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  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos

    Outdoor collection, Vientiane. Photo by Author

    Vanpheng Keopannha International Museum Studies

    Museion, Gothenburg University Master Thesis 30 April 2008

    Supervisor: Professor Peter Davis

  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos 2

    Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: Introduction 5

    1.1 Background 5

    1.2 Key Issues 6

    1.3 Aim 6

    1.4 Objectives 6

    1.5 Methodology 7

    1.6 Organisation 9

    Chapter 2: An Introduction to Biodeterioration 10

    2.1 Biodeterioration and Its Causal Agents 10

    2.1.1 Bacteria and Bacterial Biodeterioration 10

    2.1.2 Fungi and Fungal Biodeterioration 11

    2.1.3 Algae and Algal Biodeterioration 12

    2.1.4 Lichens and Lichenic Biodeterioration 13

    2.1.5 Higher Plants and Biodeterioration by Higher Plants 13

    2.1.6 Silverfish and Biodeterioration by Silverfish 14

    2.1.7 Termites and Biodeterioration by Termites 15

    2.1.8 Borers and Biodeterioration by Borers 16

    2.1.9 Cockroaches and Biodeterioration by Cockroaches 17

    2.1.10 Carpet Beetles and Biodeterioration by Carpet Beetles 17

    2.1.11 Fur Beetles and Biodeterioration by Fur Beetles 18

    2.1.12 Hide Beetles and Biodeterioration by Hide Beetles 18

    2.1.13 Biscuit Beetles and Biodeterioration by Biscuit Beetles 19

    2.1.14 Clothes Moths and Biodeterioration by Clothes Moths 19

    2.1.15 Booklice and Biodeterioration by Booklice 20

    2.1.16 Geckos and Biodeterioration by Geckos 21

    2.1.17 Rodents and Biodeterioration by Rodents 21

    2.1.18 Bats and Biodeterioration by Bats 22

    Vanpheng Keopannha

  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos 3

    2.2 Environmental Conditions and Their Effect on Biodeterioration 24

    2.2.1 Heat (temperature) 25

    2.2.2 Relative Humidity (RH) 26

    2.2.3 Effects of Temperature and Relative Humidity on Biodeterioration 27

    2.3 Museum Materials Affected by Biodeterioration 29

    2.3.1 Organic Materials 29

    2.3.2 Inorganic Materials 32

    2.4 Summary 34

    Chapter 3: The Prevention and Control of Biodeterioration 35

    3.1 Fundamentals of Prevention and Control 35

    3.1.1 Preventive Methods 35

    3.1.2 Remedial Methods 40

    3.2 Prevention and Control of Biodeteriogens in Laos 43

    3.3 Summary 45

    Chapter 4: A Survey of Biodeterioration in Lao Museums and Collections 47

    4.1 Rationale 47

    4.2 Methodology 47

    4.3 Data Collection 49

    4.4 Results 49

    4.5 Discussion 55

    4.5.1 Collections and Biodeterioration 55

    4.5.2 Control and Prevention Techniques for Biodeterioration 55

    4.5.3 Environmental Conditions and Biodeterioration 56

    4.5.4 Staff Training 56

    4.5.5 Museums’ Needs for Controlling Biodeterioration 57

    4.6 Summary and Conclusions 57

    Vanpheng Keopannha

  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos 4

    Chapter 5: Biodeterioration Action Plan for Lao Museums and Collections 59

    5.1 Programme Objectives and Overview 59

    5.2 Workshops 59

    5.2.1 Directors Workshop 59

    5.2.2 Staff Workshops 60

    5.3 Follow-up 60

    5.4 Specialists 61

    5.5 Proposed Outcomes 61

    Chapter 6: Conclusions 62

    Appendices 64

    Appendix A: Questionnaire 64

    Appendix B: List of Interviewees 65

    References 66

    Vanpheng Keopannha

  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos 5

    Chapter 1 Introduction

    1.1 Background

    Biodeterioration, defined as damage caused by living organisms such as fungi

    and termites, endangers cultural property all around the world. The

    destruction results in “enormous economic loss” (Khadelwal 2003:76) and the

    irreversible cultural and artistic loss of the information of the objects affected.

    The loss is greatest among materials derived from plants and animals, since

    the food value of the cellulose or protein that comprise these materials makes

    them particularly vulnerable to biological attack (Allsopp, Seal & Gaylarde

    2004:1). As a result, wooden objects and structures, bamboo artefacts,

    manuscripts, books, textiles, leather, paper, basketry, and various types of

    paintings are most at risk. Stone and masonry are also vulnerable, however,

    and stone monuments and outdoor sculptures may become severely

    damaged. Cultural property is even more endangered while kept under

    adverse environmental conditions that invite biodeterioration, typically hot and

    humid surroundings.

    In Laos, situated on Southeast Asia mainland, temperatures range from 23˚C

    to 40˚C and humidity is high throughout the year, even during the dry season

    (Lao PDR Forum: Lao PDR Climate 2007; Climate Information for Lao

    Climate: Lao Climate Zone 2004). These environmental conditions encourage

    microorganisms and insect pests to thrive and reproduce, and therefore make

    biodeterioration an especially urgent problem. The author’s experience in

    Laos has been involved with this situation and with questions about what can

    be done in museums to deal with such conditions and protect Laos’s cultural


    Vanpheng Keopannha

  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos 6

    1.2 Key Issues

    Museums in Laos preserve cultural materials of the past for future

    generations. However, the fertility and the high temperature and humidity of

    the tropical climate bring on biodeterioration. These conditions combined with

    urban pollution, bad building maintenance and low budgets make long-term

    preservation of collections very difficult for museum professionals. Mould and

    insect pests are a major problem for museums, even with repeated treatments

    for insect infestation. Because appropriate and safe environments are not

    provided for collection storage and display, the mould and insect problems

    reoccur. Therefore, plans for prevention and control of biodeterioration that

    are appropriate for the conditions in Laos are critically important for museum

    personnel (Daniel 2003:76).

    1.3 Aims

    The aim of this thesis is to compile comprehensive information about

    biodeterioration and solutions to biodeterioration, to explore the current

    situation regarding museum collections and biodeterioration in Laos, and to

    develop an action plan for Lao museums to help them control and prevent


    1.4 Objectives

    The objectives of this thesis are:

    1. To define biodeterioration and to investigate the main causal agents,

    especially those in Laos

    2. To identify how environmental conditions affect biodeterioration

    3. To identify the materials in Lao collections affected by biodeterioration

    4. To review the literature relating to the prevention of biodeterioration

    Vanpheng Keopannha

  • Museum Collections and Biodeterioration in Laos 7

    5. To evaluate biodeterioration in Lao museums by studying biodeterioration

    and environmental conditions in a sample of museums and identifying key

    problems and possible solutions to them

    6. To formulate an action plan for museums in Laos regarding


    Objectives 1, 2 and 3 will be treated within an introduction to the

    biodeterioration framework developed using literature on theory as a starting


    Note: Museums in this thesis refers to museums, galleries, monuments and


    1.5 Methodology

    First of all, this thesis states clearly the aim and objectives of what the

    research is trying to achieve, what it is all about, and the reason for doing the

    research; otherwise there would be no point to spending time, money and

    effort undertaking the investigation. These statements of purpose indicate the

    focus and direction of the research, and provide criteria for the evaluation of

    the outcomes of the research. The research relates the existing knowledge to

    the needs, makes a contribution to the development of existing knowledge,

    and addresses specific practical needs. The research also recognizes the

    availability of resources and times the investigation to opportunities for access

    to relevant data (Denscombe 2002:25, 43, 64). Data collection is critically

    important, is the “soul” of a study, and this thesis follows the principles that the

    validity of research depends on accurate data, and the accuracy of the data

    depends on the validity of the data collection method (Fink 2005:106).

    In accordance with these foundations of researc