March 24, 2016       
Northern States Conservation Center Northern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter


In This Issue
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
Submissions and Comments
Collection Documentation
Introduction to Museum Databases
April 2016 Courses
May and June 2016 courses
Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount will be available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and pay only $399.00!
For our course list or to sign up:  
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at 
The Early Bird Discount deadline for May courses is April 2, 2016.
The Early Bird Discount deadline for June courses is May 21, 2016.
Upcoming Classes
Formative Evaluations for Exhibits and Public Programs
Have you done some evaluation but did not get helpful information? Do you wish you could do evaluations, but think it is too hard or too expensive? Do you wonder how to get people to use an offered program more? Evaluations are feasible and easy. This course will help you determine what you really want to know, choose the right process to gather the information, develop meaningful questions, and figure out what the results tell you. Please have a program or text in mind (real or imagined) to work with during the course. Note: this course will not be looking at statistical analysis.
Picture of the Toi Maori exhibit; Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Join Karen Hostetter for this informative course on evaluation: MS237 Formative Evaluations for Exhibits and Public Programs beginning April 4, 2016
Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning
Author: Gerald George and Cindy Sherrell-Leo. Economic and cultural issues that no one contemplated facing 50 years ago are critical to the planning process for today's successful museum. This new edition of Starting Right, revised from the first edition by Gerald George and Cindy Sherrell-Leo, still provides sound guidance in a handbook designed to explain the basics of museum planning in an evening's reading but it has been fully revised and updated to address the current issues facing new museums. Here in straightforward language you will find out what a museum is--philosophically and historically--some pros and cons of establishing your museum, up-to-date resource lists, and good basic advice on all aspects of museums from the choice of a building through collections care, registration, exhibitions, conservation, staffing, financial management, and fund raising.
Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning

Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist
Author: Harold Mailand and Dorothy Stites Alig. This recently revised book is the clearest textile care publication available. Gives an overview of how textiles are damaged and what can be done to stop or slow the damage. In-depth information on cleaning, storing and displaying textiles. Excellent color plates. 92 pp

Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist

Regional Workshops

Where you can find some of our instructors in 2015:

Stevan P. Layne

  • American Alliance of Museums 2016 Annual Meeting, May 28, 2016
Certified Institutional Protection Manager Class
  • American Alliance of Museums 2016 Annual Meeting, May 29, 2016
Conferences and Meetings

Texas Association of Museums
Corpus Christi, TX
April 6-8, 2016 
Museum Store Association
Atlanta, GA
April 15-18, 2016
Museums Association New York
Museums - Core to Communities
The Wild Center & Lake Placid, NY
April 17-19, 2016
Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums
Casper, WY
April 28 -30, 2016

Association of Academic Museums and Galleries
Washington DC
May 24-25, 2016
American Alliance of Museums
Washington, DC
May 26-29, 2016   

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
Berlin, Germany
June 20-25, 2016

Society of American Archivists
Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists and Society of American Archivists
Atlanta, GA
July 31, 2016 - August 6, 2016

International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection
Aspen, Colorado
August 28-31, 2016
American Association of State and Local History
Detroit, Michigan
September 14-17, 2016

Alberta Museums Association
Calgary, Alberta
September 15 - 17, 2016

Oklahoma Museums Association
Bartlesville, Oklahoma
September 21-23, 2016

Western Museums Association
Phoenix, AZ
September 25-28, 2016.  
Southeastern Museums Conference
Charlotte, NC
October 10-12, 2016
Mountain-Plains Museums Association
Oklahoma City
October 23-27, 2016

National Association for Interpretation
Corpus Christi, Texas 
November 8-12, 2016
New England Museum Association
2016 Annual Conference
Mystic, CT
November 9-11, 2016

Society of American Archivists
2017 Annual Meeting
Portland, OR
July 23 - 29, 2017

Southeastern Museums Conference
2017 Annual Meeting
New Orleans, LA 
September 11-13, 2017

New England Museum Association
2017 Annual Conference
North Falmouth, MA
October 25-27, 2017
National Association for Interpretation
Spokane, Washington
November 14-18, 2017

Society of American Archivists
2018 Annual Meeting
Washington, DC
August 12- 18, 2018
Southeastern Museums Conference
2018 Annual Meeting
Jackson, MS
October 8-10, 2018
National Association for Interpretation
Dates and location TBD
November 2018
National Association for Interpretation
Denver, Colorado
November 12-16, 2019

Submissions and Comments


How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  

If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to  


We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 


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Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
Collection Documentation
By John Simmons
Documentation is the supporting evidence that provides the identification, condition, history, use, and value of the collection. It may include digital images, audio recordings, notes, letters, receipts, photographs, and books. The word documentation comes from the Latin documentum, meaning proof, pattern, or example. Documentation is the proof of what a collection object is, where it came from, what has happened to it, and who owns it. Documentation is an integral aspect of the use, management, and preservation of collections, and the primary means by which a museum exerts intellectual and physical control over its collections.
Apobates race - Getty Villa Collection 
The test of a documentation system is the ability to retrieve information from it (no matter what format the documentation is in). To meet the information retrieval test, the documentation policy must require that documentation
  • be clear,
  • permanent,
  • legible,
  • and comprehensive.
Be clear --Documentation should be written in simple, plain prose. Avoid excessive jargon and slang, but do use appropriately defined technical terms. If necessary, include a glossary of technical terms as part of the permanent documentation. Use drawings, photographs, and other permanent images when they add information to the object record.
Be permanent --Documentation should be recorded in an archival format, using stable, archival materials, such as non-acidic paper and light-fast, non-acidic ink. Electronic data must be adequately backed up and periodically transferred from one generation of electronic memory to another. Collections documentation is rarely static, but increases in content and complexity as objects are loaned out, used for research and exhibition, stored, treated, and photographed. A reliable back-up system must be able to accommodate regular updates of the stored information without losing data.
Be legible --Documentation must be legible to more than just the person who wrote it, and must be accessible well into the future. Print rather than using cursive script for hand-written records. Do not use pencil -it both fades and smears. Avoid small or exotic type fonts. Use archival materials. Digital and electronic records pose particular problems for museum documentation because software, storage media, and equipment must be updated at regular intervals to keep the documentation legible and to avoid information loss. Remember that with computers, everything is possible, but many things are neither probable nor practical.
Be comprehensive --Documentation must be as complete and comprehensive as possible. Collections documentation is a record of all the activities that affect the collection. The Museums and Galleries Commission states that ". . . a museum should know at any time exactly for what items it is legally responsible (this includes loans and deposits as well as permanent collections), and where each item is located. It is recognized that the format for such records will differ between museums, but each museum should be able to demonstrate that these broad principles are reflected in its documentation procedures."
The Documentation Policy
The documentation policy ensures that the museum will properly manage all collections documentation, both written and electronic. The policy should:
  • outline the types of records that must be kept,
  • the kinds of information the records contain,
  • and who is responsible for keeping the records.
  • The documentation policy should ensure that records are updated regularly
  • and permanently maintained on archival media,
  • and that duplicate records are kept in a secure (ideally off-site) location. Regular back-up should be required for all documentation, no matter what the medium.
  • Documentation must be carefully managed. If the link between the object and the documentation are lost, both will lose their value.
Excerpt from MS209 Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions which begins April 4, 2016. Join our new instructor Kimberly Kenny for this informative course and learn what policies are critical for a professionally run museum.
Kim Kenney graduated summa cum laude from Wells College in Aurora, NY with a major in American history and minor in creative writing, where she became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her Master of Arts degree in History Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Kim served as Curator of Collections at the Historical Society of Rockland County in New City, NY before taking the position of Curator at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in October 2001. She is the author of four books, Canton: A Journey Through Time, Canton's West Lawn Cemetery, Canton's Pioneers in Flight and Canton Entertainment. She has also published an exhibition review in The Public Historian, the journal of the National Council for Public History. Her work has appeared in The Repository, The Boston Globe and the literary magazine Mused.  She serves as editor of the Museum's website at, where she has authored several ebooks. The Association of Gravestone Studies recently awarded her the Oakley Certificate of Merit for her interpretive projects at West Lawn Cemetery, and she served as the Region 5 representative for the National Digital Newspaper Project in Ohio and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Mount Union.
John E. Simmons runs Museologica, an independent consulting company, and serves as Adjunct Curator of Collections at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery at Pennsylvania State University. He consults, teaches, and does field work in the US, Latin America and Asia. For more information visit his web site MUSEOLOGICA 
Introduction to Museum Databases
Sofia Galarza Liu and John E. Simmons
A database is a set of data that is stored in a computer system in an organized and structured system designed to allow for retrieval of data using a variety of queries.
A computerized collection database has two main functions:

1. It makes the collection records available for all of the uses that collection records have in a museum and in the academic field the museum is in, and
2. It is a valuable collection management tool. It can be used for:
  • Collection inventory
  • Loan records
  • Tracking of objects on exhibit or under going treatment
  • Condition reporting
  • Images of the objects
  • History of the use of the object (research, loan, exhibition)
  • Re-sorting of information (upgrading the catalog)
  • Integrated pest management (tracking outbreaks and treatments, tracking monitoring)
  • Planning for collection moves or re-housing
Historically, museums have been limited in their ability to handle information by the physical limitations of information storage and retrieval. Prior to the introduction of computers in museums, accessing museum information was labor-intensive, slow, and often inadequate (for example, the card catalog for the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York occupied a series of cabinets that were a full city block in length, but the information they contained was organized only by accession number). The introduction of computers has brought about a significant shift--museums are now seen as repositories of information as well as repositories of objects. Better access to collection information means that museums can now better fulfill their missions and serve the public.
The process of making museum information accessible electronically has not been easy and is far from over--there are still major problems stemming from the lack of standards for many types of collections. What were once idiosyncratic, specialized registration systems have all too often become idiosyncratic, specialized computer databases. Nevertheless, managing information in the museum has become as important as managing the collections, increasing the value of both the information and the objects. This has led to some interesting socio-technical interactions in museums as human beings, technology, and information all intersect.
Computerization enables more records to be manipulated faster than a manual system, but both systems depend on the quality of the data which they contain, how well defined the data fields are, and how permanent the data records are.
Computerization does not make documentation qualitatively better, but can make it quantitatively better. By making manipulation and retrieval of documentation records easier and faster, computerization can greatly enhance the management of the collection. All aspects of collections management may be enhanced by databasing the museum collection information, making it more efficient to track and locate collection objects; find and retrieve information; prepare educational programs and exhibits; conduct research; and improve collection conservation and integrated pest management.
Computerization can also be perilous, because electronic data storage enables you to loose or corrupt data faster in ways that make mistakes harder to correct than with manual systems.
Excerpt from MS214 Collections Management Databases starting April 4, 2016. Come join instructor Sarah Kapellusch and learn what databases are available for your museum and how to evaluate and use them.
Sarah Kapellusch is the Registrar at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin. She has a MA in Public History and Museum Studies and a BA in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She serves as the Vice President of the Wisconsin Federation of Museums and is a task force member for the American Association for State and Local History's Nomenclature Committee. Sarah's experiences include museum collection administration and management, metadata, PastPerfect and database management, Nomenclature 3.0, collection moves and museum start-up projects.
Sofia Galarza Liu is the collection manager and database project co-manager at the Spencer Museum of Art of the University of Kansas.

John E. Simmons runs Museologica, an independent consulting company, and serves as Adjunct Curator of Collections at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery at Pennsylvania State University. He consults, teaches, and does field work in the US, Latin America and Asia. For more information visit his web site MUSEOLOGICA  
April 2016 Courses
April 4 to 29, 2016
Instructor:  Helen Alten
Every museum professional needs a solid foundation in preservation principles and techniques. Introduction to Collections Preservation provides an overview of current preservation issues from environmental monitoring to collection cleaning, exhibit mounts and storage furniture. Participants learn about every aspect of the modern museum and how the building, staff and fixtures affect preservation. Subjects include the agents of deterioration, risk management, object handling and transport, object labeling, exhibit lighting, security, emergency preparedness, materials for storage and display, storage and exhibit philosophies, and condition assessments.
April 4 to May 13, 2016
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
Nearly every museum develops exhibits, but how can we improve communication with visitors while taking care of our objects? Exhibit Fundamentals explores exhibits from idea to final installation in a variety of settings. Topics include exhibit theory, the role of the museum's mission, creating a timeline, accessibility and script writing. Also covered are design elements, installation techniques, object safety and security, visitor safety and evaluations. Each student develops an exhibit plan for his or her museum.
April 4 to May 13, 2016
Instructor:  Kimberly Kenney
Acquiring and holding collections impose specific legal, ethical and professional obligations. Museums must ensure proper management, preservation and use of their collections. A well-crafted collections management policy is key to collections stewardship. Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions helps participants develop policies that meet professional and legal standards for collections management. Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions teaches the practical skills and knowledge needed to write and implement such a policy. The course covers the essential components and issues a policy should address. It also highlights the role of the policy in carrying out a museum's mission and guiding stewardship decisions. Participants are expected to draft collections management policies.
April 4 to 29, 2016
Instructor:  Sarah Kapellusch
A collection database is a necessary tool for accurate and efficient collections management. In Collection Management Databases you will learn what characteristics distinguish one database system from another; how a database can be used to manage inventory, conservation, pest management, and other aspects of collections management; as well as how to prepare your collection and documentation for entry into a database.
April 4 to May 13, 2016
Instructor: Fiona Graham
Outdoor sculpture, silver tea service, gold jewelry, axe head, wheel rim - metals are found in most museum collections and may be stored or displayed indoor or outdoors depending on the object. Learn how to identify different types of metal and their alloys. Gain an understanding of how and why metals deteriorate and methods for preventing deterioration from occurring or continuing. The pros and cons of different popular treatments will be covered along with recommendations for the least damaging approach to treatment. Care of Metals provides a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of metals, explaining the importance of the galvanic series and electrochemistry in care strategies. Starting with an overview of the history and function of metals and how they are made, the course will cover guidelines for handling, labeling, exhibiting and storing metals. An overview of treatments, including cleaning, used on metals and how appropriate they are for the long-term preservation of the metal object will help students make care decisions when consulting with conservators.
April 4 to 29, 2016
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
Have you done some evaluation but did not get helpful information? Do you wish you could do evaluations, but think it is too hard or too expensive? Do you wonder how to get people to use an offered program more? Evaluations are feasible and easy. This course will help you determine what you really want to know, choose the right process to gather the information, develop meaningful questions, and figure out what the results tell you. Please have a program or text in mind (real or imagined) to work with during the course. Note: this course will not be looking at statistical analysis.
April 11 to 15, 2016
Instructor: Diana Komejan
As we march boldly toward the 22nd century, artifact collecting includes that most fragile of materials - plastic. Not only is it in our collections, but it is used to house our collections, too. What problems have you seen? What problems have others seen? What materials are best? What can we, as caretakers, do to minimize long-term damage? Join Diana in this mini-course for discussing care and deterioration of plastics. Bring any questions you have about plastics in your museum.
May 2016 Courses
May 2 to 13, 2016
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
Self-guided brochures, exhibit labels, docent led tours, guest speakers, and audio tours are only a few of the methods available to guide visitors through an exhibit. Explore the strengths and challenges of many different methods and garner resources for further information. Learn how to determine which method works best with which exhibits and how to provide variety to enhance the visitor experience.

May 2 to June 10, 2016
Instructor:  Ernest Conrad
The museum's brick exterior wall is crumbling. The powder coated metal storage shelves have active rust under the foam padding. Objects in fur storage are covered in mold. It is raining in the exhibit hall. This is the damage that occurs to museum buildings or collection when staff do not understand preservation environments. Preservation Environments is essential knowledge for any collecting institution. Everyone should understand how humidity and temperature are controlled by a building and its mechanical system. For museum staff considering a new building - and any institution planning to expand or rebuild an existing one - Preservation Environments provide important information for calculating whether the proposed improvements will actually improve the environmental control of your protective enclosure. Participants learn the advantages and disadvantages of numerous methods of temperature and humidity control. Preservation Environments does not try to turn museum professionals into engineers. Rather, it arms them with the knowledge they need to work with engineers and maintenance professionals. And helps explain why damaged occurred and how to keep it from happening again.
May 2 to 27, 2016
Instructor:  Ann Coppinger
Caring for textiles demands an understanding of how and why they deteriorate. This course offers a simplified explanation of the origin and structure of textile fibers as well as the finished textile object; be it either a piece of whole cloth or a finished garment. Care of Textiles teaches students to identify fibers, fabric structures and finishes, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to various fabrics both in storage on exhibit. Topics include preparing textiles for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with textiles, and three dimensional supports.
May 2 to 27, 2016
Instructor:  Diana Komejan
Caring for furniture and wood artifacts demands an understanding of how and why wood deteriorates. This course offers a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of wood as well as the finished wooden object; be it either a totem pole, plow or a French polished table. Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts teaches students to identify woods, finishes and furniture styles, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to wood both in storage and on exhibit. Topics include preparing wood artifacts for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with wood artifacts, housekeeping techniques for furniture and large objects on open display, basic repairs and three dimensional supports for storage or exhibit.
May 2 to 27, 2016
Instructor: Jennifer Edwards
Archives include flat paper, photographs, bound pamphlets, books, small 3-dimensional objects, and magnetic media. The Archives Management course covers an introduction to the materials found in archives and typical use of these materials including use patterns, retrieval needs, finding aids, handling and exhibition. The last half of the course details optimum storage options for archival materials. Storage includes furniture, storage techniques, standardized and specialized housing such as folders and boxes and custom-made housings.
June 2016 Courses
June 20 to August 5, 2016
Instructor:  Gawain Weaver
Photographic materials cover a diverse range, everything from the daguerreotypes and wet plate negatives of the 19th century to the gelatin silver, chromogenic and inkjet prints of the 20th and now 21st century. Care of Photographs offers a broad introduction to the history, technology, identification, and care of these and other photographic materials. Topics include environmental monitoring, the effects of temperature and relative humidity, and the importance of cold storage for certain photographic materials. It is intended to help those caring for photographic materials to gain a better understanding of their collections and how to care for them.
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.


Helen Alten, Director

Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager