This Week in History: how the Royal BC Museum protects exhibit objects and specimens

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A Royal BC Museum preservation specialist works with both objects and textiles that arrive at the Museum.

“Our job is to basically ensure the safe preservation of our collections here” says preservation specialist Katie McEvoy.

There are a number of threats that can harm a specimen, including theft, vandalism, physical forces, fire, water, ultraviolet light, incorrect relative humidity, incorrect temperature, pollution, and disassociation.

“Disassociation” McEvoy explains, “is when the information and the object become separated.  It can be really hard to put them back together again, and then you loose some of the research or interpretive value with that.”

Two other threats are mould and pests.

“When something comes into collections” says McEvoy, “it comes through our inspection room.  We look at the object for things like pest, mould, or anything that could be dangerous.  If we do find pests then we can freeze the object at -20 degrees C for 72 hours, which should kill any pests.”

When the preservation specialists are handing artifacts, they wear personal protective equipment such as a labcoat, gloves, and a mask.  The mask is because specimens used to be treated with arsenic, or other toxic compounds, to kill any mould or pests.

Moisture is another threat.

“In order to prevent mould, especially, we really want to keep the relative humidity, or the moisture content in the air, below 65 per cent.”

The preservationist specialists also examine the specimen for mould.

“If I’m measuring moisture content, I would take it from a few different places, and if I’m getting readings that are similar all over, then the whole specimen can be considered dry.”

It’s challenging, interesting work, and McEvoy also enjoys the fact that it’s different every day.

“Here in the conservation labs, we get to see a really wide variety of our collection. Our collection is so varied, and so we get to see a lot of it, and that keeps it interesting, and fun.”

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