Interning in Collections
Each summer the Museum hires interns that are interested in pursuing a career in the museum field to work in a variety of different areas. In this blog you will hear from Rachael who is working in the Museum’s collection that houses over 100,000 objects related to just about every soft drink brand in the US.
Hello everyone! My name is Rachael and I am the collections intern here at the Dr Pepper Museum this summer. My job is to process two incoming donations into the Museum’s holdings. From time to time in collections management you will come across various problems especially when processing incoming objects. These problems might include anything hazardous to either the incoming objects or the museum’s permanent collection or both, such as pests in the collection. This is going to happen so you have to be prepared and sometimes resourceful when dealing with these issues. Two of the issues I have encountered so far are a chemical that is a potentially hazardous to the collection and one of the most dreaded terms in collections management – mold.
While processing one of the collections I discovered a lighter that was still filled with lighter fluid. Any chemical such as this could be a potential hazard to the collection and needs to be either monitored by the collections staff or somehow disposed of. In this case, we wanted to preserve the lighter but remove the fluid so that it was no longer a hazard to the collection. The problem with this is it was a disposable lighter. It is times like this that staff have to be creative to fix problems. Thanks to Sammy, our facilities manager, we were able to remove the fluid without losing the lighter in the process. He discovered a way to drain the fluid from the lighter that is not visible to the naked eye, and in doing so, he preserved the integrity of the lighter so it is still a great piece to have in our collection and maintained the safety of our collection by removing the potential hazard.
I came across the mold while processing a collection as well. Mold, as I said, is one of the most dreaded words in collections management. It is so dreaded because it is so volatile to the collection. It spreads quickly and contaminates many items in the collection, especially those made of organic materials such as clothing and paper products. It is also so dreaded because it is so hard to permanently get rid of once you have it.
When the mold was discovered, we first had to confirm it was mold. To do this we set up a station in a room away from the rest of the collection and brought the items in question into there. Mold will fluoresce under a UV light so we used some leftover black lights from Halloween and normal desk lamps to test the objects for mold. It really is quite a simple process if you have that equipment. You also need to make sure to wear a mask and gloves to help protect yourself from the mold and its spores because they can be harmful to humans. Through using this process I was able to determine that a few of the objects in question likely did have mold. I then quarantined them in separate bags so I can monitor them to see if there is any more growth and assess the issue after that. I will also have to re-evaluate the items that did not have mold later just to make sure that they are still mold free.
Our first priority as collections staff is to ensure the preservation and protection of the collection and due to this, we do not want to bring in anything that could be harmful to the collection. Once I have determined the condition of the items that appear to have mold on them I will have to decide the best way to remove the mold. This will most likely be done through exposure to UV rays and other treatments that have been suggested by sources such as the National Parks Service. This will be an involved process and the objects will have to be constantly monitored for new growth. If it is not possible for us to fully remediate the issue, someone with more expertise such as a conservator or a mold remediation service will have to be brought in to consult us or help deal with the problem. It is unfortunate but sometimes we are unable to fix such issues and instead of putting the rest of our collection at risk will have to dispose of the items, although that is the last resort and we have hopes that we will be able to remediate the problem without further issues.
Now, I don’t want to make it seem like all you find in collections are horrible, damaging things. Sometimes you come across really awesome and interesting things like Guy Fieri and rare glass cans, or “grenade” bottles. Working with collections is really interesting and you are always discovering and learning new and exciting things, even when you have to deal with potential hazards to the collection.