Museum Life: It’s a bug’s life



With the arrival of spring and warmer weather, the collection manager’s mind often turns to thoughts of….bugs.  Where there’s wool, silk, feathers, and other delectable proteins and other fibers, there’s the potential for bugs. Or at least you do your best to assure there are not. With small staffs and busy schedules, it can be a challenge to work in regular rigorous bug checks.  Oftentimes insect activity can be discovered when an item is retrieved for guest access, display, conservation assessment, or during collection moves or major rehousing projects.

Some relatively easy and affordable preventative measures one can take is raising shelving several inches off the floor (this makes the space easier to monitor and clean, and also makes it harder for insects to get to collection items); monitoring temperature and relative humidity on a weekly basis with a thermohygrometer (some can be had for $100 or less at archival suppliers); and placing extra sticky traps around areas with high-risk items in your storage area (which can also help in tracking what insects may be most active at particular times of the year in your regional area).

One of our book conservators also doubles as our resident insect expert and integrated pest management person, and she has assembled over the years a “bug museum” of specimens and types of damage (see photo above). New student workers or volunteers take a “bug class” with her and can learn firsthand about the visual eating patterns on different kinds of materials, and if the activity is old or recent.

Below is a quick short list of online and offline resources that include preventative measures to help ensure that bugs stay away from your storage area and collection material this spring and summer.

Online resources: 

Printed sources: 

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