As with so many other things, 'prevention is better than cure' where pests are concerned. The key to keeping pests at bay is in knowing your building, your collections, and the pests that are potential risks.
Know your building
Your building provides the outer barrier of protection for the collection. A well-sealed and maintained building will help to keep pests out. Instigate a regular building inspection program. Pay particular attention to roofs and access points for plumbing and other services as these can provide ready entry points for pests. Clean the guttering, eaves and cavity spaces regularly. Check also for leaks and dripping taps, as these create the damp conditions that help pests to thrive. Keep plantings and soil away from the building wall, as this creates dampness, encourages the nesting of pests and attracts small insects. Implement the required maintenance and rectification works as quickly as possible.
Dust and debris that accumulates in corners, under furniture and other spaces that are not commonly accessed, provides an ideal food and nesting source for insects. Implement a regular, thorough vacuuming program to combat such accumulation. If possible, clean with a strong suction vacuum cleaner as this is much more effective than a broom or mop at removing dust debris, insect eggs, dead insect bodies and casings.
Know your collection
The table found in Common Pests gives a general guide to the types of materials that different pests attack. A detailed knowledge of your collection will give you a general indication of the types of insects you should be prepared for. Implementing a regular inspection program of your storage and display areas will provide you with good information about the type and level of pest activity in your museum or collection area. (We will discuss inspection programs in more details in the Integrated Pest Management section below).
Many pests prefer to attack soiled items that are infrequently used or handled. Inspect items closely before placing them in storage. Where items are soiled, especially textiles, consider cleaning them before placing them into storage.
Note: in some cases certain stains may be highly significant to that item (see the section on Significance Assessment in the topic on Profession: Conservation Theory, Ethics and Practice). It is beyond the scope of this topic to deal with this issue in detail. Nor is it possible to discuss appropriate cleaning methods for heritage items. Refer to reCollections on the AMOL website for more information. It may also be wise to consult a professional conservator for advice. A list of conservators who are members of the AICCM can be found on the AICCM website at http://www.aiccm.org.au/aiccm/people/)
Know the common pests
Knowing, recognising and controlling the pests that pose a threat to your collection is fundamental to good collection care. This can be achieved relatively easily by becoming familiar with a few basic facts about pests.
The websites referred to under Common Pests If you find an insect pest in your collection and are able to identify it, you can know its lifecycle, understand the risk it poses to your collection, and learn how best to deal with the infestation. This is critical in successfully mitigating the damage it will cause.
A good quality magnifying glass will help you see distinguishing features of different pests. Once these are identified you can compare them with the pictures of the pests listed on the websites.
The action to take if you do detect an infestation is described below in Treating Infestation: How do I treat insect infested material.
When the procedures that have been described here are implemented in a systematic, co-ordinated way, they will combine to deliver an effective pest management strategy. In the museum sector and in the broader pest control industry, this approach is referred to as Integrated Pest Management, and is described in more detail below.