Thursday, November 17, 2011

The One Percent

     Don’t worry; this has nothing to do with the Occupy protests! 
     It has been my observation that 99% of museum visitors generally behave themselves when going through the exhibits.  It’s the other one percent which make it necessary for all the security measures.
     There are a variety of methods museums can employ to prevent theft or damage to the artifacts on display.  Probably the most common method is placing the items in a display case.
This is a large display case with tempered glass doors which are locked.  This display is also set to trigger an alarm if the doors are opened or broken. 

     Single artifacts or very small groups of artifacts can be placed in smaller display cases.  Sometimes these cases can be incorporated onto a display panel as seen in the photo below.
This artifact, a wooden grave marker, has a Plexiglas cover which is secured to the panel.  The panel is secured to the wall.

This is a vitrine, or small display case, which houses a single artifact.  It has a Plexiglas top which is held in place by security screws.

Another important aspect of exhibit security is pictured in the background – the museum staff!  They inform our guests of the museum’s guidelines (no food, drink, or flash photography in the galleries) and they help to monitor the visitors via the security cameras.
     Signage is also a part of museum security.  There are several signs similar to the one pictured below, posted throughout the museum.  We also have signs warning guests of the motion sensors on the open displays.

     Very large artifacts can be challenging to display safely.  In many cases they are placed behind some sort of barrier.  Alarm systems can be used.  Guards can also be employed to monitor these items, but that is generally done more at larger museums.

Here is the largest item in the NMCWM’s collection, a Civil War Surgeon’s tent.  There are several layers of protection for it here, the building security system, the physical barriers (crates and raised floor), its placement beyond the reach of guests, the sign in the lower right corner of the photo, the video camera (not visible here) which is monitored by the front desk staff, and the motion sensor – the small white box in the upper right corner of the photo – which sets off an alarm if triggered.

     Displaying artifacts in open exhibits has similar challenges to displaying the very large ones, and some of the same methods can be used to protect them.  However, additional “tricks” can also be used.  The exhibit in the photo below has the warning sign, the security camera, the physical barriers (the Plexiglas fence plus the display panel placed in front of it), and the motion sensor.  It also has something else which isn’t visible in the first photo.

This Civil War amputation kit is too much of a temptation for a few of our guests.  Though most of our visitors heed the warnings about the space being monitored and alarmed, there are a few who still reach in and attempt to handle the surgical instruments.  As you can see in this photo (click to enlarge the photo), the instruments are further protected by a series of clear monofilaments – the horizontal ones are visible here, but there is also a series of vertical ones, plus one which is looped around the handle of the saw.  The advantage here is that the lines make it more difficult to remove the instruments, and most people do not even see them!

     So, I hope when you are a visitor at a museum, you are more aware of the security measures in place, and that you are not in the dreaded one percent!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

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