At the Royal Mint Museum, weekly housekeeping is an important part of our duties as collections assistants and much of this activity is aimed to control populations of insect pests. These pests such as silverfish and carpet beetle larvae can cause significant damage to the organic materials within the museum’s collection such as paper, textile and wood. As a large part of the museum’s collection consists of books, documents, framed art and wooden boxed objects we take this threat very seriously.
A crucial part of our pest management strategy relies on working to prevent infestation before damage can take place. It is possible to deter pests from entering a collection by denying them the climatic conditions they need to thrive, but our ability significantly to control the climate in the museum’s current location is limited. As a result our preventive actions have been primarily focused on maintaining cleanliness and identifying high risk objects. Places where pests can enter or hide in the museum, such as gaps between the primary and secondary glazing and the spaces behind radiators, have been vacuumed to remove dust and debris. A regular schedule for dusting and vacuuming the collection has now been implemented and we carry out a regular condition survey of vulnerable items in the collection. This survey helps to prevent damage to individual objects and limit the spread of any infestation by isolating and treating affected items.
Monitoring and Identification
Blunder traps are used to monitor and identify the insects that manage to enter the collection. These sticky traps are placed in areas that insects like to inhabit, such as dark areas around the edges of the room or under furniture. These traps are regularly monitored to see what kind of insects have blundered into them. The data collected from blunder traps is used to plot graphs showing patterns of pest activity including location, frequency and species present. This information then helps us to assess the risk to the objects in our care.
Throughout the past year we have identified spiders, flies, common house beetles and woodlice which although, not nuisance pests in themselves, create detritus which can provide food for insects such as adult carpet beetles. The larvae of the carpet beetle hatch from eggs in spring-early summer and feed on organic material such as textiles and wood causing significant damage to objects in the collection. These larvae, also known as ‘woolly bears’ due to their furry appearance, have been identified in the museum traps but not in significant numbers.
The graph below shows the numbers of silverfish found in the collection from July 2014 to 2015. These insects, another nuisance pest, can be identified by their long carrot shaped silver bodies. They are active at night feeding on organic material such as paper and they thrive in cool, dark, moist environments.
Through taking preventive action, such as blocking areas of ingress, we are currently aiming to reduce the numbers of these insects and by monitoring species frequency in graphs we have been able to see what effect our preventive measures are having. The data also highlights the times of year when different pests are at their most active and the collection is most at risk.
Controlling insect activity in museums is a difficult task but by adhering to the principles of prevention, monitoring, and identification the Royal Mint Museum team are working hard to keep the irreplaceable art, books, documents, plans and other organic parts of the collection safe for future generations.
For further information relating to this article:
'What's Eating Your Collection?' interactive resource, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery; Collections Trust: http://www.whatseatingyourcollection.com/