Hurricane Irene has caused quite a stir. While you may or may not have been in her path, the publicity blitz is enough to make you re-assess how secure your personal items and collections really are. Now is the perfect time develop your own disaster plan to protect your precious collection. Here are some tips to get you started:
1) Accessing your space:
The ultimate goal is to maximize efficiency and minimize risk in your home or storage area. Look at your floor plan and evaluate potential risks. Here are some questions to ask:
- Where are all of your exits? How does this affect access to your storage? Where are your sprinklers?
- What is your emergency evacuation route?
- Where are your fire extinguishers?
- Are there any gas lines in your space?
- What type of heating/cooling system do you do you have? Where is it located?
- Could you prevent any potential disasters by moving objects to different locations?
- Is your storage furniture working well, or does it take up a lot of space?
Make sure not to place fragile materials, such as paper or fabrics, under a water source. Take some time to think about how the layout of your storage can affect your collection.
2) Establish Goals & Guidelines
Your goals should include both short-term and long-term considerations. Here are some goals you may want to adopt:
- Minimize potential water damage
- Create a stabilized climate
- Minimize handling of brittle objects
- Organize your artifacts and create a master list
Think about your collection and what is most important to you. What other considerations come to mind? After you have established goals, guidelines will help you achieve your goals. Guidelines will protect your collection. Examples of guidelines are:
- Not allowing food near your collection
- Protocol for monitoring humidity and temperature
- Handling procedures
- Cleaning procedures
3) Document the Collection
Using a digital camera has an advantage if you plan on digitizing your collection. Digitization is representing your object with various photographs of it. Digitization allows you to share your objects with other people, like insurance companies. You can publish your collection on-line, create a virtual gallery, create a virtual catalog, and easily manage insurance claims.
It is essential to back up your digital images. The best method to ensure backup is through an external hard drive or third-party service. Collections management systems integrate the digitization process into your cataloging.
Unfortunately, some damages can’t be prevented. The good news is, with the proper resources, you can minimize damage. Here are some important initial steps to take that can minimize damage:
- Temperature and relative humidity: If your collection received water damage, first dry everything as thoroughly as possible indoors. Use a fan and allow the drying process to occur gradually. Extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations compromise your objects. Fluctuations also contribute to changing pH levels. Make sure the drying area is at a stable temperature and humidity level. Having a relative humidity about 65% fosters mold growth. Once you have a mold infestation, you can never get rid of it. Try to avoid this before it becomes an issue. Measuring these levels is as simple as installing a digital thermo-hygrometer. Thermo-hygrometers are inexpensive, small tools that measure temperature and relative humidity. Also, invest in a dehumidifier.
- Rehabilitate with a conservator: Some objects, like books, can be rebound once they are dry. Once the condition of your collection is stabilized, a trained conservator can restore the object to its previous condition. Textiles can be preserved, paintings can be re-stretched and framed. Work with a reputable conservator that has been trained to deal with similar objects. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works can recommend a conservator in your area.
For additional resources, please visit the American Museum of Natural History’s Collection Management Site.