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  • Writer's pictureNLPB Pharmacy Museum

Transformation Tuesday: The Project Begins Again

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Now that the rush season of summer is over, it’s finally time to re-start our monthly blog series! As a small reminder, Transformation Tuesday is here to provide you with insights into our Collections Reorganization project as we take our first true deep-dive into our inherited collection.

Blue nitrile-gloved hands holding a plastic zippered bag with a faded price sticker on the back. Inside the bag is a variety of empty pharmaceutical tubes and bottles from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Figure 1: A bag of unaccessioned items that were stored in the collections storage area. Note that they are in a Ziggy's Deli bag, and you can barely make out a price! All of these bottles were empty, and all were from the late 1990s, which falls outside of our collection's mandate for collectable time periods.

Last we left off, we had just delved into our basement collections space. With the first pass of disposals now done, we are finally able to make progress on organization and cleaning. To reiterate, the 'disposals' process was undertaken because our inherited collection contained a surplus of non-essential, unaccessioned items. For example, we had a large amount of empty plastic prescription bottles from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Not only do these items not meet our collections mandate, our collections spaces are not equipped to safely care for plastics in the long-term, as they are incredibly prone to rapid degradation. After culling those items, we had a much better idea of the artifacts we actually have in our collection.

Some of the artifacts left in the collections space have already been accessioned, but there are also a number of items that should be added to the collection but, for a variety of reasons, have not yet been. Thankfully, our cleaning process will let us complete two objectives at once. First, in taking every artifact off the shelves we will be able to identify artifacts that need further attention, allowing us to accession them as needed. Second, we will be able to identify those artifacts that were missed in the first disposal pass which are in too poor condition to keep. As our artifacts are pharmaceutical products, is is essential that our staff be kept safe while they're working in the collections, and this sometimes means deaccessioning and disposing of things that are dangerous, leaking, kept in open containers, or otherwise impossible for us to preserve.

Most importantly about the cleaning process is, of course, the cleaning. The first part of this process was getting our holding area set up. This area is essential to the facilitation of a smooth transition for our artifacts, both in the scope of this project and in our usual operations. This holding area will function as a safe, temperature and moisture controlled repository for those artifacts that are in flux within the collection. ‘In flux’, in this case, has a number of definitions. Items that need to be accessioned or deaccessioned, that need special attention, or those that need to be moved onto or off of display will be temporarily stored in this holding space until they can be processed.

A metal shelving unit with 4 shelves on an angle, with the short end facing towards the camera. Shelf is set against a brown concrete floor and grey painted brick walls. Shelves are full of artifacts separated into white and black bins.
Figure 2: One of our holding shelves in the collections storage space. This shelving unit is raised off the floor and set away from the wall to protect from flooding. Smaller artifacts are placed together in boxes for ease of movement.

As mentioned before, we have to work within the needs of our historic building. As this area is prone to flooding, especially in times of heavy rain, we have ensured that all our shelving units are well above the danger-zone. The minimum height of the bottom shelf of each unit is five inches off the ground, and smaller artifacts are placed in small containers to allow staff an easy way to move multiple artifacts at once, in case of emergency. Larger artifacts are stored as-is on the shelves, as they can only be moved one-by-one.

At the moment, our holding units are full of artifacts that are meant to be stored in the collections storage area. This is great news, because it means that we have made progress on our Reorganization project! As of right now we have emptied an entire shelf and are in the process of scrubbing down the entire structure. Next, we are waiting on a shipment of archival-quality shelf liner and foam to arrive from our distributors, so that we can make sure these shelves are as safe as possible for our artifacts.

A set of clean old wooden shelves, with the surface of three shelves visible. The middle shelf has some yellow residue.
Figure 3: Our collections shelves, post-cleaning. There are still some small places where residue has become ingrained., but as the shelves will be lined, we aren't too concerned about it so long as the residue does not transfer upon touch.
A set of dirty wooden shelves, with the surface of two shelves visible. The shelves are covered in a thick layer of dust and grime.
Figure 4: An example of the shelves before cleaning. Note the layer of grime! Cleaning is carefully undertaken with a specialized cleaner, taking care to keep the wood as dry as possible through the process.

As we are limited to the historical shelving of our building, we needed to find a way to neutralize the effects of the naturally acidic wooden shelves. Accessories like archival-quality liner and foam provide us with an easy, safe way to protect both the hundred-year-old shelves and the artifacts they house. Rather than expose the wooden shelves to harmful water and cleaners, using lining paper will allow us to efficiently and harmlessly provide a clean surface.

In addition, foam padding on the sides and top of the shelves will prevent artifacts from bumping against hard wood. Unfortunately, we don’t have these products yet, so the artifacts will have to temporarily go back onto the bare wooden shelves until that shipment comes in. Ideally we would keep those artifacts off the shelves until they could be lined, but due to a lack of space, we will have to put those artifacts back on the shelves in order to move on to cleaning the next set.

This will take quite a while. Like any cleaning project, this is a labour-intensive process that will take as much time as it needs. Still, it’s one where the progress is obvious to see, which always makes a project more pleasant.

~ Drew Beard, Collections Assistant

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