The Teeth of Time!
The Library of Alexandria succumbed to not just flames, but the elements of the environment. The Greek poet Evenus equated one of these elements, pests, to the symbolic enemy of human culture,
“Page-eater, the Muse’s bitterest foe, lurking destroyer, ever feeding on thy thefts from learning, why, black bookworm, dost thou lie concealed among the sacred utterances, producing the image of envy?”
The philosophers of antiquity struggled with the same environmental concerns we still have today. The only solution is prevention, creating an inhospitable place for pests and protecting collections from the other destroying elements-light, humidity, temperature and pollutants.
There is a common misconception that once an object enters a museum, it is safe and forever preserved for future generations. While as museum professionals, this is our goal and commitment, it is not without fail. The same agents of deterioration that exist in your home also exist in the walls of the museum. It is the Museum’s job to defend the objects in our collections from these agents, but in order to preserve, we also must understand the science.
The four main agents of deterioration include light, temperature & humidity, pest and pollutants. This is a guide to understanding these agents. It is important to understand that these are not stand alone elements, but rather they have very close relationships to each other. For example infrared light may heat up an object, raising the temperature and humidity in the ambient air; the high humidity may then encourage mold growth or a pest infestation. All of these elements need to be considered, they are not autonomous, but relate to each other very closely.
Remember, it is always better to spend a little money now for preservation than pay a conservator big money in the future.
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