Friday, January 31, 2020

January 2020 Update

Welcome to 2020, which we have affectionately dubbed our "consolidation year". What does that mean? It means we've experienced a lot of growth and change over the past few years, and this year we want to make some adjustments, deal with some administrative backlog, and get ourselves a bit more organized. So far, we've made some good headway...

Museum Evaluation Program
This month we opened the FTP website so museums can start submitting files for Documentation Review. The deadline is May 1st, so it's great to check this box and let people upload at their leisure. Three Q&A emails went out, which shows us that a lot of museums are already actively working on evaluation preparations. I also finally finished updating the Scoring Guide for 2020.

The Accreditation Panel convened for the first time ever (and we of course forgot to take a photo). Discussions were engaging, decisions were made, and letters are in the mail. So if your museum applied for Accreditation in December and you haven't received a letter yet, check your mailbox. If you're being evaluated this year and want to read up on Accreditation, we have lots of info on our website.

Today is the deadline for applications to join the MEP Working Group, which has a new chair in Susan Marchand-Terrio of the Isle Madame Historical Society. Terms of Reference and the application form can be found here. This is such a great group; we look forward to inviting fresh ideas and perspectives into its mix. February 14th is the deadline to apply to be an evaluator this year. Again we're excited to review applications and bring in some fresh ideas and perspectives to the evaluation process. More info on this role can be found here.

As we think ahead to next year, I had a meeting and a number of emails with Nova Scotia Museum staff to continue planning and prep work for the NSM's evaluations in 2021. It's nice to talk through logistics this early in the process.

CollectiveAccess Updates
Last year we welcomed some new members to the Advisory Service, so over the winter we are working with them to review collections info and come up with a plan to introduce CollectiveAccess to their operations.

Digitization and documentation efforts of other members remain active, even when a lot of museums are closed and grant application deadlines approach. Collectively, we now have 307,794 artifacts documented with 219,229 associated images.
Regionally, this translates as:
Southwest - 136,842 artifacts, 83,905 images
Central - 103,073 artifacts, 63,488 images
Northeast - 36,680 artifacts, 53,542 images
Cape Breton - 31,199 artifacts, 17,294 images

We're in the final stages of testing the new Transcription feature for NovaMuse (funded by MAP), which will let users help museums read and transcribe documents and inscribed artifacts. We're really pleased with how this feature has turned out, and look forward to using it to highlight stories and commemorate Nova Scotian history and its relation to broader historical events.

Educational Partnerships
As we get ourselves organized, we've been talking with museum studies programs across the country and identifying new opportunities for partnerships. We have a much better sense of what programs are out there, how they work, and how/when to reach out to promote internship opportunities with ANSM. We've even added a new element to our website to admit that we actually really enjoy hosting interns.

We're also getting our ducks in a row for this summer. We've applied for funding to help museums develop collections-based online resources for teachers, and so have recruited a group of museum people with teaching experience as well as teachers who love museums to serve as our Teacher Advisory Group. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that this funding comes through. It's an exciting project to think about.

Our strongest educational partner is Fleming College. On January 14th we launched this year's Fleming/NovaMuse project. Students are currently reviewing 320 database records for 11 museums
and making sure professional standards are being followed. Through our Facebook support group, we're having conversations about databases, collections management, and documentation issues. Students are providing great help to participating museums by reviewing some of the earliest collection records, and as a result are getting a much stronger understanding of the range and scope of information in record holdings.

Keeping Fresh
One of the things we promote through all our activities, is the notion of continuous learning, aka keeping fresh. For us, this meant participating in some webinars this month. One from Connecting to Collections Care about caring for clocks, one from the Canadian Evaluation Society on evaluation and sustainable development goals, and two from the Tamarack Institute on community development. This is obviously quite the range of topics, but isn't that reflective of museum life? So keep an eye on our Facebook page where we promote this range of online learning opportunities. We know we need to keep fresh, and we want to help you do the same.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review - Pest Management in Museums, Archives and Historic Houses

First published in 2001 and reprinted in 2004, David Pinniger's Pest Management in Museums, Archives and Historic Houses is a great resource for people who are responsible for pest management in their institutions. Written in the UK, not all of the common North American pests are included, but the advice and information in this book is still invaluable, especially when you consider climate change and how new pests are arriving on our shores.

The introduction makes special mention of the illustrations that were commissioned for this book. I confess, I sort of rolled my eyes over those statements. But once you get into the actual book you quickly realize just how amazing and immensely helpful the illustrations are. When you're trying to figure out what kind of bug has made the museum its new home, you've got to be able to identify it. The level of detail in the magnified and actual size illustrations is fantastic. Sorry I rolled my eyes. I was wrong.

The lessons on just how quickly pests can multiply are covered in each pest profile. Information about their life cycle, how they look and act at each stage, favourite environments and foods are important for museum workers to be aware of, and are covered in good detail. 

In addition to all the identification information, Pinniger gives very sound advice on how to monitor for signs of pests. He outlines types of artifacts and materials that are particularly susceptible (ie yummy or cozy) for pests, and so require more frequent monitoring. Gaps between walls and floors, blocked fireplaces or unused chimneys, and old/discarded display materials are all prime targets for pests. He talks about exhibit case design and how you can make some slight tweaks to displays that will let you more readily notice problems like frass or casings. He is also a realist, acknowledging that when we have so much on the go, it can be easy to delay an inspection or cleaning, thinking that it won't make a difference. Unfortunately, this can have a cascading effect and end up aiding the pests in their infestation schemes.

Pinniger encourages museums to not put off cleaning or inspections, saying that "the investment of time and effort in creating a clean, pest-free environment will immediately benefit the care and conservation of objects." He also reminds of the importance to keep the temperature and relative humidity low and try to limit variations. Generally speaking, pests want it to be warm and humid. I know that as "Canada's Ocean Playground" it can be very hard to maintain low RH levels, but that doesn't mean we can't try.

In terms of prevention, Pinniger cautions how sneaky pests can be, and how important it is to isolate new objects before they are really introduced into the museum. This reminded me of a museum director who told me that she would notice if something was problematic so they don't worry about isolating new acquisitions. The truth is, you can't always see the signs. You need to assume the worst of each item as a precaution. He also gives advice on where and how to set traps, and what kind of traps work best for different kinds of pests. He even considers which options are more humane than others.

He also preaches the importance of documentation. When new acquisitions come in, where are they isolated? For how long? Where did you put the traps? How often do you check them? What are the results? If you catch pests in the traps, are they adults or larvae? Who is responsible for doing inspections, checking traps, changing traps, etc? If someone notices a problem, who do they notify? Does the museum have a contract with a local pest management company? All of this needs to be written down and readily available to staff and volunteers.

While it may appear that this book is all about bugs, there is a nice 'bonus' section on rodents. In discussing prevention techniques, the author outlines a goal of making "the museum environment as inhospitable as possible for rodents." He then outlines a variety of simple things that anyone can do to make sure rodents don't see the museum as a potential home. Most of the list relates to good hygiene/cleaning practices and regular inspections. Again a lot of it seems like common sense, but should still be documented in policies and procedures so that new volunteers and staff won't inadvertently invite rodents by leaving food on counters, not taking out the garbage as often as they should be, or letting tree branches grow too close to the roof.

One statement that really jumped out at me is about succession planning. What does that have to do with pest management? Pinniger warns that "continuity is essential and the loss of staff who have not kept records can lead to complete failure of the pest strategy and all the effort which has been previously expended." How true is that? Not to mention applicable to all areas of museum work. If you don't document things adequately, be it the collection, incidents, procedures, or whatever else, it will be really difficult for someone new to walk in and keep the museum moving forward.