The concept of “conservation” was refined by ICOM-CC by introducing subterms as “preventive conservation”, “remedial conservation” and “restoration”. Today we are looking at “preventive conservation”.

ICOM-CC defines “preventive conservation” as follow:

“all measures and actions aimed at avoiding and minimizing future deterioration or loss. They are carried out within the context or on the surroundings of an item, but more often a group of items, whatever their age and condition. These measures and actions are indirect – they do not interfere with the materials and structures of the items. They do not modify their appearance.”

“Examples of preventive conservation are appropriate measures and actions for registration, storage, handling, packing and transportation, security, environmental management (light, humidity, pollution and pest control), emergency planning, education of staff, public awareness, legal compliance.”

Who can be involved in preventive conservation?

Preventive conservation is a shared responsibility. It does not only concern curators, staff and conservator-restorers but also researchers, users, designers, architects, engineers, technical staff and the public. Policy makers play a crucial role because they can allocate material and financial support to make preventive conservation possible and adequate.

What costs are involved in preventive conservation?

It all depends on the measures taken. Some measures are relatively cheap or cost next to nothing. Others demand a more substantial investment depending on the size of the collection(s). The most far-reaching measures connected to infrastructure and buildings require generally a large budget which is often not possible for the instution concerned. For this kind of projects a strong cooperation between different actors is necessary.

Actions that do not cost much.

Public awareness costs next to nothing. Advising some person, researcher or other, on how to manipulate objects and collection pieces can be done quite easily by a staff member in the reading room or a collection consultation chamber. Where necessary providing gloves for manipulating objects or a cushion to position and support an object can already avoid possible damage.



Foto: use of gloves for protection (Guy De Witte)


Foto: Cushion as book support (Guy De Witte)

Actions that demand a larger investment.

A good way to conserve collection pieces is to wrap them into acid-free materials. Acid-free paper and boxes used should always be made from full thickness acid-free components and for most of the collection pieces buffered as well. Boxes should always be adapted to the objects they will be used for. The complete cost of a packing project will depend, amongst others, from the amount of objects to be packed. We will cover this subject later. For framing prints or documents museum quality Optium Acrylic Glazing is recommended.


Foto: handmade four-flap to mensuren (Guy De Witte)

Measures that demand a very large investment.

We are talking here about the use of compatible displays and show-cases for temperory exhibitions or permanent display in museums. Another example of large investments are accommodating adequate storage rooms. Storage furniture has to be adapted to the needs of the collection, be efficient in use and harmless to objects (and staff).


Foto: storage furniture (Smart Storage Solutions)


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Although conservation has been a concern from the Early Ages on, conservation as a scientific discipline took off after the second World War, especially in English speaking countries as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Later other countries stepped in, conservation gathered momentum and is now applied worldwide.

Anybody working in conservation nowadays has to be able to work in international context and has to keep himself informed of new evolutions in the field. Since publications are not only published in English it is very important that people understand each other when discussing conservation topics.

During these years many terms came into use: preservation, conservation, passive conservation, active conservation and many others. Because of the different languages in the world the terms did not always mean exactly the same thing in different countries. This lead sometimes to misunderstandings and confusion.

Therefore the Committee for Conservation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC) proposed some terms and definitions to be used in international context. This terminology was accepted during the 15th Triennial Conference of ICOM-CC in Delhi (India) in 2008 by the attending members. This terminology is now being used in all current contacts and literature. It was approved in English and French and translated in Spanish. By now it has found its place in many languages.

The general term “conservation” is defined by ICOM-CC as:

all measures and actions aimed at safeguarding tangible cultural heritage while ensuring its accessibility to present and future generations. Conservation embraces preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration. All measures and actions should respect the significance and the physical properties of the cultural heritage item.”

The general notion “conservation” was refined by 3 other definitions, each of them well specified. These are:

  • Preventive conservation
  • Remedial conservation
  • Restoration

Moreover all measures taken have to taken into account the “meaning” and the properties of cultural heritage. We will come back to this when we talk about historical and material context of cultural heritage.

In French the current terms are now:

  • Conservation préventive
  • Conservation curative
  • Restauration

In Spanish the terms are:

  • Conservación preventiva
  • Conservación curativa
  • Restauración

Similar terms are now being used in Italian , German and many other languages.

This terminology is quite similar to the one used in medicine, where a distinction is also made between preventive and remedial actions. In medicine prevention is everyone’s concern, while the act of curing or stabilizing processes is the prerogative of specialists. We find this distinction also in conservation. In a broad sense conservation can be considered as the health care for cultural heritage.

In a next post we will explain the difference between preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration.


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The fact that you read this blog shows that you are involved or interested in collection care and safeguarding cultural heritage. So you are just the public we are trying to reach: from professionals to private people interested in the Art of Conservation.

“We did not only inherit our cultural heritage from our ancestors, we are also borrowing it from our children”. This free interpretation of the quote “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our childeren” and found originally in a slightly other version in a book of Wendell Berry:”The Unforeseen Wilderness: an Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge”, is what it is all about. A responsibility and respect for our past, the delight of enjoying much beauty and the moral obligation to pass this on to future generations so that they can, with their own eyes, see where past, present an future merge together.

Maybe you will ask yourself “Why another blog/site about conservation?”. There are lots of good sites around from all kinds of organizations concerned with collection care of cultural heritage. So why this extra blog/site?

As co-developer and teacher of the “Cultural Heritage Staff Training”, organized by the Flemish Department of Education in Belgium I noticed that people have a constant and even growing need for knowledge about the “how” and “why” of deterioration processes, composition of art and cultural objects and assessments of materials and techniques. These are also the questions I continuously have. Therefore my aim with this blog is to provide more insight in the underlying science and scientific laws governing the survival of art and heritage.

In the 25 years I have been professionally involved in the field of conservation I have realized that safeguarding art and cultural heritage objects are a very complex matter comparable to a 3-dimensional building. Here we can consider all aspects of conservation as being in the horizontal plane, vertically linked to each other by the pillars of science as physics, chemistry, biology, climatology and a score of other disciplines working and interacting globally.

Conservation is not only a scientific and technical discipline, it is also an “Art”. For a good conservation empathy with a collection object or building is absolutely necessary. The feeling for the object, its composition, its history, its properties are a conditio sine qua non to achieve an adequate conservation. A boy of 7 years old, for whom I repaired one of his favourite books, called me his book doctor. This is one of the most beautiful compliments I ever received. Taking care of books is like taking care of people. Feeling out the patient or the object go beyond the necessary scientific discipline. Conservation is more than a profession, it is a way of life.

Want to know more about me? Just look at “About” or click on the following link www.dezilverenpasser.be


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