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Managing collections care during pandemics

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Thank you to Allison Titman, Executive Director, American Helicopter Museum & Education Center, and Dana Twersky, Collections and Exhibitions Manager, Vero Beach Museum of Art for their contributions.

With most museums closed due to quarantine, it is still necessary to ensure the safety and security of the museum, and in particular the objects both in storage and in exhibition spaces.

Here are some helpful tips to care for collections during this time:

  • Good housekeeping is always necessary to maintain clean spaces especially during a health crisis. Keeping areas clean of dust and debris helps keep infestations and other risks at bay. Check your collections management policy, collections procedures, emergency or disaster plan, and housekeeping manual for suitable ways to keep areas near collections on display and in storage clean. Always consult chemical safety data sheets to ensure products are safe to use around collection objects. Never try to directly clean objects unless you are a trained conservator or collections professional.
  • If your policies or procedures document does not provide clear advice on cleaning products to use in gallery or exhibition spaces, try using soap and water and a mild disinfectant (such as a spray bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol) to clean surface areas away from objects. This process can be effective in these areas if done with regularity, at least once a day. Be careful to dry areas where water is used to clean and be careful with cleaning equipment in these spaces.
  • Ensure staff who are caring for and cleaning the exhibit spaces are trained in how to clean near objects on display and are aware of what products are approved to use in these areas. Gloves/Masks use by staff engaged in cleaning?
  • Consider doing a weekly wet mop cleaning, if your current schedule is every two weeks.
  • Consider changing out the filters in your HVAC system before reopening to the public.
  • While reviewing policies and procedures, make sure your emergency or disaster plan has a section on epidemics/pandemics.
  • Keep up with the CDC’s recommendations, if a “stay at home” order is in place, wait to go back to the museum, the one exception is a once per week security check. If staff have access to cameras or environmental monitoring off-site make sure there are procedures in place to handle any issues that crop up (humidity fluctuations or alarms).

The Collections Stewardship Professional Network has developed “Steps for Collections Professionals to help mitigate risks to collections during this time” (in English and Spanish).

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