IAP 2001, Presentation 11:

Does monitoring in a museum help to improve environmental conditions?
The Monitoring at the Germanic National Museum, Nürnberg, and its consequences

Arnulf von Ulmann

Germanisches Nationalmuseum


1. Monitoring
In 1999 the Germanic National Museum started two investigations:

  1. A general survey on monitoring
    asking about 70 German museums with an answering rate of 60%
  2. A 'Monitoring case study'
    in the Nürnberg Museum looking at critical points in the collection and depots

1.1 The survey
The general survey revealed a chaos concerning all areas of monitoring

  1. There is no contact to specialized laboratories
  2. No museum ever did a general monitoring on its location to learn systematically about its conditions
  3. In nearly no German museum the conservators have the authority to intervene in matters of monitoring, they simply rely on continuous arguing or persuasion
  4. The conservators knowledge of detecting systems is very low
  5. Detecting is usually done by scientists
  6. but all museums claim to be aware museums of their environmental problems and observe fast aging surfaces.

1.2 The 'Monitoring case study
The actual impetus to put forward a monitoring was a high amount of dust and greasy layers on show cases and objects. Dirt is something the top management in a museum dislikes, since dirty show cases and objects render neglecting the care for the collection.

The peaks of result
The dust in the ventilation pipes had plaster, soot and rubber. But as well:

In the show cases we detected:

The air in one show room was polluted by:
PCB (700 mg/kg), The German standards allow 1 mg/kg

2. The semi - profession of the conservators
The results of the monitoring study case had its impact. The conservators were faced with the argument: If you want us to change the products, you have to name them.

Although having introduced tests on relevant materials in a newly opened dependance on armoury the controlling passive sampling months later detected all those VOCs, we like to be absent.

3. Monitoring is not only detecting gases
If we understand monitoring only as scientific measuring, there will be no changes in our museums. Monitoring as well means looking for appropriate material.

In reaction of our experiences we started to test any material in our laboratory.
Since then we have about 50 tests. By the time we will have the problem to find the tests in our folder for further use. So a databank must be developed.

But testing materials revealed clearly another problem: Monitoring delays planning. So far, in the timetable of museum planning monitoring does not appear.

4. Monitoring as reaction on problems -Monitoring as a program
Actually conservators always react on demands rather than act on developing the issue. We work without a system and there is no manpower even to scope with every day demands. Non systematic work is waste of time and money.

Therefore teams must be installed to handle problems of monitoring in both ways, the every day demands and the systematic work on material and monitoring. Presently this can only be done with a project. In cooperation with the Bavarian National Museum, München, a concept had been developed. We formulated the following two essentials:

  1. Conservators must be equipped with a certain amount of detecting facilities they can use independently. It must be easy to handle, cheap and reliable. This detecting set does not to dispense with scientific analyses. Independent and reliable detecting at low costs must be the first step.
  2. There must be established a list of materials appropriate in a museum. It is clear, this list has to be rewritten constantly, since the brands change constantly and many incrediants are not to be declared.

5. Conclusion for the future
In the long run there must be established a new profession in the museums: the engineer for museum environment.

Arnulf von Ulmann
Germanisches Nationalmuseum
Leites des Instituts für Kunsttechnik und Konservierung
Kartäusergasse 1
D-90402 Nürnberg, Germany
E-mail: a.ulmann@gnm.de

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