Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Calm down and put it in a bag

This week, as I expectantly searched through a photo album for insect carcasses, it occurred to me that you couldn't really be a good museum collections person if you had a crippling fear of bugs.

Artifact collections shouldn't have bugs or vermin of any kind, but part of the process of keeping that way requires an obsessive interest in bugs and evidence of bugs. We put down sticky traps, check exhibit cases for frass (bug poop), and if we actually find a bug our first instinct is to put it in a bag. I once looked down to see a small bug crawling on my hand, and my response was to walk calmly over to the collections manager's desk, show her, and ask for an insect bag. Once bagged, we looked through her chart of harmful artifact-eating insects and tried to identify it.

Bugs are also a big reason I've been doing so much vacuuming. As a precaution, we've decided every textile-based object coming off exhibit will get vacuumed, deep frozen, and vacuumed again. The freezing kills insects, and the vacuuming removes dead bugs, eggs, and dust that might be tasty to insects in the future. I haven't found any bug evidence on objects for a while, and so sometimes I wonder if all this extra vacuuming is really necessary. But last week I found some bug bits on a fabric-covered photo album, and it was actually sort of exciting and validating. With relish I paged through the album looking for carcasses, and with each one I removed, I felt like I was creating order in a chaotic world. I may not be able to fix global poverty, but I can fix this.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Clara. This post could not have come at a better time. I am currently working with a private collection and had a rather fun-filled bug finding day. Your post reminds me that, not only am I not alone, but you are indeed right that bug finding is bound to be part of the job!