Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review - Mould Prevention and Recovery: Guidelines for Heritage Collections

Back to the reference library we go, and this time we're looking at something completely different from the last few books. This time we're going to talk about mould, or rather, we're going to hear what the Canadian Conservation Institute has to say on the subject. Published in 2004 and written by Sherry Guild and Maureen MacDonald, this technical bulletin might just be enough to make your skin crawl. 

The bulletin is broken out into two main sections - mould prevention and collection recovery. The first section provides basic explanations of what mould is, how it grows, how to prevent its growth, as well as the steps to go through if/when an outbreak occurs. Fair warning that some science is involved here, so if you've been out of that sphere for a while you might feel like you've been suddenly thrust back into a biology or chemistry class. 

The authors review the basic requirements for mould growth - nutrients, temperature, pH, air circulation and light. In thinking about museum buildings, especially those in Nova Scotia (ie next door to the Atlantic Ocean), it's easy to understand that we need to be vigilant about this threat to our people, collections, and buildings. In terms of the buildings, a handy table on building maintenance and engineering systems provides guidance on preventive practices that will greatly reduce the risk of mould. Whether it's immediately repairing water leaks, regularly replacing filters, or using dehumidifiers to keep humidity levels down, any museum would be able to see what risks are involved in various areas, and how to mitigate these risks. 

The authors are quick to caution that mould spores can only be reduced rather than eliminated. They are also quick to point out that mould is a serious health risk and must be treated as such. This thread weaves throughout the bulletin, giving the clear message that people are more important than artifacts. This might sound like a funny statement to you, but in years past this principle was not taught, and museum professionals' health suffered as a result. Some simple ways to reduce spores include closing windows and doors, using central air-conditioning, and using electrostatic filters. 

As you can imagine, having proper storage spaces is critical in keeping mould at bay. The storage crisis in museums is such that more and more items are crammed into storage areas, greatly inhibiting air circulation. It is also common for cardboard boxes and other non-archival materials to be used that can trap and encourage moisture buildup. 

I've mentioned before that I love checklists and workbooks that let you figure things out really quickly and easily, and this technical bulletin doesn't disappoint in that regard. A preventive measures checklist provides you a quick bullet list of actions that can be incorporated into disaster plans, facility management plans, and other such guidelines. Maintaining RH below 60% (I know this can be next to impossible sometimes on the coast), having good air circulation, routinely inspecting artifacts for signs of issues, removing dust, isolating incoming artifacts, keeping food and plants away from the collection...lots of simple things that anyone can do. 

The second section, on collection recovery, focuses first and foremost on personal protective equipment and measures. The authors describe each piece of equipment, their benefits, and proper use. There is also another handy table to help you decide what kind of PPE is required based on the extent of the mould outbreak. Once it has been determined that people are safe, guidelines move on to the cleaning of artifacts. Again there are quick lists - things to consider before you start, how to prevent mould spores from dispersing further, and then specific instructions on cleaning with various tools and equipment. 

Just as the bulletin quickly addresses health risks at its start, it ends with similar disclaimers and warnings. Just as certain types of materials and artifacts are more susceptible to mould than others, some people are more sensitive to mould than others. The key is to treat all mould as dangerous, to address issues early on, and to call in the professionals when in doubt. 

As is the case with other technical bulletins by CCI, this one includes a lot of great extra info at the end. From the quick list on how to remove mould from different types of artifacts, to a list of suppliers of personal protective and cleaning products, to the list of other sources of information, ample opportunities are provided to further investigate issues around mould.

If you'd like to read the bulletin yourself, you're in luck. CCI has it available for free on their website as a pdf. 

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