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This Week in History: Pest control at the Royal BC Museum

Kasey Lee is the Senior Conservator at the Royal BC Museum.  She is one of six conservators, whose job is protecting the provincial collections.

“When artifacts, or artworks, objects, records, come into the museum, either returning from being out on loan or exhibit, or coming in for the first time, they all travel through this inspection room here.

“That’s our first point of contact, and our opportunity to ensure that whatever might come “in” on those objects, such as insects, mould…anything that might be a detriment to the rest of our collection, can be stopped right here, and we can ensure that it doesn’t affect the rest of the collection.

“We’re looking for insects, first and foremost, because they are a clear and present danger to our collections…book lice, cockroaches, silverfish, just about anything you can imagine.

“But we also catch things like mould and mildew, because some of these things come in from people’s attics, and basements, where they’ve been stored for many, many years.

“Quite often these insects undermine the fur on an artifact, like a moccasin, and so you can’t just vacuum it afterwards or all the fur comes off in the vacuum cleaner.

“We painstakingly pick through the fur, and remove every bit of adult moth, larvae, and even the frass – the excrement that the bugs produce, as much as possible.”

Freezing is the main way that museums kill any insect pests.

“We try to avoid chemicals at all cost” says Lee.  “Chemicals can be detrimental to the artifacts, as well as to the people who handle the collections, and our visitors.

“We have a freezing protocol, and it’s very specific so that it doesn’t harm the object, and so that it is ensured to eradicate the insect at all stages of its lifecycle.

“It is almost one hundred percent effective, and it’s safe for us, as well as the artifacts.”

And it ensures the collections are preserved for future generations.

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