Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (July 22, 2013)
July 22, 2013    
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Seasonal Changes  
In This Issue
AASLH Annual Meeting
Regional Workshops
Risks in Seasonal Museums
Museums and Exhibitions
Volunteering Expands Your Skills
Upcoming Classes


August 5, 2013


MS101: Introduction to Museums  


MS208: Applying Number to Collection Objects  


MS213: Museum Artifacts  


MS219: Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums  


MS228: Care of Paper 


MS236: Education in Museums 


MS244: Traveling Exhibits 


August 12, 2013


MS002: Collection Protection: Are You Prepared?


September 5, 2013


MS202: Museum Storage Facilities and Furniture


MS205: Disaster Plan Research and Writing


MS214: Collection Management Databases


MS226: Care of Furniture


MS243: Making Museum Quality Mannequins


September 9, 2013


MS010: Condition Assessments


Preventive Conservation in Museums: Video Handbook
Preventive Conservation in Museums
compliments the 19-video series on preventive conservation. Each chapter is the script of one of the videos. Subjects include an introduction to preventive conservation, storage, the condition report, relative humidity and temperature, the care of textiles, protecting objects on exhibit, emergency and disaster planning, and closing a seasonal museum. 

Turning Points; Ordinary People, Extraordinary Change 
The 2013 American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama September 18 - 21 will focus on "Turning Points; Ordinary People, Extraordinary Change."

Why should you attend?
There are more than 70 sessions on the latest in developing, delivering, and connecting to history. Find colleagues who share your specific and unique challenges by participating in an AASLH Affinity group event. Learn how individual people can change lives, institutions and history. Explore the exhibit hall. Look for Northern States Conservation Center's booth across from the awards showcase.

If you are unable to attend, try AASLH's online conference. Sign up to hear six live broadcasts of annual meeting sessions. You can participate, ask questions, and make comments from your desk or kitchen table! View the schedule and register for the online conference at  
Regional Workshops 
Where you can find some of our instructors this year:

Gawain Weaver
The Care and Identification of PhotographsAdvanced Photograph Conservation Workshops
  • October 21-24, 2013 (Huntington Library, San Marino, CA)

Steve Layne 

IFCPP Conference 
  • August 3-7, 2013, San Diego, CA

Management of Aggressive Behavior (MOAB) Half-Day Class

  • October 9, 2013, Salt Lake City, UT

Protecting Property, People & Collections in an Ever-Changing World

  • October 9, 2013, Salt Lake City, UT  

Brad Bredehoft

Northern States will again be an exhibitor at the AASLH Annual Meeting. Look for us across from the Awards Showcase. 

  • September 19-20, Birmingham, Alabama
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Northern States Conservation Center

Online courses in museum studies

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.
Risks in Seasonal Museums
By Fiona Graham
Mead-Van Duyne Historic House Museum
Mead-Van Duyne Historic House Museum

The trick to preserving collections in seasonal museums is to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated with the off-season. The following are the risks that should be managed with care.



Insurance policies may be ineffective when a museum is closed. Check your insurance policy to determine what the coverage is during the off-season. Sometimes coverage is invalidated if nobody conducts regular inspections of the facility. Talk to your insurance agent about what you can do to ensure continued coverage during the off-season.


Theft and vandalism

Many seasonal museums are located off the beaten track. Without the presence of people passing by, they are more vulnerable to break-ins and vandalism. Even museums that are located on main streets will have an increase in the risk of break-ins and vandalism since it is generally evident that they are unoccupied.


Storm damage

Storm damage is as likely to occur in year-round museums as it is in seasonal museums, but the difference may be that in seasonal museums the damage could remain undetected until the next off-season inspection. If the roof or windows have been compromised, a delay could mean significantly more damage to collections.


As hurricane and tornado season tends to coincide with the open season, these cannot be said to be greater risks for seasonal museums. It is interesting to note, however, that where museums are not damaged by hurricanes or tornados they sometimes become community hubs and shelters. Your museum may have an important role to play during local emergencies.



During cold winters, an unheated museum building may become damp. The same would be true for buildings in warmer regions where the air conditioning is turned off. Damp conditions, as we learned in Section 2, can cause problems for collections. Metals can corrode, mould can form on organic materials such as leather and paper and on dirty inorganic materials such as stone, and insect pests can flourish. Moisture in the air can also condense on cooler surfaces resulting in more mould and corrosion, as well as bleeding colors in textiles and works on paper.



Closed museum buildings seem to be magnets for pests. Whether it is mice or snakes seeking protection from the harsh weather outside or insects flourishing uninterrupted in dark, dank corners, pests are a problem for seasonal museums. Historic buildings that are poorly sealed, such as log cabins or barns, are particularly at risk. Tasty collection items as well as favored nibbles such as candles and soap also serve as attractants.



The risk of your museum catching fire may increase during the off-season due to arson, electrical storms or other factors. Even if the risk of fire remains the same, the risk of damage due to fire may increase due to a longer response time. Assuming there is no sprinkler system in place, nobody will be there to use fire extinguishers so a fire is likely to spread further than it might otherwise before the fire department arrives. Once the fire department arrives, they may be delayed in reaching the building if access is blocked by snow or a locked gate.


(Excerpt from the course MS219 Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums.)


Fiona Graham is an accredited professional conservator (CAPC) offering bilingual (English & French) services in preventive conservation and heritage restoration to the museum and heritage field. Her areas of expertise include; preventive conservation in facility design and operations, specifications and project management for conservation projects, metals conservation, pest management, condition surveys, emergency planning, and policies and procedures. She is currently a Conservator at Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects, a Tutor at Athabasca University and the Course Director for the Ontario Museum Association.  

Museums and Traveling Exhibitions

By Lin Nelson-Mayson   


Museums are centers of community, preservation, and learning whose primary method of communication with visitors are exhibitions. For most museums, exhibitions are developed with clear communication and learning goals. Mark Leithauser, Chief of Design at the National Gallery of Art, said: "An exhibition should have a beginning, middle, and an end. It ought to tell a story while putting forward a... point of view." He went on to address the question of the need for a museum exhibition to meet the needs of a variety of audiences by stating: "A good exhibition should work on various levels..."

NY Historical Society Traveling Exhibitions
NY Historical Society Traveling Exhibitions

This is what we strive to create for our museums - engaging exhibitions that successfully present objects and concepts that enable visitors to "get the big idea." What happens next? Perhaps you have had the experience of developing an exhibition that is an impressive feat of scholarship, design, and visitor involvement. At your next board meeting, an excited board member states: "What a great response to this exhibition! It should travel!" The rest of the board nods approvingly and looks to you for confirmation that this is going to happen. Do you  

  1. run screaming from the room;
  2. also nod in agreement and start quietly revising your resume; or
  3. consider the logistics, funding and timeline that would allow the exhibition to "hit the road"?


On the flip side, at another board meeting, your business traveler has just returned from a trip and is excitedly describing an exhibition that "would be perfect" for your museum. Panic sets in as you realize that you have never hosted a traveling exhibition before and don't know how to begin to plan for such a big step. Do you  

  1. run screaming from the room;
  2. also nod in agreement and start quietly revising your resume; or
  3. consider the logistics, funding, and timeline that would enable you to successfully present an exhibition that another museum organized?

Most museums have the financial resources and staff to organize exhibitions at their own facility. Others host exhibitions organized elsewhere and some also have the ability to plan and manage exhibition tours. Traveling Exhibits is designed to help you in the last two circumstances. You will learn how to:

  • Evaluate an exhibition for its potential to travel
  • Design the exhibition components to withstand the rigors of travel
  • Develop materials to include with the exhibition to ensure venue success
  • Market and manage the tour
  • And prepare to host a traveling exhibition at your site

(Excerpt from the course MS 244: Traveling Exhibits.) 


Lin Nelson-Mayson teaches the new course, MS244: Traveling Exhibitions as well as our core exhibit course MS106: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation. With over 25 years of museum experience at small and large institutions, Ms. 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. 

Volunteering Expands Your Skills

By Helen Alten 


Volunteering is a means of entering the museum profession. Many professionals started their career as a volunteer in a local museum. We are a profession that combines scholarly learning with practical apprenticeship. When people ask how to get a job in museums, I recommend they start volunteering somewhere. Volunteers are often the first to hear about new positions. They are a known quantity, and the institution is grateful to them. They are better placed for being considered seriously for a paid position.


Once you are well-established in the profession, volunteering brings other benefits. You can broaden your network of colleagues. You can expand your skills without spending money on a class. You can feel appreciated. You can help a smaller institution improve itself. Many museum professionals volunteer at other institutions at some point in their career.


This summer, I am volunteering at the Field Museum of Natural History in their conservation laboratories. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to work with other colleagues, learn some new approaches and techniques, discover new tools, and spend time with a world-class collection. There are other unexpected benefits. My volunteer badge let's me travel for free on the Chicago water taxi. I can get into other museums for free. And so can my family. And, of course, I get a discount in the museum gift shop and cafe. But, best of all, volunteers get the best parking spots, right next to the museum's entrance. Paid staff has a 15 minute walk from their parking area. For me, the other wonderful benefit is being appreciated. Having staff feel grateful to me for the time I am donating. As many of us know, when working in a museum, one doesn't always feel appreciated. A good museum may not always appreciate its staff, but it does appreciate its volunteers. It does if it wants to keep them. 


Helen Alten is the Director of Northern States Conservation Center. She is an objects conservator with over 30 years of experience. 

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

Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager 

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

© 2002 Northern States Conservation Center

Updated 24 January 2012