Herbarium design--summary & fire question
Donna I. Ford-Werntz
diford at WVNVM.WVNET.EDU
Mon Feb 10 08:36:02 CST 1997
Thanks to everyone who responded to my request for herbarium design advice.
Below is an edited compilation of the more detailed/informative replies.
I had a productive first meeting with the building planners last week.
They would like more information on types of fire supression systems
(methods, pros/cons). Any comments on this issue would be greatly
appreciated--hopefully not too many of us have first-hand experience with
their actual utilization/efficacy.
From: "Barbara P. Moore" <bpm at george.peabody.yale.edu>
Here at Yale we are in the process of designing a new environmental
science building which will include our herbarium and a number of our other
collections. We have looked into the design of museum collections
facilities very thoroughly and I would be happy to share with you what we
have learned. In particular, beyond actual building design, I encourage
you to specify good environmental control (low temperature, low and very
stable humidity, important both for long-term preservation of cellulosic
materials and pest control).
If you want to call me I would be glad to talk with you. Another
person to talk with, in the actual building phase, is Jim Solomon of the
Missouri Botanical Garden (solomon at mobot.org) [also suggested by Fiona
<fnorris at Brit.ORG>]. A third person who has been especially helpful to us
is Vince Wilcox, who oversees the Museum Support Center of the Smithsonian
Institution (wilcox at simsc.si.edu).
Barbara Moore internet: barbara.moore at yale.edu
Conservation and Collections voice: (203)432-3965
Peabody Museum of Natural History FAX: (203)432-9816
PO Box 208118
New Haven, CT 06520-8118
From: Rusty Russell <RUSSELL.RUSTY at NMNH.SI.EDU>
Since you are so "close", I would be happy to have you visit us
[Smithsonian] for a day and we could go through a lot of herbarium design
issues, I could
show you our compactor plans ... you could talk to Dave Lellinger, our
fern curator, who has spent a LOT of time imagining the perfect herbarium.
From: Jeremy Bruhl <jbruhl at metz.une.edu.au>
We are just in the process of building a new herbarium. $$$ constraints mean
that we go from space for about 50K to about 70-80K specimens on compactor
shelves, however, we will also have a dramatic (though I should never speak
too soon) improvement in working, processing and storage space. I could send
you an outline of our plan (of course we wanted more and there were
compromises due to the $$ factor).
CANB (our National Herb) just built so you might also contact them, they aim
for RH between 40-60% and Temp between 21-24 in a relatively low humidity
area! I just visited South Africa and at Cape Town Uni they stick with 40%RH
and 21C all year and say that is best for minimising insects. We also just
got a second beaut freezer that goes well below -18C for materials entering
Jeremy J. Bruhl
Lecturer in Botany
Director, New England Herbarium
Department of Botany
University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351 Australia
From: "Diana G. Horton" <dhorton at vaxa.weeg.uiowa.edu>
I would recommend that you contact Montel, Inc., a Canadian, Quebec-based
company, for compactors. I found out about them relatively recently myself
from Marshall Crosby at the Missouri Botanical Garden. They are installing
mobile shelving at the Field Museum and at the Missouri Botanical Garden,
and have already done so at other places like the Smithsonian. I have just
applied for funding to have them install compactors here. The advantage with
them is that they manufacture *both* the carriage *and* the shelving units
for the compactor system. Previously, one had to order the carriage from
one company and then add on herbarium cabinets from another company. In
our case, the cost is approximately 2/3 less to go with this company. The
person to contact at Montel is: Yves Belanger, Phone: 800-935-0235 Ext.
220, Fax: 418-248-7266. I recommend him highly. He couldn't have been
more helpful to me. Please tell him I referred you.
Probably you already know, but the big thing you need to consider with
respect to installing compactors is to make sure the floor loading
capacities will be sufficient to support the weight. I am sure that Yves
will be able to tell you what you need in this regard. Also, the bigger
the room, the more the compactors will increase the space -- you want a
big, open rectangular room with no pillars or other obstructions in the
middle of it. The rails for the compactors should be installed when the
building is built, but Yves will tell you about this.
The other thing that you should do is to make sure that there is an air
handling system in the room that will control the temperature (we keep
our room at 60 degrees year-round to prevent insect predation; incoming
specimens and returned loans are put in an upright, standing freezer for
two weeks prior to insertion -- since we had the air handling system
installed - ca. 8 or 9 years ago - we have had *no* insect problems, and
we don't fumigate or do anything else) (the temp. control is also better
for longevity of the specimens and the paper) and the humidity (controlling
the humidity will also increase the longevity of the paper and specimens)
(unfortunately, I didn't know about this when I got the air handling system,
so we don't have humidity control). If you can keep the ceilings high and
unobstructed, you can make the cabinets taller, which means you can get
more specimens in. You should ask Yves about this too.
Herbarium 312 CB
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242
From: Judy Gibson <jgibson at cts.com>
Our herbarium (SD)--the San Diego Natural History Museum--is similar
in size to yours. Under an NSF grant in 1991/2 we made the transition
from free-standing standard and homebuilt cases to a compactor system.
We had to put it in the same herbarium space but we figured that our
storage was increased by 30 to 40%. We had about 135,000 specimens and
went from 114 cases to 149. So my first comment is that I question the
number of cases you plan for 160,000 specimens. Our collection was jammed
at 114; we had to compress a stack of plants a bit to get it into a
we moved into the new cases we figured that each two compartments
would expand to three, and we also left the top two compartments in
each case empty for future growth. The 149 cases also includes cases
for incoming and outgoing exchange, working cases for research and
other projects, storage of oversized specimens like pine cones, types,
and reference collections for our county and for Baja California. The
main collection itself occupies about 130 cases.
We have the work area (microscopes, reference books) on a countertop
that runs along the wall opposite the open end of the stacks, and have
found it convenient. We have two work stations there. The specimen
preparation and packing/shipping area is in another section of the room.
These large tables can also be used for researchers, of course.
From: "Monique D. Reed" <MONIQUE at bio.tamu.edu>
I can understand that you might find compactor units with movable
shelving too expensive. We have been happy with ours, however. It
sure saves precious space! Whatever storage system you finally adopt, if
it involves storing the plants in folders, I encourage you to explore the
option of acid-free folder materials. We mount our plants on acid free
paper, but sadly,
the genus covers we have aren't acid free. I am beginning to notice
some yellowing of sheet edges and some labels due to contact with
regular manila stock folders. Go for the good stuff!
We also used to use methyl bromide--and we really liked it. However,
due to the whole ozone-eating issue, we have had to discontinue it.
Right now, we use a pyrethrin fog every 12 to 18 months. It has the
advantages of having an extremely quick break down time, being of
limited toxicity to humans, being relatively inexpensive, and being
widely available. We have someone with a mask come in and fog,
rather than setting off the do-it-yourself "bombs" that one can buy
in the store. This, combined with freezing ALL incoming material at -
80C, seems to prevent pest problems. Spring for a chest-type
ultracold; freezing at lower temperatures doesn't always kill all the
Other suggestions: have the herbarium as a "quarantine-type" room--
windows tightly sealed, door always shut, no plant material allowed
in unless frozen, floors swept regularly, etc. It also helps if the
room is not on the main air-handling circuit. We have found that a
dehumidifier keeps the relative humidity down far enough (ca. 50%) so
that dermestids are less likely to breed (if we had any!)--but
perhaps this is not a problem where you are.
I have given a lot of thought about the ideal set up for herbarium
operations. I would want some rather large non-quarantine work room
for dealing with incoming material. This room should have space for
storing boxes of things, as well as table space for microscopes,
books, and other identification operations. A refrigerator would be
useful here, for storing things yet to be looked at. Plant dryers
can also be here.
In addition to the main "safe" herbarium itself, there probably ought
to be a "safe" work area for examination of already frozen materials
and examination of collections. This could also be where outgoing
loans and exchanges are processed, plants are mounted, labels typed,
etc. You can always use *more* room of this type.
If fire planning comes into play, request one of the halon-extinguisher
systems, the kind that smother a fire rather than sprinkling it. Water is
just as bad in a herbarium as fire... Which is why my final recommendation
is to make sure that the facility is in some manner above ground
level--even if just a little. Too many facilities end up in basements, and
sooner or later, water is a
problem. If it isn't rain, it's broken plumbing upstairs, a running faucet
down the hall, or... How I wish there were some sort of seal at the bottom
of our door!
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-3258
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 97 09:21:06 EST
From: Lyn Craven <craven at pican.pi.csiro.au>
Subject: Re: Storage of Herbarium specimens - what's best?
Pyrethrins are pretty useless. The particle size is too large for the
material to penetrate small spaces - it is not a fumigant. A better
material is phosphine but some people get cold feet because it is very
active. Perhaps the best compromise is dichlorvos with pyrethrin sprays
around skirtings. Look into dryacide also (a diatomaceous earth product),
for putting under fixed cupboards, in cavity walls, etc. [Some yo-yos in
the US did things like putting it into pigeon holes, etc, so when you push
the bundle of specimens in, the dust comes out!!!! Dryacide was developed
(?) in California as a termite control, presently being used as a insect
control in grain silos in a number of Australian states. Has potential:
inert, +/- permanent, etc.]. In the Canberra experience, dermestids (ie
museum and carpet beetles) are not a problem. The little blokes are just
scavenging the dead insects. Lasioderma (tobacco beetle) is another
Australian National Herbarium
CSIRO Division of Plant Industry
GPO Box 1600
Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
From: Deb Lewis <dlewis at iastate.edu>
1) Our herbarium is located just below physiology and molecular systematics
labs -- and we've had problems with sink overflows, growth chamber clogs
causing "floods", even freezer defrosting causing leaks into the herbarium.
If you must be on a lower floor, if possible, get a "passive", dry space
overhead -- the library or even a classroom. Because of these labs and that
we also have water supply pipes running overhead in the herbarium, we do
not have false ceilings, so leaks from any of these can be more quickly
detected (instead of gallons of water building up above the false ceiling
finally breaks the tile).
2) Have a separate room for fresh-specimen processing (probably pretty
obvious, but I've been in plenty of facilities that don't have a
"dirty-plant" room). Ours serves double-duty (no, more than double) as
packaging/shipping area; tables for pressing; storage for presses, boxes,
field equipment, etc.; the dryer and freezer are there; etc. Also, if my
office was in the herbarium (it isn't), I'd have a space for those
inevitable walk-in "emergency" id's and such, with a dissecting 'scope and
maybe duplicate copies of references (I've got the old edition of G & C, our
checklist of the Iowa plants, and that kind of thing). I can think of
advantages and disadvantages of having an office "in" the herbarium -- at
NCU, where Jim Massey's office is (or was when I was there) a part of the
herbarium, people with untreated plant materials are sometimes paying more
attention to finding him than they are in reading the sign about not
bringing in untreated plants.
3) We're looking into getting compactors, and being on the 3rd floor of a
mid-60's building, we may be facing a problem with the floor load. Even if
you don't "go for" compactors now, if possible have the floor load be great
enough to accomodate future growth including compactors.
4) Some herbaria that are located in the "basement" (below ground level)
have humidity problems. HVAC systems can be designed to take care of this,
but sometimes the systems fail (e.g., during power-outages). I think that
COLO may have had a problem with this at least early on after their move
into the basement of their current building "home". Tom Ranker can tell you
if/how they solved the problems, if you're looking at similar conditions.
5) Lighting -- we have fluorescent lights that run perpendicular to the
rows of cabinets. This is preferred. However, we have a section where
there's a "gap" in the banks of lights. Early on, this was an open access
to a doorway, and it didn't cause a problem. Now we've filled in the space
with cabinets that "shade" the lights on either side, and have wound up with
a dark aisle. Also, if you leave specimens out for extended periods, maybe
consider UV sleeves over the fluorescent lights. If you will have windows,
a UV film coating over the glass should be considered.
6) For pest control -- try not to be too near a building access. I
understand that the beetles and dermestids are pretty ubiquitous, and can
come in through outside doorways, direct vents (not a problem, typically,
in new buildings), etc.
7) Some herbaria don't have adequate or comfortable space for examining
specimens, dissecting 'scope work, etc. (US comes to mind). We have tables
that run the full lengths of walls here. We have two tiers (one just
installed the last few months) of bookshelves above this space to accomodate
our "taxonomic library". A separate row of fluorescent lights runs below at
least part of these bookshelves, creating a well-lit workspace at the tables.
8) In both our specimen prep room (adjoining the herbarium), and the
dirty-plant room, we have large banks of built-in open "cubbyholes". These
are great for corrugates/blotters, newspapers, old used genus covers, etc.
in the dirty plant room. I like having them in the prep room, too, except
that I get so far behind in filing that some specimens wind up "sitting out"
in these for months (or even years... ugh!). The one in the prep room is 15
units long X 5 high (= 75 cubbyholes), built of 3/4" oak, and each cubbyhole
is ca. 13" wide X 19" deep X 14.5" high.
Deborah Q. Lewis, Curator
Ada Hayden Herbarium (ISC) Ph. 515/294-9499
Department of Botany FAX: 515/294-1337
Iowa State University E-mail: dlewis at iastate.edu
Ames, IA 50011-1020 U.S.A.
From: "Deb Metsger" <debm at rom.on.ca>
I am in the process of editing a book entitled Managing the Modern
Herbarium that is based on a workshop that was held in June 1995. The
book contains four papers devoted to this subject that are based on
the experiences of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the University of
Michigan, Michigan State, and UC Berkeley. The book is a couple
months away from print, but the authors might be willing to have their
papers shared. I will copy this to those involved and then get back to
you. Deb Metsger, Assistant Curator, CBCB Royal Ontario Museum
From: "Stephen P. Rae" <srae at musci.com>
If I may make a few suggestions regarding the layout. As more and more
researchers and other professionals take advantage of technology, they may
wish to bring their tech-toys into the research and study areas. I would
suggest that work areas have adequate power capabilities for laptop use, and
that the facility provide network connections for those who are authorized.
In addition, networked PC(s) should be available in the work area. Of
course, the use of such tech requires that the dust, dirt, and fragments
associated with specimens be better controlled. Perhaps a two-tiered work
surface with the tech devices slightly above and behind the plant material
I also suggest that a scanner to capture labels would be an asset. In
addition, you might consider a video capture device (digital camera with
appropriate close-up lenses) to capture whole specimens and parts. You
could even have a digitally connect microscope available.
One reason for providing better technical capabilities in the herbarium has
to do with the increasing availibility of taxonomic and reference materials
in digital form. For instance, I have recently run across the synotpic
lichen key (http://mgd.orst.edu/hyperSQL/lichenland/). And, we are putting
up our pages on the Moss Flora of California ( as soon as we get all the
bugs out of our server-Internet line connection).
Donna I. Ford-Werntz West Virginia Univ.
Herbarium Curator (WVA) Box 6057
Asst. Prof. Biol. Morgantown, WV 26506
425 Brooks Hall (304)293-5201 X2549
email: diford at wvu.edu fax: (304)293-6363
Web site at http://www.as.wvu.edu/biology/
More information about the Taxacom