Museums are Cool! (Pun Intended)

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I am rather lucky to work where I do, for a plethora of reasons.  I’m a history junkie and museum nerd, so working in my field in a subject I love is a blessing.  I work right on the shores of Lake Ontario; on summer mornings, before I begin my day, I’ll often sit and just watch the lake, taking in the silence before the excitement of the day.  I love my community and I love meeting new people, and as Community Engagement co-ordinator, I get to talk about how amazing Oshawa is.  And on the hot, humid, stinking summer days, I get the joys of working in an air conditioned environment!

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Visitors are often surprised to walk through the doors of Guy House and discover just how cool it is in here.  All three museum buildings have climate control methods, and while I’d like to say that it is purely for the comfort of staff and guests, that just simply is not the case.  In our collections, housed between our three buildings, we have thousands of artifacts, including clothing, textiles, archaeological collections, cameras, furniture, and much more.  And then, of course, there is the archival collection in Guy House, including around 10,000 photographs of Oshawa, and irreplaceable text documents.  Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity (RH) are not ideal for collections, so air conditioners are used in the summer for climate control.

According to the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), who are essentially the go-to people for Museum conservation standards, fluctuations in temperature and RH are the enemies to museum collections.  It is important to note that temperature and RH are directly related – if a volume of warm air is cooled, then its RH will go up; in turn, if a volume of cool air is warmed, the RH will go down.  Science.

Circled in red is the temperature and RH meter in the Robinson House attic storage area

Circled in red is the temperature and RH meter in the Robinson House attic storage area

What could happen if there is incorrect temperature or humidity?  CCI outlines three broad categories: biological damage (mould growth); chemical damage (including hydrolysis and oxidation); and, mechanical damage (objects naturally expand or contract depending on warm or cool temperatures – this could spell disaster for large objects with many components, like CCI’s example of a chest of drawers or paintings).  By regulating the museum environment and closely monitoring the temperature and relative humidity in our buildings, we are doing our best to deter potential damage to our precious artifacts.

Having A/C is also a nice draw for tours: take a break from the heat and discover more about Oshawa’s past.  The Oshawa Museum: We’re a cool place to visit! (See what I did there?)

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