De’bug’ing

In a previous post we wrote about how harmful pests can seriously damage organic objects if they are not prevented from doing so. Museum staff in the past has sometimes used pesticides to prevent insects and other animals from feeding off objects but that’s not practiced today. Conservators use means like preventive conservation and non-toxic biological and mechanical means of getting rid of harmful pests. Preventive conservation is trying to prevent damage to the objects before they happen Our aim is to control the environment and conditions that object are stored in, trying to stall the inevitable decomposition in organic materials. Controlling the environment is done by installing climate control systems that manage the temperature and humidity in the room. On top of that we monitor the presence of pests in the collections and if they are detected, we get rid of them as fast as possible. Different pests require different actions, so first the pest’s needs to be recognized. This is achieved by setting up insect traps in the storage rooms, trapping the insects so that if we find harmful insects we can decide on an extermination method.

               

Left: Insect trap with a sticky surface. Right: Insects trapped in the plasticcover of  an infested object

The current methods of managing pests include freezing, heating, gassing and trapping. All environmentally safe ways of getting rid of pests, without any damage to the people involved in handling the objects during and after. Not all objects can handle freezing and/or heating and conservators have to treat each object type according to their needs. Both high temperature (above 50-55˚C) and low temperature (under -38˚C) will kill insects and can therefore be used to treat infested objects. In the moving project we will freeze all the objects before they are allowed to enter the new central storage facility. The objects that can’t handle freezing will be quarantined until we are sure they are pest free. We are currently working on setting up an integrated pest management program (IPM) for the new central storage area and for the conservation lab.