Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (November 1, 2013)
November 1, 2013    
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Collections and Risks
In This Issue
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
2014 Course Schedule
Reconciling an Inventory
Upcoming Classes


November 4, 2013


MS204: Materials for Storage and Display   


MS211: Preservation Environments    


MS212: Care of Textiles    


MS218: Collection Inventories


MS223: Care of Metals


MS233: Matting and Framing


MS244: Traveling Exhibits;


MS259: The Volunteer Handbook


November 11, 2013


MS007: The Mission Statement



January 6, 2014


MS103: The Basics of Museums Registration   


MS104: An Introduction to Collections Preservation    


MS219: Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums    


MS228: Care of Paper Artifacts


MS235: Scripting the Exhibition


MS242: Museum Microclimates


Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist
Preserving Textiles
Preserving Textiles
by Harold Mailand and Dorothy Stites Alig. This recently revised book is the clearest textile care publication available. Gives an overview of how textiles are damaged and what can be done to stop or slow the damage. In-depth information on cleaning, storing and displaying textiles. Excellent color plates. 92 pp.

Collections Research for Museums Logo
Need help cataloging
your collection? 
Performing collection inventories? 
Need training in cataloging or collections management?

Collections Research
for Museums 
4830 E Kansas Dr 
Denver, CO 80246 
Toll Free 1-877-757-7962
Regional Workshops 

Where you can find some of our instructors this year:

Gawain Weaver
The Care and Identification of Photographs
Susan Duhl & Helen Alten
Disaster Program
  • Dec 16-19, 2013
    Athens, Greece 
Conferences and Meetings

Renewal in the Renaissance City 

Alabama Museums Association Annual Meeting

  • February 10-11, 2014, Florence, AL
2014 AASLH Annual Meeting
Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts
  • September 17-20. 2014.
    St. Paul, MN 


Join Our Mailing List
Quick Links

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.
2014 On-line Course Schedule Released

We have just released the 2014 course schedule for Several new courses have been added to the schedule this year including Formative Evaluation, Museum Storage Techniques, Disaster Preparation and Recovery, and Museum Ethics.

Our popular course An Introduction to Collections Preservation will now be taught more frequently because we feel it is an important foundation for many of our Collections Management and Care courses.

There may be more courses added to the 2014 schedule in the next couple of months so come back and check.
Causes of Damage to Metal Artifacts
By Fiona Graham


By knowing what the sources of damage are, we can take measures to control them and thereby reduce the risk of damage to the collection. From the point of view of the object, all causes of damage can be sorted into Ten Agents of Deterioration.


  1. Direct physical forces are one of the top agents of deterioration for metals. Common damage includes scratches from harsh polishes and dents from handling accidents.
  2. Thieves and vandals - Gold and platinum artifacts are highly vulnerable to theft.
  3. Fire - The heat from a fire can deform metal artifacts and alter patinas. Damage related to collapsing structures can result in crushing and dents. Water from fire hoses and sprinklers can lead to corrosion.
  4. Water - Metal artifacts sitting in standing water, or hollow artifacts that have collected water, are highly likely to corrode.
  5. Pests - Metal finishes can be damaged by excrement from rodents and mammals.
  6. Pests
    Agent of Deterioration: Pests
  7. Contaminants - Metals are particularly vulnerable to gaseous pollutants such as: ammonia, acids, nitrogen oxide, sulfer dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide.
  8. Light - Metals are generally considered to be safe from damage by light and ultraviolet radiation. Painted metal finishes will be damaged by excessive exposure to light.
  9. Incorrect temperature - Metals expand and contract slightly with large changes in temperature, however the infinitesimal scale of dimensional change for museum objects is generally non-damaging (unlike bridges, for example). Sudden drops in temperature may cause condensation to form on metal surfaces, leading to corrosion.
  10. Incorrect relative humidity (RH) - Damp conditions produce a high risk of corrosion for metal artifacts. In the case of chloride-contaminated metals such as many archaeological materials, corrosion may begin at RH as low as 35%.
  11. Dissociation - Metal objects are as vulnerable to this agent as any other type of museum collection.

These are the factors that we will try to avoid, block, reduce or mitigate against through various preventive measures.


(Excerpt from the course MS223 Care of Metals taught by Fiona Graham.)


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. 

Reconciling an Inventory

By Peggy Schaller       


What IS so important about doing that inventory of the collection? Why should you put other duties aside and perform this unglamourous task? For one thing, how can you successfully perform all those glamourous tasks, such as exhibits and public programs, if you do not know what you have in your collection? Secondly, how do you know that wonderful 'whatzit' is still where it was the last time you saw it 10 years ago? Is it even still in the museum? By the way, what is that pile of dust sitting in the place where that lovely black silk hat used to be?


Perhaps you can see where this is going. Periodic inventories of your collections are critical to fulfilling your stewardship obligations as a repository of public trust. 'Visiting' with your collections will remind you of the wonderful things you have in the museum and may spark a new idea or two about how to improve or change your exhibitions or public/educational programs. It will also allow you to monitor your collections for condition and stability, telling you that a change may be needed in the storage/exhibition environment, that the method of housing a particular artifact needs to be improved or changed, or that no changes at all are needed. Periodic inventories also play a large part in the security of the museum and it collections. If you never look in that storeroom, how will you ever know if something is missing and, if it is missing, was it stolen or just misplaced. A misplaced artifact is as good as stolen for all practical purposes.


Now that I know why I should be doing an inventory, how do I do it? Inventories, in fact, are not hard to do, but you must be systematic in how you go about it and always finish what you start. Begin with one section of one room and start at the top and work down (or the bottom and work up, if you prefer). Each room, section, shelf or drawer should be assigned a location name or number (ex. Storeroom 1, Shelving Unit [or Cabinet] 1, Shelf [or Drawer] 1). With both the numbering and the inventory, begin at a logical point in the room and proceed in a logical pattern around the room (ex. left to right, right to left or row by row, etc.). You may find that some of the artifacts you come across do not have numbers on them. They have either deaccessioned themselves (numbers wore or fell off) on the shelf or were missed during the accessioning process. For these items it is a good idea to establish a temporary numbering system with which to track them (ex. T1, T2, T3.....T100, etc.). Attach an acid-free tag to each unnumbered item with the temporary number written on it so you can find it again when it comes time to reconcile the inventory with the museum's records. Keep a temporary number log, similar to your accession number log, to track the numbers you are assigning.


The information we are looking for during the inventory is the Accession number (or temporary number, if necessary), the type of artifact (its name, ex. spoon, photograph, etc), a short description (describe it so you can tell it apart from some other similar artifact in the collection), and the artifact's condition (assuming everything is 'Good' unless circumstances dictate otherwise reduces writing time). It can be helpful to leave= a spot on your paper/form for comments just in case there are some major conservation concerns that should be addressed. Write the inventory location (room, shelving unit, shelf) at the top of each page and include the date and the name of the person doing the inventory. You are now ready to begin your inventory.


Peggy Schaller, founded Collections Research for Museums in 1991 to provide cataloging, collection-management training and services. She has worked with a large variety of museums and collections for more than 18 years. She provides workshops and project services to museums and historical societies all across the country. The mission of Collections Research for Museums is to inspire museums to improve their professional standards, collections stewardship and service to their constituency through training in, and assistance with, documenting, preserving, protecting and managing their collections. Peggy teaches the course MS218: Collection Inventories.  

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