Do you ever think of the environment in a display case? Probably not.
It’s one of the geeky concerns of the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) Collection Care Department. Most recently, while working with the Rare Book Department (RBD) in preparation for the upcoming exhibition, “The Year of the Bard: Shakespeare at 450” which opens January 27th.
Surprisingly objects can be harmed while just sitting passively in an exhibition case. They can be damaged by the energy of light, temperature, humidity, or even by chemicals in the air. Case materials like wood, glue, paint, foam, and fabric can release damaging gasses. Take a look at figure one on the right to see what can happen.
To help prevent this kind of damage stewards of collections screen the materials they use. A common screening method is a little test called the Oddy test, named after a conservation scientist from the British Museum, Andrew Oddy. This simple test accelerates the age of the object by using heat to speed up chemical reactions - the same chemical reactions that cause the materials to discharge damaging gasses. The materials are put in an oven with small metal coupons for about a month. If the coupons show corrosion stewards know that the material can cause damage (figures two and three).
Currently FLP Collection Care Department does not have the equipment to do its own Oddy testing. For the upcoming Year of the Bard exhibition Collection Care partnered with Janine Pollock head of the RBD in finding reliable vendors who had already Oddy tested the materials they sold. This is not the only screening test used or concern addressed but it is one way that the Collection Care department works to keep the FLP collections safe from harm.