AIC 2010 Notes: 3rd IIC Roundtable on Environmental Guidelines

“The Plus/Minus Dilemma: The Way Forward in Environmental Guidelines”

Thurs., May 13, 2010, 4:30-6:00 p.m.

This panel discussion was blogged live for the IIC News blog. The session’s transcript will be made available through the IIC and AIC website, and video will be made available on the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s website.

Maxwell Anderson (moderator), the Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of Indianapolis Museum of Art

Anderson started the discussion by asking the question whether the 70F and 50% rH, plus or minus a few degrees/percentage points is reasonable or fully understood. Three areas of discussion are needed, longevity of cultural heritage, financial impact, and the carbon footprint that maintaining this standard requires. Anderson urged candor in describing our environments, flexibility with each other’s communities (engineers, administrators, scientists, conservators, etc.), and the realization that the technical capacity of many museums is not adequate to maintain this standard. Many museums were built at a time when human comfort, not longevity of collections, was primarily important.

Nancy Bell, Head of Conservation Services, National Archives, London, and Principle Investigator of the Environments, Guidelines, Opportunities and Risks (EGOR) Initiative.

Recent regulations for carbon reduction targets prompted the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) sponsored Science and Heritage program Research Cluster, EGOR: Environmental Guidelines Opportunities and Risks initiative. The group reviewed the environmental standards and served as a catalyst for change. The group identified and prioritized research gaps in order to better understand the relationship of damage to the environmental standards. They hope to develop a new, risk-based standard that looks at light, humidity, temperature and pollutants.

Karen Colby Stothart, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Installations, National Gallery of Canada

Stothart talked on the environmental issues as they pertain to exhibit and lending programs. Her institution has adopted a more flexible approach that balances preservation and use. They have chosen a winter setback to 44% rH plus or minus 3% in winter, which is down from their summer set point of 50% rH.  The shift occurs over three months. The temperature is set at a constant 71F plus or minus 2 degrees except in their cold storage areas. Traveling exhibits and loans have shaped their thinking on this issue, they circulate 20-25 exhibits each year and their guidelines contain set points depending on the media being exhibited. She urged that a less rigid standard can give an institution flexibility in what they can exhibit.

Cecily Grzywacz, Conservation Scientist, Chair of ASHRAE committee on museums, galleries, archives and libraries

Grzywacz stated that no true standard exists for temperature and relative humidity and no one set point fits all collections. [blogger’s note: there is an ANSI/NISO standard for exhibiting library and archival material, but this was not discussed.] Many people within an institution decide on set points and we must include them all in the discussion and communicate effectively with each other. She also feels that a lending organization should not require more strict environmental control that what they have at their home institution.

Stefan Michalski, Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Research, Canadian Conservation Institute

Michalski outlined the four main issues the environment causes, biological (mold, etc), mechanical (cracks, etc.), chemical (rates of decay) and physics (the current model assumes multi-layered materials). The truth is that this model is not representative of all objects, it over estimates damage to some materials, and underestimates damage to others. Environmental damage reports are largely anecdotal and he feels that most collections can handle a wider range of fluctuations in humidity.

Terry Drayman-Weisser, Director of Conservation and Technical Research, Walters Art Museum

Drayman-Weisser asks whether U.S. conservators are stubbornly sticking to outdated standards when some research has shown no damage when wider shifts in rH do not harm materials? She would like to see us re-evaluate our standards for environmental and economic reasons. More research is needed because the empirical evidence does not comport to scientific conclusions. All objects do not need the same environmental controls and should be divided by material type. We need to advocate for judicious use of wider rH parameters and seasonal settings when possible and practical based on reliable and reasonable data.


2 Responses

  1. Parks Library Preservation posted some notes on their blog about this, too.

  2. […] one has yet mentioned the Plus/Minus roundtable sponsored by AIC and IIC. That roundtable, which I summarized for you earlier, urged us to reconsider our strict standards in order to both save money and […]

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