Every day of my internship was full of activity. The versatility of the internship had me working with all kinds of collection items, from insects to textiles! I’ve featured some of my work on my previous blog posts, but there is much more that I didn’t cover. You can see my favourite parts of the internship in my final highlight film!

It has been a few months since the last day of my internship. With the ending of the internship came a new beginning! I have the privilege of working at the Canadian Mental Health Association as a Database Curator for 211. 211 is a website and number that anyone can call or text to receive help in navigating the large range of community, government, and social services. The position requires meticulous attention to detail as I work on accurately updating and expanding a database of information about essential agencies and services across the province. 211 has already served over 70,000 people this year, and I feel honoured to have a role in serving our community by connecting them to supportive resources. 

The UAlberta Museums internship helped me gain the skill set I need to successfully fulfill my new role. I will always feel grateful towards the brilliant people that I worked with over the summer, and to UAlberta Museums as a whole for providing me with an opportunity unlike any other!

Summer Intern2019

Working with the UAlberta Museums Art Collection

 

moth-resized-50

Getting over my fear in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum

 

 

The University of Alberta Museums (UAM) consists of 29 registered museum collections distributed throughout the university campus, each with their own curators and support staff. Understanding the structure of the museum collections was crucial in determining how to move forward with this project. With 17 million objects and specimens, these collections are as diverse as they are large. One of the biggest challenges with this project is developing a resource that will work for all our collections. The second biggest challenge is working with primarily three-dimensional objects. While there is a wealth of information out there on how to work with scanners and digitizing books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and other paper and 2D objects, there is very little information on how to prepare and photograph 3D objects/specimens. This is largely in part because there is so much more variation when photographing an object/specimen, both in the types of materials being digitized and in the settings used to photograph them. Often a camera involves a level of customization and subjectivity that you don’t require when scanning.

Taking these two challenges in mind, this past month has been dedicated to working on the background information in order to do this project, that is all the research and planning that goes on behind the scenes. My research started with a literature search of the digitization standards from various institutions, organizations, and governing bodies, and compiling a document highlighting their standards and best practices. We also conducted interviews with several curators who have already done some digitization work with their collections to get a better understanding of what is already being done in collections and how this project could be the most helpful and useful to them. 

Some of the most helpful resources I found are:

  • Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) → Formed in 2007, FADGI is a collaborative effort of several federal agencies to create a set of sustainable technical guidelines and practices for digitized and born digital materials. The Still Image Working group released the Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials in 2016, which provides detailed and comprehensive information on the digitization practice and offers standards for various types of materials. This technical guideline is based off of the technical guidelines released by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 2004. While the FADGI guideline contains much of the same information, the NARA guidelines have recommendations for the digitization of objects and artifacts, where the FADGI guidelines only deal with two dimensional objects.  
  • Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines (UPDIG) → The UPDIG Coalition has members from a variety of professional photography associations from around the world with the intent of establishing photographic standards for photographers, designers, printers, and image distributors. The UPDIG Photographer’s Guideline represents the industry consensus on technical information such as colour management, monitor calibration, resolution, file formats, and more. 
  • Canadian Museum of History (CMH) → CMH released their new Digitization Standards in 2014, which references the FADGI guidelines. While the CMH standards are particular to their organization, they offer many examples of artifact photography and show how the FADGI guidelines can be used in practice and adapted by different museums. It should be noted that the 2014 standards are in French only, but the earlier 2006 version is in English, and while it offers slightly different information, it still proves to be useful.

Even though there are many standards and guidelines out there, digitizing ultimately depends on the resources available at your institution. So while the FADGI, NARA, and UPDIG guidelines offer valuable information and aimpoints, given the technology, financial, and personnel resources available to the UAM, their guidelines were often out of scope. Through our conversations with curators we also found that the practices for digitizing objects/specimens and the resources available to the collections were as varied as the collections themselves. Creating a single prescriptive standard was not the way to go, instead we decided to reframe the project as developing a suite of resources for the collections that they can then use and adapt to meet their own digitization needs. Going forward I feel that our biggest challenge will be to maintain the balance of the individual collection needs with the need for standardized practices. 

TL;DR 

There are a ton of digitization resources out there, but not a lot for photographing 3D objects/specimens. Some helpful resources I found are:

You can see a list of other online resources for digitization here.

The Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection contains over 10,000 prehistoric and historic artifacts that contextualize past societies. The artifacts are frequently used by students in research and in learning anthropological concepts. Looking at some of the artifacts, it would be easy to think that they are just stones. In reality, these are stones that past societies had intentionally shaped into tools, like blades or scrapers, to use in their daily lives. Modern-day archaeologists find these tools across the world. Each artifact advances our understanding of how historic populations functioned and reveals their level of innovation and creativity. 

Artifacts from the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection with the original labeling of the archaeologist

Artifacts from the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection with the original labeling of the archaeologist

The Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection is digitizing its artifacts by producing high-quality photographs for upload onto Mimsy XG. Mimsy is a museum collections management software used by UAlberta Museums to database many of its collections. This system contains the specific data information for each museum object within a collection. By uploading photographs of each artifact into Mimsy, we ensure that we have adequate visualizations of what exists in the collection. In the future, this information can be transferred into a public search site, allowing the collection to be visible and accessible to all.

Comparing a physical artifact to its edited photograph

Comparing a physical artifact to its edited photograph

During my time in the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection, I worked with artifacts found in France by archaeologists conducting fieldwork. I learnt how to set the camera and manipulate lighting to take detailed photos of the artifacts. The artifact is photographed next to a scale to clearly depict its size. After photographing the artifacts, I edited the photos on Adobe Photoshop to get the closest representation of the physical object. Shirley Harpham (Archaeology Technologist of the collection) taught me how to analyze the artifacts to understand which side was the dorsal (front), ventral (back), and lateral (side). These are important details that are added to the photographs to help viewers better understand the artifact.

Photographing an artifact

Photographing an artifact

Photographing artifacts is just one of the many ongoing projects in the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection. If you’d like to get involved in the collection, there are volunteer openings for students! To learn more, you may contact Shirley directly. 

This opportunity helped me understand that managing a museum collection includes much more than overseeing the physical artifacts. Just as importantly, it also includes managing the artifact’s associated data information and organizing an online version of the collection. It was an honour to learn from Shirley’s expertise! Watch the film to get a detailed look at the work entailed in digitizing the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection. 

Beautiful B.C. Thermal Blanket – Gloria (1982.14) by Canadian artist, Gathie Falk, has adorned the walls of the Agriculture Forestry Centre for the past 25 years. This work of art appears to be a quilted textile, but it is a painting. It is one of the University of Alberta Art Collection’s approximately 7,000 pieces, which displays some of its collection across campus for public enjoyment. Public artwork serves society by generating meaning, wonder, and discovery in spaces. 

Art is exposed to many threats when on public display. Public places generally have harsh environments with uncontrolled temperatures, humidity, and pollutants in the air. Although the art displayed on campus is checked regularly by Museums and Collections staff, some pieces require a little extra attention to preserve them from deterioration. When possible, it is important to provide artwork with periods of rest from public display. Due to renovations in the Agriculture Forestry Centre, the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences requested that we remove the painting to keep it safe. Museums and Collections staff decided to take advantage of the deinstall by dry surface cleaning the painting and storing it in a room where the temperature, humidity, and light are controlled. 

Scaffolding was set up to facilitate the safe deinstallation of the piece.

Scaffolding was set up to facilitate the safe deinstallation of the piece.

The deinstallation team included Jennifer Bowser (Collections Management Advisor, Registration/Preventive Conservation), Tom Hunter (Collections Assistant, University of Alberta Art Collection), Emerald Johnstone-Bedell (Assistant Curator, University of Alberta Art Collection), and myself. Our day was packed with action: we deinstalled, transported, examined, treated, and stored the painting. 

Protecting the piece with polyethylene sheeting to prepare it for transportation.

Protecting the piece with polyethylene sheeting to prepare it for transportation.

The team had intricately planned the deinstallation and transportation of the piece, which helped us through every unexpected obstacle. Since we did not have firsthand knowledge of the methods used to install the artwork, we revised our plans as the day unfolded. Despite many unknown variables that could not be planned for, such as vehicle traffic, the deinstallation and transportation of the painting went smoothly. 

We then used dry surface cleaning techniques to carefully remove the 25-years worth of dust that had accumulated on the painting. Dry surface cleaning is the manual removal of any dirt from the surface of a piece that may damage it or obstruct its visibility. Using a soft brush, we carefully swept the dust away from the surface of the painting into a vacuum. This technique granted us greater control of what was removed from the surface, and at what pace. Dry surface cleaning ensured the preservation of Falk’s painting so we may continue to enjoy and learn from it for many years to come. 

Dry surface cleaning using a brush and a vacuum to remove dust.

Dry surface cleaning using a brush and a vacuum to remove dust.

This was an exciting opportunity for me to understand the versatile skills required in planning and implementing a museum project. Planning the deinstallation of the painting required months of research, coordination with a variety of people, and preparation of materials. Everyone from the team exhibited their strong attention to detail and ability to problem-solve on their feet. I also got a close look at the effects that an uncontrolled environment can have on public artwork and how we can intervene to preserve it. Watch the film to see the team in action as they expertly brave scaffolding and layers of dust! 

My first memory of bugs is one of utter horror. I still remember it distinctly, almost 20 years later: my twin brother and I were playing outside on an ordinary summer’s day. My brother picked up an ant, so I picked one up, too. I innocently observed the red ant as it crawled around my fingers. Totally unwarranted; the ant bit my tiny finger. The battle scar that remained served as a reminder of the foundational lesson I learnt that day: bugs are my enemies.

Even as an adult, I have a low tolerance for insects of any kind (excluding lady bugs and butterflies, of course). Whenever a bug trespasses into my room, I need to call my sister to remove it, even if it’s the middle of the night. I felt pretty nervous about working in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, one of the 29 University of Alberta Museums registered museum collections,which contains about one-million specimens. The last thing that I expected was to feel awestruck by the wonders of insects. 

My new friends: the beetles.

My new friends: the beetles.

I spent two-weeks in the museum working with over 1,600 beetles from the West Indies. These specimens were collected during research trips that ranged from 1934 to 2006. Although these beetles are in the collection, their information hasn’t been uploaded to the Entomology Collection online search website. Using an Excel spreadsheet, I input data on each beetle’s characteristics (including its species, subspecies, habitat, sex, and life stage) and details on each beetle’s collection (including where it was collected and how). I then used Google Earth to find the latitude and longitude coordinates of where each beetle was collected. This allows the search website to visualize the distribution of specimens on a map. Digitizing the data for the beetles will increase their exposure to the world, and makes the collection more accessible to both local and international researchers. 

My favourite specimen in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum.

My favourite specimen in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum.

It was inevitable that I would feel astounded by the beetles after working so closely with them. Danny (Assistant Curator of the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum) taught me that there are over one-million insects identified in the world (with more being discovered), and 40% of them are beetles. I worked with beetles that are menacingly large and beetles that are smaller than a speck, and each of them play a pivotal role in sustaining our Earth.

My two-weeks in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum taught me that it’s easy to enjoy my work when I’m among incredible people, even if I’m working with insects. Danny and Felix Sperling (Curator of the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum) are experts of their fields, and it was a privilege to spend time with them. Everyday with them was full of adventure and new learning. Thanks to Danny and Felix, my fear has been replaced with fascination at the insects that live amid us. Watch the film to get an inside-look at my unforgettable time in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum! 

It has been a few weeks since I have had the time to sit down and write another blog post. Since my last post, the pace here at the University of Alberta Museums has picked up immensely. Recently we have opened up a new exhibition, Mountains and Water: Visions of the Land in Canada and China, featuring works from the Mactaggart Art Collection and the University of Alberta Art Collection.

Two hanging scrolls covered with Plexiglass at the "Mountains and Water" exhibition.

Two hanging scrolls covered with Plexiglass at the “Mountains and Water” exhibition.

Mountains and Water is an exhibition which celebrates the opening of the Jonathan KS Choi Cultural Centre of Canada in partnership with the China Institute. For this exhibition, I mostly helped with the installation of the Chinese art from the Mactaggart Art Collection , which mostly consists of hanging scrolls, along with some hand scrolls and albums. The hanging scrolls certainly provided the biggest challenge due to the nature of the art form. Hanging scrolls, as the name suggests, hang. Most of these scrolls are quite large, with many being nearly floor to ceiling in length. The longest of which was done by Wang Shimin in 1657, and is 107 inches long, or 8.9 feet! But, it is not actually the size of the hanging scrolls that provide the largest challenge for installation, but the physical nature of the scrolls themselves. Hanging scrolls are mounted on thin silk, so they are very fragile. This means that they have to be covered with sheets of Plexiglass in order to protect the scrolls. This is to prevent visitors to the exhibit from touching the scrolls as they are viewing them, or from accidentally brushing against them.

Though the Plexi does provide lots of protection to the hanging scrolls behind them, there are several cons to using Plexi as a barrier. Despite the name it’s not a typical kind of glass. Rather, the technical term is acrylic glass which means that a large portion is actually plastic compounds. This produces some issues, the biggest being the tendency to scratch, due to the plastic like qualities it exhibits. A badly placed scratch has the potential to greatly take away from the visitor experience. If I were to go to a museum, view a display and there was a scratch on the Plexiglass right in the middle of the object I was regarding, it would certainly draw my attention away from the item and towards the scratch. That is not what a visitor wants to be focusing on when they are attempting to view the display. This simply requires those installing the exhibition to be careful when handling the Plexi. Luckily, our installation went smoothly and we did not incur any damage!

Plexi does have its drawbacks, but compared to regular glass there are many pros. Plexi is incredibly resilient. It may be easy to scratch, or lightly damage but it is nearly impossible to completely shatter a sheet. It is the material that they use to surround hockey rinks, so if it is able to withstand a frozen puck that is moving at ninety miles per hour, it should be able to protect against an eager museum visitor who may accidentally poke it with their finger. Regular glass in contrast may be more scratch resistant, but there is the unpredictability of a scratch completely shattering the entire sheet. This would likely cause more damage to anything that it was originally intended to protect, which defeats the purpose of a protective covering in the first place.

Adjusting Plexiglass at "Mountains and Water"

Adjusting Plexiglass at “Mountains and Water”

Come check out some of these gorgeous hanging plexiglass sheets, as well as the art that they are protecting in Gallery A of the TELUS Centre. The exhibit features work from Chinese masters, such as Wen Zhengming and Qui Ying, as well as prominent Canadian artists, like Group of Seven members A.J. Casson and A.Y. Jackson. The exhibition is running from now until October 6. Hours are Thursday-Friday 12pm-5pm and Saturdays from 2pm-5pm. Find more information at the University of Alberta Museums website.

On the odd occasion when I do get a bit of a break from my busy schedule at the University of Alberta Museums, I try to not spend my time twiddling my thumbs waiting for the day to end. One suggestion I received from Associate Director Frannie Blondheim was to become more knowledgeable in the field of museum studies, or museolgy. Lucky for me there is a large amount of resources on museum studies that I can access. There is a large variety of topics ranging from theory, collecting, conservation, exhibits, and many more.

What I have been interested with in particular is literature on exhibition design and planning. Within the next month at the University of Alberta Museums we will be opening two new exhibitions. The first is opening on August 20th, Mountains and Water: Visions of the Land in Canada and China. This exhibit features work by prominent Chinese and Canadian artists, from the University of Alberta Art Collection and the Mactaggart Art Collection. This exhibit celebrates the opening of a new center for the China Institute at the University of Alberta. The second is a collaboration with the Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies. Forgotten Fronts: The Austro-Hungarian Army in the Great War, focuses on Austro-Hungarian artifacts from World War I and is commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the Wirth Institute, and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This exhibition will be located in the Old Arts Building. 

Through reading various books and articles on the topic I have become more appreciative as to all the work that goes into planning an exhibit. This can include simple decisions such as what type of font to use for the exhibit title, to lighting, to flow patterns of visitors. All of these are important and to be taken into consideration. They will affect the experience of the visitor and the effectiveness of the exhibition.

A red background creates an exciting and stimulating atmosphere in an exhibition.

A red background creates an exciting and stimulating atmosphere in an exhibition. Google Images, Ausstellung Grassi Museum, public domain

One very interesting thing which I learned, is how colours can drastically affect the visitors experience of the exhibition. In rooms where it is encouraged that visitors are excited and active the walls will often be painted a warm colour such as red. This is because warm colours stimulate the brain and will make those viewing the exhibit more energetic and active. Vise versa for cool colours like blue. Cool colour relax the brain and lead to subdued and relaxed atmospheres. Art galleries may often paint their walls dark blue in order to create a peaceful, quiet, and relaxing atmosphere in the room which translates to the guests. Next time you visit a museum I encourage you to take note of the colour scheme of the room and how it makes you feel while in the space.

A cool blue background relaxes people and creates a calming peaceful atmosphere in an exhibition.

A cool blue background relaxes people and creates a calming, peaceful atmosphere in an exhibition. Google Images, public domain.

Being able to have the time to read some of this material while I am getting hands on experience to what I am reading about is very beneficial. I am able to see some of the process and planning steps which are outlined in the literature and which I had to opportunity to take part in, as I drafted a tentative schedule preparing for the Forgotten Fronts exhibit. This will be a great asset to me in the future when one day I head to grad school for museum studies. I will have a jump start on some of the concepts and practices which I will be learning about.

I am sure that I will soon be losing the luxury of having down time to do some of this reading when out exhibition development goes into full swing. We will soon begin to install the exhibits and then after the official opening of the exhibit, I will once again be a gallery docent for Mountains and Water. But, while it lasts I will take every opportunity to become more knowledgeable in the museum studies field to hopefully have some useful input here at the University of Alberta Museums, and to get a jump on my future at grad school.

This week I have decided to take a different approach to my blog. Rather than provide the typical update of what I have been doing over the last week, I have taken the opportunity to gain some more insight into what some of my fellow summer student colleagues are up to. I sat down with University of Alberta Art Collection summer students, Georgia Ashworth and MorningStar Willier, and got to learn a little more about their work here at the University of Alberta Museums and what they think about life as a summer student!

Fellow summer students Georgia Ashworth (left) and MorningStar Willier (right).

Fellow summer students Georgia Ashworth (left) and MorningStar Willier (right)

Q: What are your backgrounds?

Georgia: I have a Bachelors of Arts in History from McGill University in Montreal.

MorningStar: I am in my second year of Native Studies with a minor in Anthropology here at the University of Alberta.

 

Q: What are your titles here at the University of Alberta Museums, and what do these roles entail?

G: I am a Collections Assistant [with the University of Alberta Art Collection (UAAC)] working on the Public Art Program. I am working on streamlining our copyright procedures and obtaining copyright licences for the artwork in the Art Collection, and will be writing art labels for the works on placement.

MS: I work as a Collections Assistant for the O.C. Edwards Ethnographic Collection, as part of the Art Collection, and I do research on the ethnographic artifacts.

 

Q: What drew you to these positions with the University of Alberta Museums?

G: I was hoping for an opportunity to gain more direct museum experience to further my career aspirations within the museum and heritage sector. 

MS: My minor is anthropology and I enjoy the sociocultural side of anthropology, so working directly with ethnographic material, particularly Indigenous material, directly pertains to my degree and interests.

 

Q: Do you believe that it is important for young people to be able to receive summer positions at universities and museums such as the ones you have? If yes, why?

G: Yes, I believe it is very important. It is a great way for young people to gain experience in the museum field, and become more connected to their university.

MS: Yes, because it shows me what I can do with my degree after graduation.

 

Q: What would you say is the value of having an art and ethnographic collection such as this on a University campus?

G: I believe that as a university, for students studying in areas related to art or ethnography, it can be very important to be able to interact with and view the artifacts first hand instead of just reading about the material.

MS: I agree with Georgia, the chance to study the material in person is invaluable.

 

Q: What is the value of summer students doing this work, compared to other staff members?

G: The Young Canada Works program, which is the program that both MorningStar and I are part of, provides partial funding for our wages. This can help organizations which may not have a large budget for the type of work we do. Also it allows permanent staff members to focus on the big picture while students do some of the more time consuming work.

MS: We are able to do the work that other staff members are unable to fit into their schedules, due to other pressing matters.

 

Q: What is your favorite part of your jobs, and what are you looking forward to the most?

G: My favorite thing that I have been able to do so far is redesigning the copyright section for our online database. This should make it a lot more useful to our museum staff. I am also looking forward to writing art labels for the collection.

MS: My favorite part so far has been going into the O.C. Edwards Collection storage room and working directly with the artifacts. I am also looking forward to updating descriptions of the artifacts within our online database, which uses the software program Mimsy.

 

Q: What are your plans after these positions wrap up? Do you plan to stay in the museums field?

G: This fall I am starting a Masters degree in Archaeological Heritage and Museums at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Afterwards I am looking forward to continuing to work the the museum field.

MS: I am still unsure at the moment whether or not I will continue in the museum field , but I really enjoy the research and curatorial aspects of museum work so I think I may.

 

Q: Finally, do you have a favorite artifact or piece of art from the collection?

G: I like the Norman Yates mural, West and North, on the north side of the Education Building, and the Steinhauer, Treaty Bear sculpture in Main Quad.

MS: I love all of my collection, but really love the steer hide painting, from the Blood Reserve in Southern Alberta.

One of Georgia's favorite pieces of the University of Alberta Art Collection, "West and North", 1987, Norman Yates, RCA (B. 1923 – D. 2014), acrylic on crezone plywood, University of Alberta Art Collection (1993.6), University of Alberta Museums, Gift of the artist

One of Georgia’s favorite pieces of the University of Alberta Art Collection, “West and North”, 1987, Norman Yates, RCA (B. 1923 – D. 2014), acrylic on crezone plywood, University of Alberta Art Collection (1993.6), University of Alberta Museums, Gift of the artist

This past week I have I have been working with Jennifer Bowser here at MACS. Jenn is our Collections Management Advisor, with a specialization in registration/preventative conservation.

Preventative conservation in action at the dentistry exhibit located on the second floor of ECHA

Preventative conservation in action at the dentistry exhibit located on the second floor of ECHA

Preventative conservation is a very important aspect of museum practice which needs to be undertaken in order to ensure the long-term preservation of objects in the University’s collections. Essentially, preventative conservation is what the name suggests: in a museum environment once an object is received, measures are taken to ensure that it will stay in the same condition that it was received for as long as possible. This is especially important due to the nature of many collections at the University. Preventative conservation is important to the health of teaching and research collections which are handled and used frequently. These measures can include regular cleaning, condition reporting, protective storage, and of course careful care and handling of museum objects. The main concept of preventative conservation is to catch issues which may lead to deterioration of the object before they become a problem, rather than allow them to progress to a point where there is permanent damage. Of course, this is at times impossible but it is the job of specialized museum professionals to prevent this deterioration as much as they can.

There are other factors rather than just the passing of time that come into play and  affect the stability of a museum object. These other factors are called the agents of deterioration. There are 10 agents of deterioration and they are: fire, water, pollutants, physical forces (such as dropping the object), pests, light damage, incorrect humidity, thieves and vandals, incorrect temperature, and dissociation which is the loss of valuable information pertaining to the object. The agents of deterioration are internationally recognized in museum practise.

Damage from the agents of deterioration can occur over time from factors such as improper storage conditions, or through unexpected events, such as a fire, flood, or theft. It is important to protect against these agents as severe deterioration can even lead to the need to deaccession (remove) an object from a museum collection, a process that all museums try their best to avoid. For example, this is what happened recently to a piece of public art on the University of Alberta campus. Due to damage from vandalism and pests, a work of art that originally consisted of two chairs and a small table located on the north side of the Biological Sciences Building had to be removed from public display. The University will soon begin the process to permanently remove it from the collection as the damage is irreparable.

Some other preventative conservation projects I have worked on this week include:

 

Removing a piece of public art by BioSci to be deaccessioned

Removing a piece of public art with Emerald Johnstone-Bedell, Assistant Curator of the University of Alberta Art Collection. Formerly located north of BioSci, it is in the process of being deaccessioned.

As an emerging museum professional, it is of course my wish that all museums are able to keep every object in excellent condition and that none are ever damaged. Unfortunately, this is impossible as accidents and unforeseeable events do occur. But through working with Jenn and others at the UofA Museums, I have seen many ways in which to prevent deterioration before it becomes an issue and ensure the care and longevity of museum objects.

Since my last blog post I have changed gears from archaeology to entomology. Over the past two weeks I have been working in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum. What this means is that I have been working with bugs, spiders in particular! The E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum  is one of the oldest museums at the University of Alberta, being founded in the mid-1920s in what was then the Department of Entomology. The Department of Entomology was merged with five other departments in the 1990s to create the Department of Biological Sciences.

Visit the E.H. Strickland Entomology hallway display on the ground floor of BioSci

Visit the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum hallway display on the ground floor of BioSci

While in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, I had the chance to work with assistant curator, Danny Shpeley. What Danny has been getting me to work on is a very large donation of spiders that was donated to the Museum in 2017. This is a donation of about 26,000 spider specimens, from all over the world. Most of these spiders were collected in Canada, but there are also a great number from the United States, Mexico, Israel, and even more exotic places like Tanzania and Australia. I am taking a spider world tour from the comfort of my office chair! I have been slowly, but surely, making a dent in the donations, having completed work on around 400 specimens at the moment.

My job has been to refresh the alcohol, add an accession number into the vial, and database the information that is included on labels which are within the vials. These specimens are in vials that are filled with alcohol in order to preserve the spiders. Alcohol is used over pinning because spiders are soft-bodied, if they were pinned the spiders would shrivel up!  So even though most of these spiders were collected in the 1960s, they look the same as the day that they were collected! The databasing is perhaps the most important part of my job. This is done on an Excel spreadsheet which will be uploaded to Mimsy, the University of Alberta Museums database. What makes these specimens valuable to the Museum is not necessarily the specimen itself, but the data. The data is what gives each specimen scientific importance. Information  like where it was collected, the elevation, the habitat, and when it was collected can give researchers important knowledge of the species that they are looking at.

Spiders in vials with fresh alcohol ready for storage.

Spiders in vials with fresh alcohol ready for storage.

The reason for databasing is, much like my previous experiences in Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection, to upload this data into an online database. This allows the public and researchers alike to learn more about a species and all that is involved with it. The most interesting part of the Virtual Museum  for me was that you are able to see the distribution range of a species. Location is a crucial part of the databasing that I am doing, and the final product of thousands of data entries is a map where you can see the range of a species.

This data entry might not be the most glamourous work that I will be doing this summer, but it is perhaps some of the most important and valuable. Talking with the curator of the collection, Felix Sperling, he said something which has stuck with me, “On one hand this work is incredibly boring, but on the other it is incredibly important.” Databasing is a huge part of museum work, and this saying is probably the most accurate representation of it!

My time here at the E.H. Strickland is drawing to a close today, and I must say that I loved my time here! I have a newfound respect for bugs, and everything creepy crawly!

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