Tuesday, 10 March 2015

CONSERVATION QUESTIONS FOR MOBILE MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

CONSERVATION TIPS & TRICKS

BY: MADELINE SMOLARZ

The 7th iSchool Student Conference was held this past weekend in the Bissell Building of Robarts Library. This year, attendees were invited to “Share, Connect, and Discover” throughout the conference, which consisted of traditional presentations, two keynote speakers, breakfast networking, an evening reception, and a lunchtime poster session. I had the pleasure of being in the audience for four of the conference’s five panels, each which featured three fantastic presentations by a variety of MI, MMSt, and PhD students studying at the Faculty of Information.

iSchool Student Conference Logo. Source.

There were many highlights from this event, but the fourth panel on the theme of “Museums / Value” spoke the most to me, being an MMSt student. Second year student Rachel Leaton’s excellent presentation, entitled “Bringing the Museum to the People: an Examination of Mobile and Pop-Up Museums,” inspired me to write this particular article. As mobile museums are increasing in popularity, I started to think about the collections they contain and what providing conservation for mobile museums might look like. Therefore, I have compiled a list of questions collections managers should ask themselves for each object they plan to take on the road.

What special concerns might collections managers have for the objects in the American Museum of Natural History's Moveable Museum? Source.

- What kind of extremes in climate can this object withstand in terms of humidity and temperature?

- Will I have to limit the number of people allowed in the mobile museum to avoid temperature spikes and limit the possibility of accidents to keep this object safe?

- Do I need equipment to monitor the climate for the benefit of this object? If so, what equipment?

- Can I easily alter the mobile museum to provide better protection for this object in the event of environmental changes, such as inclement weather?

- If touching is not encouraged, will the space restrictions of the mobile museum allow for an effective barrier between the object and the visitor?

The New Mexico History Museum solved the issues of space & touching by making their Van of Enchantment a hands-on exhibition. Source.

- What kind of mount should I create for this object for the mobile museum display?

- Is this object sensitive to vibrations? If so, what can I do to limit the vibrations it experiences during transport?

- How will the object be secured during transport?

- If the object is damaged “on the road,” what should I include in my toolkit in order to provide basic conservation until it can be treated by a trained conservator?

… And, after considering ALL of the above, does the risk outweigh the benefit of including this object in the mobile museum’s collection?

The Dallas Museum of Art has been running its Go van Gogh program since the late 1970s. In this outreach program's early days, students could board the van and interact with reproduction artworks. Source.

In conclusion, one may want to consider the possibility of using both object reproductions and “real” artefacts so that certain originals are not exposed to the dangers presented by mobile museums, especially if they are of great historical importance and value. At the same time, how does one judge object value and then also reconcile the cost of producing reproductions if the museum does not already have them? Furthermore, what rationale should a museum that wants to develop a mobile museum use for choosing the objects that will be featured in the first place? Rachel’s presentation certainly brought up many of these questions and more for me, and I hope that those of you who hold object conservation close to your heart start thinking critically about these questions as well.

What do you think – do the benefits of mobile museums and their traveling collections outweigh the potential costs these kinds of museums represent in terms of conservation? Also, please feel free to share any other questions you think of in the comments below!


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