In part 2 of our Pesky Pest blog, we will look at monitoring buildings and collections to ensure early detection of pest and fungal activity. It is recommended that a formal building and collection inspection program is developed and implemented to ensure consistency by all who carry out the inspections. Also ask for cleaning staff to report any evidence of pest or fungal activity before they remove the evidence to prevent activity going undetected.
Ensure the buildings housing collections are regularly inspected and any issues identified be addressed as soon as possible. If you have a facilities manager work in collaboration with them if possible. The inspection should cover external as well as internal areas. In addition to standard building maintenance issues, look out for existing or potential pest entry points and issues that will create a more inviting environment for our biological foes. This may include identifying areas that are cluttered with poor air movement, leaking pipes and vegetation growing up against buildings. Are windows and doors regularly left opened? It is helpful to use a standard museum facility report to carry out your building inspection. If you would like a copy of a template, please contact your MDO.
In addition to inspecting items already in your collection, check all incoming objects and paper materials for evidence of prior or current pest and mould activity. Ideally this should be done in a dedicated quarantine area that is close to the entrance of the building and separate from the collection and display areas.
In addition to regular building inspections, it is essential to develop and implement a formal pest and fungal monitoring program for all collection storage and display areas. All staff and volunteers (including cleaning staff) who work near or with collections should receive regular training so they are familiar with all components of the monitoring program and can keep an eye out for early signs whilst going about their daily activities.
Ideally the collections should be checked once a week in the summer months and fortnightly in the cooler months. The regularity of the inspections will be guided by availability of staff or volunteers so make sure the schedule is practical.
The monitoring program should include regular visual inspections as well as the use of insect blunder traps. A bright torch should be used during inspections to see into dark spaces. A 10x magnifier with a built-in light is also invaluable to help identify little critters.
The monitoring program should include the following components:
- Floors and walls
- Window sills and the inside of ceiling light fixtures as many pests will fly or crawl to light.
- Display cases and shelving.
- Baseboards, under furniture, behind mouldings, in cracks in floors, behind water heaters and in air ducts.
- On the outside and inside of storage enclosures as well as behind and under them.
- Live adults and larvae and the presence of shed larval skins or faeces.
- Feeding debris or frass around or below specimens.
- Exit or feeding holes
- Hair falling from fur or pelts, mats of fibres, silken feeding tubes or cases, or moth or beetle pupae.
- Insect eggs.
- Fungal activity
- Place blunder traps throughout collection storage and display areas. Details on effective blunder trap monitoring will be covered in the next Pesky Pests blog.
- Create an IPM Log and record pest and fungal activity. This will include number and type of pests and location of outbreaks. An IPM Log template is available on request from your MDO. Over time you may notice seasonal patterns and identify locations that are more conducive to biological activity. You can use this information to implement proactive measures such as extra monitoring, improving storage conditions or moving collections to a safer location.
- It is important to accurately identify insect species. This will also be covered in the next installment of the Pesky Pests blog.
Take action if live pest or mould activity is discovered:
- We will explore safe freezing and low oxygen methods in Pesky Pests 4. If you need assistance in the meantime, please consult your MDO or a conservator to determine which method is best suited to your situation.
- Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM): https://aiccm.org.au/
Next time in Pesky Pests: We will delve further into the exciting world of blunder traps and insect identification.
Protecting collections from pest and fungal damage is one of the greatest challenges faced by cultural heritage custodians. The most effective approach to controlling pest and fungal activity in collections (including any personal collections) is a well-considered, practical Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. So if you thought IPM was just used in the agricultural sector, think again. The aim of my new Pesky Pests series is to help you plan and effectively implement an IPM program for your collection and help you identify and eliminate your pesky biological foes.
A successful IPM program is all about proactive actions including good housekeeping practices, regular monitoring, effective building maintenance and the creation of a hostile environment for enemies. Regular applications of toxic pesticides and fungicides are not recommended and should not be necessary.
So what does a successful IPM program look like:
An organisation-wide acceptance of the principles of IPM and a willingness of all to learn and implement routine actions needed to protect the collections. These actions include:
- Training of all staff and volunteers (including cleaning staff).
- Contact your local MDO if you would like help with this.
- Run regular refresher IPM sessions on an annual basis.
- Prevention of entry of pests, such as insects, birds, and rodents, into buildings
- Moderate the interior climate and avoid high relative humidity and temperatures.
- Develop good exterior building maintenance and appropriate landscaping.
- Inspect all incoming objects and paper materials for evidence of prior or current pest and mould activity, and inspect stored collections periodically for insect and mould activity. This includes materials such as stationary supplies.
- Avoidance of practices and habits that attract pests and fungal activity:
- Moderate the interior climate and avoid high relative humidity and temperatures.
- Develop and maintain good interior housekeeping practices.
- Maintain appropriate food restrictions and food/rubbish removal practices.
- Implement measures to detect pests and fungal activity:
- Set up and maintain a pest and fungal monitoring program for all collection storage and display areas. This should include regular visual inspections as well as the use of insect blunder traps.
Next time in Pesky Pests: We will look at how to check your buildings and collections for potential and existing risk factors and discuss mitigation strategies.
Lately mould had been very much on my mind. Everywhere I go; there it is on leather objects, paper documents, photographic material, textiles, wooden furniture… I am haunted. So I am compelled to use my blog turn to encourage you all to be vigilant and regularly check your collections especially after periods of heavy rain and high humidity. Ideally this should be part of a wider Integrated Pest Management program. A small isolated outbreak is much easier to deal with than a large one.
Mould (the common term for fungal growth) can cause major, irreparable damage to a wide range of organic materials found in heritage collections. Staining and structural weakness is the most common form of damage.
When fungal spores are in a conducive environment, they will germinate and spread. What constitutes a suitable environment varies for each species. Many of the species affecting cultural heritage materials require moisture (e.g. water damage and/or high humidity above 65%), stagnant air pockets and surface dirt. It is very important to minimise the risk by maintaining relative humidity around 50-55%, ensuring good air movement and keeping collections and storage and display areas scrupulously clean. This will also reduce the risk of insect activity.
If you find fungal activity in your collection, take care. Some species can cause major health problems particularly for people who suffer from respiratory conditions and allergies. Avoid the area if you think you’re at risk.
For small outbreaks, wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). At a minimum, you will need a P2 respirator mask (the kind with the filter valve on the front of the mask), nitrile gloves and enclosed safety googles. Listed below are a number of websites providing advice on how to deal with outbreaks. If you are unsure what to do, seek advice from a conservator or your MDO.
If the outbreak is large, I would strongly recommend quarantining the room and collections and seek assistance from a mycologist.
A few useful links:
National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/Museum/publications/conserveogram/03-04.pdf
State Library of Queensland: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/128982/Caring-for-your-collections-Dealing-with-mould.pdf
Canadian Conservation Institute: http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/resources-ressources/carepreventivecons-soinsconspreventive/mould-moisissures-eng.aspx
Conservation Centre for Art and Historic Artifacts: http://www.museumtextiles.com/uploads/7/8/9/0/7890082/managing_a_mold_invasion.pdf
Lydia Egunnike, Museum Development Officer, Southern Inland Queensland.