community.

So where does education fit into YOUR museum's mission?

(Ms. Schaller's course might help you clarify and focus your mission.)

What Makes You Unique
Besides a mission, each museum must know what makes it unique and special. What makes one natural history museum different from another? How is one Civil War museum different from all the others? What will a visitor learn at this art museum that is not covered at others? If visitors are not sure they will learn something at your museum that they could not learn at every other museum, then there is no reason to visit. Education programs should enhance your uniqueness at every opportunity.

Allocating limited resources
Museums have limited resources. How do you maximize the financial, time and staff resources allocated to education programs? Comparing each program to the museum's (1) mission and (2) uniqueness makes a good yardstick for helping to decide which programs to cut. Cull those that do not best serve the mission and highlight the museum's uniqueness.  The best way to do this is to write goals and objectives for current and potential programs and then see if they really do support your mission.

Goals and Objectives
Use goals and objectives to focus the content of your education program and to provide a foundation for evaluation. The National Association for Interpretation ( defines the goal as the big idea or dream of the program. It includes words such as understand, know, learn, care about and realize. The objective is measuring whether the goal was attained and thus must be measurable.

An objective can be visitor-centered or museum-centered. How does this work?  Let's say the goal for an exhibit is to help visitors recognize a healthy habitat. A visitor-centered objective would be to have 50 percent of the visitors select the healthy habitat from the unhealthy one on a push-button data collector. A museum-centered objective would be to use three facts to show the visitor the differences between a healthy and unhealthy habitat.

Ideally, goals and objectives are written before a program is designed. However, many of us have established programs.  Rethink them as if they were new. Write goals and objectives to help determine if the program really furthers the mission. It helps focus and revive the program, and provides a way of guiding evaluation.

One of the biggest mistakes in education programs is trying to include too much information for the format and visitors' time. Goals and objectives help determine what information to include in the program. Two or three separate programs developed for different learning styles and experiences is better than one program crammed full of all the available facts.

Karin Hostetter teaches the online class MS236:Education in Museums. She has over thirty years experience with museum education in museums, zoos and nature centers. She is owner of Interpret This, a consulting company specializing in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and volunteer program management.

Testing Pens Helps Determine Applicability in Museum Object Labeling
by Helen Alten
A chromatography test shows how pen ink migrates and consists of different colored dyes.
Chromatography Test
For five years students in the MS 208: Applying Numbers to Collections Objects classes have been testing commercial pens to help make a determination as to which might be best for use in accessioning objects. A simplified thin layer chromatography test using rubbing alcohol as the carrier solvent shows which pens are primarily dye-based and which are pigment-based.  Light fade tests show if pens might fade with time. Writing on various barrier layers show how the pen might work in practical applications on various surfaces.  Here are some of the results and comments from the chromatography tests:

Every student tested Sharpie pens.  Invariably, the color migrated quickly and strongly with the application of alcohol, regardless of pen color. The one with the least movement was the Sanford Sharpie Industrial 13601, where the colored center stayed unmoved but a gray halo was spread by the alcohol. Other Sharpie black pens showed various colors, the most commonly recorded being dark purple, blue and red with yellow at the outer edges. It is strongly recommended that Sharpie pens not be used in museums.

Nearly every student tested the Micron Pigma pen.  This pen does not move at all in alcohol or exhibits only slight bleeding, which may be the result of not giving the ink adequate time to dry.  However, the Micron Pigma pen does not write on barrier coats or plastic films. It beads up and smears.  The recommendation is to only use this pen for paper tags or permanent writing on cards.

The IDenti pen (Sakura) also bled for every student who did a chromatograph test on it.  A strong black color radiated out from the line. No colors were noted.It is recommended not to use the IDenti pen in museums.

Only a few students tested the ZIG Millenium pen, but all were impressed.  Like the Pigma Micron pen, it did not move at all in the chromatography study.  It seemed not to fade (although our light tests were limited by time) and wrote well on barrier coats without smearing or beading.  This might be the best pen to use for those looking for a commercial pen to write on barrier coats.

The Gelly Roll and Gelly Roll Genius by Sakura showed no change in the chromatography tests of the four students who tried them. Because these are roller ball pens, their usefulness for writing on base coats was questioned, but are worth further examination.

The Vis--vis pen bled dramatically, with many students comparing it to the Sharpie for strong color movement. No one noted different colors in the lines. It is not recommended for museum use.

The black Sakura Permapaque pen had mixed results.  It is labeled "pigment based."  Half the students found it didn't bleed in tests. The other half found it did bleed. Those that found it bled compared it to the Micron Pigma pen, which they also found bled.  This suggests that they might not have given the ink time to dry completely before exposing it to alcohol. One student wrote: "This test saw no difference between pigment and dye- based pens. The two pens, where the make-up of the pen was known as pigment (Permapaque and Micron pigma) both showed bleeding- but at different intensities from each other. Furthermore, the run patterns exhibited by these two pigment based pens are nearly identical to those for the ink based pens." The recommendation would be that more tests should be run on the Permapaque pen before it is used on collection objects. 

 Although most pens lying around offices quickly showed that they were inappropriate for use in collections areas, a few unusual pens, tested by only one student, did not bleed in the alcohol chromatography test.  These were:

Opaque Paint Marker (silver) - this is a paint pen that is not recommended for museum objects despite this  test.

Skillcraft Free ink roller ball 0.5 - There were no signs of color running even after several drops of alcohol. More testing might be needed. Again, the roller might make it less useful.

The Bic Velocity Gel did not bleed either. However, it did not write at all on the clear transparency for Test 2 and would not write on a barrier coat either.

Golden Fluid Acrylic in a TRIA marker- this is the paint and empty marker supplied in the Northern States Conservation Center Labeling Kit and recommended for writing on barrier coats.

Pilot V Razor Point - the student only noted that this did not bleed.

Helen Alten is the Director and Chief Objects Conservator of Northern States Conservation Center and the instructor for the online course MS 208: Applying Numbers to Collections Objects. She has spent 25 years working with small and large museum on preservation and conservation issues.

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