UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials


Sustainable Preservation Practices for Managing Storage Environments

What is an optimal sustainable preservation environment and how do you
achieve it? My interest in preventive conservation lead me to attend a two day
workshop organized by the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) and sponsored by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. The first day of this workshop addressed the question of “what you need to know to define an optimal and sustainable preservation environment.” The second day of the workshop provided information for achieving an optimal and sustainable environment.

What is an optimal and sustainable preservation environment?
The definition of an optimal and sustainable preservation environment
developed by the IPI re-frames the process of developing a good museum climate. According to the IPI, “an optimal preservation environment is one that achieves the best possible preservation of collections at the least possible consumption of energy, and is sustainable over time. This happens when “your unique climate control system consistently produces its own best possible storage environment at the least possible consumption of energy.” Instead of thinking about optimizing as something that requires the purchase of new equipment, the IPI presents optimization as something relevant to what you already have.

Step 1: What is your system?
The first step in achieving your optimal sustainable environment requires
knowing what you’re working with. This necessitates looking into the following

  • What types of collections do you have?
  • What is the local environment of your institution?
  • What is your building envelope?
  • What is your HVAC system capable of and how does it work?
  • What HVAC system serves which space(s)?

An example of a diagram created to document and understand an HVAC system

Step 2: What is your system doing?
Documenting and processing the information about the actual climate within
your building requires the completion of Step 1. This documentation of the
temperature and relative humidity of the space can be completed with dataloggers. Only once the building plan is understood can the decisions about where to place dataloggers be made. The data can then be analyzed using software and compared with the expected climate.

Step 3: Compare the expected and the reality
Once the current building and HVAC system are fully documented and the
actual environment has a significant amount of data (preferably a year), comparisons between the two can be made. This is often when surprises are discovered, such as the realization that rooms that were thought to be on one HVAC system were actually served by a different system or that air is being unintentionally blocked from reaching its space. The discrepancies between the
expected and the reality are often areas of learning and/or cost savings.

This image of the data for a storage space suggests that two rooms are on the same HVAC system but the third is not.

Not surprisingly, the workshop speakers emphasized the advantage of using
the IPI’s preservation metrics to interpret and manage climate data. Preservation metrics are helpful because they transform data into meaningful conclusions using standardized and reproducible processes. The metrics can also enable quick comparison of data between different rooms and can help to measure progress towards a better climate.

Step 4: Experiment!
After the system as it exists is fully understood, and a documentation
procedure for monitoring the environment has been running for a year, the process of experimentation can begin. Experimentation is only as good as the documentation that accompanies it – if you don’t know what you changed, you won’t know if it worked! The goal for experimentation is to figure how to achieve an optimal environment. As discussed above, an optimal environment is when “your unique climate control system consistently produces its own best possible storage environment at the least possible consumption of energy.” Therefore, when experimenting, one thing to investigate is whether the climate control system is using more energy than necessary. As Peter Herzog said, “excess energy consumption is not self announcing” – you have to look for it. However, the search for energy savings can only occur after understanding the current system and how it is actually performing.

The workshop by the IPI was very informative, well-paced and appropriate for both conservators and facilities managers. If it is offered again in the future, I recommend attending! Alternatively, the PowerPoint’s and resources from the workshop will be available at the website (http://ipisustainability.org).

All the information and images came from the Image Permanence Institute’s Sustainable Preservation Practices for Managing Storage Environments workshop and seminar reference book. The workshop was held at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA from April 26-27, 2011.

Robin OHern (’12)

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The “Curation and Conservation for Tribal Collections” Workshop

“Curation and Conservation for Tribal Collections”
May 28, 2010 at the Getty Villa Museum
Sponsored by UCLA American Indian Studies Center and UCLA/Getty Master’s Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation

In spite of our busy schedules (especially at the end of our first year, when many projects and treatments are being completed), the students of the UCLA/Getty Conservation program attended this wonderful workshop designed to encourage younger tribal members to pursue fields related to museum and archival work.

The workshop began bright and early at 9:00 am. The first speaker was Wendy Teeter, Curator of Archaeology at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Wendy spoke about her experiences collaborating with tribal communities and the museum’s dedication to serving Los Angeles tribes. The second speaker was Ruth Bayhylle, (Pawnee/Choctaw) UCLA PhD candidate in Library and Information Studies. The students caught a rare glimpse of Professor Ellen Pearlstein’s other life as faculty in the Library and Information Studies program, where she served as Ruth’s advisor. Ruth took us on a visit to various tribal collections where she worked on archiving maps and transcribing interviews. It was interesting to see how various tribal collections are housed, and we even got to see some objects in the background of the pictures.

The third speaker was our very own Ellen Pearlstein, Associate Professor, UCLA/Getty Program. Ellen introduced the basic concepts of conservation education, emphasizing her belief that cultural values should be included as an essential component in conservation. Next to speak was Molly Gleeson, UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, class of 2008, who presented various educational and training resources for the care of tribal collections. Molly did an impressive job of compiling a wide array of resources that included formal MA programs, free how-to videos available on the web, and training programs that will accommodate the schedules of tribal members with responsibilities in their community.

Lunch was provided by our friends at Bon Appetit, the restaurant at the Getty which has single-handedly ensured the students of our program were cared for with proper sustenance this last year, for most of us have been too busy for menial tasks like preparing meals. After lunch, Özge Gençay Üstün, UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, class of 2008, presented on the detection of residual pesticides in collections. This is a very important topic, since in the past many museums routinely treated ethnographic collections with pesticides, some of which are toxic and may have harmful effects on those handling such objects. The final speaker was Jill Norwood, (Tolowa) Community Services Specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian. Jill spoke of various resources available to Native museums and cultural centers through the NMAI Museum Training Program.

The workshop concluded with a tour of the UCLA/Getty laboratories, during which we shared with the workshop attendees some of our current projects. The greatest part of the tour was when the attendees shared their unique knowledge and experiences with similar objects, in particular the beaded hide object and the feather headdress. The attendees’ information contributed to the overall understanding of the objects and their cultural context.

Cindy Lee Scott (right) presents her examination and treatment of an African basket covered with leather.

Elizabeth Drolet (center) explains how x-rays and condition diagrams have assisted in her treatment of a Pre-Columbian ceramic.

Nicole Ledoux discusses her examination and ongoing treatment of a Plains Indian beaded hide object. The technical analysis of this object was presented at this year’s ANAGPIC conference that was held at Queen’s University in Canada.

Robin O’Hern exhibits her impressive reconstruction of the base of a glass vase. To reassemble the many fragments of the base, Robin had to experiment with molds to use as a point of reference as well as devise creative methods to provide support to the base during the treatment.

With her laptop at hand, Tessa de Alarcon discusses one of her favorite topics, how microscopic techniques may be used to analyze and possibly identify archaeological fibers.

Dawn Lohnas explains the construction technique of a feather object, which was a replica of a Maidu headdress made for the education collection of the Southwest Museum.

The students agree that one of the many strengths of our program is the emphasis on caring for tribal collections. Collaborative efforts like this workshop offer the students a unique and enriching experience…and we are so proud of Professor Ellen Pearlstein as well as former UCLA/Getty Conservation students Molly Gleeson and Ozge Gencay Ustun! And we cannot forget, or thank enough, the amazing Vanessa Muros for her never ending assistance.

After the workshop ended, we diligently returned to our studies and numerous projects as we finished up the whirlwind that was our first year in school. By now, many of the students have packed their bags and left for various parts of the world for their summer internships.

Lily Doan (’12)