I’m going to start this post off by saying I really don’t like bugs! Little creepy crawlies give me the shivers and at home I have to have my husband take responsibility for evicting any spiders that might have strayed into the house. However, at work I have to resist the urge to freak out at the sight of insects as monitoring them is regularly part of the job. From my point of view I’m thankful it’s not something I’m directly involved in and my thanks go out to my colleague Hannah Clare for the text below.
Collection care team identifying insects
The Collection Care Department manages an insect pest monitoring scheme that uses over 120 insect blunder traps. These have no attractant pheromone lure and simply collect insects as they walk across the trap’s sticky surface; they are the most commonly used insect traps in museums, libraries and archives as they provide a reflection of the number of insects to be found in a particular area.
The traps are laid out in a grid-like fashion in all document storage areas at The National Archives and once every quarter a team collect all the traps and exchange them for fresh ones. Then the process of examination of the traps, identification of the insects, counting and recording all the data begins. To help us identify what type of insects we have on the traps, we use a set of images of the most common pests found in heritage collections and compare them to what we see under the microscope. We have to research any we don’t recognise to make sure we identify all our finds correctly.
Every morning when I turn on my computer, one of the first things I fire up is our environmental monitoring software so I can have a look at the temperature and relative humidity (RH) across our storage areas.
Screenshot of environmental monitoring data
Every institution caring for any kind of cultural heritage collections makes it a priority to monitor environmental conditions such as temperature and RH (an expression of the amount of moisture in the air) where their collection is stored or displayed. This is because incorrect temperature or RH (too high or too low) can cause or accelerate the breakdown of materials, not only the paper and parchment support of documents but also other materials important to the portrayal of information, such as inks and the dyes used in colour photographic prints.
Monitoring environmental conditions has got to be, on the surface, one of the least interesting or celebrated parts of a conservator’s job, since it requires looking through and assessing long lists of numbers (we have over 180 different sensors in our storage areas), however, this kind of in-depth monitoring has proven truly invaluable to us here at The National Archives. We not only keep track of existing environmental conditions, but also collect data that will enable retrospective analysis. This data allows us to develop a better understanding of our building here at Kew so we can provide the best preservation environment possible for our records while at the same time ensuring that our solutions are sustainable. I’ve highlighted a couple of the projects that we’ve been busy with over the last few years below, including links to papers we’ve written that go into greater detail about the specifics of what we’ve done. Continue reading »