This pre-session was a joint meeting between conservation professionals and facilities engineers, architects, and administrators who belong to the International Association of Museum Facility Administrators. The topic of the day was how to foster a collegial and collaborative working relationship between conservation and facilities staff so together we can preserve collections with well-managed storage and exhibition facilities. The day was structured in three sections, each with a panel of experts and a tabletop exercise. The three of us attended, and agreed to blog together as the day was jam-packed with inspiration and useful tips. We were hoping to learn strategies for building relationships with our facilities managers, including developing common language, shared understanding of goals, and respecting each other’s areas of expertise.
The first session, Share the Risk: Collaborative approaches to facilities construction, renovation, and operation was moderated by Joelle Wickens, (Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library). Key takeaways from this session were that no one person owns a facilities problem, and monthly meetings, meaningful and well-planned monthly meetings, are a good strategy for building relationships that successfully address the inevitable problems. Out of work time is also important…sharing a beer with each other was mentioned throughout the day as a way to break down those silo walls.
Panelists included Jack Plumb (National Library of Scotland), John Castle and Lois Price (Winterthur), Rob Waller (Protect Heritage Corp), and Deborah Potter (Tate). One of Jack’s tips was to build in an orientation for new contractors with collections care to explain the local policies and behavior expectations that might be different from one jobsite to another. Jack also has a very interesting program for doing temperature and humidity mapping research using students from Heriot Watt University doing their dissertations. I wanted to know more about this program, and how to find students that are interested in this work!
Lois Price and John Castle got an NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant to improve their wireless building management system, and in the process, found that the working relationships between conservation and facilities staff, and each assumptions made about each other, were not so productive. So they set about doing a qualitative survey of their peers across the world, and they reported the results to us. The data set is rich, with lots of variable possible including institutional budget, frequency of joint meetings, rate of success, and decision-making rights. Their conclusions, while not statistical, point toward the fact that nothing can substitute for a good team, and the meeting more frequently can cure a number of long-standing challenges. For the skeptic who says “More meetings? I ain’t going to no more stinkin’ meetings” one merely has to say, “Let’s get you into the right meetings!”
Rob Waller talked about prioritizing different risks to collections, focusing on clearly defined goals. He explained the importance of filtering what falls under facilities managers’ ability to control. He reiterated that in many cases, the 80/20 rule applies: 20% of the risks contribute to 80% or more of the total risk, so these should be prioritized if at all possible.
Deborah Potter shared Tate’s collaborative approach to facilities planning for six sites, 72,000 works of art and a million library and archive materials. In debriefs from system failures, they discuss the impact on the collection, and approach how to prevent it from happening again, also taking a risk-based approach to collections care. Their team includes registrars, collections,, communications, and facilities staff. With a “green vision” aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 15%, they are embarking on an ambitious but doable program including energy plant and HVAC controls replacement, LED lighting, solar panels. Other sustainability initiatives include waste management, recycling, up-cycling, a flower meadow, and beekeeping! They’re not the only ones keeping bees…we found these on the roof just outside the door of the pre-session room!
This first session ended with a tabletop exercise in which temperature and humidity parameters for an incoming loan challenge our fictitious small institution, stemming from poorly written loan agreement, lack of historical data, and lack of communication between the director and the staff. Of course we sorted it all out in 15 minutes, but with the understanding that these problems are ongoing and are exacerbated by the fact that we have no industry standards for libraries, museums and archives. One group noted that such agreements can be used as leverage to make needed upgrades.
The second session, Share the Planning: Collaborative approaches to emergency management, was moderated by Rebecca Fifield, Chair, AIC Collections Care Network, and Head of Collection Management, Special Collections at New York Public Library
Collection Emergency Plans at Museum Victoria
Maryanne McCubbin, head of Strategic Collection Management for the Museum Victoria, presented the approach they have to managing risks in the multiple museum buildings and storage facilities where they house over 17 million state collection items. Citing recent floods that have tested their plan and preparedness, she emphasized how crucial it is for collections staff to communicate accurately and often with facilities and provide a liaison with facilities as well as emergency (first) responders (fire, police, authorities). She also commented on an often overlooked approach to managing risks, or inherent dangers, within a collection, such as hazardous substances in collections.
She stressed that a plan should be thorough yet brief. It can have appendices that provide more specific and detailed outlined activities for departments. However the plan should be developed through extensive negotiations with facilities, conservation and security. She cited a couple pitfalls for any great plan: failure to regularly induct new hires to the plan, especially in departments with high-turnover such as facilities and security; keeping contact information for key personnel up to date; reviewing incident reports to improve your plan; and practice!
The Lone Responder: Building an Emergency team with limited resources
Laura Hortz Stanton, Executive director of Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA), discussed how crucial it is for small historic house museum, societies and municipal museums with limited staff and resources to connect with their local emergency management personnel. Reaching out to your local fire or police is important so they can become familiar with the building(s) as well as the contents, and key staff members. They can even review your emergency response plans and provide recommendations. Another key point was the importance of being prepared for the recovery after a disaster. “Who you gonna call?” A small museum that does not have a conservation and/or collections staff needs to keep an up-to-date contact list for local or regional collections professionals that can respond quickly to a call for assistance after a disaster of any size. She pointed out resources available online to help develop plans, including online templates and training, opportunities to benefit from mutual aid memberships in your state, local assistance networks, as well as AIC’s National Heritage Responders (NHR, formerly AIC-CERT). The majority of these links can be found on AIC’s website.
NFPA Codes for Cultural Heritage Institutions
Nick Artim of Heritage Protection Group was not able to attend the session as scheduled. He did participate in the half day pre-conference session on Saturday titled Choosing and Implementing a Fire Suppression System for a Collecting Institution. (AIC Blog Link http://tinyurl.com/hhdtv6z) For more information regarding Codes and Standards for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) see links provided at the end of this blog post.
The session concluded with a tabletop exercise titled An 88-year old dam and a hurricane on the way! Teams were tasked with emergency planning for the fictional Decoy Museum, a small museum located on the coast of Maryland with a history of flooding. The museum is down river from an 88 year old dam and a hurricane is quickly approaching. Teams were shown a photograph of the exterior of the building and it’s proximity to the water, history of the site as it has fared in previous storms, images of the interior and a description of the collection. We were also told that our emergency plan is out of date and the only copy stored on a computer. Using the expertise at our individual tables we were asked to review our emergency preparedness and how we would respond in our respective roles. As the clock counted down we were provided with updates on storm progress, a status report on rising flood waters, and given a 24 hour evacuation notice to see how circumstances would affect our strategies.
Although initial discussions were focused on collections, most teams concluded that the safety of the public and staff came first, followed by securing collection data (hard drives/ records), securing the building, and initiating organization for return and recovery. Two key takeaways from the exercise included a discussion around FEMA’s Incident Command Structure and the concept of “dead” building. ICS is a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response. ICS offers flexibility to respond to small to large incidents, defining key roles to be filled rather than strictly identifying individuals. “Dead” building is a term used by facilities professionals to describe a full building shutdown and disconnection from utilities. As part of your plan it is important to know how long it will take to shut down your building as well as bring it back online.
The third session, Share the Responsibility: Collaborative approaches to selecting appropriate environmental guidelines, was moderated by Patricia Silence, Director of Preventive Conservation, Colonial Williamsburg.
Select Guidelines and Standards
Selecting guidelines and standards can’t be boiled down to just a number because it depends on factors such as the building envelope, outside air temperatures, HVAC equipment, climate, etc. and how well their interaction matches capability of building and environment. The speakers discussed using guidelines and not standards as a basis for procedures and policies, and how to maintain the notion that the indoor environment is a fundamental component to preservation of collection. Other key points made by this panel included:
- Consistent monitoring leads to meaningful conversations
- Environmental control includes lighting, ventilation, and pest control in addition to temperature and RH
- Customized specifications should be developed for each institution and collection, looking for “parameters in lieu of more science” and reinforcing the point that “70/50 is no longer an appropriate, practical, sustainable, or useful set-point.”
This session ended with a table-top exercise involving an old swimming pool, a famous elephant, and a collection of ivories that need special environmental controls for exhibition. There was role-playing and even name-calling, and things got a little silly, but it was a great way to end the day.
A number of useful references were shared:
ASHRAE (American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers). 2011. Chapter 23 of ASHRAE Handbook – Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Applications.
BSI (British Standards Institute)
PAS 197:2009 Code for Practice for Cultural Collections Management
PAS 198:2012 Specification for Managing Environmental Conditions for Cultural Collections
PD 5454:2012: Guide for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Materials
CEN (European Committee for Standardization) BS EN 15757:2010: Conservation of Cultural Property-Specifications for Temperature and Relative Humidity to Limit Climate-Induced Mechanical Damage in Organic Hygroscopic Materials
IAMFA Cultural Institutions Benchmarking Exercise
ISO (international Organization of Standardization) ISO 11799:2015: Information and documentation – Document storage requirements for archive and library materials
National Archives and Records Administration – (US)– 2002. Archival Storage Standards, NARA Directive 1571
NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
NFPA 909 : Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, 2013.
NFPA 914: Code for the Fire Protection of Historic Structures, 2015
National Museum Directors’ Conference. Guiding Principles for Reducing Museums’ Carbon Footprint, 2008
Proceedings of the Smithsonian Institution Summit on the Museum Preservation Environment, 2016