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Mould and Insect Attack in Collections

I. M. Godfrey and N. King Smith


Although mould and insect attack are treated separately in this section it is most important that pest control is dealt with in a coordinated fashion. Pest management should be a routine part of the operations associated with a collection not just a series of responses to crises.

Strang (1993) recommends conducting a survey to assess the existing situation before any attempt is made to implement a pest management regime. This survey should consider the following factors:

  • the building and its location;
  • portable fittings and hardware; and
  • procedures and people.

These factors should be examined to determine their impact on pests. Is the building well sealed? Do storage and display cabinets restrict the entry of pests? Do staff eat and keep foodstuffs well away from collection areas? Are fresh plants or flowers allowed into the building? These are just some of the questions that should be considered in the initial survey.

Having assessed the existing situation, design and implement pest management activities that will minimise the risks posed to collections by pests (Strang 1993, Strang and Kigawa 2009). These activities should be based on ‘five stages of control’:

  • avoid;
  • block;
  • detect;
  • respond; and
  • recover.

This approach to pest control, often called ‘integrated pest management’, involves:

  • preventive measures;
  • monitoring of collection areas;
  • treatment of artefacts;
  • treatment of infestations; and
  • review and assessment of procedures.

The key points are summarised below with more details provided later in the chapter.

Preventive Measures

Key pest preventive measures include:

  • excluding pests by using screens and sealing cracks and access points;
  • ensuring that additions to a collection are not infested by quarantining and monitoring objects before adding them to the collection;
  • isolating susceptible objects in pest-proof bags or containers;
  • good housekeeping and maintenance in and around the building including removing rubbish, keeping plants away from the building and reducing or removing sources of moisture and food;
  • positioning external lights so that they either draw insects away from building openings or at the very least don’t attract insects into the building;
  • control of relative humidity, temperature and air circulation to prevent mould formation;
  • not allowing food, drink or plant material (fresh or dried) in collection areas;
  • thoroughly cleaning all areas associated with a collection (vacuuming with a HEPA filter is recommended). This includes storage areas, display areas, tea rooms, offices and the area immediately outside the collection; and
  • applying appropriate pesticides to the external perimeters of buildings and on internal skirting boards (see Appendix 3) .

Monitoring Collection Areas

Collection areas should be monitored by:

  • regularly inspecting for dead or live insects, insect frass, cocoons, silk webbings, holes in objects, musty smells, changes in the appearance of objects and any other signs of pest activity;
  • using commercially available sticky traps to identify insect activity; and
  • using termite baits to monitor activity around a building.

Treatment of Artefacts

Ways to treat artefacts to prevent or control pest infestations include:

  • bagging and removing any affected artefacts from the storage and display areas; and
  • freezing or fumigating artefacts, using inert gases, low oxygen or chemical techniques.

Treatment of Infestations

If an area of the collection is infested by pests, then:

  • after isolating the affected artefacts, thoroughly clean the area (vacuuming with a HEPA filter is recommended); and
  • apply pesticides if pest activity continues.

Review and Assessment of Procedures

Management of pest infestations should be assessed against existing procedures to determine their effectiveness. Take the following steps after a pest outbreak:

  • document the outbreak. Record details concerning the artefacts affected, the extent of damage incurred, when the infestation occurred and the nature of the infestation (for example, type of insect attack);
  • determine the circumstances that led to the infestation; and
  • decide what action can be taken to prevent similar problems in the future.

Note that the cycle does not end with the treatment of an object. In fact it begins again. There is no point in eradicating pests if reinfestation is likely to occur. Follow treatment with remedial action and careful monitoring to reduce the chances of pests returning.

If in any doubt, consult a conservator who will be able to provide you with the latest information on control and treatment techniques.