Prevention – Procedures & Protocols

Staff, visitors, and vendors may unwittingly contribute to pest issues.  It is important to ensure policies and procedures are in place to discourage this.

General:

What can you do to prevent infestations? is a bilingual (English and French) memo developed by the Canadian Museum of Nature that outlines five points for staff to follow in efforts to keep spaces free from food that may serve as a pest attractant. The memo was originally distributed to staff along with pest proof containers for use in their cubicles.

Food & Drink:

Both the Food & Drink Policy for Yale University Library and the Food & Drink Policy Guidelines for Library Staff may be viewed online.

Food in the Museum Policy is a short document, written in 2004 for staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), to detail where food is allowed in NMAI’s Mall Museum and under what circumstances.  NMAI also has a policy that governs school groups (see bottom of pages 3 and 4).

NMAI’s school’s guide, distributed to school groups that have made a reservation to visit to the NMAI includes a section which highlights the rules that are in place to ‘make sure the entire collection is safe and remains undamaged’. This section, while informational, also acts to educate visitors about collection care techniques, including IPM. Rules are further specified on the ‘Planning Your Visit’ page which details lunch and chaperone regulations.

Housekeeping:

Good housekeeping in both public and nonpublic spaces should be an integral part of any IPM strategy.  Many of the insects which pose the greatest risks to museum collections are able to survive and breed on minute quantities of organic material.  The average museum visitor drops the equivalent of three hairs and one fingernail per visit.  Add to this the food crumbs resulting from catered functions and cafeterias, and it becomes evident that without vigilant housekeeping, a sufficient amount of debris can easily accumulate in public spaces to support breeding populations.  Once established, populations can more easily move on to collections storage spaces and other relatively fortified nonpublic spaces.  Behind the scenes, dust and debris often accumulate above and below cabinetry; in infrequently visited corners and corridors of storerooms; and especially within dead spaces below floorboards, compact storage ranges, and display cases.  These enclosed spaces are often difficult if not impossible to clean regularly, and therefore treatment with a desiccant dust may be an appropriate long term strategy.

The IPM-WG has created a template for creating your own procedures document for institutional housekeeping procedures.

Learn how the Natural History Museum in London dealt with an inaccessible display case.  No Way In: Addressing a Display-Case Access Problem.

Read about experiments conducted at The Mariner’s Museum demonstrating the preference of immature silverfish for human hairs, and mature silverfish for common archival supplies and cardboard containers. Preferences at the Silverfish Buffet.

Furnishings & Carpet:

Carpets can be, at worst, a source of food, or at best, a place for insect pests to hide.  Whenever possible reduce the use of carpet or carpet tiles in collection spaces.  In historic homes where rugs are an important part of the furnishings a solid, light colored foam rug pad is recommended. The pad serves to separate the  rug from wooden floor boards that can act as “runways” for pests.  They also increase the likelihood that signs of an infestation such as larval casings or frass may be seen during routine housekeeping or regular inspections.  

Historic furnishings are also highly susceptible to infestation, especially pieces stuffed with horse hair.  Puckering or deformation of upholstery may be a sign of infestation.  Frass, seen as powder or flour-like detritus around or under furniture should be investigated immediately.   Reproduction fabrics should be carefully selected to avoid pests. 

Flowers & plants:

The IPM-WG has created a template for creating your own procedures document for Control of Food and Live Plants.

Natural woods & bamboos:

Scavenged wood, drift wood, and bamboos may contain pests and are therefore high risk materials which could introduce pests. Preventive measures that you would usually use to treat wood in your collections should also be taken to avoid infestation and problems.

Soil, dirt & sand:

Whether for use in dioramas or for artistic purposes, museums may need to incorporate soil, sand and/or dirt into the building and collections holding areas.

Soil/dirt:

Soil ideally should be dry throughout unless it is part of a “living” display. Soil should not harbor or attract museum pests as long as it remains dry. If an installation requires the material to be wet, the material should first be treated and then rehydrated.

Treatment options for sand include:

Heat Treatment: Spread soil in metal baking pans with a maximum depth of 4 inches. Cover with foil and bake in an oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the center of the soil reaches between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust the oven to maintain the temperature for 3 hours. Keep covered until use.

Low temperature: More information on low temperature treatments can be found here.

Fumigation and Anoxia: It is unlikely that these treatment options will be effective given the moisture content of the material, which creates a lack of permeability throughout the material.

Sand:

Acquiring clean, washed sand from a retailer, that is now dry throughout, is ideal and should not harbor museum pests or create issues as long as it remains dry. If an installation requires the material to be wet, the material should first be treated and then rehydrated.

Treatment options for sand include:

Heat Treatment: Spread sand in metal baking pans with a maximum depth of 4 inches. Cover with foil and bake in an oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the center of the sand reaches between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust the oven to maintain the temperature for 30 minutes. Keep covered until use.

Low temperature: More information on low temperature treatments can be found here.

Fumigation and Anoxia: It is unlikely that these treatments would be effective given the moisture content of the material, which creates a lack of permeability throughout the material.

Preventive freezing:

In general, freezing is considered so safe that some institutions freeze collections ‘preventively’ to ensure that there is no infestation. Examples of when this might be appropriate include:

  • Moving collections into a new space or facility from one that was known or suspected to have been infested.
  • Processing new acquisitions, reintegrating collections that have returned from loan into collections storage or incoming loan material.
  • Bulk collections of material that cannot be individually inspected.

Additional information on freezing can be found in Low Temperature Treatment under the Solution Fact Sheets tab.

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