Friday, May 30, 2008

Got to have the right tools

for the job you're doing. You may have noted that one thing I really like to talk about are the supplies needed to do this job properly. This post is another in that vein.

One class of tools we frequently use is cutting tools.
Cutting tools

When making boxes, cutting foam, etc, we need to use a sharp edged object.

On the left is a box opener, like you'd find in any hardware store. This is used for cutting cardboard, cutting foam, and sometimes, yes, even opening boxes.

Second from the left is our newest cutting tool: A foam knife. The foam knife is a thing of beauty. We often use 2" thick blocks of ethafoam which can be tricky to cut with smaller, less stiff knives. The interns who work with me have found that this foam knife makes precision work with the foam much easier. Frankly, I am pretty excited by the usefulness of this knife.

In the middle is a plain old kitchen knife. I picked it up for $.49 at the local thrift store. It has served well for cutting foam, but with the presence of the foam knife, it may no longer have a purpose.

Second from the right is a trusty standby: the Exacto knife. Excellent for precision work, cutting thin material, or poking holes through cardboard.

And on the far right is a blade similar to the exacto, but with a useful hook tool at the opposite end.

Not pictured is the noble scissors. Scissors are used from time to time to.... you guessed it, cut things. Notably for cutting tyvek or acid free tissue off of a roll and into shape.

Also not pictured: The First Aid Kit. When one is working with sharp tools designed to cut things, it is important to have adequate first aid supplies on hand. So far we have had no serious injuries. Primarily I've gotten paper cuts from the cardboard which sting like the dickens but are note serious.

So those are the sharp things we use to make proper housing for the many museum objects we care for. In fact, we actually have a drawer with many more exacto type knives and a couple more box cutters. And replacement blades. In the photo above, the blades are sitting atop a self healing cutting board, another extremely useful tool when cutting cardboard and other materials, as it keeps the blades from dulling against hard surfaces and keeps hard surfaces from being marred by blade marks. All tools of the trade.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Environmental Monitoring

Summer is coming! At least it is according to the Weather Underground.
5.16.2008 weather

It still looks a bit like spring outside.
5.16.2008 blooms

Okay, but what does this wonderful turn in the weather have to do with collections management, since that's why we're all here? Well, let me tell you! So the point of collections management is to maintain and protect collections from deterioration. One thing which causes the deterioration of collections is environmental conditions. That is, things stored at the wrong temperature or at the wrong relative humidity can deteriorate faster - just imagine what would happen if you stored your books in the bathroom, with all that water in the air. They'd wrinkle and crease, and maybe start growing mold. So you can see why it's important to keep an eye on the environmental conditions.

Our storerooms have dial thermohygrometers which indicate both the temperature and the relative humidity.

When we move to the new building, I will be using a very popular digital device called a datalogger which will perform the same function, but at a high degree of accuracy and consistency (I'll admit, sometimes I miss a day here and there, not to mention weekends.)

And to keep track of changes, I take down the reading every weekday morning. In this way I can keep track of trends over time.
monitoring sheets

It's not rocket science, it's not even fancy, but from these readings, I can generate excel charts showing the change over time, like this one from last October for relative humidity:
Relative humidity

You'll see on that chart a relatively sudden drop in relative humidity(RH) - in about 2 days it drops 15%. That means the air got a lot drier pretty quickly. When changes happen suddenly like that it can put a lot of stress on sensitive objects, causing cracks, pieces falling off, and invisible damage that will accumulate over time.

This subject is of special interest right now because this week I saw a jump of about 15% in RH in a couple of days. I also found a document in the files from the 1970s, when the building the collections are in now was being built. It indicated that the entire building was environmentally controlled and would have a building wide RH of 45-55% (a standard 'normal' setting). But my tracking has shown that this environmental control has faltered somewhat over the years - RH in one storeroom spent much of the winter under 20%.

So what does this all mean? It means that our storage rooms have less than optimal environmental conditions. What can I do about this? Not a whole lot, really. I can monitor it, be aware that this may cause condition problems for some of our objects, and make plans to improve things in the future.

And I can spend some time in the sun this summery weekend, enjoying the natural environmental conditions.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Contruction site tour

Today I had the chance to go on a tour of Dean Hall, which is currently being renovated. It was way cool. I've never been on a construction site like that - I even got to wear a hardhat.

This is the west side, the "back side" of the building.
Dean Hall Construction - West entrance

We then started on the third floor. To get there, we climbed an exterior stairwell. Let it be known that I have a certain nervousness about stairways which open stairs, and about heights, so I got a little anxious climbing this thing. But it is very safe and I did not fall.
Dean Hall Construction - west side exterior stairwell

When we got to the third floor, we saw footprints in the concrete. Not new ones, but ones from 60 years ago or so when the building was first constructed (or maybe it was built in the 1960s, not sure).
Dean Hall Construction - 3rd floor, 60 year old foot prints

The second and third floor have very cool lounges being constructed in the front of the building - they are going to have an excellent view of the university and be bright and sunny. Right now, however, they are a maze of bars.
Dean Hall Construction - 3rd floor, lounge area

Another view from the third floor level, but at the top of an exterior stairwell that we are about to descend.
Dean Hall Construction - 3rd floor exterior stairwell

We descended, went through the 2nd floor which has lots of labs and classrooms, then finally got down to the first floor, which was of interest to me, being where the museum is. For all of that, I only got a couple of photos. This first one is the exhibition space. Or will be, eventually:
Dean Hall Construction - exhibit space 2

We got into where the collections space will be and I snapped a photo of what will be the archives room:
Dean Hall Construction - Archive room

That doorway you see is from the previous life of Dean Hall. It will be a wall in the future. The tour was very cool. For the past several months I've been looking at the plans of the museum, trying to visualize what sort of tables and shelves should go in there and how it will look. So now I've seen the space, and let me tell you, it looks big. We are going to have so many shelves to put things on. It's going to be excellent. I am especially excited about having a unified space - right now museum spaces are spread out on the first floor of the current building, and we need to navigate public hallways to move between spaces. If I get back into the building before it's finished, I am sure I will take more photos and keep you updated.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Whatzit: May 2nd answer

Last Friday I asked you what this very intimidating object might be:
8-471 003

I only got two responses! I thought for sure something this crazy looking would have you all intrigued. But those I got were... well, they were very creative!

"I'm gonna guess: hoof spikes for battle horses!"

"From the time of its invention in 1809 up until the civil war, the swingbarb was used by whaling ships for unspeakable purposes."

Interesting thoughts, but I'm afraid they are incorrect. As it happens, my research has led me to believe that our records are incorrect for this object as well. Our records say that this is a spur. And that does make some sense - it's pointy, has loops to be tied to something, and is adjustable. But that's not right. Get this: It's a device to wean a calf from its mother. Specifically it is a spiked calf weaner (link goes to a modern version). You can see an old version at this online auction site (lot #8).

This is a device which is worn by the calf as a nose ring, making it the most punk of all the barnyard animals. The outward facing spikes (which are not really sharp) poke the mother cow when the calf attempts to nurse, which makes her reject the calf's attempts. They also make it difficult for the calf to suckle. Thus the calf is forced to eat grains and so forth.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Whatzit: May 2, 2008

Welcome to the return of Friday Whatzits, and boy do I have a good one for you.

In this game, I give you a photo - either of a whole object, or a small part of an object, and you get to guess what it is. Then, sometime early next week, I reveal the identity of the object! Today is a whole object, a mystery object for you to guess.

(Click on photos to see larger versions)
8-471 003

This unpleasant looking device is made of metal.

8-471 004

It has a hinge which allows the opening to be adjusted.

8-471 005

So.... what is it?