Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Conservation Surveys and Handlebar Moustaches

So seemingly 8 billion fossil horse teeth later, and now that all of the arduous parts of my project are finished, I can look back on my work and put everything into perspective. Overall, I’m really pleased with the turnout of this project. Basically, the museum had decreed that whenever a collection is touched (or in this case, moved), there must be an assessment done to report the condition and the risks that a certain collection faces, whether it be in the physical sense (the condition of the specimen) or in the organizational sense (the management of the collection). Since the fossil horse collections were just rounding out their move between different floors, we knew that an assessment was impending. Before we even started, Lisa, Chris, and I had sat down to tailor a general conservation assessment spreadsheet to meet the museum’s individual needs. We compared various methodologies for taking these surveys, weighing the pros and cons of each. We successfully ran several waves of assessments at once, customizing previous attempts to suit the characteristics of the collections that we have specifically been targeting. My first survey, the aptly-titled space survey, you’ve already heard about in my previous post. Next came two versions of a survey method invented by a man named McGinley (who, to me, is probably the most elusive thing about this whole project… and for some bizarre reason, though I've never seen the poor man's photo, I always visualize him sporting a handlebar moustache, but that’s another story…). In these versions of his survey, I looked at two tiers of assessment levels: the cabinet drawers as a whole, and the specimens in each drawer as individuals. Lisa, Chris, and I used a random integer generator (it’s not that fancy, really, you can just check it out at to come up with a series of random coordinates that I pitted against the storeroom to choose 100 specimens that would represent the collection as a whole in the assessment. By opening a drawer and laying a numbered Mylar grid over it, I could pinpoint each individual specimen completely unbiasedly. Then I tallied these specimens’ “scores” based on whether or not they exhibited certain characteristics (for example, “associated parts unlabeled” or “insufficient room for expansion”). After the McGinley surveys, the next assessment was a conservation assessment, which followed the same basic method of the McGinley surveys, but answered a different series of criteria for each specimen (for example, “yellowing” or “further preparation needed”). This survey was more in depth than the McGinley surveys when dealing with the actual condition of each specimen. We also conducted a risk assessment on the storage room which allowed us to assess the stability of the physical environment in which the specimens are kept (it covered everything from sprinkler systems to visiting scientists). A risk assessment identifies key risks to the collection and is used to prioritize and target the resources needed to provide better maintenance of the collections. Seeing the results of these months of work has been really gratifying. I’ve already starting to graph my collected data, and have also come up with updated, current statistics about the collections. Each survey can be used separately, or in conjunction with each other to create a virtual image of the state of the collections. It’s all a matter of how you manipulate the data. I can now instantly know, for example, how many new drawers the collection needs, or how many specimens have cracks that need repair (or at least have a pretty accurate estimation thereof). It’s really, really refreshing to just pull up a spreadsheet to get a question answered, instead of having to shimmy up 3 flights of stairs, down an elevator, up a ladder, and into a cabinet to solve a problem. This information really comes in handy when pulling specimens from the collections, ordering materials, or even applying for funding! The results were so comprehensive that, much to the delight of my résumé, Chris and Lisa even want me to publish my findings in a scientific journal, and now I’m really excited and looking forward to seeing how my data comes together. Here’s to the next 8 years of volunteering!

1 comment:

Chris said...

Sadly Ron McGinley doesn't have a handlebar moustache - you can see some pictures of him here: