• NLPB Pharmacy Museum

Transformation Tuesday: Spring Cleaning

Hello everyone!


We hope you've been doing well in the spring Newfoundland weather. We've recently learned that the first spring storm that happens after a stretch of good weather is called Sheila's Brush, and if it happens after St. Patrick's Day we can look forward to a fair-weather spring. Seeing as Sheila visited after St. Patrick's Day this year, we're looking forward to that fair-weather spring!


Spring has definitely truly begun in our little institution. We've gotten some essential small-time updates done that will help our workflow immensely: our internal locks were fixed and updated, and we finally have a staff kitchen in the works. Even better, we were able to launch two of our annual programs this month. In our Mystery Seed Packs you'll get 4 random packs of seeds such as Chamomile, Summer Savory, and Echinacea. It's best to plant them after the last frost, so there's still plenty of time to grab some seeds. Additionally, there's still a bit of time to register for our Spring Embroidery Workshop, which is happening on March 31st at 7pm over zoom. In this workshop you will learn from Rebecca Jane Embroidery as she teaches us a beginner-friendly motif based on the pattern on our historical oak pharmacy shelves, with enough space to add your own phrase or motif in the middle.


Most importantly, we've been able to make good progress on our collections reorganization processes. We have started by separating the items that need to be disposed of away from the collections space, so that they can't be confused for the objects that we are keeping. To do this, we've started by working systematically, shelf-by-shelf, to separate the objects we can keep from those we cannot. Our plan is to handle all the unaccessioned objects first; these are objects that are not legally a part of our collection, but were been left to us when we inherited the collection. These objects are not artifacts, and in many cases are deteriorating or do not meet our collections mandate. Then, we'll be able to go back and evaluate the remaining accessioned artifacts, as that process will be much more time and labour intensive.


It's important to note here that the objects we are slating for disposal are hazardous, and that keeping them is not conducive to building or maintaining a reliable museum collection. Often these objects are broken, leaking, or deteriorated past the point that we are able to care for them. In the photos below I've provided some examples of the types of objects that we are not going to be able to keep, and I'll provide a description of what exactly about the object is a red flag. I haven't provided examples of items in their worst condition, but rather items where I can most clearly exemplify the reason they must go.




The object to the left is a plastic bottle of a brand-name bronchodilator. Probably the biggest red flag we are looking for in this process of collections reorganization is plastic. Plastic is incredibly prone to degradation: breakage, leaking, cracking, and melting. You can see in the image provided that this bottle - which is from the 1990s - is already starting to bend and degrade. The left side is starting to cave in, and the plastic is malleable and soft when touched. As a small institution we are not equipped to preserve an object with this level of degradation, which is why plastics are a red flag for us. They degrade too quickly for us to realistically handle long-term.


Another example of the type of object we can't keep are these small vials. This particular example is Gravol, but we have a huge variety of vials that are full or partially full. The problem with these is the cap; in many cases, there are only thin layers of foil or penetrable rubber corks. Both of these substances are, again, prone to degradation and impossible for us to care for, especially when the contents of these vials are often caustic.



The object on the left is a two-for-one example. The rubber band on the front is the first red flag: see how the rubber has become brittle and split, while simultaneously adhering itself to the front of the bottle? If you look closely you can also see how the band is splitting and cracking at the front, from age. This by itself would not force us to dispose of this artifact; rubber bands, while they are prone to deterioration and do cause some discolouration, are nowhere near as caustic as tape, and can usually be removed with relatively little hassle. Unfortunately, this bottle has also started to leak, which may be part of the reason this rubber and has adhered to the bottle's label. You can see the stains from leakage on the label, and the cap at the back is split. And again, we have a plastic bottle, which will only continue to degrade over time, causing more leakage and more potentially dangerous exposure for our staff. So, it has to go!

An example of a shelf that needed to be cleared. Notice the amount of plastic here? All of these bottles were empty, as well. They have since been removed from the collections space and are slated for safe disposal.

At the moment, we're also

cleaning out all the unaccessioned objects that do

not meet our mandate. Currently, our mandate is to "honour pharmacy practice by offering a glimpse into how pharmacy care advanced through the years, and particularly in communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador". The emphasis in this mandate is on pharmaceutical history within Newfoundland and Labrador, meaning we are not prioritizing non-pharmaceutical history, nor are we prioritizing non-Newfoundland or Labrador history. For example, we unfortunately have a lot of objects that are hospital-focused and would not have been carried in pharmacies, which means that they should not be in our collection no matter how neat they may be. While a lot of our inherited objects need to be safely disposed of, those that are in good enough condition can go to institutions that are better suited to care for them.


But! Alongside those objects that we are disposing, we have a huge amount of objects that we've found that we are very excited to keep, accession, and research. My favourite of these is, by far, this pharmaceutical sticker dispenser. These stickers provide warnings for everything from 'shake well before using' to 'take on an empty stomach' with a little image of an empty stomach.


And that's it for this month's update! We have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that you, as our visitor, are able to have a safe and pleasant experience in our museum. The process of reorganizing our collections space will help us to create new exhibits and programs that will teach you about pharmaceutical history within Newfoundland and Labrador. Artifacts we've discovered downstairs have already helped us come up with new and interesting ideas for online and in-person exhibits, as well as online and in-person programming, and some pop-up events.


Thank you for reading, and we look forward to talking to you again soon!


~ Drew, Collections Assistant

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