Thursday, June 30, 2011

Five Hobos in a Museum

If you’ve been to the History of Diving Museum before, on your next visit be sure to keep a sharp eye out for something new in the exhibit galleries: hobos! No, not that kind of hobo. We still have enough mannequins to display all our diving suits and helmets, so there's no need to worry about the exhibits “coming to life.” I’m talking about HOBO data loggers, small electronic boxes that look like thermostats and monitor fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity.

Before you lose interest completely, I should emphasize just how important this acquisition is in the development of our young institution. Museums are charged with the task of preserving collections ‘in perpetuity,’ so that future generations may enjoy and study their contents. Unfortunately, time can be just as cruel to objects as it is to people, as everything “turns to dirt” across a long enough continuum. While museums will never be able to keep everything in their collections from disintegrating, there are certainly ways of extending the “lives” of objects. One of the biggest threats to an object’s longevity is its surrounding climate, so monitoring, stabilizing and maintaining that environment is crucial. The new data loggers will aid us in this task, as life in the tropical climate of the Keys can be especially harsh on certain materials.

You might being saying to yourself "Why are these objects so high maintenance? A small change in temperature or relative humidity doesn't affect me...and I'm a living thing!" Well, this may be true, but it has actually been determined that some objects are 100 times more sensitive to fluctuations in relative humidity than human beings (Cassar 1995)! Acidic paper, which is basically all paper ever produced until acid-free paper became an option in the 1950's, is a great example of this. For paper, the colder and drier it is, the better. In fact, if the storage temperature where reduced from 70°F to 40°F and the relative humidity from 50% to 5%, the potential lifespan of a piece of acidic paper would multiply by one thousand (Applebaum 1991)! That's the difference between preserving something for 50 years and 50,000 years!

Standard practice for general museum collections dictates a constant "ideal" temperature of 65 to 70° F and a constant relative humidity somewhere between 47 and 55% (Bachmann and Rushfield 1992; Simmons 2006). It can be a difficult task to achieve these conditions in the Keys, but we are trying to get as close to them as possible without completely blowing up our electricity bill. So next time you visit the museum and it seems a little chillier, just remember, it's all in the name of conservation! In the meantime, keep an eye out for those hobos!


Applebaum, Barbara (1991). Guide to environmental protection of collections. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press. Print.

Bachmann, K. and Rushfield, R.A. (1992). Principles of Storage. In K. Bachmann (Ed.), Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Collectors and Curators, pp. 5-10. Washington; London: Smithsonian Institute Press. Print.

Cassar, May (1995). Environmental Management: Guidelines for Museums and Galleries. London; New York: Routledge. Print.

Simmons, J.E. (2006). Things Great and Small: Collections Management Policies. Washington: American Association of Museums. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment