The WebERA Project

About the Project
IPI’s primary research and development activity in 2008-2009 is WebERA (Web-based Environmental Risk Assessment). The WebERA project includes members of IPI as well as a team of ten museum and five library research partners. The ten museums involved in the project are Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Shelburne Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, American Museum of National History, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Museum of History and Industry, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Morgan Library and Museum. The five libraries are University of Wisconsin Library, Univeristy of Colorado Library, Yale University Library, Phillips Library, and University of Illinois Libraries.

The project's goal is to create a system to collect temperature and humidity data including direct upload to a web server. The final web site will store and manage vast amounts of collected environmental data as well as a database of associated collection, location, and other information, including pictures and floor plans. The WebERA site will provide automated data analysis, a range of features and views, and the ability to share monitoring information with a range of “stakeholders” within an institution.

The Project's Philosophy
Part of the design philosophy of WebERA is to encourage a more holistic, long-term view of managing the environment for preservation. IPI’s research has shown that environmental risk analysis is a long-term, ongoing process. While there are short-duration events that produce immediate and acute damage to collections, the vast majority of damaging environmental conditions occur over months, years, and decades. Environmental risk analysis is most accurate and reliable when it reflects the main source of indoor climatic variation, which in nearly all museums is the seasonal cycle and not a broken fan belt, a chiller failure, or even a daily temperature set-back. Winter dryness and summer heat and humidity are the most common environmental causes of decay, and usually the most difficult issues to manage, especially from the energy point of view.

Web-Based Application
Using a web database for environmental analysis offers many advantages. It makes the information much more widely accessible within the institution—to collection care staff, facilities staff, and administrators. It eliminates the need to install any software on local computers and ensures that every user has access to the most up-to-date analysis tools. The web server is secure, each site is password-protected, and data is backed up daily.

The WebERA application will evolve from prototypes created by IPI and its consultant, Zak Software, for the National Museum of Denmark and the Library of Congress. The final version will be designed for a range of users, with basic elements that are easy to use and the ability to modify some features based on institutional need. Major elements of the site will include:

  • A “new user wizard” to initially set up a monitoring project;
  • Data upload, analysis, and reporting modules;
  • Administration functions such as managing logins and editing;
  • Floor plans, which can include icons for logger placement and other information;
  • A system of incident or activity notes;
  • The ability to produce a variety of reports.

Another important element of WebERA is the searchable database of information associated with each monitored location, such as the type of collections and materials present in the space, the history of logger placement and upload, and a hierarchy of location information (by site, building, floor, and room) that allows data comparison at every level. Users can add any type of information to this database and can configure it to meet their individual needs.

Project Status
The initial meetings of the WebERA team were held in March. At that time, we launched the first two trial versions of a “new user sign up” for review and set up individual websites for each participant. More recently, we created the IPI WebERA blog and posted the first feature review for discussion. We will keep you updated on the status of this project in future issues of Climate Notes.