On receiving notice that the AUB campus would be closing from 5pm on Friday 20th March 2020, in line with the Government’s country-wide lockdown for COVID-19, the MoDiP team had only a few days to get the museum organised. We had just completed the installation of our latest exhibition, Being me: plastics and the body, which had not even been opened to visitors at that point.
The first task was to remove from display any vulnerable plastics, . objects made from cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane, or any of the rubber-based plastics like gutta percha. This left several empty shelves in the display cases (see image below).
|Image credit: MoDiP Image reference: Gaps in the plastics timeline of our About Plastics display.|
The next job was to remove any objects on display in the tank cases, situated outside the museum, within the AUB library. This was important because this space is not environmentally controlled for the museum objects (which is why we limit object display time here). The temperature and humidity are determined by the heating within the library - which would be turned off for the duration - and even though overhead lighting would not be a problem (also turned off), there is still natural sunlight coming into the space.
|Image credit: MoDiP Image reference: Empty cases in the library corridor.|
Within the museum, any objects on display that are particularly fragile were then either returned to their storage locations or wrapped and supported with acid-free tissue paper in situ. At that stage we had no idea how long the lockdown would continue for.
|Image credit: MoDiP Image reference: Objects wrapped in acid-free tissue paper in the display cases.|
Finally, any objects being worked on that did not yet have a permanent storage location needed to be covered, again using acid-free tissue paper. This provides protection from dust and is a barrier against potential deterioration due to the effects of temperature, humidity and light etc.
|Image credit: MoDiP Image reference: Objects in the store, wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.|
When all this was completed, we said goodbye to the objects (and each other), unplugged the computers, turned off the lights, locked the door and, rather anxiously, left the building.
Since then the MoDiP team have all been very busy working from home, maintaining the museum’s online presence and keeping in touch through virtual meetings (I love to see inside everyone’s houses).
I have been allowed access into the museum for one hour at the beginning of each month in order to check over everything and to download the readings from our data loggers (the Home Office have confirmed this is permissible and huge thanks to the AUB Facilities and Security team for making this possible).
Whilst our objects are quite familiar with being left in a dark, stable environment for long periods, it is important to check that all of the monitoring systems are working properly and that there are no problems. Going into the empty museum has been an unusual experience but we are currently formulating plans to re-open safely when restrictions are eased. Until then, stay safe and hope to see you again soon.
|Image credit: https://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-0015212 Image reference: Keep smiling.|
Katherine Pell, Collections Officer.