The conference theme for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections’ (SPNHC) 32nd Annual Meeting held in Denver June 2017 addressed the next generation of best practices that are designed to prolong the lifetime of natural science collections. The first SPNHC STASH Flash session held as a Special Interest Group (SIG) program focused on best practices in storage as a primary factor that affects the preservation potential of collections.

The session began with Lisa Elkin, Christopher Norris and Catharine Hawks introducing a Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage, a new volume (expected publication Fall 2017) that is a joint venture between SPNHC, the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), Smithsonian Institution and The George Washington University.  This new volume will provide updated information for the foundational 2 volume set – Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions and Storage of Natural History Collections:  A Preventive Conservation Approach – both originally published by SPNHC (1992 and 1995 respectively). The session then focused on best practices for collections housing, using the STASH (Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History Collections) website ( to illustrate the connection between foundational concepts covered in the book and examples of best practice.  Housing solutions will be mounted on this website.

The short tips presentations organized by Laura Abraczinskas, Rebecca Kaczkowski and Lisa Goldberg included the following: 

Presenter(s): Ruth O’Leary
Affiliation: American Museum of Natural History
Collection type: Microfossil Slide Storage
Abstract: The AMNH Microfossil collection is comprised of ~9,000 specimen lots housed on glass slides. In 2012, the AMNH was awarded an NSF grant to upgrade the collection. The collection had become badly degraded due to poor housing conditions – glass slides were stored vertically in old wooden boxes. Cover slips had become dislodged from the slides, and the non-archival glue securing the specimens to the slides had dried out in many slides, resulting in the specimens becoming detached from the slides. We explored several options for new storage solutions for the slides. Custom designed slide cabinetry was by far the best solution but we had neither the budget nor the space to house new cabinets. Our solution was to design an archival box with a drop-down leaf that would nest inside another box. This solution was budget-friendly, space-conscious, and allowed us to house the slides horizontally, therefore avoiding the issues that had previously caused physical deterioration in the collections.

Presenter(s): Lisa Palmer
Affiliation: National Museum of Natural History
Collection type: The Deep Freeze: Cold Storage Packaging of Ektachrome Color Film
Abstract: In February 2016 world-renowned ichthyologist Jack Randall donated his 10,559 slide collection of fishes to the Smithsonian Institution Natural History Museum. Beginning in the 1970’s, the marine fishes were photographed predominately on 120mm Ektachrome film. The first-generation slides were stored in cool storage, ~38F, for much of their life, thus preserving film color quite well. The color on Ektachrome slide film is fairly fugitive, and a known strategy to prevent fading is to move the slides into cold storage, preferably -20F, as soon as possible. Prior to placing into cold storage, the slides will undergo archival rehousing to prevent and/or reduce inherent deterioration as well as to help prevent any condensation buildup during the acclimation period that can occur when moving between quite differing temperature environments.  With custom-housing in hand, we anticipate rehousing slides this summer based on methods developed by the National Park Service and the National Gallery of Art. 

Presenter(s): Meghann Toner
Affiliation: National Museum of Natural History
Collection type: Herbarium Cabinet: With Telescoping Examination Trays
Abstract: Herbarium sheets with their unique dimensions require a specialized storage unit.   At the Smithsonian Institution we have created a specialized metal case design to accommodate the objects’ dimensions and to create a sealed environment to protect the objects.  The liner consists of 26 equal distance “pigeon holes” to allow for easy movement of specimens which happens regularly due to the transportable nature of our collections. These cases are designed to replace our substandard wooden herbarium cases. However, these wooden cases also acted as our countertop work areas and as they are replaced this countertop workspace is lost.  To accommodate this loss, we have installed two pullout shelves within the new metal cases. The shelves are located in the 7th pigeon hole from the bottom of the case.   Finally, gaskets are incorporated into the cases to prevent IPM issues.  This design will help to protect the specimens into the future.  

Presenter(s): Kelsey Falquero and Lisa Palmer
Affiliation: National Museum of Natural History.
Collection type: Q?RIUS’ Custom Boxes
Abstract: Specimens and objects were rehoused at the National Museum of Natural History Q?rius learning center using best practices that included the ultimate criteria of being able to withstand a high volume of handling by the general public, i.e., ~150,000 visitors/year. Before being rehoused, objects among the education collection were evaluated for: safety, such as the historic use of pesticides; preservation, to include the inherent fragility of many objects, and legal documentation, such as full and clear title.  A scheme was developed to balance these concerns with the public’s access to specimens. Containers were made (or not!) depending upon whether the object should be:

  1. handled or displayed without restriction;
  2. handled if assistance from a volunteer is required;
  3. handled only with safety controls such as only through an enclosure; or
  4. returned to collections.

 This demo will illustrate various methods used to accommodate numerous housing requirements in an education collection.

Presenter(s): Sali Underwood
Affiliation: Nevada State Museum
Collection type: Storage Protection for Oversized Taxidermy
Abstract: To protect oversized taxidermy specimens in a fluctuating temperature and humidity environment, as well as dust and pests, a standard storage technique was adapted.  Creating as many barriers as possible between the taxidermy specimens and the environment is the option we chose to prevent damage to specimens. A modification of the hoop and bag cover technique described in Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions edited by Rose and Torres, page 121, was made to cover large taxidermy specimens by using 1/8” aluminum bar stock bent and riveted together to create a frame for a Tyvek sewed cover with Velcro fasteners. Attached to the exterior of the cover is a label with an image of the specimen, scientific name, and catalog number. A PowerPoint tutorial specific to our institution is available to teach new volunteers how to make this type of cover.

Presenter(s): Daniella Haigler & Leslie Schuhmann
Affiliation: National Museum of Natural History.
Collection type: Aluminum Pallets as Innovative Storage for Oversized Collections
Abstract: While the use of palletized storage is not a new concept in museum storage, the construction of Pod 4 at the Museum Support Center posed unique challenges for the permanent storage of oversized collections. Pod 4 provides continuous rows of 2′, 4′ and 8′ deep cantilevered open racking from floor to ceiling (22 feet high), and allows palletized objects to be moved and placed in the racking via forklift. Traditional wooden pallets are unacceptable by archival standards, as they are acidic by nature, bulky, heavy, not fire-retardant, and prone to pest infestation. Collections Support Services circumvented these issues by establishing an innovative system of customized aluminum pallets for collections’ long-term care and preservation. These pallets are durable and lightweight, and must pass several quality control tests that include dropping and jarring. They are also designed with multiple functions in mind for ease of use, storage, transport, and maintenance.

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