Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (October 31, 2012)
October 31, 2012   
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Protecting Collections
In This Issue
Collections Emergency Response Team
Conservation Assessment Program
2013 Class Schedule
Upcoming Classes


November 5, 2012 


MS204: Materials for Storage and Display   


MS211: Preservation Environments 


MS212: Care of Textiles 


MS215: Care of Archaeological Artifacts from the Field to the Lab 


MS218: Collection Inventories 


MS233: Matting and Framing 


MS259: The Volunteer Handbook 


November 12, 2012


MS007: The Mission Statement: Is it really that important?  


MS014: Education Collections 

Collections Emergency Response Team (CERT)    
With Hurricane Sandy threatening the East Coast, museums, historic sites, libraries, and archives in much of the Eastern United States will be at risk.  The American Institute for Conservation (AIC), the national association of conservation professionals, is offering free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations.  Please help make sure that staff members of collecting institutions know to contact AIC-CERT when a disaster-flooding, hurricane, earthquake, fire-has damaged collections.
  • Call AIC's 24-hour assistance number at 202.661.8068 for advice by phone.
  • Call 202.661.8068 to arrange for a team to come to the site to complete damage assessments and help with salvage organization.  

AIC-CERT volunteers have provided assistance and advice to dozens of museums, libraries, and archives since 2007.  AIC-CERT teams were on the ground following Tropical Storm Irene and flooding in Minot, North Dakota in 2011, the Midwest floods in 2008, and in the Galveston area following Hurricane Ike later that year. AIC-CERT members and other AIC conservators participated in an 18-month-long project in Haiti assisting with recovery of cultural materials damaged in the 2010 earthquake.


AIC-CERT is supported and managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC).  In 2007 and again in 2010, FAIC received funding from the Institute of Museum & Library Services to support an advanced training program for conservators and other museum professionals that resulted in a force of 107 "rapid responders" trained to assess damage and initiate salvage of cultural collections after a disaster has occurred.  They are ready to assist.   


Resources and information on disaster recovery and salvage can be found on the AIC website at .  The public can also call AIC-CERT at 202.661.8068.

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UV Detector: $ 6.50
Conservation Assessment Program

If your museum is in need of an up-to-date assessment of preventive conservation practices and procedures, then the CAP program may be just right for you. A current conservation assessment is vital for formulating long-range conservation plans, gaining internal support for collections care projects, and obtaining conservation grants. CAP pays for a conservator and, if you are in an historic structure, a preservation architect, to visit your institution and develop recommendations for improving how you care for the collection or structure. 


The 2013 Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) application is available online at!  


Please contact the CAP staff at or 202-233-0800 to be added to the application notification list for future years. Paper CAP applications will only be mailed to those who specifically request them.


The Conservation Assessment Program is administered by Heritage Preservation and is supported through a cooperative agreement with the Institute of Museum and Library Services. For more information visit
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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.
Regular inventories protect collections
by Peggy Schaller

Why are periodic inventories important?
Inventories are an important function of museum collections management. There are two reasons for doing periodic inventories. The main reason is to keep track of your collections. You cannot display or otherwise use what you cannot find. If you cannot find it, you have not lived up to your public trust responsibilities regarding your collection and the object might just as well be gone. And how do you know it is not gone? Maybe there has been a theft of which you are not aware?

Secondly, periodic inventories allow you to monitor the condition of the objects. Doing an inventory forces you to look at each individual artifact as you are verifying that it is where it is supposed to be. This is the perfect opportunity to make an examination of the current condition of your objects. If that small crack you noticed last time has gotten bigger, maybe the environmental controls need to be checked. If there is evidence of insects where there was none before, maybe you have an infestation that needs to be dealt with. Many small or large changes can be caught by regular examination of your collection.

Who will do the Inventory?
Only people authorized to be in the collection areas should be in charge of a Collection Inventory. All helpers must be trusted Collection Staff, another staff member or volunteers who have had a background check. Remember, your collection is your most valuable asset. Pair volunteers with a staff member and never allow volunteers to work in the collection unaccompanied.

Collection Inventories, at their most efficient, are done with teams of two - one person to handle and describe, the other to record the information on the inventory sheet. One member of this team should be a collection staff member, the other may be a volunteer or staff from another department in the museum.

Before beginning an inventory, each person involved should go through a short training session on proper collections handling and how to describe artifacts. Remember, the descriptions required during an inventory are NOT cataloging descriptions, but short, concise descriptions that will allow you to tell one artifact from others of a similar nature.


Excerpt from MS218: Collection Inventories 


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.

We Flipped! We just didn't have a name for it nine years ago.
by Helen Alten

Museumclasses is on the cutting edge of educational innovation. When we pioneered online continuing education for museum staff nine years ago, there wasn't a name for it, but "flipping" just made sense to us. Why waste valuable student interaction time with lectures? Lectures that could be posted for students to absorb on their own time. Use the face time for questions, problem-solving and specific issues related to the class topic. In our courses, our face time, the scheduled chats, are used to clarify experimental procedures, ask for more information about a topic, and problem solve issues specific to each student's museum situation. As one of our instructors explained to me, students are getting valuable consulting time from an expert in the field, as well as input from students who have similar issues at their institution.

According to The Flipped Class Blog "most people are currently defining the flipped classroom as a class in which the lectures are watched at home and the class time is used to work on what used to be assigned as homework. But this version of the flipped class, is only one iteration of the flipped classroom." This is too narrow a definition. Aaron Sams in There is no such thing as THE flipped classroom suggests that "When you read anything about The Flipped Classroom mentally substitute 'a class that uses screencasts as an instructional tool.'"

I don't believe that what is done in the classroom is what used to be assigned as homework. Not if you are working with a top notch educator. Instead, the classroom becomes an opportunity to enrich the educational experience, more in line with Socratic teaching or the graduate seminar. Students are expected to have done their homework. To have viewed the lectures, read additional texts, and completed their assignments. Assignments are the traditional homework, and still done outside of class time. However, the class time, the valuable time with the expert on the topic, is used to flesh out the lecture and relate it to the real world. We have found that students who take our classes, but do not bother to join the class chats, normally score the educational experience two points lower (on a ten point scale) than those who attend all of the chats.

Flipping puts the onus on the student. You will not be spoon-fed information. Instructors expect you to attend the class prepared, having done the background work. This works well in an online learning environment. Students expect to be proactive and read and react in order to get everything out of the learning experience. In a "traditional classroom," students may be a little more shocked by the expectation that they should come to class prepared, having already viewed the lecture.

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune alludes to an instructor's needing to make the lecture interesting in order for students to retain interest as they view it. Preparing a lecture for consumption outside of the traditional classroom is the same as creating a publication. It must be well edited, have good graphics, and be well organized. No one wants to listen to a talking head. Or a monotone voice. We have opted to use written lectures combined with Powerpoint slide shows to reduce the problems of accents, poorly enunciated words, and the boredom of a talking head.

Finally, Sams points out that "It would be foolish for any educator to adopt a model of instruction and never evaluate the efficacy of the model." We are constantly looking for better ways to impart information.
Given that there are seven different learning styles, anyone attempting to educate, needs to ensure that all seven are given an opportunity to excel in the classroom. This means providing different learning methods to teach the same idea. Repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes telling someone isn't going to work. Sometimes they have to do it to learn.

What we are attempting to do with is:
1. make top-quality, cutting edge museum information available to anybody, anywhere.
2. provide access to experts in museum topics, who can help students problem-solve for their specific situation.
3. provide a variety of learning tools and methods to help students understand and learn.
4. maximize face time with the experts.
5. And, probably most important to us, build an international community, creating networks that will expand all of our knowledge and understanding. Because, in truth, our experts learn from the students, too. Which is why they continue to enjoy teaching online.

Maybe we are "flipped." Because we believe, and see, that knowledge is not merely transmitted from an expert to the students, but flows in many directions, including between students and back to the expert.


Helen Alten is the Director of Northern States Conservation Center and creator of 2013 Course Schedule Now Online

Northern States Conservation Center has released the 2013 online course schedule for

Join us for our ninth year teaching Museum Studies courses for new and continuing professionals. Join us for one of our 50 different courses in the following categories:
  • Collection Care & Management,
  • Museum Administration & Management,
  • Exhibit Practices or
  • Museum Facility Management.
New courses in 2013 include Legal Issues in Collection Management, The Green Museum: Introduction to Environmental Sustainability in Museums, Motion and Still Photography in Museums and Historic Sites, and Establishing a Museum.


Get 5% off when you sign up for a 2013 course before the end of 2012.

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 24 January 2012