Each May, historical societies, museums, preservation organizations, archives and libraries celebrate Preservation Month. We use the month to highlight collections and building preservation issues, focus on our efforts to preserve the physical evidence of our histories and share preservation successes. It’s a chance for us to open the doors of our institutions and shine a metaphorical light on some of our behind-the-scenes work.
Our institutions are engaged in preservation all the time in ways that are not obvious to our visitors. If you’ve ever walked into a museum and been a bit chilly, it’s because we try to ensure that the temperatures inside our buildings are good for the objects in our collections. We don’t use a lot of cleaning products with added scents and chemicals on our furniture, so you may notice that house museums don’t smell flowery or citrusy. If your favorite object isn’t currently on exhibit, it’s probably “resting” somewhere dark. Too much light can be harmful. Our silver objects may not be bright and shiny because removing the tarnish can, over time, damage those objects. Bleach and harsh detergents could destroy that yellowed, linen wedding dress. So, we have to accept that it will never be white again. And, we’re OK with that.
Preservation work tends to be invisible. A lot of what we do to care for our collections takes place in labs and out of the way spaces like backrooms and offices. Collections preservation takes dedication, knowledge, skill and science. It’s a lot of hard work and we do it because it’s important.
During Preservation Month we love the opportunity to share what we do, but May is just one month out of 12. For your local historical institutions, preservation is a 24/7/365 job. If you’d like more information or the chance to help with these efforts, contact your local historical institutions where preservation never ends.