Collections care and conservation (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

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Use this procedure to manage and document any conservation work on particular objects, such as treatments to slow decay, repair damage or improve appearance. Conservators might also be involved in making bespoke supports or packaging for objects.

This procedure is closely linked to Condition checking and technical assessment. Conservation interventions are usually the result of condition checks, and are often prompted by other procedures, such as managing a loan request. Conservation treatments will often be informed by scientific analysis of materials and other technical assessments.

Conservation records are important and should form a seamless part of your collections documentation, even if the work itself is carried out by external specialists away from your museum.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy on the care of your collections and the conservation of objects. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, you should include answers to these questions:

  • Who is responsible for setting and ensuring the standards of collections care you will maintain (this might involve external specialists if you do not have the appropriate expertise in-house)?
  • What are those standards for the different categories of objects in your collection?
  • How you will monitor that these standards are being maintained?
  • When might you consider conservation treatment for objects?
  • Who will be involved in agreeing the scope of any proposed conservation work (especially on objects that do not belong to your museum)?
  • Who can authorise conservation work?
  • Who can carry out conservation work, and what are your criteria for selecting external specialists where needed?
  • How should conservation work be documented, and what records must external contractors provide?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when managing and carrying out conservation of objects. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, and is available as a workflow diagram or as a text file you can edit. However you do it, your own procedure must meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important See (cross-references to be added in final version)
You have written standards of care for all object types in your collection, including any specific requirements of individual items. You can draw on this information when considering potential use of objects.
Appropriate authorisation is given for any decision to change an object’s standard of care or carry out any conservation treatment. No conservation work happens without the knowledge of those responsible for the objects.
You record the details of all collections care measures and conservation treatment (including dates and who performed the work) – and can access these via relevant object numbers. You have a full conservation history of your objects, and can find this information easily when you need it.

If a problem later arises, you can check other objects that might also be affected.

You update objects’ catalogue records with any new information gained as a result of conservation. New insights about how objects were made are not just kept in conservation files that might not be generally accessible.
You schedule, by date, any further conservation treatment, call-back condition checks or periodic care activities. You can plan your conservation activity and ensure that objects are available when needed.


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  1. I think David’s response would be supported by explicitly linking this to the Accreditation standards as this is a specific area requiring confirmation of much that he has covered. The points suggested above do not map sufficiently to make the Spectrum procedure feel fully integrated. In general terms I still use the old MGC guidelines as a starting point for collection types – like a lot of institutions we have copies of most of them but citing the references below would be useful for any organisation.

  2. Reference should be made to the desirability (in the UK) of the conservator being PACR accredited or working towards accreditation. In any case it should be recommended that conservation is carried out in accordance with the PACR standards. Where conservation expertise is out-sourced, preference should be given to those services which are listed on the Conservation Register. Outside the UK it should be a normal requirement that conservators are accredited in some way (by the government or relevant professional body) or otherwise suitably qualified.

    Reference should be made to relevant existing standards, notably those 30 or so BSI standards: Conservation of cultural property and Conservation of cultural heritage. Where there is references to terminology, the following standard should be cited: BS EN 15898:2011 Conservation of cultural property – Main general terms and definitions. There is also a condition-checking standard: BS EN 16095:2012 Condition recording for movable cultural heritage.

    When it comes to the conservation process, reference should be made to a shortly forthcoming BSI standard: BS EN 16853:2017 Conservation of cultural heritage – Conservation process: decision making, planning and implementation.

    In summary there needs to be good articulation between the Spectrum and the BSI standards. To this end it would be good if the Collections Trust could contribute to the development of relevant BSI standards.

  3. Think the first minimum requirement of standards of care for all object types is probably overstated – I certainly seek to have environmental guidelines, appropriate display or storage materials for vulnerable material groups but this area can be much more complex than the proposal suggests and is something perhaps to aspire to not a minimum requirement.

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Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust