Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (November 29, 2013)
November 29, 2013    
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Museums and Community 
In This Issue
Closing Procedures
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
2014 Course Schedule
Museums & Communities
New Course Offerings in 2014
Disaster workshop in Greece
Upcoming Classes
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


Steal this Handbook! 
Steal This Handbook
Steal This Handbook
Steal This Handbook comprehensively covers emergency preparedness and response for every conceivable type and scale of disaster on historic and non-historic materials. Written by the Southeastern Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums.

Closing procedures in seasonal museums can mitigate risks to their collections.

By Fiona Graham 


The following procedures, provided as a checklist, will lessen damage to the collection when the museum closes for the winter months.



  • Do a maintenance check:
  • Eaves troughs (gutters) and downspouts are securely attached and free of debris.
  • There are mesh guards over eaves troughs.
  • Downspouts lead water away from foundation.
  • Lightning rods are grounded.
  • The roof is free of loose, damaged or missing shingles.
  • The flashing on the roof is not leaking.
  • Trees near the building have no limbs or branches that could break off under a snow load, come down in a storm, or otherwise damage the museum building.
  • There are no unsecured items that could blow into the building in high winds


Turn off the hot water heater.

  • Where freezing temperatures are likely, drain the water tank, pipes and faucets, put anti-freeze in the toilet bowl and S-traps, and shut off the switch to the pump if water is pumped in.



  • Remove food from the premises.
  • Put away woolens and other yummy artifacts in pest-proof containers or remove them from the premises.
  • Put away yummy props including soap, candles, fiberglass, sponges, woolens.
  • Put down traps (only if they will be checked frequently during the winter).
  • Avoid use of glue boards (inhumane).
  • Avoid use of poisons (rodents crawl into inaccessible spots to die).


Close up holes  

(vents, chimneys)

  • Put mesh on window sills if you have rodents that gnaw on sill plates.
  • Seal cracks in foundations.
  • Use metal collars where pipes penetrate walls.
  • Mice can gnaw through plastic containers; use glass or metal.
Close shutters
  • If there are no shutters, consider securing the windows with sheets of plywood.
  • Haphazard boarding invites vandalism so do a nice job;
  • If you do not like putting up plywood, consider installing interior storm windows.
  • If you use bronze-tinted polycarbonate, you can leave them up all year. They filter visible light as well as UV and are impact-resistant. A tint between 60-90% is suitable.  (This tip is courtesy of Richard Kerschner, Senior Conservator at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.).
  • If there are expanses of glass that are not covered, put up masking tape or equivalent to discourage birds from flying into them.


Assess the building for evidence of deterioration such as wallpaper stains and cracks in walls. You will check these areas again in the spring to see if their condition has worsened.


Activate alarms

  • Contact alarms at windows and doors.
  • Motion detectors.
  • Secure all locks.



  • Inspect the collection and note any condition issues. When you check again in the spring, you will know whether damage occurred over the course of the winter.
  • Pack up vulnerable objects and move them to storage. The vulnerability of objects depends on the conditions in your museum. For example, if pests are a problem then it is advisable to remove textiles, upholstered furniture, furs and taxidermy specimens off-site. If freezing temperatures are likely, then remove paintings, wax artifacts, fossils and minerals. Particularly valuable artifacts should also be removed for safekeeping.
  • Put dust covers over all collection items remaining in the museum.
  • If there is a chance of the roof leaking, cover artifacts with polyethylene sheeting; otherwise clean sheets are suitable.
  • Take artifacts off walls and move artifacts and fittings away from exterior walls.
  • Roll up rugs and place them on shelves or counter tops.
  • Lift artifacts, such as furniture, off the floor with pallets. Do not stack pieces of furniture on top of each other.



  • Let local services know you are closing for the season: security firm, police, fire department, insurance company, post office.
  • Make sure the people responsible for the all-important off-season inspections know the schedule.


Excerpt from

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.

Conferences and Meetings


Renewal in the Renaissance City Alabama Museums Association Annual Meeting

February 10-11, 2014, Florence, AL


Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts, 2014 AASLH Annual Meeting

September 17-20. 2014. St. Paul, MN   


American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting

May 18-21, 2014, Seattle, WA 

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Northern States Conservation Center

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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.
End of Year Course Sale

Buy one 2014 course before December 31, 2013 and received 5% off the regular price!

Buy two or more 2014 courses before December 31, 2013 and receive 10% off!

Museums and Communities 

by Helen Alten 


I am about to take on a new challenge - becoming the director of a museum in a small, isolated community in Alaska. The borough recently completed a community assessment of its services, asking people where money should be spent. Of course, fire and police ranked first and second. Interestingly, the library was third. The library has won numerous awards, including "Best Small-Town Library in America."  After the library were the Senior Center, the Community and Performing Arts Center, the Schools and the Pool. At the bottom of the list were the Museum and the Visitor Center. This suggests that the museum is seen as something that might be of interest to outsiders, but isn't of much use to those living within the community, except as a means of entertaining their visitors.  


Children painting a wall at the Blackfoot Community's Children's Museum of Idaho

How many of us work in museums that are seen as peripheral to their communities? Nina Simon in The Participatory Museum, suggests ways we can change the community perception of the usefulness of their museum. Community participation is the answer. The method of creating this participation is the crux of her book.  


As I consider the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of museums I have visited during my lifetime, a few stand out as being possessively and proudly owned by their community. One small county museum in southern Iowa particularly keeps resurfacing in my memories. It was not a visually beautiful museum. It was a cement box structure with lots and lots of glass cases in it, packed with stuff. Crammed with stuff. No interpretation. No design. Nothing we think makes for a good museum. But it had one thing most museums don't. The community was fervidly vested in this museum. Because they had been invited, for decades, to fill exhibit cases with whatever they liked. For $1,000 you could buy an exhibit case, fill it, and it would stay that way forever.  


After decades, the museum was full of these cases; which families visited regularly. Some cases hi-lighted wealth and status - showcasing the china and crystal owned by the family, for example. Some cases depicted a favorite hobby. The town doctor displayed his oil paintings and showed nothing of his profession as the only medical resource in a small town. Other cases were personal memorials to loved ones lost in war or through other tragedies. These had tightly folded flags and clothing, nothing that could be viewed easily when looking at the case.  


The result, over the decades, was that this had become a museum of collections. Anyone with a large collection of anything felt they could bring it to the museum and display it in an exhibit case. And they did. While I visited, someone dragged in an old store display case and filled it with early cameras.  


The professionally trained museum staff were frustrated. They couldn't touch the family cases, because of the agreements made when they were sold. They couldn't create a museum such as the ones they learned about in school. They were fighting a tide of community feeling whenever they suggested a change to the museum. Which shows the downside of unbridled participation and community ownership. But the upside is that there is an energy that can be harnessed and steered to make the museum even better. Don't touch those community cases, but perhaps provide narrative about the families and give some understanding about their choices for filling their case. Now those cases are historical capsules of the community - at least the wealthier sections of the community. And then steer that community into a better understanding of preservation and museum methods, so they can ensure their collections do survive for their progeny to enjoy.


"A museum's primary purpose is to safeguard and preserve the heritage as a whole." states UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. "Museums, which are centres for conservation, study and reflection on heritage and culture, can no longer stand aloof from the major issues of our time." What is heritage? Is it the material culture, or is it less definable? Is heritage the language, the mores, and the social interactions of a community as much as the items that it uses or produces?   


I do not plan to adopt the family exhibit case idea. That road leads to too many perils. But I am thinking of inviting elements of the community into the museum to create exhibits. And I am thinking of community advisory councils. I am thinking about children and how to make them come to the museum regularly, dragging along the parents. And, most of all, I plan on re-reading Nina Simon's book. This museum might be a good test case for her concepts. And maybe, just maybe, I can give the Library a good run for its money. Because, in a community of 2,300 people, the museum needs to be more than just ancillary to their lives. The museum has an obligation to be part of what makes life in that community wonderful. Museums should be providing what the community needs - even if it doesn't realize (yet) that it needs it.


Helen Alten founded Northern States Conservation Center 18 years ago and 10 years ago. She is an objects conservator with a desire to bring about change through museums, improving our communities and the patrimony we leave to our off-spring.  

New courses being offered at in 2014


We have added some wonderful new courses to our line-up in 2014 beginning in January.


January 2014


MS219: Opening and Closing Seasonal Museums

Instructor:   Fiona Graham

Jan 6 - Jan 31, 2014 


The seasonal closure of a museum presents unique challenges and opportunities for collection preservation. This introductory-level conservation course explores simple collection preservation methods for seasonal museums. The target audience is curators, volunteers, site managers, and maintenance personnel. No prior conservation training necessary. Participants will learn about the challenges and opportunities associated with caring for collections in seasonal facilities. They will learn about the risks to collections and how to mitigate them through closing and re-opening procedures, as well as care procedures throughout the winter season.


April 2014


MS237: Formative Evaluation for Exhibits and Public Programs

Instructor: Karin Hostetter

 Apr 7 - May 2, 2014


Have you done some evaluation but did not get helpful information? Do you wish you could do some evaluation but think it is too hard or too expensive? Do you wonder how to get people to use an offered program more? This course will help you determine what you really want to know, choose the right process to gather the information, develop meaningful questions, and figure out what the results tell you. Please have a program or text in mind (real or imagined) to work with during the course. Note: this course will not be looking at statistical analysis.


October 2014


MS014: Education Collections (short course)

Instructor: Karin Hostetter

Oct 13 - 17, 2014 


What do you do with collection objects that no longer belong in the scientific collection but are too good to throw out? What do you do with the donations that just don't quite "fit"? Use them in education collections. Their value as educational objects for the public is immeasurable. This short course discusses what goes into an education collection and how it is used in a museum. 


November 2014


MS203: Museum Storage Techniques

Instructor: Rebecca Newberry

 Nov 3 - Nov 28, 2014  


Expanding our collection storage offerings, Museum Storage Techniques emphasizes the needs of individual objects and collection groupings. Participants learn about storage materials and how to construct mounts that protect objects. The course also discusses the most effective use of trays, drawers, shelves and cabinets. If your collection is stacked, packed tight and stressed, this course will provide the tools and inspiration for supporting each object better.


MS253: Disaster Preparation & Recovery

Instructors: Helen Alten and Susan Duhl

Nov 3 - Nov 28, 2014 


Safeguarding collections and protecting staff and visitors is one of the most important functions of a cultural institution. This course introduces concepts of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery of cultural collections for all types of potential hazards. Helen Alten and Susan Duhl outline components of incident preparedness and response from their experience in recovery of cultural collections, including small to large situations with fire, flood, and earthquake. This course complements MS 205/6: Disaster Plan Research and Writing. Emphasis is given to the Incident Command System and specific recovery protocols for different materials. 


MS259: The Volunteer Handbook

Instructor: Karin Hostetter

 Nov 3 - Dec 12, 2014   


Volunteers should be considered unpaid staff and, like a staff handbook, a strong volunteer organization should have a volunteer handbook. This course goes beyond describing the different aspects of a volunteer program and puts the volunteer program on paper. Create an outline and some draft text for a volunteer handbook that provides consistency to your volunteers as well as legal support if ever needed.


MS267: Museum Ethics

Instructor: John Simmons

Nov 3 - Nov 28, 2014 


This course will examine the role of ethics in museums and related institutions. Topics addressed will include the differences in ethics, laws, and morals; what ethics are and where they come from; the ethical codes that museum professionals follow; how ethics affect professional practices; why ethics are important; and how ethical standards can help museums and related institutions better serve society.


Disaster Conference in Greece


Helen Alten and Susan Duhl travel to Athens, Greece, December 16 to 19, 2013 to present a Disaster Workshop for Greek Cultural Institutions. 


Partnering with local institutions and emergency preparedness experts the workshop will emphasize that safeguarding collections and protecting staff and visitors is one of the most important functions of a cultural institution. Presenters will introduce disaster preparedness, response, and recovery of cultural collections for all types of potential hazards. Helen Alten and Susan Duhl outline components of incident preparedness and response from their experience in recovery of cultural collections, including small to large situations with fire, flood, and earthquake.


Topics covered in this workshop include:

Identifying Risks

Identifying risks, minimizing results of various incidents, and implementing a plan in the event of disaster are key components of museum management. The most prevalent risks for Greek cultural institutions are discussed, with examples showing how they might be mitigated prior to a disaster occurring.


Detailed information on specific disasters - fire, floods, and earthquakes - will be presented in separate lectures. Small and large examples of each disaster will be presented, to show how an incident might be minor or major in its effect.Understanding a hazard makes it easier to protect collections and predict outcomes for the disaster. This helps cultural institutions better safeguard their buildings, collections and people prior to the occurrence of a disaster.


Local experts discuss possible risks and preventive measures specifically for Greek Cultural Institutions.



A disaster preparedness and emergency response plan outlines goals and techniques to minimize or prevent damage when disaster strikes, as well as outlining a recovery strategy. Plans should be tailored to each institution's specific facilities and circumstances. The plan covers all levels of threats or risks to the building, collection, staff, and visitors. Plans may have different looks, from simple flip charts to large binders to wallet-sized print-outs.


The Incident Command System

Hierarchy of responsibility and reporting facilitates disaster response and cultural collections recovery. Roles and tasks of an incident response team, as set up in the USA, are discussed. Each individual has specific tasks and goals to accomplish, making recovery efficient, cost effective, and successful. Communications and reporting to the response team and public are key components of effective disaster response.


Psychology of Disaster

There are predictable reactions that can be expected for both victims and responders in a disaster situation. The type and extent of response will depend on many things, including the type and severity of the disaster, the individuals and communities involved, and the ability to recover. Practicing compassion and patience with victims and colleagues are as important as salvaging collections.


After the Disaster

Human safety is the first priority in disaster response. Safe re-entry into a building after a disaster requires planning, supplies, and working together to ensure that the people, buildings, and cultural property are safe.


Salvage and Recovery

When a disaster occurs, the first step is to salvage material, then stabilize it for later restoration and repair. Stabilization, when done properly, can greatly minimize the long-term damage caused by a disaster to the collection. This talk will show different approaches to salvage, stabilization, and the future care of cultural collections. Materials react differently to the same disaster. Details will be provided for each type of material found in cultural institutions and their different requirements for stabilizing, drying (after floods) and storage. 


Recovery after a disaster is a long-term process. Long after the disaster, damaged collections will continue to be repaired. Strategic planning lets a museum or library continue to accomplish disaster recovery while maintaining daily functions.


Hands-On Activities  

Recognizing that individuals learn in different ways and everyone needs to experience response and recovery from a disaster in a safe setting, hands-on activities are included in this workshop.  These hands-on activities include:


Tabletop Exercises

The conference participants will work in groups with a disaster-related scenario. Each group will discuss how to protect collections in a specific situation provided by the instructors.


Disaster Recovery Training

Disaster Recovery Training including triage, salvage, and stabilization; working with different materials; and recovering from a flood scenario.


To attend this conference:

The conference is free of charge. To apply click on the link on the home page and follow the instructions to sign up.


Conference website (in Greek):   

Conference website (translated into English)(works with Mozilla Firefox browser):   

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

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Updated 24 January 2012