Love devouring a good book? Meet the real bookworms – and they’re better at it than you.

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Care, Insect pests, Storage

It’s World Book Day on Tuesday March 2nd. Our nation loves books. Adults, children, even babies, we all love devouring a good book. Unhappily though, we aren’t the only ones. The larvae of moths, booklice, carpet beetles, spider beetles, silverfish, woodworm (also known as bookworms), and death watch beetles, (true!) all enjoy books even more thoroughly than we do.

That’s gross. Why would they do that?

They’re hungry and you’re providing a food source. Books can provide a feast for larvae which feed on wood, animal substances, mould and mildew. Let’s look at these in turn.
The larvae of deathwatch beetles and woodworm love to eat wood. Books are made from wood pulp, so if a beetle lays eggs on the book its larvae will bore in and around the pages and covers for up to four years before emerging as adult beetles, possibly laying eggs on the way out.
The larvae of silverfish, moths and carpet beetles will only graze on animal substances, shredding the book as they go, so they like a bit of leather binding, a side order of size (a glue made from animal hooves) and possibly a dessert of parchment or vellum, if you’re lucky enough to have really old books.
Silverfish and tiny psocids (booklice) are choosy and feed on the starches and proteins in cellulose, which is contained in wood pulp. They like to graze, so create a scuffed appearance on pages and covers. They prefer certain colours and have been known to create patterns as they hunt out the dyes and pigments they prefer.

How can I avoid things eating my books?

Make sure your books aren’t damp. Most of these insects prefer their food a bit wet, so damp books – those stored in lofts, cellars or sheds, or placed on shelves against colder outer walls, will suffer most. To encourage air circulation, don’t push books right back against the wall or shelf.
Insects enter through windows in the spring and summer and lay eggs. Vacuum and dust regularly, unless your books are extremely rare or valuable, in which case seek specialist advice.

Any other tips for looking after books?

Yes! While we’re looking out for things that might spoil our enjoyment of a good book, we can also consider light, chemicals and bad handling. Light will fade the covers, so store them away from windows. Store them upright instead of stacked. Dropping books and opening them too wide weakens the spine and bindings, so handle them carefully. Chemicals from modern paints, glues, waxes and varnishes, as well as from some woods, can cause books to degrade, so be careful where you store them.
Most importantly…. Enjoy reading, enjoy your books and use these simple tips to make sure that you’re the one who enjoys them the most.

Cold frosted window with sunset behind

Cold: why collections and archives don’t much like it

Posted 5 CommentsPosted in Storage, Temperature

It’s been cold – below zero – in the UK the last few days, with days more chilly weather to come. I’m keen to have warmer weather (unless there’s snow coming, in which case bring it on) and it’s a sure thing that if you’re storing collections and archives in basements or attics, they’ll be suffering too.

Why? How can cold cause problems? I’ll use an analogy from last week. My seven year old wanted to take an inflatable plastic globe to school. We rescued it from her bedroom by the radiator and blew it up fully. We set off on foot to do the 10 minute walk in -2 degrees. After a few minutes, we noticed that it had ‘blown down’ and that the feel of it had changed – it had gone from being plump and springy to brittle and hard to move. I explained that it hadn’t blown down but that the molecFrosted window with sunset behindules of cold air within the globe and the particles of plastic in the globe had contracted in the cold, causing the blown down effect and the plastic to feel delicate. I told her to take it in to the warm classroom and see what happened and later she was able to tell me that the procedure had reversed.

Items in archives and collections react in exactly the same way to differing degrees – and there lies the problem. If you’ve two items together, say books with parchment glued onto paper or buckskin glued to card, they will expand and contract at different rates, causing loosening and tearing. Add a bit of condensation into the mix, which freezes in the layers, and you’ve got trouble heading your way – mould, mildew, shrinkage…

18 degrees is considered a stable temperature for most objects. It is worse to have daily fluctuations than seasonal ones as this causes more expansion/contraction cycles. Any area getting down to near freezing temperatures is a cause for concern. If your collection is in a poor space, consider a long term insulation plan with false walls of battens and foamboard – this will help with heating costs in the rest of the building. If you haven’t already covered windows, do so, either permanently or with blankets or thermal blinds at the windows. Allow some heating on the coldest days. Keep the area dry at all times. Consider a proper plan to look after your history and take care of your unique collections.

radiator

Art: keeping it cool

Posted Posted in Care, Environmental monitoring, Exhibit, Temperature

radiator-imageLast Monday I went to a lovely pub restaurant; one which is part of a new chain. I was impressed. There were friendly, helpful staff, lovely interiors, a log fire, fabulous, well-presented food and a corridor filled with what looked like original artworks. On closer inspection, I found that they were indeed originals. They were very interesting, large, pen and watercolour pieces and each reflected an incident in the town’s history. What an original and wonderful thing for a pub to commission! There were 20 or 30 of them – no small investment in time, thought, framing, cost or insurance. This, surely, is a collection to be treated with care.

 

I was surprised, then, to see that two of them were hung directly over a radiator. During a conversation, I mentioned it to the pub manager who said that the collection was curated by the artist. I asked if anyone minded that the images were hung directly over a heat source. The manager looked surprised and said ‘….well….’ Either it had never occurred to anybody that heat isn’t great for pictures or they were aware, but the paintings had to remain over the radiator.

 

Why should the manager care? Three reasons: expansion, contraction and chemical reaction. As things become warmer, they expand. As things become colder, they contract. When this happens regularly the work gradually becomes unstable. As things become warmer, for each 10 degrees of warmth the chemical reaction rate – which leads to deterioration – doubles. Art should ideally be kept at one constant temperature of 19-22 degrees. Seasonal changes are acceptable as they occur over a long period of time, but if radiators are on and off this will accelerate the natural deterioration process and the reaction of the ink and watercolour with each other, the paper, the backing and the frame.  The end result is that the pub will have a series of lovely artworks with two that are brittle, brown and wavy.

 

So what to do? We don’t all have the space to not hang things over radiators. The pub manager could try these:

 

1) Turn down that radiator

2) Have the radiators on constantly low rather than on and off

3) Fit a radiator cover or shelf over the radiator: the heat will go out rather than up

4) Swap those pictures for others occasionally

5) Re-site the pictures and put a less important item, or nothing, in their place

5) If you’ve done all you can and aren’t compounding your mistake with sunlight, strong lamplight, humidity, dust etc, don’t think about it again and enjoy your original art. That’s what it’s for.

The importance of correct storage packing

Posted Posted in Care, Environmental monitoring, Insect pests, Mould and mildew, Storage

As a museum curator, I know that packing items correctly for storage is vitally important. This is something that trainee museum curators are taught on the MA course and which is drummed in during our working lives every time we come across damage, as it’s so often due to incorrect packing. Most people aren’t aware of this, and why should they be?

 

If organic items are stored incorrectly several things can happen:

  • They can be broken
  • They can become dusty: as dust is acidic it will eat away at the item, damaging the surface
  • They can become a target for insects or rodents
  • They can become mildewed or mouldy

 

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Mildew and woodworm on an incorrectly packed Nigerian wooden mask
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Mildew on am incorrectly packed Nigerian wooden mask

This last is what I will talk about here. Recently I worked with a collection that had been packed for international transport and then put straight into storage in the same packing. The storage conditions were not optimal as the collection was placed into an attic with (as with all attics) extreme seasonal temperature fluctuations. The collection had been in storage for between 7-20 years depending on individual items.

 

The collection had been carefully packed for international transport into cardboard boxes, then into packing paper and then either bubble wrapped or put into plastic bags. This was adequate for the transport of a personal collection, but on arrival, the items should have been removed from the bubble wrap and plastic bags and re-packed for storage. While useful to stop damage during transport, the plastic around each item creates a micro-climate. Fluctuating temperatures in the storage facility had added to the micro-climate, causing water vapour collected in the winter’s chill to condense inside the plastic in the warmer summers. Bubble wrapped items had become mildewed. Mildew is a superficial growth made of hyphae, small filaments of fungus, which is mainly associated with garden plants but can also affect organic items indoors.

 

Once mildews and mould take hold they can grow quickly and we were fortunate that these were only small growths, easily brushed off. Correct re-packing for long term storage (a sturdy acid free box, to prevent acid leakage and insect ingress, acid free tissue rolled into balls to support the items, further museum-quality materials for delicate or very important items) will keep this collection in a far better condition even in a poor environment such as an attic.

 

Sometimes it’s too late. Some things are in such a poor state that the mould has damaged the item irretrievably and it has to be disposed of. Simple regular housekeeping checks can prevent this and keep collections going for many more years.

 

close up of Clothes moth Tineola Bisselliella

Company history or lunch?

Posted Posted in Care, Environmental monitoring, Insect pests, Storage
clothes moth tineola bisseliella
Clothes moth

Everyone has heard tales of Granny pulling out her fox fur, clothes moths flying everywhere and the once-beautiful fur in tatters. Recently a Scottish relative showed me his kilt and jacket. These 60 year old family heirlooms had been ruined over one single winter. He’d even had to buy new socks as when he’d put them he had found that the heel had been eaten away entirely. Clothes moths (notably Tineola Biselliella and Tinea Pellionella) are a serious pest of stored organic items.
It’s not actually the moths eating your heritage, it’s their larvae. Females lay clusters of 30-200 eggs and they hatch 4-10 days later into tiny caterpillars which begin to eat. And eat, and eat, until they are ready to spin cocoons (a few months to two years). They then spend 2-6 weeks developing into moths, at which point they leave their cocoons and begin the reproductive cycle, dying within a month or so.

 

Moths go for organic in a big way – think silk, wool, hair, skins, sometimes linen or cotton, in carpets, curtains, rugs, runners, cushions, clothes etc. So how does this relate to your historical collections of books, papers, paintings or prints? You’ll be delighted to hear that they also enjoy a bit of leather (books) and cloth (book bindings) as well as parchment or vellum and occasionally the animal glue on canvases. Yum.

clothes moth tineola bisseliella
beige, brown and cream with a cream head, the  clothes moth blends in well with organic fibres

 

To find moths, think like a moth. They prefer dark, humid, warm, undisturbed places. Quiet parts of modern homes and offices are perfect. Look in cupboards, in cracks, under chests of drawers. And remember, if you don’t do this and it’s your collection falling into tatters, you can’t just go and get another one. You don’t want to be the one who allowed 200 years of your company’s history to become lunch.

green and white emergency exit sign with peson running

Emergency planning: company collections and archives

Posted Posted in Environmental monitoring, Opinion, planning

green and white emergency exit sign with peson running Most companies have undertaken emergency planning involving staff and visitor evacuation, IT and furniture removal – depending on the threat –  but how many of you include your historic company collections and archives in your plan? For instance, how many of you would even consider the unique antique oil painting of the company’s founder in the rush to remove the easily-replaceable-backed-up-centrally-overnight laptop?

If your plan does include your company’s irreplaceable history, bravo and well done – you’re on the right track not only to keeping your own history, but a history that will have impacted on the town and society around it and upon the business world too. What of those who don’t?

Emergency planning is often seen as a theoretical exercise carried out only for insurance or policy purposes. This is fine until it’s needed. At that point you realise how important it is.

Years ago, as a museum curator, I created an emergency plan. It featured a description of the museum and collections, the evaluation, access and salvage procedures and the correct post-emergency process. It  had an appendix of emergency contacts and detailed where to find useful items like the disaster boxes, ladders and torches (by all the doors – elementary. Are yours?)

This was an interesting theoretical exercise  until I was contacted at 4am one dark, windy, winter morning to be told that ‘the highest ever storm surge will hit our area in four hours’. I had to persuade the police to let me through a total road block ‘You understand that if you die it’s nothing to do with us?’ in order to get to the museum. On arrival, my fab local team were there already assessing the situation, disaster boxes open and waiting. The boxes included lists of the most important items to remove, in what order, and what tools were needed to remove them. All the necessary tools, equipment and clothing to save the collections was in the boxes. We moved the most important items upstairs while the flood waters rose and the police and fire engines kept vigil, along with camera helicopters overhead.

In the event, the flood waters missed the building by only 30 feet. Businesses down the road were not so lucky. Another museum was watching the advancing flood from the front door when they realised that water was bubbling up through the floorboards. They had their own emergency plan which had enabled them to save their collections and demonstrate their survival skills. Can your company demonstrate that?

If you have an emergency plan, do check that your historical assets are included. Tables, chairs, PCs  etc can be replaced – the physical record of your company’s history cannot.

radiator

Autumn’s here: Why turning on your radiators could be turning off your revenue stream

Posted Posted in Care, Environmental monitoring, Storage, Temperature
old radiator with peeling paint
Turn off radiators under artwork

Radiators – oil filled heaters – storage heaters – under-floor heating – at this time of year, the chances are that your office has some form of heating (and I do hope so!) and that you’ll be discussing whether or not to put it on. Perhaps it will go on for a few hours in the morning and a few more in the afternoon, if you work in a small cost or environmentally-conscious office, or perhaps you work in a space where your office becomes a blast furnace, with the windows open and the staff in t-shirts, from October 1st until March 31st.
No matter which heating style you live with, it probably won’t suit your company collections unless they’re in a dedicated climate controlled location. Most offices with historical collections fail to prioritize them and so store them wherever there’s room – the attic, the basement, cupboards, open shelving in offices.
So why is heating a problem? How on earth can being warm entirely ruin collections? Well, I’ll explain, and as it’s nearly my lunchtime I’ll use a few food analogies. Imagine putting two litre bottles into the freezer. One contains water, one contains alcohol. They’d both freeze, but one would expand more than the other. As they melted, they’d contract back to their original sizes. Now, think of the way in which pasta absorbs water, and how it dries out again when the water is removed. This happens, to a greater or lesser degree, to everything in a collection.
Take a traditional oil painting as an example. Usually, oils are painted in many layers of differing paints over a canvas, which is usually made from cotton, linen or hemp. The canvas will have been initially treated with a layer of gesso, comprised of linseed oil and calcium carbonate, applied over a rabbitskin glue ground (called a ‘size’). The whole is stretched over a wooden frame. The painting might be varnished after completion, before being inserted into a plaster and gilt frame. On average, you therefore have at least nine different mediums – canvas, linseed oil, calcium carbonate, size, wood, varnish, plaster and gilt, not to mention the paint and everything that it’s made from. ALL of these things will absorb and lose heat and moisture and, crucially, this happens at different rates, like the frozen bottles and the pasta. As they do this, they expand and contract, again, crucially, at different times. Back to the food analogies – imagine a flaky pastry, with different layers becoming larger and smaller at different times – a smaller bottom layer rucks up the larger top layer; a larger bottom layer stretches and cracks the smaller top layer. The end result is an oil painting with cracked, flaked paint, shrunken or loose canvas, warped canvas frame and lost chunks of gilt plaster – I’m sure you’ve all seen one somewhere. The paintings in the worst condition are usually those still hanging over the Victorian fireplace, which expanded and contracted hugely every day in the fierce heat generated.
Every single thing in a collection is susceptible in one way or another. Some items take decades to show degradation while others have visible damage fairly quickly. All the time that your heaters are cycling on and off, causing wide temperature fluctuations, they are causing damage. Moving items away from fluctuating heat sources can help, as can creating micro climates by boxing – best of all is a temperature controlled room, or one which has no heating or windows and so has a more even, less spiky temperature chart.
Once your items are damaged they are less useable for advertising campaigns, merchandising, corporate gifts, inspiration, research, image licensing and heritage strategies. Do take steps to protect your company’s valuable history – moving collected items away from heat sources is a simple, easy thing for you to do.

Dust: eating into your company archives

Posted Posted in Care, Dust, Environmental monitoring, museums, libraries, archives, collections, Storage

I read a humourous line recently: ‘Dust is a protective coating for fine furniture’. Obviously that’s a joke, but the joke is more about perceived standards of housekeeping than the realisation that dust is anything but protective.

 

Preservation specialists have known for a long time that it is actually harmful, so much so that the very image of a museum curator is bound up with dustiness. That’s why, upon telling people I was a curator, often the response was ‘Do you do a lot of dusting?’ A good collection won’t be like this – a good collection excludes it in the first place.

 

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s unsightly, it’s acidic, it’s abrasive, it’s allergenic and it’s hygroscopic. Dust comprises particles of soil, sand, volcanic eruptions, pollution, pollen, exhaust fumes, mould and fungi spores, of dead skin and hair, fabric and paper fibres and house dust mites, which eat the organic matter contained within and leave their faeces behind them.

 

The overall composition is acidic, and if left, will eat away and etch into items if left lying upon them. It will discolour and stain fabrics. Dust is mainly organic and as it decomposes it rots, leaving the products of decay in its wake.

 

Fibrous dust only contributes about 3% to the total but as it’s larger, it is unsightly; it is the fibres in the dust that often alert us to its presence. Skin and hair also don’t contribute much, but in homes and offices, they create enough particles to ensure the presence of house dust mites. Microscopic louse-like creatures, these cosmopolitan pyroglyphids flourish in these stable environments. Particularly fond of warm, humid bedding, they also do well in carpets and soft furnishings in similar office environments.

 

Dust sticks to surfaces because of the presence of exopolymers, made of the waste products of microbes. As dust gathers it provides more food for the colony-forming microbes which produce waste (called ‘biofilm’) on the surface of your object. Warm humid rooms are perfect for this breeding to take place.

 

To avoid the heavy consequences of ruining a collection with this problem, exclude it. Gently vacuum items before boxing or covering them. Don’t use a duster as this just moves and unsettles it – use a conservation vacuum. Items which don’t need boxing can be protected with archival tissues but not all items need this protection. These can be shelved as long as the doors and any windows are sealed or have excluders. Ideally a store wouldn’t have windows at all – if it does, they should be boarded over and sealed up – this helps with security, excludes dust, stabilises temperature and humidity and maintains low light levels.

 

If stringent precautions are taken and a regular cleaning programme implemented then your collections should be an asset to your company for many years to come.