When working with an unmanaged collection you are usually confronted with a number of issues that harm your collection: climate conditions, pests, leaking roofs, dripping water pipes, cracks in the wall… While those issues should be top priority on your list of things that need to be fixed professionally it will take some time to get the funding. In the meanwhile your collection suffers every day. That’s the time and the place for something I call ”Grandmother’s Fixes“.
We all know that grandmothers are great at fixing problems, may it be a broken vase, finger or heart. Grandmothers have gained a lot of experience in carrying a family through rough times of scarce resources. The “Grandmother’s Fixes” are about improving things right there and then with your own hands and with stuff that is available and costs little to no money. Of course, you shouldn’t try to fix a broken vase with superglue like your real grandmother would. The grandmother I have in mind is an ideal grandmother, an easy to imagine superhero with the superpowers of common sense and creativity. Very old, very wise and very caring. ”Grandmother“ with a capital ”G“ on her apron, that’s her.
My favorite “Grandmother’s Fix” was done for a collection stored in a huge industrial hall. About 50% of the roof consisted of windows which made it a bright place to work but also very unsuitable for collection storage. A note made with pen on paper faded so much that it was unreadable after only 6 months in this hall! The “Grandmother’s Fix” to that was incredibly simple: the windows were painted over. This was done in just a few days, cost only a few buckets of paint and reduced light levels significantly. The long-term solution was moving the collection to a more suitable storage area a few years later, but the fix reduced stress imposed on the collection immediately.
What was your favorite “Grandmother’s Fix” in collections care?
This post is also available in Russian translated by Helena Tomashevskaya.
This post is also available in: German
My favorite “Grandmother’s Fix” is to encourage tidiness. While I certainly don’t want to encourage a volunteer to go to town on an artifact with a sponge and a bottle of Windex, there is no reason why that same cleaning-happy volunteer shouldn’t be encouraged to regularly sweep or vacuum the floors and corners around collections storage areas. A side benefit to this is that institutions this size usually don’t have an IPM plan or inspection schedule, so encouraging regular room cleaning might be the only way that they detect a pest infestation, water leak, or other problem. Also, most small institutions I have worked at seem to acquire a lot of non-collections materials that wind up encroaching on their limited collections storage space, like extra desk chairs or stacks of printer paper or plastic storage bins with no lids. Get rid of that extra stuff and make your collections storage spaces roomier and better cared for without even having to touch the artifacts!
We have a large panel of side art – the kind of heavy decal that covers the side of a video arcade machine – that provided a real challenge. At 6’long and 36″ wide, we had no space to store it flat. If you rolled it, it flattened itself into pancake, so it couldn’t be rolled and stored in a tube. And it had to be rolled with a large diameter, or it would crack. With archival tubes costing hundreds of dollars, we needed an alternative. I bought, at the building supplies tube, a concrete form tube (Sonotube, in the US) with an 8″ diameter. A volunteer wrapped the tube in aluminum foil (yes, Margaret – we buy it in bulk these days!), covered it with acid free tissue (or maybe he used Tyvek), wrapped the side art panel around it, and wrapped the whole thing in Tyvek. WE already had Tyvek left over from another project, so the whole outlay was $10 for the Sonotube and whatever the aluminum foil was from Costco. And after a minor flood issue, we wrapped wooden shelves more of the foil to give us some off-the-ground storage space.
What kind of paint did you use?
Simple white wallpaint – as we painted them from the outside there were no worries concerning offgassing (not that anyone had ever really cared about offgassing in this collection up to that point…).
My favorite “Grandmother’s Fix” in collections care is using heavy duty aluminum foil as a vapor barrier on non-archival surfaces such as wood surfaces (i.e. wood shelving; wood drawers) and wood-based materials (i.e. acidic cardboard boxes) and as the core of shaped inserts to pad out objects (the crumpled foil is covered with a fabric or nonwoven before being inserted in to the object). Of course, I use NEW aluminum foil. My grandmother would probably have re-used her foil (after first carefully washing with soap and water)!