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Thursday, May 31 • 4:30pm - 5:00pm
(Collection Care) How to Label Everything – A Review of Current Best Practices in Natural History Labelling

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Natural history collections are used primarily for research by scientists and academics. These collections are continually growing to track information about species and populations in the natural world. These collections are often quite large and labels are fundamental to help distinguish one specimen from its similar looking neighbours. Labels in natural history collections often contain original information which is not recorded elsewhere in museum records and specimens without labels are generally regarded as having no research value. Labels should last as long as their associated specimens. Finding materials to ensure the archival properties for each element of the label, including paper, plastic, inks and adhesives, can be a daunting affair. At the Canadian Museum of Nature, we undertook a comprehensive review of our labelling protocols. The results have been disseminated on the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections wiki page on Best Practices for Labelling Natural History Collections. It addresses a tremendous range of labelling issues that can be easily adapted to other collections from inorganic to organic, microscopic to massive, and wet to dry to ultra-cold. The project’s aim was to improve the decision making about the selection and purchasing of labelling materials. We presented our results to maximize end user benefits. We identified three generalized natural history labelling scenarios: dry labels, wet labels and ultra-cold labels. For each scenario, we made a decision tree to clarify and highlight the logic behind the selection of certain materials. To facilitate purchasing of the best materials, we summarized key archival concepts, terms, and symbols used by commercial suppliers that curatorial staff are likely to encounter on supplier websites. We also summarized relevant industry and government standards relating to archival materials, which could be used to objectively evaluate materials. Finally, we summarized previously-developed simple testing protocols that could be used to evaluate purchased materials once acquired. Focusing on the end users, through decision trees to present key information to facilitate purchasing, has been well received and has great potential to be adapted to other categories of archival materials for which conservators make recommendations. This project also highlighted the challenges in making effective recommendations when new archival materials continue to be developed and adopted. As a profession, we therefore need to continue to have higher level discussions among all stakeholders including, but not limited to, manufacturers, purchasers, conservators, conservation scientists, and standards and testing organizations. A more comprehensive understanding of material science, industry standards and simple tests for archival quality will help collections care staff make informed decisions when selecting labeling materials.


Luci Cipera

Conservator, Canadian Museum of Nature
Luci Cipera works as a conservator at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Luci joined the Canadian Museum of Nature in 2004 on the team responsible for moving the bird and mammal galleries during the museum’s renovation. She is a graduate of the Master of Art Conservation program at... Read More →
avatar for Erika Range

Erika Range

Conservation Technician, Canada Science and Technology Museum
Erika Range is an emerging cultural heritage professional and conservator. She completed her undergraduate degree from Trent University in Anthropology, graduating with high honours in 2008. She has also completed a master’s degree from University College London (2010) in Principles... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 4:30pm - 5:00pm MDT
Meyerland Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston