December 15, 2014     
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Preserving Collections 

In This Issue
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
Submissions and Comments
Why Microclimates?
Introduction to Museum Artifacts
January 2015 Courses
Upcoming Classes
Preventive Conservation in Museums: Video Handbook
Preventive Conservation in Museums: Video Handbook
Compliments the 19-video series on preventive conservation. Each chapter is the script of one of the videos. Subjects include an introduction to preventive conservation, storage, the condition report, relative humidity and temperature, the care of textiles, protecting objects on exhibit, emergency and disaster planning, and closing a seasonal museum.

Preventive Conservation in Museums: Video Handbook
Museum Materials sample booklet
Museum Materials sample booklet
Ordering archival supplies can be difficult and confusing. This booklet provides sample materials of the most common supplies currently offered and discusses how they are used in museums. Organized by function, the booklet covers rigid materials, padding materials, ties and attachments, barrier materials and "bad" materials.

Museum Materials sample booklet$45.00
Regional Workshops

Where you can find some of our instructors this in 2015:

Gawain Weaver
  • Care and Identification of Photographs, Amherst, MA, February 16-19, 2015

Helen Alten
  • AASLH Collections Management and Practices, Haines, AK, May 14-15, 2015

Stevan P. Layne

  • CIPS Regional Security Officer Certification Class, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA, March 16 or 17, 2015   
  • CISS Regional Security Supervisor Certification Class, Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA, April 6-8, 2015  

For more information: 

Conferences and Meetings


California Museums Association

San Diego, CA

February 18-20, 2015


Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums

Building Museums Symposium

Boston, MA

March 22-24, 2015


The Smithsonian Institution and Office of Protection Services

National Conference On Cultural Property Protection

Washington, D.C.

March 26-27, 2015

Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums

Craig, CO

April 16-18, 2015


Association of Academic Museums and Galleries

Atlanta, GA
April 24-26, 2015


American Alliance of Museums

Atlanta, GA

April 26-29, 2015


Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

Gainesville, FL

May 17-23, 2015


Association of Midwest Museums Conference

Cincinnati, OH

July 19-22, 2015


Society of American Archivists

Cleveland, OH

August 16-22, 2015.


American Association for State and Local History

Louisville, KY
September 16-19, 2015


Mountain-Plains Museums Association

Wichita, KS

September 27 - October 1, 2015


Southeastern Museums Conference

Jacksonville, FL

October 12 - 14, 2015


Western Museums Association

San Jose, CA

October 24-27, 2015.


New England Museum Association

Portland, ME

November 4-6, 2015


NAI National Workshop

Virginia Beach, VA
November 10-14, 2015 

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. 


Have a comment or suggestion?   


Send it to

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Northern States Conservation Center

Online courses in museum studies

About Us

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.
End of Year Course Sale

Buy one or more 2015 courses before December 31, 2014 and receive 10% off the regular price!

Visit our website at for more information and to sign up.
2015 Online Course Schedule Now Available 
The 2015 course schedule is now available at
We are working on adding courses to the schedule over the next couple of months, so come back and check for new additions. 

Why Microclimates?

By Jerry Shiner


Perhaps there is a museum, someplace, where visitors can be trusted not to touch the objects on display, where the humidity is always stable, and the temperature is forever comfortable. Maybe there's no dust or pollutants in the air, artifacts can be left naked to the elements, and conservators fret only over the occasional accident or new acquisition.


The rest of us, who must work in less ideal conditions, usually resort to some sort of physical protection for objects on display. The simplest protective space is merely a roof; add some glass to thwart inquisitive fingers, and you have a display case. Now you have protected your objects from hands and falling dust, but you must still deal with those less corporeal culprits: light, pollution, and moisture.


Designers, engineers and building managers apparently strive for the right combination of illumination, temperature and humidity when designing new galleries. But the stark reality is that ambient gallery conditions are rarely ideal, no matter how much time, effort and investment is thrown into the mix. Climate in a gallery can usually be made hospitable to visitors with some ease, but conservators know that the conditions needed for safe display and storage of their artifacts are often much harder to attain.


Over the past century, and especially in recent decades, attention has shifted to the provision of specialized enclosures as devices for creating and maintaining safe internal environments - an environment that often differs from the surrounding ambient air in temperature, humidity, or gaseous content - in short a microclimate.


So what is a microclimate?

A climatologist will tell you that a microclimate means the particular local weather pattern of a city or region. Ask a winemaker, and your answer will be the climatic characteristics of vineyards. A heating and cooling engineer in a museum might describe the conditions created and controlled within a building or a room as microclimates.


A conservator in the same museum would be talking specifically about the environments created in display cases, storage boxes, and glazed picture frames.


The common element in all these examples is that the variables can be categorized, measured and recorded. To understand a microclimate, you will need to recognize the variables that concern you, what their current condition is, and how they have changed (and are expected to change) over time.


Why control the microclimate?

Conservators have long been aware that the environment surrounding objects in their care has the greatest effect on its condition. More exactly, it is the thin layer of air immediately surrounding the artifact (the microenvironment) that interacts with the object. Moisture, dust, corrosive pollutants, even the oxygen and other elements in the air can react with an object to create chemical changes and mechanical stresses. Control the makeup of the microenvironment and you can limit the air's interactions with the artifact.


The easiest way to do this is to create a controlled microclimate in the general area surrounding the object. This may seem obvious now, but the effect of invisible or undetectable conditions on museum artifacts has taken time to recognize.

Tools to create microclimates
Top: Mini One Humidity Controller
Bottom: ProSorb Humidity Stabilizer

The concept of microclimates provides a universally applicable model for determining, predicting, and controlling the environments immediately surrounding artifacts of all sizes and descriptions.

This course provides a structure that can be the basis of appropriate care for any collection, while introducing substantial savings on energy costs, and staff time. Spend a month taking this course to better understand what ails (and benefits) your collection, and best of all, its fun!


Excerpt from MS 242: Museum Microclimates.  Let Jerry Shiner show you more about the microclimate and how it can be used in your museum.


Jerry Shiner has been providing consultant services for environmental control of museum display and storage applications for almost twenty years. Mr. Shiner has extensive expertise in both active and passive methods of mitigating and controlling humidity, temperature, pollution, and oxygen levels for display and storage enclosures. His experience includes working with architects, engineers, and conservators to design both local and central systems for large museums. As founder of Keepsafe Microclimate Systems he has provided hundreds of active and passive solutions for low oxygen treatment and storage (anoxia), and showcase humidity and temperature control. Mr. Shiner is author of numerous articles on microclimate storage and display. His clients include museums in the US and Europe. When not working on microclimates, Mr. Shiner can bang out a passable version of "Lady of Spain" on the accordion. For more information visit his web site KEEPSAFE.

Introduction to Museum Artifacts: How They Were Made and How They Deteriorate

By Helen Alten


In the beginning, there was the earth. And from the earth grew plants and animals. And the earth was made of stone and rocks. And from this bounty, man experimented, invented, devised, decorated and created shelter, body coverings, cooking implements, transportation vehicles, toys, computers and, perhaps the most significant inventions of the 20th Century, Spandex and Velcro. Together this comprises everything that would eventually end up in museums as representations of "material culture." And we, the caretakers of the material culture of our ancestors, find the variety and creativity staggering. Especially as we fight our biggest demon - aging. To preserve our collections, we must understand how they were constructed and how the material reacts with our environment to deteriorate, or how the manufacturing process may include its eventual deconstruction.


Because of the variety and complexity of materials found in museums, we will try to explain every material by using two objects. From these two objects we will explore all others. You may or may not be familiar with these objects before the start of the course. But by the end, you will be on intimate terms with them, and the large variety of materials they represent for us.


The two objects that we will use are (1) Aleut hunting regalia and (2) Art deco fireplaces. The first represents organic materials - those derived from plants and animals. The second represents inorganic materials - those derived from the earth's core minerals. Those of you from art museums or science museums may be thinking, "But these are not in our collection and have nothing to do with the materials I must protect!" Bear with me. We will expand our knowledge to encompass all the materials in your museums, either in the lecture, the forums or the chats.


As we discuss how materials deteriorate, I will refer to the Agents of Deterioration. The Canadian Conservation Institute has defined ten agents of deterioration. They are (with no particular order or level of importance):

  • Physical Forces
  • Radiation
  • Incorrect Temperature
  • Incorrect Relative Humidity
  • Pollutants
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Theft and Vandalism
  • Pests
  • Dissociation

All or some of these will damage each material we discuss.


To understand the materials found in our museums, we must understand the materials from which they are constructed. This means, we need a cursory understanding of plant biology, animal physiology and geology. We also will touch on physics and chemistry as we explain how raw materials are processed into the finished artifacts that make our material culture. You are not meant to be experts in any of these subjects. But you do need to understand the construction process in order to understand what might detrimentally affect the artifact. Along the way you will be learning new terms, too. So sit back and enjoy reading about all those materials we find in our world.


Excerpt from MS 213 Museum Artifacts: How They Were Made and How They Deteriorate. Join Helen Alten in January to learn more about the materials from which your objects are made.


Helen Alten founded Northern States Conservation Center 18 years ago and http://www.museumclasses.org10 years ago. She is an objects conservator with a desire to bring about change through museums, improving our communities and the patrimony we leave to our off-spring.   

January 2015 Courses


MS 103: The Basics of Museums Registration

January 5 to 30, 2015

Instructor: Peggy Schaller


Collections management is a critical component of running a museum. Most museums have collections and these collections drive the public functions and activities of the institution. Collections management is the physical and intellectual management of these items. In this course we will examine how information is collected and recorded for each object brought into the collection - a process called registration. We will also examine the policies that govern what is brought into the collection, including the most important piece of institutional policy--the museum mission statement. These policies are assembled into the collections management 'bible'--the registration manual. At the end of this course you should have a clear understanding of how and why collections are documented in museums and the governing principles that drive daily museum activities.


MS 107: Introduction to Museum Security

January 5 to 30, 2015

Instructor:  Stevan Layne


World events continually remind us just how important security is. The FBI and Interpol databases record thefts from small rural museums and world renowned art collections. The prevalence of collections lost to theft is brought home to us with regular sensational newspaper stories. And then there are the internal thefts, fires, and collection vandalism that also result in loss. Security must be a priority for every museum, regardless of size. Introduction to Security teaches basic, practical approaches to protecting against threats such as theft, vandalism, violent acts, natural disasters, fire and environmental hazards. Topics include selecting security systems, determining security needs and how to build affordable security systems. Screening, hiring, firing, workplace violence, policies and procedures and emergency management planning are covered as well.


MS 213: Museum Artifacts: How they are made and how they deteriorate

January 5 to February 13, 2015

Instructor:  Helen Alten


Every museum object is unique, but items made of similar materials share characteristics. Museum Artifacts gives participants an understanding of the materials and processes used to make objects - knowledge that better prepares them to decide how to care for their collections. Participants study two objects that represent all materials found in our museums. Through an in-depth analysis of their components, participants explore all possible objects found in any museum.


MS 235: Scripting the Exhibition

January 5 to 30, 2015

Instructor: Karin Hostetter


So much to say and so little space in which to say it. That is the dilemma when scripting an exhibition. How do you say what needs to be said in the space available? How do you even figure out how to limit the information in the first place? Discover the value of themes, tangibles, intangibles, and universals in writing exhibit text that visitors really want to read -- and remember. Additional resources provided on font size and colors as well as label layout.


MS 242: Museum Microclimates

January 5 to 30, 2015

Instructor: Jerry Shiner


A microclimate is the environment immediately surrounding an artifact. Microclimates designed for optimum storage, display, or treatment conditions can be created and maintained in showcases, storage cabinets, rooms, or plastic bags. This course covers the basics of creating and maintaining microclimates, including discussions of suitable enclosures and appropriate means of controlling humidity, temperature, pollution, and oxygen. Learn what constitutes a microclimate, how to use silica gel and other environmental control materials, how to reduce internally generated pollutants, and techniques for monitoring the microclimate you have created.


MS 010: Condition Assessments

New Dates: January 18 to 23, 2015

Instructor:  Helen Alten


Whenever an object leaves or enters your museum, it should have a dated condition report completed. A condition report is so much more than "good" or "poor." Learn about different types of condition reports, what is essential and what is optional information in each, the function of a condition report, and how to use an online condition assessment tool.

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